|23-05-07, 01:33 PM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 26th, '07
"Best Buy used in-store kiosks to conceal lower online prices and renege on its price match guarantee. Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed. Best Buy treated its customers like suckers, not patrons to be prized." – Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, D-CT
"With a couple of century-old autochromes in my car, I wasn’t going anywhere but directly back to the museum; and I was driving very, very carefully." – Anthony Bannon
"Consumers will own their own 3-D glasses in the same way they have sunglasses for going outside." – Jeffrey Katzenberg
"I need heavy-handed, baby. I like talking to an Italian." – Courtney Love
"I’m better off getting caught with needles in my arm, I really am." – Chris Rock
"I hear you're the guy behind .cm?" – Reporter
May 26th, 2007
Swedish Company Offers New Passports for Computers to Surf the Web
Relakks, a tiny Web company based on the southern tip of Sweden, prides itself on its official "pirate" endorsements and its swashbuckling circumvention of online barriers erected by governments and corporations.
Not quite the stuff of Pirates of the Baltic Sea, perhaps, but the company has been a forceful proponent of a free and open Internet community. Relakks is planning its next move with a service - now in beta testing - that would allow computer users to shop online for national identity codes in a process known as "country shifting."
Relakks and other companies are part of a struggle pitting "hacktivists" against corporate interests that wall off Web sites to control territorial rights. These walls are meant to block people in Europe from downloading television fare from U.S. sites, for example, or bar Americans from viewing programs on sites in Europe.
This struggle is intensifying even as some get-tough European legislation - with the rather unglamorous name of the Second Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive - is winding its way through Brussels. If adopted, the measure would criminalize the violation of copyrights "on a commercial scale" as well as "inciting such infringements." Violators would face fines of as much as €300,000, or $405,000, and maximum jails sentences of four years.
Tech-savvy government censors are also aggressively trying to stamp out so-called "anonymizers" that provide Web users with the tools to circumvent state-imposed Internet controls. The OpenNet Initiative, a consortium of four universities including Harvard and Oxford, issued an academic survey of 40 countries Friday that described an expanding global phenomenon with more than 25 governments filtering forbidden themes from politics and human rights to sexuality and religion.
For now, Jonas Birgersson, the chief executive of Relakks in Lund, Sweden, is taking a relaxed view of legislation and government restrictions. Sometime this month, he said, the company will start offering "country shifting" capabilities in a monthly subscription service that will cost about €4.
Country shifting allows an Internet user to effectively change a computer's "passport" and surf the Web under a new national identity, unrestricted by specific territorial barriers. Relakks plans to start its subscription service by employing American and Swedish codes. The addition of new country codes, Birgersson said, would be based on demand.
"Country shifting is not a proxy," Birgersson said. "It's an Internet connection on your Internet connection through an encrypted tunnel."
Relakks has earned the support of the Pirate Party, which fielded candidates in local legislative elections in Sweden last September under a banner of copyright reform. Although the party likes to promote the efforts made by Relakks, it has not invested in the company, according to Rickard Falkvinge, who founded the political party last year.
"We like it from a political standpoint," Falkvinge said. "Relakks is definitely cutting edge. But what's new about picking your ISP country is the simplicity of it. A lot of technology is taking shape for mass encryption for the masses, and Relakks is one such service. Some of these things are easy on a small scale, but what's hard to do is to create a mass product."
Until now, "there have been a lot of nerd-to-nerd solutions," Birgersson said.
The early waves of publicity for Relakks's debut last August were so successful that its system could not support the traffic of about 20 subscribers per minute, according to Birgersson, who said that those technical problems were overcome and that the company now has more than 50,000 subscribers. The Pirate Party endorsed Relakks's first effort to offer a commercial "darknet" service that permitted users to send and receive files through a heavily encrypted connection.
Birgersson declined to say whether he was a member of the Pirate Party, but he has clearly benefited from its support. The party has spread beyond Sweden's borders, and the various national chapters plan to hold their first international summit in Vienna next month, drawing participants from 16 countries including Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and the United States.
Andreas Leo Findeisen, an Austrian academic who describes himself as a media theoretician, is helping to organize the event. One aim of the conference is to develop a strategy to field Pirate Party candidates in the 2009 elections for the European Parliament.
Findeisen said that most of those who planned to attend the conference work in academic fields and share concerns about growing restrictions on the Web.
"Lobby interests are mostly reactive, and the community energy and resistance tends to die out after one or two weeks," he said. "We have this new phenomenon of lots of people swarming together, but it's very unstable. So we're trying to make a party out of MySpace members."
The Pirate Party attracted almost 35,000 votes in Sweden's last general election, emerging as the 10th-largest party in the country, although it failed to win enough votes to qualify for a seat in the Parliament.
Birgersson said opposition to increasing restrictions on the Internet would not go away.
"We've had a lot of people trying to get more control of the Internet, mostly coming from commercial interests and corporate lobbies or religious countries like Iran," he said. "They think they can take control of the Internet, but there's a lot of smart people out there that you don't want to have against you."
Channel 4's 4oD Hamstrung by UK ISPs
Channel 4's new video on-demand service -- 4oD -- is a breakthrough service for the UK that allows you to freely catch up on the station's TV programming from the comfort of your desk or armchair. But it's being severly restricted by the UK's Internet service providers -- the companies who provide your broadband.
The service runs on VeriSign's Kontiki Broadband Delivery Service -- a peer-to-peer (P2P) technology identical to that which powers services such as BitTorrent and Limewire. ISPs are wise to how many people use P2P services and they're also aware that the vast majority of people use them to illegally download content such as music and movies.
In an attempt to restrict how much illegal sharing can be done on their network, ISPs use a technique called 'packet shaping'. Packet shaping examines what you're downloading -- or more specifically, how you're downloading -- and restricts your download speed by up to 500 per cent, which is sometimes little over what was possible on an old dial-up connection.
What does this mean for the millions of people who don't use BitTorrent? Basically, they're treated as criminals. BT, for example -- but it's not the only one -- will tell you that it uses packet shaping in order for it to benefit users who are not abusing its network. That sounds reasonable, but Channel 4's 4oD service uses peer-to-peer technology to distribute vast quantities of data over your broadband connection completely legally. This means that any user trying to download legal TV content is treated like a pirate and has their service stripped down to pitiful speeds.
So, if you're planning on using Channel 4's 4oD service to download your favourite shows while you travel home from work, make sure you're not on an ISP that treats you like dirty rotten thieving scum. Video on-demand is the way of the future, so it's important that legitimate, efficient technology can make it happen. Thought network neutrality was something dull for the Americans to worry over? This is what it's about.
Now, when we get better communications infrastructure here in the UK, packet shaping should cease to be necessary. Indeed, BT says that when its so-called 21st Century Network upgrade is complete, it can be network neutral. But 21CN is years away, due to be complete in 2011. In the meantime, make sure you choose a provider who isn't taking control of what you can do with the connection you pay for.
Another ISP Throttles Bandwidth
Pipex-owned ISP Nildram has joined the ranks of providers who are interfering with traffic to reduce the bandwidth burden from peer-to-peer networks and other "non-interactive" traffic.
The firm applied bandwidth throttling on Monday, restricting P2P and newsgroup traffic to as slow as a snail's pace 64Kbit/s. Customers, including business users, who contacted the Reg said they got no prior warning about the changes.
Ian Willmore, the firm's business and partner support manager, started a thread (http://bbs.adslguide.org.uk/showthre...panded&sb=5&o=) on the broadband forum thinkbroadband.com. He has not responded publicly to any of the criticism, or questions over service issues such as latency, posted in response.
Nildram tech support told one irate user yesterday that they had themselves just got news about the policy, and that it would apply during business hours only. Our correspondent wrote: "We operate around a dozen Nildram business accounts (including SDSL) and use FTP [file transfer protocol] and NNTP [network news transfer protocol] to synch up between offices. [They] really screwed us badly as we had no warning at all to make alternate provision and move provider."
Nildram did update its FAQ (http://www.nildram.net/faqs/question...nagement-faqs/) to reflect the bandwidth throttling last week. It says:
This weighting allows us to preference interactive traffic such us HTTP (Web), VoIP and VPN over non-interactive traffic, such as P2P (peer to peer) and NNTP (Newsgroups). This provides an important quality of service improvement for these applications where delays have a very noticeable effect and we expect that Nildram customers will see improved performance from these applications.
Nildram last acted to discourage downloading two years ago (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/03...roadband_hogs/) when it used the more crude method of a monthly GB limit, and applied it only to consumer customers.
Parent company Pipex introduced traffic shaping on its services in 2005 (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/10...ex_bandwidth/), and was among the first non-BT ISPs to do so. Recently, the takeover target (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04..._2006_results/) began cutting off punters who it thinks are abusing their connection, although it won't publish specific limits.
Without significant investment in network infrastructure, it seems customers will have to get used to traffic management. Nildram's speed limits seem particularly draconian, however, and the poor communication with users is inexcusable.
Nildram sent us this statement:
Our website was updated on Thursday 17th May announcing the introduction of a new traffic management process which was enabled during the evening of Monday 21st May. We also posted an announcement on Think Broadband. This new process took on board feedback from our customers from an earlier change of traffic management in October 2006 which we backed out a few days later.
The comment concerning the limiting of a connection to 64K is unrelated and applies only to customers who exceed their quota limits; this has been in place since 2005.
Sellers Running Scared: a Look Inside the World of AllOfMP3 Vouchers
Selling vouchers for AllOfMP3.com can be a dangerous game. One prominent seller was just arrested in the UK, and the event has others in the business running scared. If it was meant to send a message, then that message has been sent and received. We spoke with several voucher sellers—none of whom wanted to be identified by name—about why they got into the business and what they plan to do next. It turns out that chest-thumping bravado is in short supply.
One operator we spoke with already plans to shut his site down. "We made the decision after hearing news about an arrest that occurred in the UK," this person told Ars by e-mail. "We do not wish the same to occur to us."
"Until a few days ago, I had never heard of the IFPI [the international music trade group]," said another site operator from Europe. "But yes, I am concerned about them now. Although my attorney assures me that reselling gift certificates bought from AllOfMP3.com isn't breaking any laws, it isn't worth the possibility of engagement with their legal machine."
The "vouchers" in question are really just gift certificates; users in countries where credit card payments still work (many major credit cards no longer function on the site) buy up the vouchers, then resell them at a small markup to other users who have trouble replenishing their accounts. One of the people we spoke with decided to make a small business out of the practice after a friend agreed to pay him extra to secure a gift certificate.
"Because I had to buy them individually," the reseller told us," the extra work involved made it just barely worth it—but worth it nonetheless." He put up a web site, hoping to make a little money on the side after his "real" job was done for the day, but now plans to take the site down, saying that "I will be repurposing the web site in a few days."
A community representative from aom3.org tells Ars that he knows several resellers and that most are motivated by a desire to assist the AllOfMP3 community. "I do believe that people who sell vouchers are there to genuinely help others and not turn into a business. And that is what people need. People just want music, not to be ripped off or drowned in politics."
Those involved in the business not surprisingly believe that their work is legal and that AllOfMP3's service is legal as well. "It is not a file-sharing mechanism like Napster was, and it is not free," said one. "How are we supposed to know which file is legal and which isn't? And why do we assume that AllOfMP3 doesn't pay royalties to the respective artists? From my perspective, it is the same thing as being on vacation in St. Petersburg and buying a CD as a souvenir—a person wouldn't have to call the government to make sure the souvenir shop is complying with the laws, would they?"
Voucher reselling is a usually a small business, though the IFPI claims that the site they shuttered this week was a major operation that helped British consumers fill their AllOfMP3 accounts and sent the money back to Russian bank accounts operated by the site. The people we spoke with all deny having any official connection to AllOfMP3.com.
It's not clear that the recent police raid could be carried out in other countries. According to the IFPI, the raid was conducted under the UK's Fraud Act 2006, which came into effect only in January of this year and provides police more tools to attack online fraud. Selling unlicensed music in the UK is a criminal offense, though several of the site owners we spoke with are located on the Continent, making each legal situation different. Such is the fear of tangling with the police and the IFPI, though, that most have decided to shut down their sites and move on to other, less troublesome businesses.
AllOfMP3 may be running out of time. The Russian government last year agreed to change its laws in order to make the site's activity illegal, and it agreed to do so by June 1, 2007.
Emscher v0.4b the Anon P2P Client
Release Name: Emscher v0.4b
ADD: File Transfers(Chunk Request, Blocktransfer (Up/Down))
ADD: Now the File-Icons are Shown (Transfer/Searches Page)
ADD: Parts-Page in Fileinfo Dialog
ADD: "-password xy"-Commandline option, so the Password dialog will not be shown if used. Using xy as password for the keyfiles then.
ADD: Storing/Restoring Expanded-State of the Nodes on the Transfer and Search Page while Updating.
ADD: File can be deleted by hitting DEL now.
ADD: Invalid Checksums are logged now.
ADD: File-Data are stored every 30 Seconds to files.dat now (In case of a crash)
ADD: Advanced Search Rules (At least 3 Chars, no Point(.) at begin)
ADD: Chunkhashes are stored in the files.dat now (For later use)
CHANGE: Now Emscher-Addresses are 12Bytes long -> Changed Header-Processing Algorithms
CHANGE: Header-DataOffset changed to 60
CHANGE: Because there were many problems with the CRC32 Checksums, incorrect ones will be ignored in this release
CHANGE: Logs are stored in ./logs now.
CHANGE: New log format: Added Task -> Returned Value of TEmscher.EmscherAddressCheck()
CHANGE: Improved ID-Generator
CHANGE: emscherfiles.pas -> No usage of TFileStream in WriteBlock/Readblock etc. anymore (It caused many Errors), using BlockRead/BlockWrite instead
CHANGE: WebCacheThread.pas -> Every FHTTP.Post() has been put over try/except Blocks (This caused all these glitches when started with F9 and made the NOTHREADS-Stuff required)
REMOVE: HTTP-Referrer Setting
REMOVE: NOTHREADS Stuff
BUGFIX: Signals were not redirected correctly
BUGFIX: Some sent signals were not logged
BUGFIX: If only one hub was in the list, TEmscherConnections.GetRandomHub() falled into an infinite loop
BUGFIX: TEmscherConnections.ChangeNetworkID() changed the last two bytes to 0x00
BUGFIX: TEmscher.Create() -> On startup the new EmscherAddress was not processed correctly
Tribler: A Next Generation Bittorrent Client?
The latest version of the “social” BitTorrent client Tribler integrates BitTorrent with YouTube while offering the best of both worlds: ease of use, browsing with thumbnails, HDTV quality, and Video on Demand support. The client uses an Amazon.com-like recommendation system to suggest what you might enjoy.
After you’ve downloaded a few files the application should know if you are the Madonna type or more a Britney person. Moreover, it is the first P2P system which has merged online friends and a sense of community without using any central server. Tribler also runs on a Linux set-top box and is expected to hit the shops before the end of this year.
After a long weekend of testing we gave a thumbs-up and wish the development team many more releases. Not all BitTorrent users see the need for all these extra functionalities (I still prefer uTorrent), but those who do should definitely try Tribler.
Some of the features of Tribler which set it apart from other BitTorrent clients are:
• Easy downloading: Moves P2P beyond keyword search, YouTube grid of thumbnails
• Recommendation and Friends: See what other people like, related files, find person with the same taste
• Video on Demand: When the download is on its way, you can use the integrated video player to start watching ASAP
• Wealth of content: Search both BitTorrent, Youtube, and Liveleak for content
Yes, we are probably a little biased! This is made-in-Holland, which means a part of the tax money I paid went to Tribler because the project is state funded.
You can download download Tribler V4.0 here.
New and Promising BitTorrent Sites
BitTorrent is the most widely used P2P protocol. New BitTorrent sites emerge regularly and we at TorrentFreak often get requests from people to write about their BitTorrent startups. Because it is nearly impossible to showcase all the new sites here on TorrentFreak, we decided to post a selection of some promising and / or innovative BitTorrent sites.
A while ago we made a list of the top 20 less known BitTorrent sites, a post that was well received. Today, we made a list of some of the new BitTorrent sites, and this time we included a short description for every site.
Btswarm.org is a fast and clean BitTorrent site that is available in 5 different languages. The site currently indexes 107,907 torrents, which represents over 80TB of data. Btswarm supports search based RSS feeds, a great feature that every site should have in my opinion.
SumoTorrent who recently partnered with FileSoup, one of the oldest BitTorrent communities, collects the BitTorrent stats for our monthly stats post. But, they also serve torrents and offer not only .torrent links but also Azureus magnet links, and DHT links.
One of the things about SumoTorrent that I particularly like is that they have their own tracker, something more BitTorrent sites should do. At the moment 50% of all the torrents on public trackers are tracked by The Pirate Bay All hell would break loose if they were taken down.
FlixFlux is a BitTorrent site that focuses on movie releases. On the frontpage they list the US box office charts, DVD rental charts, and the UK box office charts. If you register you can also keep track of your favorite movies on the site. FlixFlux has a description for every film including the IMDB rating and plans to add movie trailers and for their torrents soon, which is an interesting feature.
A similar site also dedicated to movies torrents is Superfundo, they focus mainly on Scene and aXXo movie releases.
TorrentTAB is a new BitTorrent meta-search engine that displays the search results in a tabbed view. Personally I’m not a big fan of meta-search engines, but I know others like it. The tabbed searching works quite well. TorrentTAB site currently searches Isohunt, Mininova, Torrentz, BTjunkie, Meganova, and Torrentspy.
JunkNova is a torrent review site that keeps you up to date on all the stuff that’s available on BitTorrent, similar to sites like rlslog and hypoh. JunkNova is brought to you by the makers of TorrentScoop, a Google-powered BitTorent search engine.
The last site in our list is Microtor, a site that only indexes TV torrents. MicroTor allows you to browse through the available shows and seasons and they also have a brief plot outline for every TV show.
Download ANY File From ANY Site Using Safari
Listen up Mac users. You may already know this, but I didn’t until the other day, and it really comes in handy. Safari has a little tool called the Activity Window, which can be accessed by going to going to “Window > Activity” (shortcut: alt + apple + a). In here you can see every file that the website you are viewing is calling upon. The brilliant thing is that by double clicking any one of these files, it will download straight to your desktop.
Considering you would most likely want to download a file containing video or audio, look in the column on the right to see its size. By process of elimination you will see that the biggest file will be the one you want.
So if you happened to be on YouTube, you could download any video you wanted. Similarly, if you were on MySpace, and had no respect for copywrite law, you could download anything you wanted.
This, if you didn’t know it already, could save a lot of people a lot of time (and money).
You might also like 165 Vector Icons, 50 Ways to Become a Better Designer, 77 Vector Buttons
GoSquared does not endorse piracy. Please ensure that you use the mentioned functions of Safari as they were intended, and abide by any laws that apply to you.
Atlanta Web Radio Station Threatens Romanian Blogger With Lawsuit
They don't know that Windows Media Player shows the stream's URL with File -> Properties, so they threatened me with an Atlanta court for one of my previous posts that contained four (4) public URLs of their radio stream(s)!
Atlanta Blue Skye, LLC (yes, the company's name is with "e" in "Skye") wrote me this mail, unsigned:
Received: from 184.108.40.206 (EHLO elasmtp-curtail.atl.sa.earthlink.net)
by mta103.mail.re3.yahoo.com with SMTP; Mon, 14 May 2007 05:09:00 -0700
Received: from [220.127.116.11] (helo=NewLaptop.eathlink.net)
by elasmtp-curtail.atl.sa.earthlink.net with asmtp (TLSv1:AES256-SHA:256)
(Exim 4.34) id 1HnZMJ-0001Gv-Hd for firstname.lastname@example.org;
Mon, 14 May 2007 08:08:59 -0400
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 18.104.22.168
Date: Mon, 14 May 2007 08:08:58 -0400
From: "Jazz Colors" <email@example.com>
Your Blog, which we have copied, has been turned over to our lawyers. You should plan on a response from them shortly and a visit to Atlanta to be present in court. I am not allowed to make any further statement regarding this matter at this time.
Of course they're rednecks, and they don't even sign the message, which is in response to this blog post: Atlanta Blue Sky is broken (but I've found a fix).
Facing such an ultimate proof of idiocy (DEFINITION: extreme mental deficiency commonly due to incomplete or abnormal development of the brain; NOTE: this use of the term is not an insult, but a quick and informal assessment on the intellectual development of the unknown person or automaton who sent me the mail; as long as it's not used in any authorized situation, no medical accreditations are needed; as long as the identity of the person or automaton whose mental status is assessed is unknown, one can't claim damages, because the sender is "Jazz Colors", which to me is a radio stream that has no legal personality), here's what I have sent them back for now:
I can only hope your lawyers are smarter that the person who wrote me back this answer and did not sign.
I am afraid what you meant to write is this: "I am not allowed to think rationally, and our lawyers told me I should threaten anyone".
For your knowledge, the URLs posted on my blog are PUBLIC URLs, and they are "REVEALED" by Microsoft Windows Media Player 10 when when clicking on File, Properties.
It is by no means "reverse engineering", "intellectual property violation", nor anything else your twisted mind might have thought of.
Now, if the recent U.S. legislation puts Internet Radios in danger because of the high fees they have to pay, I know of one Internet Radio who deserves to get bankrupt, because they don't have the minimum intelligence needed to stay in business. Too bad for the excellent music.
This is the most idiot lawsuit I have ever heard of — these people might come from the Stone Age, I assume; or maybe they don't know what a stream is and what an URL is, but they definitely know what a lawyer is.
I expect from Atlanta Blue Skye, LLC public apologies here, in this page.
P.S. They imagined that if they embed a media player in a web page, you can't right-click to find the URL that's currently played. They imagined there are no legitimate ways to find out your web traffic! I guess the website was designed by the first barber that got unemployed in Atlanta...
alert('The Right Mouse Button Is Disabled!')
They must be kidding! Even in MSIE 7.0, this can be rendered useless this way: while you right-click on Windows Media Player, keep the mouse button down, and hit ESC until the message box goes away. The contextual menu pops up. You only have to select Properties then. I believe that they should sue Microsoft for that.
I offered to help them redesign their website. Instead, what I get? A legal threat!
Definitely, America is producing more lawsuits than technology.
Judge Rejects RIAA Motion
In Lava v. Amurao, pending in the Southern District of New York, in White Plains, Judge Charles L. Brieant has entered an order denying the RIAA's motion to dismiss counterclaims for (a) declaratory judgment of non-infringement and (b) copyright misuse.
The Judge also granted the motion of the Electronic Frontier Foundation for leave to file an amicus curiae brief.
The copyright misuse counterclaim calls for the plaintiffs to forfeit their copyrights in the songs which form the basis for their suit, on the ground that they are "competitors in the business of recorded music.....[and] are a cartel acting collusively in violation of the antitrust laws and public policy, by litigating and settling all cases similar to this one together, and by entering into an unlawful agreement among themselves to prosecute and to dispose of all cases in an identical manner and through common lawyers..... Such actions represent an attempt....to secure for themselves rights far exceeding those provided by copyright laws......Such acts constitute misuse of copyrights, and lead to a forfeiture of the exclusive rights.....".
Mr. Amurao is represented by Richard A. Altman of Manhattan.
Study: Illegal Download Falls Among Youths
A new survey from the Business Software Alliance (BSA) found that illegal downloading by American youths has declined over the past three years. The BSA examined the downloading habits of Americans ages 8-18, and found that illegal downloading dropped by 24 percent since 2004. The first BSA survey in '04 found that 60 percent of those surveyed had downloaded music, movie, software or games without paying. In 2006, that percentage fell to 43 percent and in 2007, it hit just 36 percent.
What is causing them to back off from illegal downloading? The top response was fear of downloading viruses (62 percent), followed by legal repercussions (52 percent) and downloading spyware (51 percent). Getting in trouble with their parents ranked fourth.
"This study indicates that parents represent a growing and effective influence on the online practices of youth," said Diane Smiroldo, VP of public affairs for BSA. "But, while decreases in downloading are encouraging over recent years, youth are still taking too many risks online. We hope that parents continue to take seriously their role in helping their children make the right choices online."
Open Letter to Universities Whose Students Have Been Targeted by the RIAA
This is an historic opportunity for you to take steps to make the RIAA's litigation campaign more of a level playing field.
The way things are:
Once the RIAA has obtained whatever "settlement" money it can squeeze from students and parents willing and able to pay the money, and to agree to the other extortionate demands in the RIAA's standard nonnegotiable form 'settlement' agreement, it will bring a "John Doe" proceeding against the others. Contrary to the spirit of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it will do everything it possibly can, in that proceeding, ex parte. It will file the complaint without notice to anyone, and submit the ex parte discovery order application without notice to anyone. Then, once it's gotten an ex parte order signed by the judge, it will give minimal notice to you with minimal notice to your students, of an order which has already been entered.
Typically, "John Doe" will receive only a copy of a subpoena and a copy of the order with a letter from you, and will have just a few days, or at most a couple of weeks, to respond before his or her personal confidential information will be divulged. Meanwhile, if the student were to confer with a lawyer the lawyer doesn't know what to say, because he or she has no copy of the underlying summons and complaint, no copy of the papers upon which the ex parte order is based, and no copy of the judge's rules, all of which a defendant normally does receive in any normal litigation.
What you should, at a minimum, do for your students.
What you can do is insist that the RIAA stipulate with you that (a) any motion for an order granting discovery of the students' identities will be on notice, both to you and the students, rather than ex parte, (b) that the RIAA must furnish to you, for each "John Doe", a copy of the summons and complaint and exhibits, a full set of the motion papers, and a full set of all other court documents which are required to be served on the defendant when an action is initiated... for you to distribute to the affected students, before -- not after -- the motion is to be heard.
If the RIAA refuses to so stipulate, you should go to Court yourself and get an order requiring them to comply with these fundamentals which are required by due process.
What you should also do.
The courts have held that in order for a claimant to get an order for discovery of confidential names and addresses of a John Doe in a copyright infringement case, it must make a prima facie evidentiary showing, based on admissible evidence, that it has a case for copyright infringement against each "John Doe". See authorities cited in our memoranda of law:
Since the RIAA has been proceeding ex parte, however, and since they haven't been challenged by the ISP's, judges have signed off on the orders even though the applications were supported by conclusory, hearsay, opinion statements of suspect reliability which would never be considered admissible in any court in the United States. (Compare the courts of the Netherlands and Canada, where the ISP's challenged the application for "John Doe" information, and the Courts refused to grant the discovery orders, due to the unreliability of the RIAA's investigative "method").
The lack of reliability of the RIAA's "investigatory" technique is becoming more and more well documented. See, eg. the February 23, 2007, deposition of the RIAA's expert.
See also expert witness statement of Prof. Pouwelse and Dr. Sips:
and amicus curiae brief of the ACLU, Public Citizen, Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Association of Law Libraries, and ACLU Foundation of Oklahoma, in Capitol v. Foster decrying the RIAA's "driftnet" litigation strategy:
Other possible items of interest to include in your motion papers are (a) the in limine motion in UMG v. Lindor, which points out both that the RIAA has taken the position that MediaSentry will not testify as to the meaning of its "reports", and only the RIAA's "expert" can do that, and that the "expert's" testimony is inadmissible under Fed. R. Evid. 702 and Daubert, and (b) the report submitted to the USPTO in November 2006, and included as exhibit B to the answer in Atlantic v. DeMassi, which shows how most file sharers do not know if they are sharing files, and if so which files they are 'sharing'. http://www.ilrweb.com/viewILRPDF.asp...ter claimsExB
Accordingly, we believe you should oppose the RIAA's application for an order of discovery.
Likewise, if you learn of the RIAA obtaining such an order ex parte, you should move to vacate the order.
Typically, the RIAA joins a number of "John Does" in a single suit, in order to save itself money, even though under the Federal Rules such joinder is clearly improper. See, e.g. In re Cases Filed by Recording Companies, W.D. Texas, Austin Division (2004) http://www.eff.org/IP/P2P/RIAA_v_The...ance_order.pdf
In fact, the foregoing case specifically enjoined the RIAA to cease and desist from continuing its practice of joinder, an injunction which the RIAA has simply ignored. Opposing the RIAA's deliberate misjoinder of unrelated "John Doe" defendants is another thing you can do to assist your students and their families in achieving a more level playing field.
A third thing you can do is point out to the Court that there is no known cause of action for "making available", which is the basis of the RIAA's suits, in the Copyright Act. See Elektra v. Barker, argued January 26, 2007, and awaiting decision.
Free Speech vs. Class Disruption
Court to decide if teen can be suspended over video of teacher
Paul Shukovsky and Nina Akhmeteli
Once upon a time, a student who wanted to poke fun at a teacher would have left graffiti on the blackboard. These days, it's a video clip on YouTube.com and MySpace.com.
It was a sophomoric online video criticizing the hygiene of a teacher that was at issue in U.S. District Court on Monday, when Gregory Requa, a senior at Kentridge High School, asked a judge to order the lifting of his 40-day school suspension for his supposed involvement in producing and posting the video.
Requa's lawyer, Jeannette Cohen, said the teen didn't produce the video -- taken in an English classroom at Kentridge. But even if he did, his suspension is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, she argued in court.
"What is at stake here is the school district message that if you post things we don't like," you will be punished, Cohen said.
Kent School District lawyer Charles Lind says the suspension had nothing to do with online criticism of the teacher. Rather, it was punishment for the disruption created by the students secreting a video camera into Joyce Mong's class and dancing in a mocking, disrespectful manner while her back was turned.
"It's quite clear that the district is talking about conduct in the classroom and not the videotape," Lind said.
It's not the first time YouTube users have run afoul of someone's rules. The U.S. military recently banned soldiers in Iraq from using YouTube, over security concerns. The Thai government blocked a video that it said was disrespectful of the country's monarch. And this spring Comedy Central said that a YouTube parody of its parody "The Colbert Report" wasn't funny and ought to be removed.
The Kent case came to light in February when KOMO / 4 news aired a segment about videos posted on YouTube that are critical of teachers and used as an example the Kentridge High School video dubbed "Mongzilla."
The video questions Mong's bathing habits, the clutter in her classroom and her supposed possessiveness for tissues. It is set to popular music and includes such familiar student pranks as someone making "rabbit ears" with two fingers behind the teacher's head.
Kentridge officials investigated the video, and a student identified in court documents only as S.W. admitted to shooting it.
According to Requa's filings with the court, S.W. named Requa, 18, as being involved because school officials pressured him by saying it would reduce his punishment if he identified those involved with him in the production of the video.
Requa says he didn't produce the video, but acknowledges that he, among others at the school, posted a link to the video on his MySpace page. He removed the link when he heard about the KOMO news report.
Cohen said her client has "no disciplinary record at school, and he is the model student" with a 2.97 grade-point average.
His suspension began May 8. His right to participate in a statewide school leadership competition was revoked, and he lost a chance to compete for scholarship money connected with the program.
The suspension is not expected to jeopardize his graduation.
U.S. District Judge Marsh Pechman's analysis of the case was short and to the point on Monday: "Was he involved or not?"
Pechman said she would determine that fact. And the judge seemed to take a dim view toward the school district's "conspiracy" theory that holds that although Requa may not have been present for the shooting of the video, he shares responsibility as much as if he were there.
He had to have been involved in the classroom part of the operation to be disciplined, Pechman said.
Lind asked the court not to end Requa's 40-day suspension by issuing a temporary restraining order. "If he escapes a penalty, it sends a very negative message," Lind said. "It is important for other students to see there is accountability for their behavior."
But Pechman asked Lind about the accountability of the Kent School Board for making a decision on punishing a student using unsigned, unsworn statements from anonymous students.
Pechman said she will decide on whether to end Requa's suspension by the close of business Tuesday.
Mong said Monday that that she never realized she had been videotaped. She called the video's criticism of her hygiene "totally fictitious."
Mong, now retired, said: "When I heard about this, it just made me sick because they don't represent the wonderful kids at the school."
View the disputed video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHIJMWr1Zy0.
EMI in Play, Accepts Bid From Terra Firma
EMI, the international music conglomerate with artists such as the Beatles, Robbie Williams and Norah Jones, has accepted a $4.7 billion takeover bid from the private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners.
Though EMI officials are recommending the board proceed with the deal it doesn't mean Terra Firma will wind up with the company. Outside analysts believe the recording and publishing giant is now in play and that higher bids may emerge, perhaps from different sources.
EMI was recently in the news when it made a deal with Apple to sell DRM-free music files.
New Bidder Makes A Play For EMI
On Monday, EMI announced that its board of directors accepted an offer from private equity group Terra Firma to purchase the major label for $4.7 billion. The deal was worth 265 pence per share, or 2.4 billion pounds in total. But just 24 hours later another bidder emerged, as the New York Post reports that private equity firm Corvus Capital and former EMI chief executive Jim Fifield were preparing a bid of 278 pence per share yesterday. EMI's board will now have to consider the offer from Corvus or risk being sued by shareholders who may claim that the deal with Terra Firma undervalues their shares.
Corvus' bid is not only higher than Terra Firma's, but also significantly higher than what any other private equity group had offered during the auction process. The bid also might be higher than what longtime suitor Warner Music Group is willing to pony up. WMG executives are still considering whether to bid for EMI or wait to see how the current deal with Terra Firma plays out, according to the Post.
Meanwhile, sources said that Corvus has already lined up a buyer for EMI's music publishing business if its bid is accepted, and that Corvus plans to retain and run the recorded music side of the operation on a much smaller scale with less employees and less new music. However, that fact could work against Corvus despite its higher offer, because EMI reportedly chose Terra Firma over Warner Music because the firm would keep EMI intact, in addition to the fact that there would be few regulatory obstacles.
A source told Reuters on Monday, "Terra Firma sees significant opportunity on both sides of the business. It believes in the digital growth opportunity in the music market, in general, and so the expectation is that the business will be held together."
EU Approves Vivendi-Bertelsmann Deal
European regulators have approved the estimated $2.1 billion purchase by Vivendi of the Bertelsmann music publishing unit, a deal that will give Vivendi unmatched market power in determining how much performers and songwriters earn from their creations.
The acquisition of the unit, BMG Music Publishing, which is expected to close shortly, means that the Universal Music Group of Vivendi, already the world's biggest record company, will also become the biggest music publisher. That distinction previously belonged to the publishing division of the EMI Group. The purchase was approved Tuesday.
Universal already controls both recording and publishing rights for performers like U2 and 50 Cent. The new deal adds other performers, including Rammstein and Keane. Universal will also control publishing from acts under other labels, including Coldplay.
The regulators in Brussels expressed concern that the combined company would exert too much power, particularly as the industry sells more music through digital services and mobile phones.
To ward off regulatory opposition, Universal said it would shed certain publishing catalogs from Zomba Music and Rondor UK.
Independent record labels, led by the trade organization Impala, are objecting to the deal, saying it would enable collusion among the biggest companies and reduce competition.
Regulators are reconsidering their previous approval of the merger of record labels owned by Bertelsmann and Sony.
Learning as Easy as Pie
The "One Laptop Per Child" Project Enters its Critical Phase
Once upon a time, a man set out to give away an exceptional laptop to millions of children. What sounds like a fairy tale is actually the "One Laptop per Child" (OLPC) project, which is already supplying interested governments with laptops. It expects to cross the one-million next year.
Originally called the 100 dollar laptop, its name is now XO, as is the one sent to c't magazine. The non-profit organization called One Laptop per Child (OLPC) developed the XO laptop, which was the brainchild of Nicholas Negroponte. XO is not only an entry-level laptop, but also part of a comprehensive education project. Negroponte, cofounder of MIT's Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, launched One Laptop per Child in collaboration with other staff members at in July of 2005.
OPLC is based on the conviction that capacity building and the education of schoolchildren in developing and industrializing nations will make the world a bit more just and peaceful. The XO laptop provides users with a means of communications and access to content to promote this goal. The OLPC's goals are grand: millions of XOs are to be manufactured. In two years, the annual production is to reach around 100 million items, more than the current global annual production of all notebooks.
The organization is developing the hardware and software for the XO and pulls the strings for the manufacture and sale of the devices. It has already signed a contract for the production of the laptop with the world's largest notebook manufacturer Quanta, which will be manufacturing the laptops at its plant in the eastern Chinese town of Changshu. The first batch of 875 prototypes (code-named BTest-1) was delivered to developers at the end of last year; in February, Quanta shipped a four-digit number of the second prototype called BTest-2. This year, serial production of the first million XO laptops is to be completed, but developers still have their work cut out for them if they are going to reach that goal, as the list of errors for BTest-2 illustrates (wiki.laptop.org/go/BTest 2_Release_Notes).
Initially, OLPC planned to sell the laptop only to governments, not consumers or retailers. While selling the XO via conventional sales channels would help fund the project, possibly with an additional charge added on, the small staff at the OLPC says it does not have the capacity to go that route; it even does without a marketing team. After an analyst meeting in May, OLPC doesn't rule out shipping of XO Laptops to U.S. schools any more.
A comprehensive security concept and cooperation with United Nations staff are to ensure that the XO does not fall into the wrong hands once it has been delivered to government agencies. Furthermore, hardware is being selected to make the units unattractive for thieves. These steps are being taken to prevent a gray market from being created when millions of XO laptops are bestowed upon the world.
The UN and donations help
At present, nations like Argentina, Brazil, Libya, and Nigeria have already promised to order a total of almost 3 million laptops. Only Libya has already signed an agreement; it has agreed to provide each of its 1.2 million schoolchildren with one of the laptops. Time will tell what these declarations of intent are worth once the laptop has reached serial production, because then the OLPC plans to start signing purchase agreements.
The OLPC says that production will begin when governments have ordered a total of five to 10 million units. After recent difficulties in reaching this goal, OLPC set the order minimum to 3 million and plans to sell XO to U.S. schools.
To reach this goal, the OLPC's Chairman Negroponte is drumming up support on the world's political stage. In January of 2005, he announced the founding of the OLPC as an organization at the World Economic Summit in Davos, and in November of 2005 he presented the laptop along with Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary-General, at the World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia.
But handshakes at the highest political level are not the only way that the project is to be expanded to a large number of countries; rather, Negroponte and Kemal Dervis, head of the UN's Development Program (UNDP) signed an agreement at the World Economic Summit 2006 in which the UNDP promises to use its 166 offices in almost all nations to support the OLPC project from initial contact with education ministers all the way to logistics.
Such a large project requires sound financing. The start-up capital comes from sponsors: AMD, Brightstar, Google, Marvell, News Corporation, SES Global, and Red Hat. In May of 2006, Nortel Networks and eBay also got on board. By February of 2006, Negroponte had managed to collect 20 million dollars from the sponsors, which would not have been possible without his charisma and excellent contacts. The OLPC can not only cover all of its expenses with this funding, but also the costs for the development of the laptop. The OLPC consists of only 10 chief members and eight consultants, including Alan Kay and CTO Mary Lou Jepsen.
The sheer size of the project makes it interesting for major industry players. In addition, the large scale is necessary to keep the cost of the XO down. Naturally, all of the sponsors want to earn money from hardware and software in the production of the XO; while the companies are supporting the OLPC, they will be paying that money back to themselves once production of the XO starts. Quanta will be earning money from the manufacture, Red Hat from Fedora Linux, and CMO from the display. Marvell plans to sell the WLAN hardware at a profit, Google is providing cards, and eBay is chipping in with Skype and PayPal. In Libya, SES Astra will be setting up a satellite system.
For the first round XO laptops, the sales price has just risen from 150 to 175 US dollars; the XO will thus not to be a 100 dollar laptop at the outset. The laptop will cost around 160 US dollars, with the display and the CPU plus chipset being the two largest cost items at around 30 US dollars apiece. Quanta & Co. thus have a margin of 10 to 20 US dollars. After manufacture, the OLPC will make sure that the laptops reach governments. The governmental agencies involved will handle logistics on location, possibly with the assistance of the UNDP.
Even stripped-down x86 notebooks cost too much, and current operating systems are not suitable for children. Therefore, common AMD/Intel hardware is not being taken into consideration, nor are current operating systems and their user interfaces. The project had to start from scratch. In doing so, it came up with an XO that contains a lot of innovations because the project did not have to focus on the compatibility of hardware and software.
An entirely new laptop
The display is sensational, the envisioned power consumption record- breaking, and operation different from the ground up - not just intuitive, but playful in the ideal case. The OLPC is considering a mechanical generator to provide power where electricity from wall sockets is a luxury. c't received a prototype from the first batch for a test drive.
Design Continuum designed the original laptop, with Fuseproject taking up the design for the prototypes now available. The XO is an inch smaller than a 12-inch notebook and weighs around one kilogram with the battery. Because the mainboard is in the lid behind the display, the bottom part of the laptop containing the keyboard is very thin – ideal for children's hands. The keys are also specially designed for this target audience with a width of 13.3 millimeters, compared to the 19-millimeter keys used on notebook keyboards for adults.
The bottom half of the laptop extends behind the display when closed, exposing a stable handle. When the display is opened, the handle prevents the laptop from tipping over to the back due to its relatively heavy lid. The opened machine is expected to be robust against dirt and drops of water. The laptop's case thickness measures two millimeters, which also increases the robustness of the units.
The core of the mainboard is a 366 MHz Geode GX2-500 processor with a mere 32 KB of cache. The x86-compatible CPU is otherwise mainly found in embedded hardware. It contains an integrated graphics chip and Northbridge, but the Southbridge AMD CS5536 rides on its own chip with USB 2.0, audio, and an IDE connection with a data connection of 32 MHz. The system has its own memory controller because the one in the Geode system was too slow for the developers.
While the computing performance does not nearly match that of current notebooks, the Geode 500 also peaks at a consumption of 3.5 watts, with the chipset making do with less than one watt; Geode systems have been optimized for especially low power consumption. Since the mainboard can do without a fan and a cooling system completely in light of these values, it fits into the lid behind the display.
The laptop will have 256 MB of DDR 266 DRAM but no hard drive, storing data instead on 1024 MB of NAND flash memory (prototype BTest- 1 has 128 MB DDR and 512 NAND flash). The XO also does without an optical drive, meaning that it has no moving parts inside. Extensions can, however, be added via USB slots and a single SD card slot.
Data can be stored on a school computer via WLAN. The OLPC plans to provide such a server with 330 gigabytes of memory for roughly 100 US dollars. Unfortunately, the first such server has yet to be seen. Few schoolchildren live near their school; most live near other schoolchildren. So the developers came up with something clever for wireless connections between XOs via WLAN: the WLAN chips operate as a mesh, with each laptop passing on data for others. Less infrastructure is needed in such mesh networks; in extreme cases, all that is needed is a single WLAN base station to get all of the schoolchildren connected to the Internet.
As "mesh point portals", individual XOs keep in contact with the WLAN base station providing access to the Internet. Each one passes on data to the other mesh points. The entire mesh works from one and the same WLAN interface. The OLPC laptop is the first implementation of the IEEE's 802.11s standard for mesh networks.
Marvell's 88W8388 USB WLAN chip presented at the beginning of 2005 provides a connection to this network within the XO. The chip contains an ARM processor core in addition to a bit of RAM as firmware memory; it communicates in accordance with IEEE 802.11g. Thanks to its ARM core, the WLAN controller can even stay in contact when the XO is switched off. But you shouldn't expect to break any speed records with a WLAN mesh: the typical data rate across multiple nodes would be pretty slow for DSL at one to two megabits per second. But that would be enough to look something up in an online encyclopedia or to communicate by e-mail and chat. Above all, the mesh serves to network children without any external connections. In fact, the XO is even useful for video conferences via Skype or Telepathy thanks to the installed camera and microphone.
The XO's main selling point is its display. Only 7.5 inches across, the panel was developed completely anew by Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO) and is easy to read both in full sunlight and indoors, surpassing all common laptop displays in this respect. The panel has two modes of operation. Behind the layer of fluid crystals is a sort of sieve whose broad lattices reflect and refract ambient light. Because the color filters are behind it and therefore do not play any role in creating images, you see a black and white image in bright light (mode of operation 1). Thanks to an incredible resolution of 200 dpi (1200 x 900 pixels), text appears razor-sharp; other notebook displays have a long way to go to match this performance. The BTest-1 prototype has a reflecting display, while the BTest-2 machine does not.
Once the LED backlight is switched on, light passes through the color filters from behind and penetrates the holes in the distribution sieve, creating a color image (mode of operation 2). Each of the 1200 x 900 pixels is then either red, green, or blue. As it takes one green, one red, and one blue subpixel to create a pixel, the resolution of color images is only around 800 x 600. The DCON display controller provides for automatic antialiasing to smooth out edges. In addition, it refreshes the image even when the rest of the computer is on standby. Luminous intensity is only 64 cd/m2, half that of a normal notebook panel, and contrast leaves something to be desired at 82:1. But that's enough indoors, and outdoors the ambient light helps, though the more ambient light there is, the less color you see.
A few keys are provided to set the brightness of the display. The XO will also have a back light sensor, though the prototype either did not have one or it simply didn't work. In our measurements, we determined power consumption of 1.5 watts for the display, but power consumption is to be reduced down to one watt. This value may also be a new world record; other displays consume at least four times as much power.
Ergonomics and ports
A capacitive touchpad is found below the keyboard; you can move the cursor with your finger as usual. But in addition, the entire surface to the left and right of the touchpad can also be used for input because a resistive layer is below it. You can use a stylus to write on it or draw pictures.
Of course, the XO is designed to promote reading. The display can therefore be turned on its axis and closed on top of the keyboard as is done with the tablet PCs called "convertibles". But unlike them, the XO does not have a touch-sensitive display. A few keys and a navigation knob on the margin of the display, however, allow the Sugar user interface to be operated without one. Field tests currently underway may reveal whether the link connecting the convertible display to the keyboard will withstand handling by children. It might turn out to be a weak point. The organization has already sent some of the B2 prototypes to a few countries, including several hundred XOs intended for Brazilian schoolchildren. In addition, around 100 XOs have also been delivered to a test school in Galadima, Nigeria. No results have been published yet for these tests.
Ports are hidden to the left and right at the top of the display behind flaps. On the right, there are two USB ports; to the left, an audio port and an additional USB connection. The audio port also has a mode in which it serves as an input as an A/D converter, which is useful for handicraft projects using photo sensors or measurement devices, for example. The two flaps not only protect the ports, but also serve as WLAN antennas.
Battery or wind-up
A nickel metal hydride battery consisting of five cells stores 22.8 Wh, around a half to a third of what is normally found in notebooks. Lithium-ion batteries have been deemed too dangerous by the developers, but new lithium batteries may mean that the XO will eventually not contain NiMH, which discharge quickly.
Negroponte has a very optimistic target for the XO's power consumption: two watts. Compared to around 10 watts for even the thriftiest laptops, that would be an excellent performance, giving the machine of runtime of more than 10 hours despite the small battery capacity. The prototypes are nowhere near this performance because power management does not yet work. At present, the laptop runs for 2.5 hours with and 3.5 hours without display illumination, consuming 9.1 and 6.5 watts, respectively.
Low power consumption is important for areas without a connection to the grid or with only intermittent power supply. Power consumption has to be so low that the battery charge will cover most of the day and allow the small amount of power from a crank to charge it. Originally, the XO was designed with a crank inside the case. It turned out that the mechanical load was too great, so that this type of power supply has been taken off the drawing board. Now, a type of yo-yo is being discussed: the generator has a windup string and provides enough power for 10 minutes of XO operation from one minute of winding. The system has not, however, reached the prototype status yet.
Software for education
The user interface and applications are based on a didactic concept that relies on Seymour Papert's and Alan Kay's later theories of constructive learning. Negroponte's ideas, which he has described in his bestseller "Being Digital", have also been implemented. Only open source software will be used on the XO both in terms of drivers and file formats. But the OLPC had to make one exception: the firmware for the WLAN controller is currently only available as a binary image. Otherwise, schoolchildren are to be allowed to change their system as much as possible. And that requires open code.
The BIOS is a LinuxBIOS with OpenFirmware. LinuxBIOS is licensed under the GNU GPL; the source code is therefore in principle open to everyone and can be edited. A streamlined version of Red Hat's Fedora Linux (kernel 2.6.19) is installed on the computers along with a graphical interface called Sugar developed especially for the OLPC. The language and fonts in the user interface and applications will be localized, as will the keyboard.
After booting, the project's X-shaped logo appears in the middle of Sugar. Once the mouse is moved towards the edge of the screen or a special key is pressed, a wide frame containing various symbols appears. At the top left, there is a circle with eight dots that stands for the group of all users currently in the mesh network. A circle with three dots symbolizes a group of people individually chosen. And if you click on a circle with only one dot, you can work alone with your own applications.
At the bottom left, the Sugar interface contains symbols that launch preinstalled programs. BTest-1 contains Mozilla as a browser, the drawing and experimenting environment called eToys, AbiWord for word processing, a type of memory game, and TamTam to experiment with sounds, melodies, and rhythms . As soon as you have clicked on the image of a musical instrument, you can use the keyboard as though it were a piano to create sounds. This well designed music program also provides percussion accompaniment for your own compositions. In the future, the software package will also include a flash player and a multimedia/e-book reader.
The final version of the OLPC will probably also contain a variant of the Logo programming language developed by Seymour Papert. This concept is designed to allow young children to experiment and gather their first programming experience. The eToys environment is better for older pupils, while teenagers can work with Python.
EToys is closely linked to Squeak, a dialect of the object-oriented programming language called Smalltalk. Teachers, psychologists, and education theorists not only in the US, but in numerous projects in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are looking into the possibilities that this open-source development environment offers in math and natural science classes. The name eToys, which is often used as synonymously with Squeak, designates an interface designed especially for children to allow elementary school pupils access to this programming language. It is very easy for them to animate objects they have drawn themselves and observe how the objects behave on the screen. In the process, they begin dealing with physics concepts of velocity and acceleration while they are playing.
Currently, the developers are working on a journal function they later want to integrate in AbiWord as an editor. Pupils would then be able to track their own steps in the journal. They would be able to find, for instance, a text they were working on yesterday morning by looking through their journal for that time. The journal would thereby make it unnecessary for users to select a folder for files to be stored in. Furthermore, the XO will also contain a chat and e-mail client.
The developers have uploaded numerous videos to such video stream websites as YouTube to present the look and feel of Sugar and the currently available applications. If you have VMware or QEMU on Windows, Mac OS, or Linux computer, you can even test drive Sugar yourself. The developers also offer free images of the current stock of software including instruction manuals.
Definitely only for kids
To make it less attractive to steal individual laptops and, in particular, to prevent contaminants from spreading across networked XOs as quick as lightning, the OLPC's officer for security issues recently presented the security concept called Bitfrost . The concept came too late for BTest-2 so that we could not have a look at it.
We do know that Bitfrost prevents the XO from being used until it is activated. The codes for activation are found on a USB stick provided to the school and used in the local OLPC server. Once the unit has been activated and booted for the first time, the system creates a key pair consisting of the name of the child and an image taken of it. The child then has a digital identity. Local anti-theft servers will then regularly query the laptops, and the OLPC will be able to shut down the XO if an improper ID is detected.
The software used on the XO is designed to allow children to change it to suit their needs. External backups and data recovery are therefore part of the security concept. Open systems are not supposed to have secret security protection; rather, users are to have as much control as possible – even if they cannot read. In other words, prompting the user with questions like "Do you really want to launch this program?" is not an option.
For administrators in the business world, allowing children to change program lines, see the code, and play around in Python would be a nightmare, but Bitfrost takes that into consideration by strictly controlling what an application is allowed to do every time the system performs an action. For instance, the kernel and the OS in the NAND flash memory remained unchanged. Some applications can only read, while others can only write and edit. Applications that are not essential for a current operation are only allotted 10 percent of the CPU. Documents that the user creates are not directly part of a file system; instead, a file memory service links to these documents.
Naturally, Bitfrost allows you to use your own software, but users are not allowed to change the preinstalled software. Users can sign their own programs with a "developer key." The official software updates will also consist only of signed applications.
Must-have or hype?
At present, not all of the software runs, the hardware still has the status of a prototype, and the XO has no security concept. In light of the shortcomings, the goal of having the laptop ready for serial production in 2007 seems very ambitious. After all, this would be the largest IT launch in history, and not even the staff at the OLPC expects it to run smoothly. On the other hand, even postponing the project by a few years would not be a catastrophe if the OLPC manages in the end to give millions of schoolchildren a chance to educate themselves in a way they could not before.
Since it was founded less than two years ago, the OLPC has gone further than many believed possible. Now, the project has reached a critical phase because the next few months will decide whether the XO is the real McCoy or just a bunch of hype. Once development of the XO is finished, interested countries will have to put their money where their mouths are and enter into purchase agreements for millions of XO laptops. The promises made by ministers up to now will be worth nothing then.
To make things worse, it is not clear whether Thailand is still willing to purchase a laptop after the elections in 2006. Similar question marks arise after the April-election in Nigeria. India also originally showed great interest in XO, but last year it dropped the project, saying that there were more efficient ways of promoting education than giving each pupil an OLPC laptop. India's withdrawal from the project was just as great a defeat as was China's. Negroponte's pressing-the-flesh at the highest political level is thus decisive for the rollout of the project, i.e. for the first round of deliveries.
In the midterm, the success of the OLPC will be measured in terms of whether the pilot project has gotten additional nations on board. If it is to succeed, the OLPC will have to show that any nation can afford the XO. As usual when it comes to costs, opinions differ. The OLPC estimates that it will cost some 30 US dollars to operate the laptop per annum, a price the organization says makes the laptop just as inexpensive for governments to operate as to purchase. That may even be true for Libya, but 175 million US dollars for a million laptops would leave a major hole in the budgets of Nigeria or Rwanda.
To make things worse, the OLPC has yet to officially explain what will happen with defective XO laptops in Africa, Asia, and South America – in other words, who will offer service and support and what additional costs the countries will incur. International financial service provider Merrill Lynch & Co. sees this area as one of the main weak points for the future of the project. The OLPC believes that the laptops will be used for five years, but if a large number of the notebooks are stacked up in the corner broken because of insufficient servicing, it will be hard to find additional countries to help the project reach its goal of 100 million XOs. And yet, Quanta's business plan is based on that figure. Merrill Lynch is more skeptical and has forecast only 40 million laptops by 2010.
In the long-term, the OLPC will have to prove that it can reach the education goals it has set for itself. Egypt has already shown how easy it is to run a program with good intentions into the wall. In 1994, Egypt's Education Ministry founded its Technology Development Center (TDC) to equip schools with computers, satellite television, and Internet connections. The project did not work because the technology was propped up on the current educational system. Access was regulated for pupils, and teachers could not cope with the videoconferencing system for training. A lot of money was invested in this IT project, but it did not do much good.
The OLPC has had a much more promising beginning because it focuses on children, not technology. Children can play with the available software and the system's open structure to learn at their own pace – dynamic learning instead of frontal instruction. In the OLPC project, teachers do not play such a key role as they did in Egypt. While the OLPC school server must be running for there to be Internet access and new e-books to be downloaded for use as textbooks, networking from one laptop to the other is possible without it. And as adults generally have a harder time learning new things than children do, this approach seems more promising. After all, teaching teachers how to work with computers is a challenge even in countries like Germany.
The project's critics argue that developing countries need other things more than laptops, which is certainly true for countries suffering from famine, war, and political turmoil. The XO laptop can only make a true contribution if there is a certain amount of infrastructure, a certain standard of living, and a willingness to fight corruption. The OLPC agrees, which is why the main parties interested in the project are from the G20 emerging countries. In addition, the OLPC does not believe it has a remedy for all of the world's problems; rather it sees itself as one of many nongovernmental organizations.
Even though it is an education project, the prospect of a market for 100 million laptops is drawing the attention of major players who have not yet gotten on board. Intel and Microsoft originally laughed about the project, with Bill Gates even commenting, "get a real laptop." But when Microsoft produced a revamped cell phone as its proposed alternative for countries that have ground to make up in the field of IT in schools and then recommended an ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), it was the critics of Microsoft who had the last laugh at the software vendor's knee-jerk reaction. After all, the UMPC has a short run time, is the very embodiment of poor ergonomics, and costs 1000 euros. It cannot compete with the XO.
As the OLPC project increasingly proved to be a success, people began to take it more seriously. Bill Gates himself jumped on the bandwagon in December when he announced that he wanted to have Windows on the XO. Negroponte was quick to respond winking that the SD slot had only been installed for Microsoft to begin with; after all, Windows needs more than a gigabyte of memory, whereas the XO only has 512 MB. Windows on the XO was dead on arrival.
In contrast, Intel is taking the matter seriously. The chip manufacturer has come up with its own education project it calls World Ahead. The project's notebook was named Eduwise but is now called Classmate and is expected to cost 400 US dollars. Classmate is somewhat smaller than the XO with a seven-inch display (800 x 480, 133 dpi), one gigabyte of flash memory instead of a hard drive, and a Celeron M (900 MHz). The laptop is expected to run for four hours from the battery. Windows XP Embedded is the operating system used, but Linux will also be possible. Among others, China, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Nigeria have showed interest. Brazil has a two-pronged strategy and is currently testing both XOs and classmate prototypes. Intel says that serial production has already begun.
Intel will be financing its World Ahead program with a total of one billion dollars over the next few years. The goal is to bring nations closer to current technology and high-speed Internet access as well as to provide training for teachers and schoolchildren. The company has not, however, explained how the money would be distributed specifically and what the nations will have to pay for themselves.
As the example of Intel shows, the OLPC is obviously motivating companies with great assets to help improve the lot of countries with insufficient IT infrastructure. These developments are positive as long as they are coupled to an educational program and are not merely intended to pour hardware over these countries as from a cornucopia. These projects cannot be compared to others like India's Simputer or China's Longmeng with Godson processors, which are currently not viable. They, too, wish to bring the digital world to areas not currently covered, but their focus is purely commercial.
Those behind One Laptop per Child, especially Nicholas Negroponte, are apparently pulling the right strings. This education project aims to provide as many schoolchildren as possible in developing and emerging nations with the most inexpensive laptops available. The project has gone an incredibly long way in a short time. Despite all the obstacles, criticism, and unanswered questions, the OLPC has the potential to bring a large number of people into contact with modern forms of communication and impart knowledge. The XO laptops already shipped out are a clear sign of what can be done when visionaries, global firms, and international political organizations work together.
When it comes to education, the OLPC has learned from the mistakes made in other projects, especially when new technology becomes the responsibility of teachers. OLPC board member Michail Bletsas recently stated in an interview on the Austrian radio during the 3GSM, "I believe it is a cost-efficient way of effecting change within the educational sector by getting children to teach themselves something instead of basing everything on the traditional approach of building schools and training teachers – which can take generations." For a purchase price of 175 US dollars, the OLPC has come up with a laptop and a user interface that schoolchildren in industrial countries would also benefit from. In addition, the little computer is full of innovations: the dual-mode display works indoors and in broad daylight, and no other notebook offers mesh networking.
The next few steps will determine the success of the project. The XO laptop and its software will have to be made ready for serial production, and purchase agreements will have to be signed with pilot states for millions of laptops. The discussions about running XO laptops with Windows and selling machines to U.S. schools have little to do with an educational project for developing countries. This shows the enormous difficulties OLPC has in getting sufficient orders. The project seems to be at a crucial point. The future only looks bright for OLPC if the organisation manages to maintain the pace ist has shown during the last two years. (translated by Craig Morris)
OLPC Seeks Educational Games for XO Laptop
The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Project is asking software coders to develop free, open-source educational computer games for the XO laptop, continuing its push toward a September launch date.
OLPC on Thursday offered a laptop prize for software teams who create new games during a three-day "game jam" scheduled to begin June 8 on the campus of Olin College, an engineering school in Needham, Massachusetts.
By increasing the software available for the XO, OLPC hopes to encourage governments of developing countries to order more laptops, pushing the group to its sales goal of 3 million units by May 30. OLPC had collected 2.5 million orders by late April, but needed to boost sales enough to order bulk computer parts and stick to the manufacturing schedule.
An OLPC spokesman was sanguine about the goal, calling the date an arbitrary deadline that could also be affected by software and hardware changes as developers put the finishing touches on the beta version of the XO laptop, according to an e-mail from OLPC's public relations agency.
However, production has already slipped from an original date in July, and could be set back further by spiraling prices. Last month, OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte said the price of the "hundred-dollar laptop" had risen to US$175.
Negroponte also says that his nonprofit effort is being hurt by well-funded competition from Intel Corp.'s Classmate PC, also a low-budget, power-efficient PC designed as an educational tool for children in developing countries.
The game-making contest marks a new effort by OLPC to increase momentum for the XO.
"The purpose of the game jam is getting people together to hack for a couple of days. Hopefully this will be the first of many," said SJ Klein, OLPC's director of content.
XO users already have their choice of certain games in a "Pygames" library of open-source applications written in the Python programming language, and the XO's eToys application that allows children to create their own basic media and games, he said.
But in the game jam, developers could create new types of games that rely on features of the XO's design such as mesh networking between nearby users, an integrated still or video camera, and a tablet mode for mobile gaming.
"There aren't too many games right now that take advantage of mesh style networking," said Klein, referring to the XO's ability to use Wi-Fi to communicate with other users up to a kilometer away, and display them as icons on its Sugar interface. "There are networked games, sure, but they aren't sensitive to the ability to display the presence of other users depending on where they are in relation to you, or to pop up on the screen when they are close enough."
Beyond creating games that teach specific tasks like counting or reading, OLPC hopes the contest will produce templates that allow kids to build their own games, according to OLPC's development guidelines.
In keeping with the group's decision to use an open-source
Linux OS in the XO computer, OLPC will release all games created at the weekend-long event under the open-source GNU General Public License, and post them on the SourceForge site.
'$100 Laptop' Sparks War of Words
Chip-maker Intel "should be ashamed of itself" for efforts to undermine the $100 laptop initiative, according to its founder Nicholas Negroponte.
He accused Intel of selling its own cut-price laptop - the Classmate - below cost to drive him out of markets.
Professor Negroponte, who aims to distribute millions of laptops to kids in developing countries, said Intel had hurt his mission "enormously".
Speaking to US broadcaster CBS, Intel's chairman denied the claims.
"We're not trying to drive him out of business," said Craig Barrett. "We're trying to bring capability to young people."
Mr Barrett has previously dismissed the $100 laptop as a "gadget".
Speaking to the BBC News website earlier this year Professor Negroponte said: "The concept has received a lot of criticism and yet after that criticism they are either copying it or doing things perfectly in line with the concept.
"Yes people laugh at it, then they criticise it, then they copy it."
Both Intel and Professor Negroponte's not for profit organisation, One Laptop per Child (OLPC), have developed a low cost, robust laptop aimed specifically at school children in the developing world.
There are various differences in both the hardware and software, but Professor Negroponte believes the main problem is that his machine uses a processor designed by Intel's main competitor, AMD.
"Intel and AMD fight viciously," he told CBS. "We're just sort of caught in the middle."
Professor Negroponte says Intel has distributed marketing literature to governments with titles such as "the shortcomings of the One Laptop per Child approach", which outline the supposedly stronger points of the Classmate.
Mr Barrett told CBS: "Someone at Intel was comparing the Classmate PC with another device being offered in the marketplace. That's the way our business works."
He dismissed claims that Intel was trying to put OLPC out of business as "crazy".
"There are lots of opportunities for us to work together," he said.
Professor Negroponte's project is currently in a critical phase.
Countries have until 31 May to place their orders for the first batch and will be able to purchase lots of 250,000.
They will initially cost $176 (£90) but the eventual aim is to sell the machine to governments of developing countries for $100 (£50).
Intel says it already has orders for "thousands" of Classmates, which currently cost over $200 (£100).
Like the OLPC machine, Intel expects the price to eventually fall.
Five Days With the Classmate PC and Mandriva
Some say the Classmate PC is Intel's answer to (or competition with) the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) effort. Intel is hawking the lilliputian laptop in "emerging markets" like Nigeria, India, and Mexico as a solution for worldwide education of primary and secondary students. It's to be officially released and shipped en masse to schools in Africa and South and Central America by the end of June. Recently my children and I borrowed a Classmate PC loaded with a custom version of Mandriva Linux. Most of us had fun.
The Classmate comes out of the box wrapped in a sky blue vinyl cover that extends out to a built-in handle with, interestingly, a magnetic closure. This is some tiny technology -- Classmate is about the size of a medium textbook and weighs only about 2 1/2 pounds. Intel says it is a "rugged learning device." With that in mind, I turned the Classmate over to my built-in target market, my eight-year-old daughter.
The Classmate PC
Mackenzie booted up the Classmate before I even had the box completely unpacked. She's a whiz at Windows, and she had no problem maneuvering through KDE and figuring out where OpenOffice.org resided. Mackenzie wants to be a writer when she grows up, so she spends lots of time on a computer composing works of fiction and transcribing from books and other printed material. Classmate and Mandriva handled this task with ease, as you might expect. Though my fingers cramped and I often hit the wrong keys, Mackenzie's hands didn't mind the very small keyboard, and if she noticed that there was only one set of Shift, Fn, Ctrl, and Alt keys, or that the +/= and "/' keys had been moved to save space, or that the space bar seemed to have been reduced to half its size, she didn't mention it. It seemed to me, however, that if kids learn to type with this keyboard, they're going to have to relearn a few things when they graduate to a full-sized computer.
Alas, typing stories won't keep Mackenzie's attention forever. Eventually she wants to get online and find games to play, send a few email messages to family and friends, and check actor Corbin Bleu's Web site for new pictures.
The Classmate is so adorably cozy it make you want to snuggle up on a comfy couch or lean back on some pillows on the floor while you surf. Good thing wireless is built right in. Too bad the typical Linux foibles apply. The first snag was having to log in as root to check the system configuration because the Classmate wouldn't log on to the network. Something tells me most elementary and high school teachers with nothing but Windows experience aren't going to get that. The second snag was that I did not know the root password. In fact, I had no login information whatsoever, and Mandriva had been configured to automatically log me in. I contacted Mandriva tech support, since Mandriva had provided the OS image to Intel, and got the root password later that day. Normally, Intel will provide end user tech support on Classmates.
I discovered there was a conflict between the wireless adapter and the X Window System that caused the Classmate to lock up hard every time we tried to connect. "I hope Intel has not changed the hardware in your sample," a Mandriva technician wrote. He said he would retrace the steps they used to get the wireless working and send them to me. Mandriva eventually sent an updated driver RPM with instructions and screenshots, which fixed the hardware conflict. Once we got connected, basic Web browsing posed no problems, except that the system's Flash plugin needed updating, which again required intervention from me for root login and knowledge of how to install software from an RPM.
Mackenzie also discovered and enjoyed playing with Tux Typing, which came preinstalled and worked perfectly. And over five days, that was the extent of her interest in Classmate, although she and her brothers used it often when they weren't allowed to use the "big computer." Once I saw them using Classmate and the "big computer" side by side as they played Club Penguin -- kind of a Second Life for kids.
Classmate with Mandriva comes with DansGuardian proxy and Web filtering software so that parents and teachers can restrict access to objectionable content online. You can enter keywords to filter or block sites by IP address or URL. I also noticed a user account dubbed "parental," but once again, neither Intel nor Mandriva sent me information about this, and there's nothing on their sites. Intel says it sends extra documentation and provides tech support for Classmates in the field.
On the hardware side, Classmate comes with a 900MHz Intel processor, 256MB DDR-II RAM, a 7-inch LCD 800x480 display, 1GB of flash storage, built-in speakers and microphone and a jack for external input, Ethernet jack connection and built-in 802.11b/g wireless, and two USB ports.
After five days with three active kids, the Classmate PC still works, and shows relatively few signs of wear -– just a little dirt and an unidentified food stain of some kind, probably ketchup, on the vinyl cover, which along with a thicker than usual plastic case provides extra protection from kids. The keyboard is not sealed, but we didn't need to clean it -- it wasn't that dirty. We ran through the battery three times, but Classmate was running most of the time we had it; the battery life was pretty good, lasting at least two hours at a time.
The Classmate seems durable and easy to use. I would recommend it for the same type of computer user I recommend desktop Linux to: a non-power user who does light-duty surfing, email, and word processing or spreadsheets, basic wired Internet, and no multimedia stuff. Anything more than that is going to require tech support. If the students in Mexico, India, and Nigeria stick to the basics, they'll fall in love with the Classmate loaded with Mandriva, like Mackenzie did.
The $85 Computer
In its attempts to sell you ever-more expensive PCs, the computer industry is constantly producing faster, smaller and sexier machines. That's great for gamers, technophiles and Dell shareholders. But what about the rest of us? What do we get from all the bells and whistles piled into today's PCs?
Not enough to justify the $1,000 price tag the industry hopes we'll go for. The average consumer spends just $741 on a PC today, compared with $912 three years ago, according to the Consumer Electronics Association--even though advances in technology mean new machines have more processing power, memory and other features.
In fact, many consumers don't need to upgrade. A bare-bones computer suits them just fine--and these days, they can buy them for as little as $85.
That minuscule price is attached to Norhtec's Microclient JrSX, a desktop PC the size of a large novel. The Microclient is no Powerbook; it has only 128 megabytes of RAM and a 300-megahertz processor. And instead of a hard drive, it's designed to store data on flash cards. Thailand-based Norhtec's founder, Michael Barnes, says he's already sold thousands of the machines.
Most of those customers have been businesses: One group of McDonald's restaurants bought 1,200 to set up their wi-fi networks, he says, and a Canadian diamond-mining Arctic expedition installed the space-saving computers in its planes. But the low cost also appeals to consumers who are tired of paying for features they don't need. Shoppers can buy the machines directly from the company's Web site, Norhtec.com.
"Year after year, the entry-level computer costs around $495," Barnes says. "The newest computers always offer more speed and better graphics and are really made for game users. But the people who buy our computers want small, inexpensive machines that don't break down."
And as low, low-end PCs get even smaller and cheaper, Barnes predicts they'll become more popular. "We believe we'll see a real explosion when computers get down to below $80," he says.
The machines have their drawbacks. The MicroClient JrSX is too small to fit a CD player, and forget about Apple's iTunes: The Microclient doesn't even offer audio. Nor will it play "Halo" or any other game that would overwhelm the machine's limited storage. And programs that use a lot of memory, like Adobe Photoshop, are probably too much for the tiny PC.
Norhtec's prices also don't include a keyboard, mouse or monitor, which will run at least $100. But not a lot more: Amazon.com, for instance, sells a Philips 107E71 15-inch monitor for $49.99, a Belkin mouse for $3.95 and a Logitech keyboard for $9.58. The site also sells an external CD-ROM drive from Procom for $9.85, and for those looking to soup up their storage capacity, Tigerdirect.com sells a refurbished 80-gigabyte Seagate hard drive for $54.97.
Almost all those components are included, however, in a machine being developed by Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child program, which promises a fully equipped laptop for a projected $176. OLPC claims that its machines will boast screens with four times the resolution of a normal laptop, a 12-hour battery life, a waterproof and fall-proof shell, and wi-fi reception that's 50% better than any computer on the market.
The OLPC laptop was designed for poor children in the developing world. But they are likely to end up in the U.S. as well, where the program plans to distribute them to youngsters in as many as 19 U.S. states. And while the project was created out of philanthropic impulses, the OLPC now sees a consumer market for their machines.
"The industry is going to have to change the way it does things," says Walter Bender, OLPC's president of software and content. "Computing doesn't have to be the way it's been defined. It can be a lot lighter, a lot friendlier and a lot less expensive."
The OLPC isn't the first group to make a small, cheap and rugged PC. Data Evolution's decTOP, a brick-sized, low-power-consuming desktop, offers 128 megabytes of RAM and a 10-gigabyte hard drive that will sell for between $150 and $180. Like the OLPC laptop, the decTOP's innovations come out of a drive to bring computers and the Internet to rural Africa and Asia: Data Evolution acquired the machine's hardware from Advanced Micro Devices, whose "50x15" program seeks to take 50% of the world's population online by 2015.
Data Evolution Chief Executive Robert Sowah shares that goal, but he also sees the opportunity to equip Americans with PCs that suit their needs, which he says are almost always overserved by expensive modern machines. He plans to sell the decTOP in major retail stores like Best Buy and Circuit City starting this summer.
"Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet and e-mail," Sowah says. "That's what 90% of people do with computers, and they don't need these massive chips with oodles of storage and memory."
One reason that a machine like the decTOP can meet the needs of so many users is that the basic functions that Sowah lists are increasingly rolled together into a single, online package. Web services like Google Apps, which allows users to edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, take the workload off an individual's machine and put it instead on Google's massive servers. Data is stored and numbers are crunched online; the user's machine need only be a window to the increasingly powerful Web.
Beyond that trend, Sowah says that the movement toward cheaper, more practical machines is about computing technology meeting the needs of people, instead of vice versa.
"In the past, it's always been technology pushing desire, and users asking, 'What can we do with this?'" he says. "Now, for once, desire is pushing technology."
Blumenthal Sues Best Buy for 'Bait-And-Switch' Tactics
High-definition TVs are on display at a Best Buy store. Connecticut's attorney general announced a lawsuit Thursday against the nation‘s largest consumer electronics retailer of deceiving customers with in-store computer kiosks and overcharging them.
Some area residents who say they've been swindled by Best Buy said Thursday they will never shop at the electronics store again.
Carl Goulart of Danbury said he was angry Thursday when he returned an $800 laptop he purchased three months ago with an extended warranty that cost him $150.
The screen was no longer working, he said, but store officials said it wasn't covered.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "They said they could fix the screen for $1,000, and that's more than I paid for the computer. I don't think I'm ever going to shop here again."
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced Thursday that he filed a lawsuit against the electronics store for "bait-and- switch" tactics concerning its Internet site.
Blumenthal said he has also received several complaints about Best Buy's extended warranties and is investigating the matter.
Jorge Osorio of Waterbury said he purchased an iPod from the store on International Road last year for $200, along with an extended service plan for $30. He returned the unit to the store Thursday because it stopped working, but store officials told him the warranty was void because there was a small scratch on the screen.
"I'm not buying anything from them again," he said. "The store should be shut down. I'm going to call the attorney general's office about this."
Blumenthal said the store, which offers an Internet lowest price guarantee, lured people into the store with low prices on its Internet site, then showed customers a Web site available at kiosks in the store that presented higher prices.
Sales clerks would then tell customers they must have misread the sales price they saw on the Internet or that the special price had expired.
"Best Buy used in-store kiosks to conceal lower online prices and renege on its price match guarantee," Blumenthal said. "Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed. Best Buy treated its customers like suckers, not patrons to be prized."
The lawsuit seeks refunds for customers and civil penalties.
Katie Simonitsch of New Fairfield, who was shopping for a digital camera at Best Buy on Thursday, said she's happy state officials are looking into the matter.
"I would probably be the one to fall for something like that," she said. "I'm sure it's bad for business, especially considering that their competition, Circuit City, is right down the street. That's where I'm going next."
Despite numerous attempts, officials with Best Buy's public relations department could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"Data Storm" Blamed for Nuclear-Plant Shutdown
The U.S. House of Representative's Committee on Homeland Security called this week for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to further investigate the cause of excessive network traffic that shut down an Alabama nuclear plant.
During the incident, which happened last August at Unit 3 of the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, operators manually shut down the reactor after two water recirculation pumps failed. The recirculation pumps control the flow of water through the reactor, and thus the power output of boiling-water reactors (BWRs) like Browns Ferry Unit 3. An investigation into the failure found that the controllers for the pumps locked up following a spike in data traffic -- referred to as a "data storm" in the NRC notice -- on the power plant's internal control system network. The deluge of data was apparently caused by a separate malfunctioning control device, known as a programmable logic controller (PLC).
In a letter dated May 14 but released to the public on Friday, the Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology asked the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue to investigate the incident.
"Conversations between the Homeland Security Committee staff and the NRC representatives suggest that it is possible that this incident could have come from outside the plant," Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Subcommittee Chairman James R. Langevin (D-RI) stated in the letter. "Unless and until the cause of the excessive network load can be explained, there is no way for either the licensee (power company) or the NRC to know that this was not an external distributed denial-of-service attack."
The August 2006 incident is the latest network threat to affect the nation's power utilities. In January 2003, the Slammer worm disrupted systems of Ohio's Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, but did not pose a safety risk because the plant had been offline since the prior year. However, the incident did prompt a notice from the NRC warning all power plant operators to take such risks into account.
In August 2003, nearly 50 million homes in the northeastern U.S. and neighboring Canadian provinces suffered from a loss of power after early warning systems failed to work properly, allowing a local outage to cascade across several power grids. A number of factors contributed to the failure, including a bug in a common energy management system and the MSBlast, or Blaster, worm which quickly spread among systems running Microsoft Windows, eventually claiming more than 25 million systems.
No digital contagion has been fingered in the latest incident, said Terry Johnson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the public power company that runs the Browns Ferry power plant.
"The integrated control system (ICS) network is not connected to the network outside the plant, but it is connected to a very large number of controllers and devices in the plant," Johnson said. "You can end up with a lot of information, and it appears to be more than it could handle."
The device responsible for flooding the network with data appears to be a programmable logic controller (PLC) connected to the plant's Ethernet network, according to an NRC information notice on the incident (PDF). The PLC controlled Unit 3's condensate demineralizer -- essentially a water softener for nuclear plants. The flood of data spewed out by the malfunctioning controller caused the variable frequency drive (VFD) controllers for the recirculation pumps to hang.
Such failures are common among PLC and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, because the manufacturers do not test the devices' handling of bad data, said Dale Peterson, CEO of industrial system security firm DigitalBond.
"What is happening in this marketplace is that vendors will build their own (network) stacks to make it cheaper," Peterson said. "And it works, but when (the device) gets anything that it didn't expect, it will gag."
In many cases, a simple vulnerability scan will even cause the devices to crash, Peterson said. During tests in an electrical substation, Nessus running in safe scan mode crashed devices, he said. In some cases, sending out broadcast data on the network will crash several of connected devices, he added.
"If you were to test any control systems that have any more than three or four different network-connected devices, they could be knocked over very easily," Peterson said.
The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant has had its share of difficulties. All three units of the plant were shutdown in 1985 due to performance and management problems, according to the NRC. Unit 2 was restarted in 1991, and Unit 3 started operating again in 1995. On Tuesday, the NRC gave the Tennessee Valley Authority permission to restart Unit 1.
The Committee on Homeland Security gave the NRC until June 14 to respond to its letter.
Researchers: 307-Digit Key Crack Endangers 1024-bit RSA
A 307-digit composite Mersenne number has been broken down into primes, and 1024-bit RSA keys are next, according to encryption researchers. Researchers from the University of Lausanne, the University of Bonn, and NTT DoCoMo have broken a new record in discovering the prime factors of a "special" 307-digit number this month, which took 11 months and roughly 100 years of computer time. The number was cracked using the special number field sieve method developed by cryptology professor Arjen Lenstra in the 1980s.
The 307-digit number itself was not an RSA key—the number was 21039-1, a special-form number called a Mersenne number which permits an efficient variant of the factoring algorithm in question, the so called Special Number Field Sieve (SNFS) to be used. RSA keys are typically generated by multiplying together two very large prime numbers, each at around 150 digits apiece, and require more labor-intensive General Number Field Sieve (GNFS) to factor. But the project shows that given enough time and computer power, the 1024-bit encryption keys used on many e-commerce sites could also be cracked in the not-so-distant future.
"Last time, it took nine years for us to generalize from a special to a nonspecial, hard-to-factor number," Lenstra said in a statement, referring to a 155-digit number that his team had broken previously. More recently, a 200-digit non-special number was factored in 18 months and roughly 50 years of computer time. This 307-digit crack took even less (human) time, which Lenstra credits to more powerful computers and improved code. "I will not make predictions [about the future of 1024-bit encryption], but let us just say that it might be a good idea to stay tuned."
Why does anyone care? While your average Joe or Jane on the street will not be able to crack a 1024-bit RSA key anytime soon, experienced attackers might not have such a hard time. Getting the computing power to crack a 1024-bit key could be as easy as employing a decent-sized botnet or two.
When asked whether 1024-bit RSA keys are dead, Lenstra said: "The answer to that question is an unqualified yes." Hopefully, my bank is paying attention to these developments.
Seeking a Tech-Savvy President
Katharine Q. Seelye
Is America ready for its first tech president? Tech-types here are calling for the presidential candidates to catch up with their global counterparts, both on the campaign trail and in their campaign platforms.
At the Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York Friday, Andrew Rasiej, the founder, and Micah Sifry, the editor, issued a challenge to the presidential candidates to sign on to their tech-policy manifesto or propose a better one. Some of the things they are asking candidates to do:
* Declare the Internet a “public good,” in the way that public education, electricity and highways are perceived as vital public services.
* Vow to make wireless connectivity universal.
* Vow to provide online access to government hearings and data.
* Pledge to build a “national netguard” of technology experts who could be deployed in the event of a terrorist attack or a disaster like Katrina to rebuild communication networks and databases.
“We’re calling on the next inhabitant of the White House to articulate more clearly where they stand and what they will do to bring the United States into the 21st century,” Mr. Sifry said Friday at the conference. “The Internet is the dial tone of the 21st century. If you aren’t connected, it’s as if you don’t have a phone.”
The United States continues to fall behind the rest of the world in the number of per-capita broadband connections, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2001, the United States ranked 4th of 30 developed nations; six months ago it fell to 12th place and recently fell to 15th.
The study said that about 40 percent of American households subscribe to broadband services, compared with 67 percent of those in Denmark, which ranks first.
Some of the campaigns have expressed interest in the group’s proposals, but no one has yet signed on.
Mr. Rasiej and Mr. Sifry said that some of the candidates were at least starting to use the Web better in their campaigns, with rapid-response blogging teams and more video. But, they said, the candidates have yet to focus on the broad underlying importance of the Internet in improving education, health care and economic development.
As Mr. Rasiej put it: “They could all use a re-boot on this issue.”
For a tech-savvy leader, you might look to Britain. There, David Cameron, one of the candidates for prime minister, has trained a Web cam on himself, attempting to show voters his human side as he sits around the breakfast table and pops about the countryside.
A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn’t Its Copyright?
WHAT if, after you had paid the taxes on earnings with which you built a house, sales taxes on the materials, real estate taxes during your life, and inheritance taxes at your death, the government would eventually commandeer it entirely? This does not happen in our society ... to houses. Or to businesses. Were you to have ushered through the many gates of taxation a flour mill, travel agency or newspaper, they would not suffer total confiscation.
Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed to flow from one generation to the next. Though they may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.
That is, unless you own a copyright. Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts. And, second, why, when such a stiff penalty is not applied to the owners of Rockefeller Center or Wal-Mart, it is brought to bear against legions of harmless drudges who, other than a handful of literary plutocrats (manufacturers, really), are destined by the nature of things to be no more financially secure than a seal in the Central Park Zoo.
The answer is that the Constitution states unambiguously that Congress shall have the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (The italics are mine, the capitalization was likely James Madison’s.)
It is, then, for the public good. But it might also be for the public good were Congress to allow the enslavement of foreign captives and their descendants (this was tried); the seizure of Bill Gates’s bankbook; or the ruthless suppression of Alec Baldwin. You can always make a case for the public interest if you are willing to exclude from common equity those whose rights you seek to abridge. But we don’t operate that way, mostly.
Furthermore, one should not envy the perpetrators of sensationalist trash, but rather admire them, in the hope that someday, somehow, without prostituting, debasing and degrading oneself while recklessly destroying what is left of the literary culture, one might enjoy a fraction of their wealth. They represent, however, only a small fraction of writers, and their good fortune is a poor excuse for seizing either their property or that of their leaner colleagues.
And Barnes & Noble is able to publish price-reduced non-copyrighted works not so much because it saves the 10 percent to 15 percent of revenue that would go to the gruel-eating authors, but because it saves the 50 percent that would go to the publishers. Booksellers that publish their own titles benefit not from escaping the author’s copyright, but the previous publisher’s exercise of a grant of rights (limited, authors take note, to 35 years). “Freeing” a literary work into the public domain is less a public benefit than a transfer of wealth from the families of American writers to the executives and stockholders of various businesses who will continue to profit from, for example, “The Garden Party,” while the descendants of Katherine Mansfield will not.
Absent the government’s decree, copyright holders would have no exclusivity of right at all. Does not then the government’s giveth support its taketh? By that logic, should other classes of property not subject to total confiscation therefore be denied the protection of regulatory agencies, courts, police and the law itself lest they be subject to expropriation as payment for the considerable and necessary protections they too enjoy? Should automobile manufacturers be nationalized after 70 years because they depend on publicly financed roads? Should Goldman Sachs be impounded because of the existence of the Securities and Exchange Commission?
Why would the framers, whose political genius has not been exceeded, have countenanced such an unfair exception? Jefferson objected that ideas are, “like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and, like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”
But ideas are immaterial to the question of copyright. Mozart and Neil Diamond may have begun with the same idea, but that a work of art is more than an idea is confirmed by the difference between the “Soave sia il vento” and “Kentucky Woman.” We have different words for art and idea because they are two different things. The flow and proportion of the elements of a work of art, its subtle engineering, even its surface glosses, combine substance and style indistinguishably in a creation for which the right of property is natural and becoming.
And in Jefferson’s era 95 percent of the population drew its living from the land. Writers and inventors were largely those who obtained their sustenance from their patrimony or their mills; their writings or improvements to craft were secondary. No one except perhaps Hamilton or Franklin might have imagined that services and intellectual property would become primary fields of endeavor and the chief engines of the economy. Now they are, and it is no more rational to deny them equal status than it would have been to confiscate farms, ropewalks and other forms of property in the 18th century.
Still, it is the express order of the Constitution, long imprinted without catastrophe upon the fabric of our history. But given the grace of the Constitution it is not surprising to find the remedy within it, in the very words that prohibit the holding of patents or copyrights in perpetuity: “for limited Times.”
The genius of the framers in making this provision is that it allows for infinite adjustment. Congress is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts of writing and composing to be freed from a form of confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property, because no good case can exist for treating with special disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.
Mark Helprin, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, is the author of, among other works, “Winter’s Tale.”
Nice article. Here is an invoice for the Intellectual Property fees you owe to the descendents of the many works of art you appropriated.
- The descendents of James Madison, for your quotation of the Constitution
- The descendents of Thomas Jefferson, for the quotation attributed to him.
- The descendents of William Shakespeare, for using the title of his play "Winter's Tale"
- The descendents of Moses, for the phrase "Does not then the government's giveth support its taketh," which is clearly alluding to the book of Job in the bible ("the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away", Job 1:21).
- The Chicago University Press, which has appropriated the rights to the ellipsis, a glyph that has remained in Copyright since it was first introduced in 200BC.
We hope you will be able to secure agreeable licensing terms for all these works. In the case that you cannot, you will naturally need to remove the reference. We look forward to seeing more of your work, and thank you for helping to support a thriving intellectual property market.
--Intellectual Property Association, Inc.
Novell Signs on to EFF Patent Busting Project
In a surprise announcement earlier today at the Open Source Business Conference, Novell and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that Novell would be contributing to the EFF's Patent Busting project. In addition, the two entities will work for legislation and policies that will "promote innovation," specifically targeting the World Intellectual Property Organization.
EFF's Patent Busting project just turned three years old and has targeted patents ranging from Amazon's 1-Click shopping patent to Nintendo's handheld software emulation patent. So far, a live concert recording patent held by ClearChannel has been overturned, while a patent from Test.com for online test-taking is now being reexamined.
Beyond patent busting, the EFF and Novell will collaborate on patent lobbying efforts. Novell says that it holds over 500 patents, some of which are "fundamental to technologies in the market today." Novell has previously pledged to use its patent portfolio to defend open source against patent attacks and in November 2005 cofounded the Open Invention Network along with IBM, Sony, Red Hat, and Philips.
More recently, Novell has dealing with the ramifications of its cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft. As part of the agreement, Microsoft promised not to use its patent portfolio against Novell's SUSE Linux while continuing to assert that Linux infringes on some of the software giant's patents. Novell signaled its disagreement with Microsoft's stance and said that its agreement with Microsoft was "is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property."
Novell's agreement with Microsoft has been a source of contention within open-source circles, with one Red Hat executive accusing the company of appeasing Microsoft; others have accused Novell of violating the GPL with the agreement. Either way, signing the deal with Microsoft did a lot to sully Novell in the eyes of many Linux users, and Novell's decision to link up with the EFF on patents may have been made with an eye towards getting some of its street cred back with the OSS community.
It Was 40 Years Ago Today
With 'Sgt. Pepper,' the Beatles indulged their whims -- and changed rock forever
It's possible for two reasonable adults, probably older than 45, to argue for hours about the most significant pop music event of the 1960s. My own vote would be cast in favor of the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February 1964, but a very close second is the release of their "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," the majestic album that will be 40 years old in early June. It's not that "Sgt. Pepper" is my favorite record from that era -- Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" is -- but there's no denying the extraordinary influence that the Beatles' most famous achievement had not only in the music industry but this country's popular culture as well.
"Sgt. Pepper," the group's first album that wasn't supported by a world-wide tour, captured, to use a word that didn't become a cliché for years afterward, the "zeitgeist" then, impeccably in sync with the "Summer of Love," "flower power," psychedelia and the youthful lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. That the Beatles, weary of avoiding hordes of fans and tabloid reporters, abandoned live concerts was in itself a radical shift of gears, but spending more than four months in a recording studio on a single project, and a "concept" album at that, was unheard of. Revisionists today, when critiquing the Beatles' discography, aren't quite as rapturous about "Sgt. Pepper" as millions of fans were in 1967, but the immediate impact of the album can't be overstated.
When "Sgt. Pepper" appeared, it was as if a massive block party had appeared outside your window. I was nearly 12 years old at the time and when one of my four older brothers came home with the highly anticipated new Beatles record, we listened to it over and over, marveling at the sheer audacity of songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Doug, overwhelmed by enthusiasm and hyperbole, declared, matter-of-factly, "The band has changed its name forever and rock 'n' roll will never be the same."
And it wasn't just the music. The album cover itself was breathtaking, a puzzling and colorful collage by Peter Blake that showed the band, in gaudy mock-military costumes, presiding over the burial of the "old" Beatles, with scattered mug shots of high and low cultural icons hovering in the background. You'd go cross-eyed trying to figure out just how many notables were depicted -- a mass of pop art that included Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Aldous Huxley, Marlene Dietrich, Sonny Liston, Laurel and Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Marlon Brando, Leo Gorcey, Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce and Mae West.
The presentation was a triumph of packaging, and included for the first time the printing of lyrics on the back cover. That the group had reached this point a mere three years after the first rush of "Beatlemania" was astonishing, and the songs simply ratcheted up the sense of momentousness provided by the record sleeve.
Relieved from the pressure of performing live, the Beatles were able to record songs that were, even in a relatively primitive studio, filled with overdubs, backward tape loops, snippets of orchestral crescendos, a cowbell here, a tin horn there, creating a sound and style that was quickly, for better or worse, aped by the band's peers and imitators. Aside from the technical innovations, the 13 songs ushered in yet another phase for the Beatles, one that was far more introspective, grandiose and certainly informed by their recreational use of drugs.
Forty years later, it's easy to dismiss such lyrically slight songs as Mr. McCartney's "When I'm Sixty-Four" or George Harrison's meandering, sitar-driven "Within You Without You," but the bulk of "Sgt. Pepper" stands the test of time. For example, John Lennon's "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" is about an evening vaudeville romp where "Henry the Horse dances the waltz" and men leap through "a hogshead of real fire!" Another standout is Mr. McCartney's "Fixing a Hole," a dreamy and druggy meditation about fame and drudgery. He sings about "filling the cracks" in his door that "kept [his] mind from wandering," and chastises those who "disagree and never win and wonder why they don't get in my door."
It's not exactly T.S. Eliot, as some said at the time, but it's a long way from "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
On one point there is almost universal agreement: "A Day in the Life," a five-minute Lennon-McCartney collaboration that concludes "Sgt. Pepper," is the group's most accomplished song. Combining references to British current events and the narrator's utter boredom with urban routines, the song endorses the notion of dropping out of society, as Mr. Lennon sings, dreamily, "I'd love to turn you on."
Although "Sgt. Pepper" received almost unanimous raves when it was released, a significant dissident was Richard Goldstein, who panned the album in the June 18, 1967, New York Times. Mr. Goldstein, roundly pilloried after the review was published, complained the new release was "busy, hip and cluttered." He concludes: "We need the Beatles, not as cloistered composers, but as companions. And they need us."
As was soon evident, however, the Beatles didn't "need us," and, in fact, didn't need each other. The group disbanded just three years later. Mr. Goldstein was partially correct in saying that "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was "precious," but 40 years later I can't think of a single album that was more influential in changing the way that lyricists, producers and fans went about making and consuming popular music.
It's said that Mr. McCartney in particular was inspired by the Beach Boys' 1966 landmark album "Pet Sounds," in which leader Brian Wilson labored in the studio to create a unified set of songs that challenged the listener -- and his competitors -- with its musical complexity. But it was the Beatles, so popular and wealthy that their record label had to cater to what were considered "whims," who topped Mr. Wilson (artistically and commercially) with "Sgt. Pepper." It was no longer a given that a rock/pop group would dash off an album as quickly as possible to minimize cost, and talented young men began to exert more control over studio production, a process of increased sophistication. The release of "Sgt. Pepper" marked the shift of power in the music industry -- not all that dissimilar to the advent of free agency in Major League Baseball -- from the "suits" to the stars, and to this day the balance hasn't changed.
Welcome Back, Starshine
THE Summer of Love, by most accounts, began on Jan. 14, 1967, with a gathering known as the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and ended on Oct. 6, with the Death of Hippie march, a mock funeral staged in Haight-Ashbury to tell aspiring flower children to stay home.
Forty years later the children are at it again, only older and more institutional this time. The Whitney Museum of American Art is noting the anniversary with “Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era,” opening Thursday. The Public Theater, which formed that summer with “Hair,” is staging a hippie-friendly season of Shakespeare in the Park, with “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as a concert performance of “Hair” in September. Jefferson Starship, Quicksilver Messenger Service and other bands will renew the faith in July at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, where their younger selves performed at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.
But the wild cards are in places like Zieglersville, Pa., where a three-day Session Summer of Love beer celebration will feature a mini-firkin fest; or at the Palms Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, where the Rain nightclub will hold a three-night rave event called Summer of Love, the Love-In, billed as an “all-out sensory assault.” If just thinking about these events leaves you tired, you can head to Starbucks for a 40th anniversary Monterey Pop CD set. (And if, like the squares of old, you need help with the lingo, a firkin is one sixth of a hogshead.)
The flowers may have faded, and rents in the Haight may have gone through the roof, but the Summer of Love brand continues to extend. Instead of aging gracefully into kitsch, it has solidified into canon.
“Why are we fascinated now?” asked Jann Wenner, 61, the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone, which will publish a Summer of Love double issue in June. “It’s our youth for a great number of people, especially those of us who now control things.”
In recent political campaigns, claim on the era’s legacy has swung largely to conservative debunkers, who hold up the Summer of Love as an exercise in liberal self-absorption and a touchstone of moral decline. Now, with the nation again in an unpopular war, utopian voices are coming out again, softer in their politics but no less determined in their exceptionalism.
“Much about that summer, looking back, seems incredibly foolish and narcissistic and grandiose,” said Oskar Eustis, 48, the artistic director of the Public Theater who was 9 in 1967 and whose parents took him to a demonstration at which protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon. “But it’s not crazy to remember that we stopped the war, and we did.”
In contrast to the first time around, this summer’s activities will be spectator events, not participatory ones, replaying the Summer of Love as something you watch, not something you do. There will be comfortable seating and refreshments. And though there will likely be references to the current war, the art will still be fighting the last one, reflecting the songs and sensibilities not of the Iraq grunts’ generation but of their parents’.
Which raises some questions: Is it possible to extract the Summer of Love from the distorting filter of narcissism? Or is that narcissism the essence of the brand, as revisionists and advertisers would have it? Economists use the term “survivorship bias” to describe the recollection of past moments by what has survived into the present, filtering out whatever elements did not bear fruit. For the Summer of Love what has survived is the music and industry it created, the fascination with youth culture, the now generic images of gentle hippies and a swirl of pretty colors that has found its home in the language of advertising. Some of the less institutional elements, like the Haight’s Free Store, voluntary sweep-ins, free food-ins, the free health clinic and the Death of Hippie, have receded from the narrative.
Without these the Summer of Love has survived as a simple story: For a magical few months tens of thousands of young people left home for San Francisco, where they gave the nation new sounds, new pleasures and new styles. In went adolescent idealism and creative energy; out came a lifetime of ads for cars, Pepsi and retirement plans.
This story has endured so tenaciously because it played out in the media in real time, with a level of stage management that was as forward-looking as the music. To “drop out” in 1967, as Timothy Leary urged the crowd at the Human Be-In, meant to emerge from obscurity and drop in — into a media spectacle that fascinated the country and a media economy that would replace manufacturing as the heartbeat of America.
From the start the season had an official governing body, the Council for the Summer of Love; a hit theme song, Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, written and produced by the organizers of the Monterey festival; and a television deal, when a young ABC executive named Barry Diller bought the rights to Monterey for a never-realized Movie of the Week. The council came up with the name Summer of Love to put a positive spin on events that were often portrayed negatively in the press. Almost as soon as the hippies hit Golden Gate Park, sightseeing companies offered guided bus tours of the Haight, providing tourists a look at the hairy new wrinkle in humanity. As a 1967 manifesto from the Death of Hippie proclaimed, “Media created the hippie with your hungry consent.”
In this year’s Summer of Love it will be clear who are the performers and who the spectators, where art ends and life begins. Even if you sing along to “Good Morning Starshine” or crash on the sidewalk outside the Whitney, you’re still there to honor someone else’s show. It ends when you walk out the door. If the first Summer of Love was about the shared exploration of possibility, conducted in the public eye, the anniversary demonstrates the accrued authority of the institutions that make this watching possible.
These institutions have not always served the art, said Christoph Grunenberg, curator of the Whitney’s “Summer of Love” exhibition for the Tate Liverpool gallery, where it began in 2005. Instead, he said, they’ve enabled “a rather superficial consumption of a retro aesthetic, which doesn’t take into consideration the motives behind it, the desire for liberation.
“The utopian impulse of the period is missing,” he said.
The exhibition includes underground magazines, psychedelic light shows, album covers and posters and films of concerts, as well as paintings and sculptures from the ’60s and early ’70s. It’s “the first serious art-historical evaluation, as opposed to something that has been looked at as quote unquote just popular culture,” said Henriette Huldisch, the assistant curator in charge of installing the exhibition.
Mr. Grunenberg, 44, said the art has been “a victim of its own success at the time and tainted by its association to drug culture, music culture, fashion and design.
“It was unusual in that it aspired to the level of mass culture,” he added, “and that’s the cause of the suspicion that comes to psychedelic art. Can the light shows at a Jimi Hendrix show be art?”
Yet there were other narratives within the Summer of Love. Once the masses started to arrive in the Haight, some pioneers left the city for greener pastures. By late summer LSD gave way to speed and utopian seekers to ill-prepared teenage runaways, children who could not take care of themselves. “Most people see the Summer of Love in very happy terms,” said Brad Abramson, vice president of production and programming for VH1 and an executive producer of the channel’s “Monterey 40,” a documentary about the 1967 pop festival that will be broadcast beginning June 16. “One thing that struck me was finding out what a mess it turns out to be. By the end of the summer speed freaks were catching and eating cats.”
Mr. Wenner, who started Rolling Stone in San Francisco that fall, sees this narrative as a sideshow to the essence of the Summer of Love. For him the survivorship bias has allowed the substantive elements of the day to emerge from the confusion and hype. “I was skeptical of this invasion of the Haight-Ashbury, wear-flowers-in-your-hair stuff,” he said. “The grungy, sleeping-on-the-floor-in-a-sleeping-bag lifestyle was not for me. The drugs were, and the music was, and the peace and love was. But the grungy lifestyle, which was very limited to kids coming in from out of town, was not for me.”
The sunnier side will be on display at this year’s Monterey Summer of Love Festival, where tribute bands, dressed up like Jimi Hendrix or the Byrds, will share the stage with some performers from the original festival, a three-day charity concert that included Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and others. Concertgoers this year will get Big Brother and the Holding Company without Joplin, and Carlton Poward performing as Hendrix: proof that nostalgia can conquer even death. But the commercial and canonical imperatives will be familiar.
A goal for the first Monterey festival was to prove that rock music was “an art form in the same way jazz was,” said the record producer Lou Adler, 73, one of the organizers. “It was still looked on as a trend, two and a half minutes and you’re out. So the idea was to do a festival in the same place that there was a jazz festival and a folk festival; that seemed to validate it.”
But from the start there was distrust between the organizers, who came from the Los Angeles music business, and the more underground groups, said Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, who helped organize the event. “There definitely was that feeling from the San Francisco musicians that the Los Angeles groups were the commercial groups, and they were the real heart and soul,” she said. “I think they were just jealous because we were making the money. The whole point, I thought, was to make hit records.”
In the end of course both sides won: the industry because it sold the ethos of the underground and the hip bands through the growth of the business. The ’60s culture blossomed not at the expense of its commercial tendencies but through them. The branding of the Summer of Love is not a corruption of the original moment but an impulse that was there all along.
Like any brand, Summer of Love nostalgia champions its own brandedness, or exceptionalism, separating itself to an exaggerated extent from what came before or after. In this separation the past is seen as a purer image of the present, shorn of vulgarity and invested with possibility. The past points to a more utopian future than the one it actually became.
Mr. Eustis of the Public Theater said he hoped to invoke the utopianism of 1967 without simply playing to nostalgia that runs on the desire to forget, not to remember. “Nostalgia is a corrupting emotion,” he said. “You’re imagining a lack of contradiction in the past. You’re imagining something that wasn’t true. It’s a longing to be a child again, to have magical thinking about the world.”
But he added that nostalgia could also have a “progressive aspect” that pushes people to think forward rather than back, to “remember that you can imagine a world that is different, where money didn’t determine value, where competition wasn’t the nature of human relations.
“That imagination can be powerful,” he continued. “The dream is real. The negative aspect of nostalgia is when we want that feeling that everything is possible, but we don’t want to do anything about it. That’s just narcissistic. That’s longing to feel important again. Baby boomers are very good at that.”
For Michael Hirschorn, 43, executive vice president for original programming and production at VH1, which has built a business on the synthesis of youth culture and branding, the first order of business is to recover the music from the trappings. The channel’s Monterey documentary, he promised, will be about that music, not peace and love. “The ’60s always felt hokey and lame to me, so smug and self-important,” he said. “Seeing this footage now, maybe the ’60s and the Summer of Love can be reclaimed from its own advocates.”
In the meantime issues of the underground magazine Oracle will be in the Whitney, and Quicksilver Messenger Service will be back at Monterey. And of course mini-firkins will be in Zieglersville. But this year’s pilgrims will find less reassessment, in the sense of discovering something new, than the impossible promise of recapturing the old.
And with luck they will find some good music and art, along with more kitsch than anyone seems to want to acknowledge. To celebrate that, there’s Stanley Donen’s 1967 classic “Bedazzled,” with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. It’s newly out on DVD, and it’s a trip.
For Today's Female Singers, Sex Appeal is a Must
Nekesa Mumbi Moody
She was an "amazing talent," a young singer with a wonderful voice who wrote beautiful songs. But she was no beauty, plus flat-chested and overweight to boot.
Remembering the aspiring star, music executive Jody Gerson still feels terrible about thinking: "She's never going to get signed, even though she's fabulous."
Gerson might feel even worse after Wednesday night's exit of the matronly Melinda Doolittle from "American Idol." In today's music industry, Plain Janes need not apply. Sex appeal was once considered a bonus for a woman; now it's practically a requirement.
Doolittle and the heavyset, gap-toothed LaKisha Jones were widely considered this season's most talented "Idol" contestants. Yet both were eliminated from the final four in favor of Blake Lewis, who makes the teen girls swoon, and the long-locked, 17-year-old looker Jordin Sparks.
A quick check of the Billboard Top 40 turns up a list of candidates for "America's Top Model": Avril Lavigne, blonde stunner Carrie Underwood; tomboyish but sexy Ciara, fashionista Gwen Stefani and hip-swiveling Shakira (on a song featuring bootylicious Beyonce).
The only two in the Top 40 who might not be considered perfect 10s: Pink, who is still svelte and appealing; and multiplatinum Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson, who got her break only through winning the democratically elected "American Idol."
When asked whether a female with so-so looks and sex appeal could get a record deal, Gretchen Wilson quickly replied: "They can't."
"I believe that very few will get through and they better be amazing," Wilson said in an interview. "The music is not about just music anymore, it's about the look, the 'it' factor if you will . . . it's marketing."
True, looks have always been a part of the music business: Diana Ross played a model in the movie "Mahogany," Marianne Faithfull was considered a beauty, Tina Turner's legs were part of her sex appeal, Olivia Newton-John was the lovely girl-next-door and Stevie Nicks rocked teenage boys with more than just her guitar.
But there also were stars like wild-haired, pudgy Janis Joplin and Barbra Streisand, who challenged beauty standards with her protruding nose. Even curvy Aretha Franklin was known mainly for her one-of-a-kind voice.
Today, it's hard to find a singer larger than a size 6 and without a sexy look -- all of which are played up with sensuous videos, modeling spreads and provocative magazine covers. Lavigne, who once scoffed at singers who stripped for the cameras, fronts the new issue of Blender topless save for a strategically placed banner that reads "Hell Yeah, I'm Hot!"
The hit reality show "Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll" is a striking example. In finding a replacement for current lead doll, stunner Nicole Scherzinger, the judging panel -- which included the cosmetically enhanced rapper Lil' Kim -- did talk about vocal qualities. But while a few contestants had strong voices, all were taut, toned and sexy, and the focus was more on their dancing and overall desirability. Which is to be expected from the group responsible for the anthem "Don't Cha" (as in, "don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?").
Even singers who are heralded for their talent are gorgeous, like Alicia Keys, Corinne Bailey Rae or Norah Jones. And while critically acclaimed Amy Winehouse may not win any beauty contests, her songs have a raw sexuality that give her that "it" factor.
Dolly Parton, whose buxom figure sometimes overshadowed her talent as a songwriter and singer, said being "a good looking woman certainly can't hurt you any if you're trying to make it."
"But I would like to believe that true and great and pure talent will rise above whatever else," the country legend said in an interview. "But certainly in music these days, the better you look, the more apt you're going to get a contract.
"It's a damn pity, though, that people have to judge real talent on looks."
Gerson says the way female artists look reflects our society, where women are constantly judged on their appearance and oversexualized. But she also says it reflects the way we listen to music these days -- or don't listen.
"They have to look hot and sexy in these videos," says Gerson, who is credited with helping discover Alicia Keys, among others, and is now executive vice president of the U.S. Creative division of EMI Music Publishing.
"In the days of Aretha Franklin, people saw Aretha maybe a couple of times a year," she said, "but you listened to a record without a visual. You didn't watch it. Everything today, you watch it."
Gerson also agrees with Wilson about the marketing factor. With dwindling profits and budgets, record labels try to maximize artist exposure with clothing deals, cosmetic contracts, movie roles and modeling gigs.
"How many endorsements does Beyonce have? Do you think it's because she's the most talented person on earth or do you think it's because she's gorgeous? I think she's talented but she's also gorgeous," Gerson says. "I think you need the whole package."
And that notion, according to Wilson, "totally sucks."
"My favorite singers in the world were Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, and Patsy was a large woman, and Loretta -- she was never some kind of a supermodel, but they were the greatest female voices in country music, and they changed lives and they made a difference," says Wilson, who, although considered sexy, feels she doesn't fit today's beauty standards.
Where are the Patsy Clines of today? More often than not on smaller, underground labels, which put more of a premium on talent. And with the devolution of today's music industry, Gerson says, small labels may be the best path to success for a woman who doesn't look like a mold of a Barbie doll.
So how would Gerson advise the flat-chested, overweight, amazingly talented singer to chase her dream? Put out her own music and promote herself on the Web.
"As far as we've come as women," Gerson asked, "where are we really?"
Facing Death, Michael Brecker Provides Moving Coda on Final CD
As the new year began, Michael Brecker's life was coming to an end.
But the tenor saxophonist, suffering from acute leukemia, was still thinking about his music. He went downstairs to his home studio to perform the last notes on an electronic wind instrument for what would be his final album. The 57-year-old died in a Manhattan hospital on Jan. 13, just four days after telling his manager that the record was ready for mixing.
That album, "Pilgrimage," has been released this week - an inspiring coda to the career of a quiet, gentle musician widely regarded as the most influential tenor saxophonist since John Coltrane, whether playing straight-ahead acoustic jazz or electronic jazz-rock in seminal fusion bands like The Brecker Brothers.
It's the first of the 800-plus albums the 13-time Grammy winner recorded as a leader and a sideman - with such pop icons as Paul Simon, James Taylor and Aerosmith - consisting solely of his original compositions.
Brecker's wife, Susan, considers it "a miracle" that her husband managed to record "Pilgrimage" - the title of the last track he ever recorded, a 10-minute musical journey with a deeply spiritual prelude that evokes memories of his main inspiration Coltrane.
"I believe it was his spirit, his wanting to complete the record ... that kept him alive a lot longer than really was humanly possible given his physical condition," she said, interviewed with his manager Darryl Pitt in a midtown Manhattan restaurant.
For nearly 2½ years Brecker had battled myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer in which the bone marrow stops producing enough healthy blood cells, that eventually progressed into acute leukemia. He had to stop publicly performing in March 2005 and could not practice his saxophone more than five minutes at a time. But he used the time remaining to him to write the album's tunes at his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, north of New York City, in between lengthy hospitalizations.
"What I would like people to take from this record is that it is one man's testament to the human spirit," said Susan Brecker, her voice choking with emotion. "This music is just one man's response to hearing he is going to die ... and there can be nothing more honest or more vibrant than that, nothing."
Just two weeks after Brecker died, his wife and children, manager and jazz musician friends gathered in a midtown Manhattan recording studio for the mixing of "Pilgrimage."
"Hearing Mike playing so vibrantly in the studio it was literally as if he were conjured back to life," said the album's executive producer Pitt, Brecker's close friend and manager for 20-plus years. "It was deeply moving and profoundly touching and sometimes deeply upsetting."
The 78-minute CD respects Brecker's wishes by including all nine original tunes he recorded with a jazz all-star lineup of guitarist Pat Metheny, pianists Herbie Hancock and Brad Mehldau, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
"The compositions are among the best Mike had ever written," said Metheny, who appeared on Brecker's first solo album in 1987, in an e-mail response. "I have always contended that he was one of the best modern jazz composers of our time. He had a strong individual voice."
Pitt says the album would not have been possible were it not for Brecker's 18-year-old daughter Jessica. Brecker was close to dying in November 2005 when she volunteered as the half-match donor in an experimental clinical trial at a University of Minnesota hospital involving a new stem cell transplant procedure. The operation alleviated the pain by killing off large growths of leukemia cells, but the transplant failed to engraft, leaving the disease free to spread again.
Last June, Hancock, at Pitt's suggestion, coaxed a reluctant Brecker into making a surprise appearance at a JVC Jazz Festival concert at Carnegie Hall honoring the pianist. He received a standing ovation after performing the tune "One Finger Snap," his last public performance. The experience encouraged Brecker to go ahead with the recording session that had already been postponed twice.
"When he asked me to be on the record, I was really thrilled because I just didn't expect it to happen," said Hancock. "And when we actually started working on the record ... I said, `Wait a minute Michael, are you sure you're still sick?' ... What was exuding from him was so much power, conviction and enthusiasm to do this record, and it was just a joy to experience that."
During the August recording session at the Manhattan studio, Pitt and Brecker intentionally masked from the other musicians just how poorly Brecker felt in order to keep the focus on the music.
But none of that frailty is reflected in Brecker's performances, whether its his rapid-fire arpeggio runs on "Anagram" with its shifting tempos or his deeply emotional, soulful playing on the poignant ballad "When Can I Kiss You Again?" - a question asked by his son Sam during a hospital visit when physical contact was prohibited to avoid infection.
"No one would ever think when they listen to this recording that this guy's fighting for his life. ... You get the feeling of somebody who's at the top of their game," said Patitucci.
After the session, Brecker was optimistically planning for future albums. He took a family vacation in Florida and attended his son's Bar Mitzvah. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia in October, but kept working on the record.
It was bittersweet for those closest to Brecker when just days after the mixing session ended in early February, he won two Grammys for the CD "Some Skunk Funk," recorded in 2003 with older brother Randy on trumpet.
On Feb. 20, Brecker's family, fellow musicians and fans filled Manhattan's Town Hall for a memorial celebration. Hancock and Paul Simon performed "Still Crazy After All These Years," one of the many classic pop tunes with a memorable Brecker solo.
"His efforts to get this final message out to all of us (on "Pilgrimage") will go down as one of the great codas in modern music history," Metheny said in his eulogy.
Brecker's legacy also includes his efforts to encourage people to enroll in the national marrow donor registry. The introverted saxophonist went public about his illness after realizing how many thousands of people die every year waiting to find a genetically matched blood stem cell donor.
More than 30,000 people have been added to the registry since 2005 as the result of Brecker-sponsored events at jazz festivals, concerts and synagogues, said Pitt, who with Brecker's wife founded the Time Is of the Essence Fund, named after a Brecker album, to pay for blood tests for potential donors.
"Mike was a hero through the whole thing," said Hancock. "He used the challenge of a life-threatening disease to express his compassion for human beings and was able to express it with his music."
Diddley Leaving Intensive Care After Stroke
A week after suffering a stroke following a gig in Council Bluffs, Iowa, rock legend Bo Diddley was being transferred on Monday from the intensive care unit to a regular room at Creighton University Medical Center in Omaha, Neb.
It is as yet unknown when Diddley will be well enough to return to his Gainesville, Fla., home, where he is expected to continue treatment at the Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida.
According to his publicist, Diddley is still having trouble speaking but appears to have suffered no long-term physical damage from the stroke.
"I was able to speak with him by phone this morning," his business manager, Faith Fusillo, said in a statement. "He wanted to know where his stuff was: his guitar and the money from the gig. I was so happy because this is the Bo that I know and love, and a real indication that Bo is on his way back."
Lordi to Rock Theaters With 'Dark Floors'
Finnish band will star in horror movie
Emma Gray Munthe
In an interview just after Finnish monster-rock band Lordi had won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest with "Hard Rock Halleluja," Mr. Lordi said that he wanted producer Markus Selin to contact him. He wanted to make a horror movie.
And, of course, a project based on the pitch "It's a horror film starring the Lordi guys" is hard to resist.
Since last year's contest triumph, a script has been written and shooting started on "Dark Floors" early this month. The film is skedded to preem in Finland on Dec. 21.
The project has a budget of about E4.2 million ($5.7 million) and stars the band: Mr. Lordi, Amen the Unstoppable Mummy, Awa the Vampire Countess, Ox the Hellbull and Kita the Alien Manbeast. They play the bad guys, naturally. Pic's directed by Pete Riski, who's shot all their videos.
"We were thinking about American and Japanese horror movies in general when we were writing the script and planning the style of the movie. It's not aimed especially at teens; we will try to make it really scary and not aim it at the broader popcorn audience," says Selin, whose Solar Films is one of the most successful producers in Finland.
"We are planning two versions of the film, because we know that a lot of Lordi's fans are young -- but there is also a following of older fans. So we're doing a PG-13 version and a hard-core R version.
"We want to focus on the European market, Japan and America. America will be very exciting for us because Lordi will be one of the three topliners on the Ozzfest tour."
The film will be shot entirely in English, with an English/American cast.
Swedish director-actor Rafael Edholm ("Baba's Cars") asked "if he could perhaps be eaten up or something in the film" when he first heard about the project, but instead Selin tapped him Swedish co-producer. "Dark Floors" also marks the first cooperation between Nordisk Film and Solar Films. "We are expecting very, very good things from this cooperation in the future," says Selin.
Given the band's take on music, a film in the lucratively resurgent horror genre seems a natural choice. "I don't believe in genre thinking, that this and this genre will be big now, this and that won't," says Selin. "I always think that if the script is good, that is always the thing to go for."
Of course, a romantic comedy starring the grotesque rockers probably would be a bad idea. But one never knows.
Lordi will be in Cannes through Saturday, and rumors have it they would also play a short gig. The monster rockers also planned to do "something special" during the Eurovision Song Contest, which took place May 12 in Helsinki.
"Shrek the Third" Breaks Records in First Weekend
DreamWorks Animation SKG's "Shrek the Third" shattered the opening weekend record for an animated film, signaling hot movie sales likely to carry over when Walt Disney Co.'s newest "Pirates of the Caribbean" sets sail next Friday.
The "Shrek" comedy starring a lovable green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) and his wise-cracking donkey friend (Eddie Murphy) brought in $122 million, crushing expectations and capturing the third-biggest opening for domestic films overall, DreamWorks said on Sunday.
"Shrek" was the No. 1 grossing film for the weekend, bumping last week's winner Sony Corp.'s "Spider-Man 3," which slipped to the No. 2 position after netting sales of $28.5 million.
"'Shrek' exceeded everyone's expectations, which has been happening a lot with all of these movies," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Media By Numbers.
He was referring to "Spider-Man 3," which just two weeks ago bagged the biggest-ever domestic weekend box office debut with sales of $151.1 million.
"I think we could see more records being broken," he said.
When asked if she expects "Shrek" to regain its perch at the top of next weekend's box office chart, DreamWorks Chief Operating Officer Ann Daly said: "No. For certain. I'm sure 'Pirates' as a releasing movie will be the top movie of the weekend."
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" opens during the long Memorial Day holiday weekend and industry analysts and executives expect the high-seas adventure starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow to rake in box office gold.
Last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" has claim on the second-biggest domestic weekend opening ever after capturing sales of $135.6 million.
Audiences Ignore Reviews
Analysts had expected "Shrek the Third," to gross between $80 million and $110 million and some analysts had not expected the film to top the $108 million opening of "Shrek 2," which had been the biggest first weekend for an animated film in box office history.
"We can't believe it. I'm thrilled," Daly said of the results, which also marked the best opening of all time for a film from distributor Paramount Pictures.
The "Shrek" series, at $1.4 billion in global ticket sales, is the top animated franchise of all time, and people of all ages flocked to "Shrek the Third" despite mixed reviews.
Media By Numbers' Dergarabedian said the industry's cautious bias is no longer justified.
"In the wake of the 2005 box office slump, we're a little gun shy about making these huge predictions about openings, but we really shouldn't be," he said.
Zombie thriller "28 Weeks Later," from News Corp.'s Fox Atomic fell one spot to No. 3 with sales of $5.2 million, rounding out the top three.
An Action Hero Breaks Summer’s Fantasy Spell
When last seen, in 1995, the New York super-cop John McClane, alter ego of the actor Bruce Willis, was performing barehanded bomb disposal on a downtown train and parrying racist attitude from his partner, Samuel L. Jackson, as he put away a batch of Germanic baddies led by the distinctly British Jeremy Irons.
Next month Lieutenant McClane will try to hurdle a new kind of obstacle. He’s about to find out if the summer movie audience still has a taste for cinematic red meat.
“Live Free or Die Hard,” the fourth installment of 20th Century Fox’s long-running “Die Hard” series, has emerged as the only straight-ahead, major studio action film set for the year’s prime moviegoing weeks. Not long ago the same period, from early May to mid-July, routinely brought flesh-and-bone hits like “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), “Con Air” (1997) and, of course, that last McClane romp, “Die Hard With a Vengeance.”
In late spring and early summer, studio schedules are now dominated by effects-driven fantasies (“Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”); comedies (“Knocked Up” and “Evan Almighty”); and the occasional caper (“Ocean’s Thirteen”).
Studios, for box office reasons, have pushed real-life action films, even when rated PG-13, toward late summer or fall and away from what is becoming a 10-week summertime fun zone. This year, for example, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” with Matt Damon as the amnesiac spy, is scheduled for release on August 3, while “The Brave One,” in which Jodie Foster does a vigilante turn, is set for Sept. 14.
Tom Rothman, a co-chairman of Fox, said the studio “consciously took advantage” of the summertime action-movie gap in its decision to release its fourth “Die Hard” on June 27, five days after Universal’s “Evan Almighty” and a week before “Transformers,” from Paramount and DreamWorks. A surfeit of “fantasy and computer-generated visual effects has left a hunger in the audience for real things,” Mr. Rothman added. Over the next few weeks Fox will tease that perceived appetite with a marketing campaign that promotes John McClane with the words: “No mask. No cape. No problem.”
Mr. Rothman’s studio isn’t alone in bringing part of its early summer slate back down to earth. Paramount Vantage has scheduled “A Mighty Heart,” in which Angelina Jolie plays the wife of the murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, for June 22. And MGM will open “Mr. Brooks,” a thriller starring Kevin Costner, on June 1. But “Live Free or Die Hard,” with a budget in the $100 million range, is the most ambitious attempt to challenge the summer drift to family-friendly fantasy and cartoons.
The new film’s screenwriter, Mark Bomback, says that McClane, in his latest incarnation, finds himself detailed to an anti-terror task force that works with the Department of Homeland Security. The twist adds a touch of political striation to a picture that will carry the decidedly neutral title “Die Hard 4.0” in foreign markets. But the writer and others say its deepest thinking involves McClane’s low-tech approach to high-tech cyber-terror. “He’s an analog guy faced with this digital problem,” Mr. Bomback said.
The movie’s makers also take pride in having used few computer-generated effects, choosing instead, for instance, to shoot a real car at a real helicopter. “The stitches Bruce Willis got in his head weren’t virtual,” Mr. Rothman said.
Mr. Willis is also an older guy. He was 33 when the first “Die Hard” was released in 1988, and is now 52. Still, a 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone revived a much older franchise when he pulled off a surprise hit with “Rocky Balboa” last year.
In the dozen years since the last “Die Hard” — which had $361 million in worldwide ticket sales, by far the best box office performance of the three — studio executives have tinkered with possible plots while wooing Mr. Willis. Ron Bass, best known for writing dramas like “The Joy Luck Club,” said he was surprised recently to find himself identified as an initial writer of “Live Free” in documents submitted by the studio to the Writers Guild of America, West. Years ago, Mr. Bass learned, Fox had considered turning a Latin American adventure he had written into the next McClane vehicle.
Eventually the company landed on a script that had been written by David Marconi as a follow-up to his 1998 action hit, “Enemy of the State.” That script, which had terrorists flying a jumbo jet into Manhattan by remote control, had been shelved after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Marconi now shares story credit with Mr. Bomback, who retooled the premise, working with Mr. Willis, who is a producer of the new film, and Len Wiseman (“Underworld”), its director.
By the time that work was done, however, hard action movies were fading from the big-ticket season. Studios have discovered that computer animation and effects can attract the widest number of moviegoers, even while fretting that too real on-screen violence might somehow narrow the audience.
“You could argue that we’re in a war, and people hate this kind of stuff,” suggested the film historian David Thomson, who nonetheless cautioned that patterns in film release schedules were often more apparent than real.
Studios have also clearly been reluctant to shut out young viewers with the restrictive R ratings that were traditional for action films, including all three in the “Die Hard” series. “Things seem to get by in visual effects films that do not get by in live action,” said Lawrence Gordon, who was a producer of the first two “Die Hard” films. This time around “Live Free or Die Hard” may yet come up with a PG-13 rating, much like the first two “Bourne” films and the latest James Bond adventure, “Casino Royale.”
To get that rating, the occasionally foul-mouthed McClane will have to watch his language. But he won’t be deprived of his signature line, if posters on the buses driving through Manhattan and elsewhere are any indication. “Yippee kai yay,” they begin, adding a couple of letters that suggest that things will get at least a bit gritty this summer.
Top Directors See the Future, and They Say It’s in 3-D
If some prominent Hollywood directors and an Irish rock band have their way, moviegoers en masse will soon be heading back to the future, wearing newfangled 3-D glasses.
Last week the next phase in the theatrical viewing experience took a significant leap forward, as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson signed on to direct and produce for Paramount’s DreamWorks Studios a trilogy of 3-D movies about the intrepid Belgian comic-book hero Tintin. And on Saturday nearly an hour of footage from the 3-D concert film of the Irish rock band U2 made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival.
As “U2 3D” demonstrates, this is definitely not the 3-D of drive-in memories. The concert film gives the audience the palpable experience of being present, as the camera swivels around Bono’s face, then soars over and down among the 60,000 concertgoers. And though the new version still requires audience members to wear glasses, they are not the old red-and-green variety but sleek black ones.
“This is a different experience; it’s much more voyeuristic,” said Jon Landau, the producer of “Avatar,” James Cameron’s ambitious and expensive movie about a battle between humans and aliens, which is currently being shot in 3-D using a combination of computer animation and motion-capture technology. “The screen has always been an emotional barrier for audiences. Good 3-D makes the screen go away. It disappears, and you’re looking at a window into a world.”
That view, however, isn’t completely clear yet. So far digital projection has been installed in only about 2,300 of the 37,000 theaters in the United States, with 3-D projection in just 700 of those. Theater owners have been slow to upgrade to expensive digital projectors, and it is an open question whether many American moviegoers will pay an extra dollar or two for tickets to 3-D films.
The 3-D film first flourished in the early 1950s, when movies like “Bwana Devil,” “House of Wax” and Disney’s “Melody” introduced audiences to the delights and annoyances of donning special glasses. But because of a combination of technological complexities, eye fatigue and a lack of compelling feature-length movies, many of the 3-D films were horror or soft-core pornography, which kept the filmmaking format on the fringes of the mainstream.
The emergence of Imax and the technological advances of the last few years, however, have piqued the interest of Hollywood’s top directors. Mr. Cameron, who made the 3-D Imax documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” in 2003, is using motion capture technology and computer graphics to create realistic characters and fantasy worlds for “Avatar.”
Twentieth Century Fox will release that film, with an estimated $200 million cost, in 2009, mainly in 3-D. (Mr. Landau said that Mr. Cameron wore 3-D glasses — the latest have plastic rims — to look at his daily footage.)
Audiences, which have had a taste of the future in 3-D versions of children’s fare like “Monster House” and “Chicken Little,” will get another early blast of the experience in Robert Zemeckis’s adventure-drama “Beowulf,” to be released, wherever possible in 3-D, by Paramount and Warner Brothers in November.
And DreamWorks Animation SKG has announced that all of its future movies will be shot in 3-D, for release beginning in 2009.
“I believe that this is the single greatest opportunity for the moviegoing experience since the advent of color,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, the chief executive of DreamWorks Animation, said in an e-mail message. “It has been more than 60 years since there has been a significant enhancement or innovation to the moviegoing experience.”
He predicted that starting in 2009, “a significant percentage of the big mainstream films will be made and exhibited in this format.”
The widening embrace of 3-D by Hollywood’s leading directors and major studios comes at a critical moment for the movie industry, which faces expanding competition for leisure time from home theaters, the Internet and games. And it also solves, at least temporarily, the continuing pressures from the thriving trade in bootleg movies. A 3-D film cannot be recorded easily from a movie screen because the images are blurry to the naked eye. And so far there is no way to show a movie in 3-D on DVD.
The push to 3-D may also be the impetus needed to spur movie exhibitors to switch from film projectors to digital ones, say industry executives. A digital projector can cost around $100,000, a sum that has proved prohibitive to many exhibitors. Adding the 3-D component, including the silver coating of the screen, costs about $20,000 more, but the added benefit is immediately visible, said Michael V. Lewis, chairman of Real-D, which dominates the 3-D projection business.
There is already evidence of a box office payoff. “Meet the Robinsons,” an animated Disney film, was released in early April in 3,400 theaters, of which 600 (about 18 percent) were equipped with 3-D. The 3-D theaters brought in 30 percent of the box office revenue from the first weekend, according to Disney. And a 3-D version of “Polar Express” from 2004 has been released three years in a row in Imax theaters around the winter holidays, taking in $65 million.
Greg Foster, the chairman and president of Imax Filmed Entertainment, warned that not all films were suited to the format. “Three-D isn’t a panacea — it isn’t a magic pill,” he said. “It’s a spectacular thing if it fits three specific criteria: Does it take you somewhere? Is it made by a visionary filmmaker? And is the concept behind the film organic to 3-D?”
He added: “If you’re going to do 3-D because you need a gimmick to sell tickets, the audience is too smart for that.”
Among films that have not worked well in 3-D were “Chicken Little” and “Ant Bully,” which were also not successful at the box office.
The new projects aim to be more than mere gimmicks. Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson have been working on the “Adventures of Tintin” project for about a year with Mr. Jackson’s special effects company, Weta Digital.
Part of the decision-making process included a week of motion capture work on the “Avatar” set in the Playa Vista section of Los Angeles last November. That visual information was sent to Weta in New Zealand. There it was married to a computer model of Tintin, the young, red-haired Belgian adventurer of comic-book fame, who is wildly popular in Europe though less so in this country. The results persuaded both directors to push forward with the trilogy.
Mr. Jackson is expected to direct the first film, Mr. Spielberg the second, with the director for the third undecided, according to a DreamWorks spokesman. There is as yet no start date for the first project.
Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson both declined to comment for this article. Stacey Snider, the co-chairwoman of DreamWorks, also declined.
Mr. Jackson’s manager, Ken Kamins, said the director had long been fascinated with 3-D but until now had not been swayed by the ability to create a full-length feature experience. “Based on various tests he’s seen, he believes in the future of 3-D,” he said. “This is really starting to create some interesting imagery that gives the filmmaker a lot more creative license to play with.”
To shoot the U2 concert film, the directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington placed about a dozen cameras throughout stadiums during the band’s concert tour in Latin America last year, and shot more than 100 hours of footage. The film, co-owned by the band and 3ality Digital, a 3-D movie production company, does not yet have a distributor, but the partners expect the film to reach theaters in the fall.
Sandy Climan, chief executive of 3ality Digital Holdings, said the improved 3-D format would entice moviegoers eager for something new.
Mr. Katzenberg agreed. He predicted that after 2009, “consumers will own their own 3-D glasses in the same way they have sunglasses for going outside, wear sneakers for running, own tennis rackets, golf clubs and bowling balls for those activities."
In Court Files, Hollywood’s Mr. Fix-It at Work
David M. Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner
Just hours after a raft of articles suggesting the impending collapse of his business hit the papers on April 11, 2002, Michael S. Ovitz did what Hollywood moguls had done for a generation: He called Anthony Pellicano.
“I need to see you,” Mr. Ovitz said, asking for a private meeting at an out-of-the-way spot. “This is the single most complex situation imaginable.”
They all went to Mr. Pellicano when their situations seemed too complex, or the stakes too high, to leave anything to chance: executives and actors, studio bosses and their jilted spouses, the hottest and the has-been. In nearly 20 years in Los Angeles, he had made himself into the rightful owner of that breathless title, “Detective to the Stars,” the one man who would, and seemingly could, do anything to clean up any mess.
So when federal agents raided Mr. Pellicano’s office in November 2002, his case became a local obsession: who would be fingered next, people wondered anxiously, as investigators gathered evidence and listened to Mr. Pellicano’s wiretap tapes.
Perhaps the case has not lived up to its advance billing as the biggest Hollywood scandal in decades. More than a dozen people have been arrested, including a movie director, the head of a Century City law firm and a cast of minor characters.
Mr. Pellicano himself sits in jail, awaiting trial on charges that his vaunted detective prowess actually boiled down to an almost addict-like reliance on illegal wiretaps. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of wiretapping and conspiracy. Only one actual wiretap has been produced by prosecutors, and defense lawyers dispute its authenticity.
Still, the evidence so far — 150,000 pages of documents and hundreds of recordings Mr. Pellicano made of his own phone calls, many of which include discussions of wiretapping — is a rich sourcebook of show-business manners, mores and argot, a vicarious tour through the dysfunctional heart of Hollywood.
The case file, much of which was obtained by The New York Times, illustrates the economics of information in the place that values it most — a community devoted to the manufacture, control and perpetuation of image. And it explains why Mr. Pellicano, who trafficked in all manner of potentially damaging data, was so eagerly hired and his unmasking so direly feared.
The marketplace was filled with potential buyers, from the top of the town to the bottom of the D-list, in the movies, television, music, even the art and sports worlds. Stars might have had the most to lose if secrets were exposed. But entertainment executives — for whom job security is notoriously fleeting, and reputations as evanescent as last weekend’s box office — had ample reason to think others were plotting against them, or at least rooting for them to fail.
Back in the golden days of Hollywood, the studios had in-house detectives to erase the indiscretions of their bosses and stars. In the era of outsourcing, Mr. Pellicano set himself up as a fixer for hire, on a $25,000 nonrefundable retainer, creating a character to suit whatever his clients imagined him to be: old-time shamus or shady ex-spy, geeky technophile or mobbed-up muscle. His constant allusions to being “connected,” to his roots in Al Capone’s old stomping ground of Cicero, Ill., nurtured what, for some customers, was a captivating aura of violence.
From his suite on Sunset Boulevard, he maneuvered his way into the confidences of the powerful and fabulous, peddling information as ammunition or as protection from the unintended consequences of their lives.
A Penchant for Celebrities
He started out in Chicago in the 1960s tracking deadbeat customers for the Spiegel catalog, then hung out a shingle as a private investigator. From the beginning, he made celebrity clients his calling card. When the remains of Elizabeth Taylor’s husband, the producer Mike Todd, disappeared from a Chicago cemetery in 1978, Mr. Pellicano led the police, and news cameras, right to them.
He also acquired a mastery of audio technology, and was constantly quoted in Watergate-era articles about detecting wiretaps and electronic bugs. When a tape said to be of the exiled shah of Iran surfaced, The Times hired Mr. Pellicano, “one of the country’s top voice analysis” experts, to authenticate it.
For a private eye selling himself to celebrities, however, Chicago was not as target-rich as Los Angeles. Mr. Pellicano moved west to help John Z. DeLorean, the carmaker and playboy, fight cocaine charges, and the acquittal instantly established him in town.
As his business exploded, so did the range of services he offered. It was an open secret that the menu included wiretapping.
Eavesdropping was nothing new in Hollywood. As early as the 1950s, a small industry of security companies was kept busy sweeping for bugs in the homes and offices of studio executives and cheating husbands. But by the mid-1990s, Mr. Pellicano had revolutionized the practice, inventing a virtually undetectable wiretapping technique.
His wiretaps were installed not inside a target location but outside, in phone company junction boxes, and connected over telephone lines either directly to his office or to a laptop in a nearby apartment that recorded every call. Eventually, he devised a way to operate many wiretaps at once. By the late 1990s, to hear him tell it in conversations with clients, he was tapping phones all over town. (His lawyers did not respond to messages requesting comment.)
Mr. Pellicano’s association with Bert Fields, a litigator known for his confrontational style, gave him entree to a client list studded with stars like Tom Cruise and executives like Mr. Ovitz and the talent manager Brad Grey.
“I don’t care how you get information,” David Moriarty, a lawyer helping Mr. Fields defend Mr. Grey, told Mr. Pellicano in one recorded conversation.
“You’re my kind of man,” the private eye shot back.
(Asked for comment, Mr. Moriarty’s lawyer said that the quotation had been taken out of context, and that prosecutors had cleared his client of any wrongdoing.)
In fact, two cases involving Mr. Grey produced roughly three-quarters of the documents in the Pellicano file.
When the comedian Garry Shandling went up against Mr. Grey, his longtime manager, in 1998, Mr. Fields took Mr. Grey’s case, and before long, the detective was running what prosecutors say were illegal checks on witnesses like Mr. Shandling’s accountant, personal assistant and girlfriend.
Two years later, Vincent Zenga, an upstart screenwriter-producer known as Bo, sued Mr. Grey over credit and profits from the hit horror spoof “Scary Movie.” During a deposition, Mr. Grey squirmed in the witness chair as Mr. Zenga’s lawyer depicted him as an unethical exploiter of other people’s work.
After two grueling days, one of Mr. Grey’s lawyers e-mailed a colleague with a simple message: “Brad wants to hire Anthony Pellicano to investigate Zenga.” The lawyer added a request, to “see if we asked Zenga for his cellphone no. during his depo.”
Mr. Pellicano was quickly on the case, wiretapping Mr. Zenga. What Mr. Pellicano heard was helpful not only in defeating Mr. Zenga in court; it could also be used to stymie his career. When Mr. Pellicano mentioned that Mr. Zenga was doing deals with the Imagine and Miramax film companies, one of Mr. Grey’s lawyers responded, “We ought to be able to put a stop to that.”
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Grey said he believed that everyone on the legal team at Mr. Fields’s law firm, including Mr. Pellicano, “was acting properly, and I knew nothing of the improper activities now alleged against him.” Mr. Fields’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Michael S. Ovitz saw threats coming from every direction.
In his prime, as head of Creative Artists Agency, he had been considered “the most powerful man in Hollywood.” By April 2002, his new talent and production company was falling apart even as he tried to sell it; his old protégés at Creative Artists were picking off his clients one by one; and he believed that his enemies were using the news media to broadcast and speed his undoing.
On the day he mysteriously asked Mr. Pellicano for a 30-minute meeting — one mentioned nowhere in Mr. Ovitz’s detailed appointment calendars for 2002 — another round of articles had reported the defection of the comedian and actor Robin Williams back to Creative Artists.
Mr. Ovitz later told the F.B.I. that he asked Mr. Pellicano to learn what would be printed about him in the coming months and to uncover embarrassing information about his enemies that he could use against them, documents show. Mr. Ovitz’s lawyer declined to comment for this article.
John McTiernan, the director of blockbusters like “Die Hard” and “The Hunt for Red October,” hired Mr. Pellicano to wiretap his producer.
In the summer of 2000, filming an ill-fated remake of the 1970s cult film “Rollerball,” Mr. McTiernan became convinced that the producer, Charles Roven, was undermining him with the movie’s financiers and executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
“I sort of would like to know what he’s saying to the studio, and if there is any place where he’s clearly saying one thing to the studio and saying something else to others,” Mr. McTiernan said in a conversation recorded by Mr. Pellicano.
But the detective offered only generalities. “Jesus Christ,” he said, describing his first round of eavesdropping. “I mean, scheming. Wriggling. Lying. Hypocrisy. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
When Mr. Pellicano complained that the sheer volume of calls meant that finding the most valuable information would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack, Mr. McTiernan asked if his computer could listen for the juiciest stuff, specific words or names.
“No, no, no, no, no. That’s in the movies,” Mr. Pellicano said.
Balking at the expense, Mr. McTiernan told Mr. Pellicano to take down the wiretaps. But he asked Mr. Pellicano to save the tapes — just in case.
Mr. McTiernan, who declined to comment for this article, became the first movie-industry casualty of the federal investigation, when he pleaded guilty last year to falsely telling an F.B.I. agent that he had no knowledge of any wiretapping by Mr. Pellicano and had never discussed it with him.
The Perfect Hollywood Persona
Hollywood is sustained by its own peculiar system of mutual advantage. There are the boldface names, their lives often complicated by overlapping personal and professional conflicts, who believe that one call to the right person (and a lot of money) can solve any problem. And then there are the service providers — the agents, lawyers, publicists, assistants and countless others — who stroke the egos of the people paying the bills and get to have their own egos stroked according to their proximity to celebrity. Mr. Pellicano’s consigliere persona, reinforced by the Italian opera on his telephone system, was a perfect fit.
The singer and actress Courtney Love called in 2001. She was fighting to get out of her record contract, fighting the surviving Nirvana musicians over control of the estate of her late husband, Kurt Cobain, and supporting her producer and boyfriend, James Barber, in a child-custody fight. She also feared that a disgruntled former assistant who had hacked into her e-mail account might publish her correspondence with friends like Drew Barrymore, Russell Crowe and even her psychic.
Ms. Love complained to Mr. Pellicano that previous private eyes had turned out to be overpriced frauds, wimps or geeks. She wanted someone who could do it all, she told him, who would use whatever tools it took to get results — from refinement to “baseball bats.” “And I need them all under one roof,” she said.
“Listen, Courtney, if you come to me, that’s the end of that,” Mr. Pellicano said. “My clients are my family, and that’s it.”
Ms. Love indicated her approval.
“There is no other way around it,” he said. “I’m very heavy-handed, honey.”
“I need heavy-handed, baby,” Ms. Love said. “I like talking to an Italian.”
“Sicilian, honey,” he corrected.
“Well, that’s even better.”
The tapes do not tell what Mr. Pellicano ultimately did for Ms. Love, who declined to comment for this article. But for stars who lived and died on image, perhaps his most valuable service was making sure a private problem did not metastasize into a public spectacle. In one conversation in 2001, the comedian and actor Chris Rock showed how attuned he was to the levels of outrage evoked by different types of scandal.
A Stirring of Ambitions
Mr. Rock feared that his rising stardom was being threatened by an accusation that an adulterous one-night tryst two and a half years earlier had not been consensual.
“I’m better off getting caught with needles in my arm, I really am,” he fretted. “Needles with pictures: ‘Here’s Chris Rock shooting heroin.’ Much better blow to the career.”
“I’m not going to let it happen,” Mr. Pellicano assured him. “Just stick with me, baby. I’ll take care of it.”
Mr. Pellicano read from the woman’s police report, saying he was not supposed to have gotten a copy, and then confided that the police were not taking her seriously. (No charges were brought. Mr. Rock declined to comment for this article.)
He also offered some unsolicited career advice, asking about Mr. Rock’s latest movie, a romantic comedy called “Down to Earth,” and cautioning him not to “get too fluffy” in choosing parts. “Look what happened to Richard Pryor,” he said.
Inevitably, Mr. Pellicano’s life stirred his own Hollywood ambitions. In 1993, he collaborated with the director Michael Mann and the writer Cynthia Cidré on a screenplay about a private eye who squashes tabloid stories, wiretaps his prey and charges a $25,000 nonrefundable retainer. (“We’re living in a society where the rich and famous think they can pay for and get away with anything,” one character observes.)
That project stalled, but in early 2002, Mr. Pellicano put together a pitch for a TV series he described as a “Sopranos” for Los Angeles. He sold it to Brad Grey’s company, producer of “The Sopranos,” which took it to HBO.
Worried that the network would rob him of credit and money, Mr. Pellicano received a mollifying call from Mr. Grey.
“They said that they will not give me executive producer credit,” Mr. Pellicano complained.
“Well, I will take care of that. What’s the next thing?” Mr. Grey asked.
“I have to have story credit,” Mr. Pellicano said. After all, he said, he had written much of the pilot script.
When Mr. Grey promised to remedy the situation — and assured him that a $15,000-per-episode fee was respectable in the TV market — Mr. Pellicano regained his usual bravado.
“You’re my friend,” he told Mr. Grey. “If you said, ‘Anthony, I get $10 million, you get $10,000,’ that’s it.” He added: “You are my friend forever. And if you called me up and said, ‘Anthony, we’re passing,’ I’d say, ‘O.K., Brad, what else is going on?’ ”
Still, a moment later, Mr. Pellicano could not resist complaining again about his fee.
“When I did the consulting for the script for Fox with Michael Mann, I got $250,000,” he said.
But that was for a film, Mr. Grey said, adding, “That’s a better business.”
Mr. Pellicano never got his series. It was rejected by HBO sometime in 2002.
Mr. Grey himself left TV for the movie business in February 2005, when he was named chairman of Paramount Pictures. Last week, in his statement, he said: “When you talked with Anthony Pellicano, you immediately saw he was a colorful character, which made his HBO series a great idea then. Ironically, it may be an even better idea today.”
Indeed, Mr. Mann never gave up on making a film about a Hollywood detective, and this month he announced a new script, set on the old MGM lot in the 1930s. Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star, Variety reported, as “the kind of detective studios once relied on to clean up the scandals” of their stars.
Page Six Covers Itself, a Bit Painfully
If you were a member of the Bancroft family in the midst of deciding whether to sell Dow Jones & Company to Rupert Murdoch, reading Friday’s New York Post might have made you choke on your bagel.
Page Six ran an extraordinarily long item — at around 680 words, it’s the gossip column equivalent of “Remembrance of Things Past” — describing an affidavit from Ian Spiegelman, a former writer for Page Six who was fired three years ago.
Mr. Spiegelman alleged, among other things, that his old boss at Page Six, Richard Johnson, accepted money from a restaurateur after friendly coverage and enjoyed a $50,000 bachelor party in Mexico thrown for him by Joe Francis, who brought the world the “Girls Gone Wild” videos.
Mr. Spiegelman also alleged that Col Allan, The Post’s pit-bull editor in chief, accepted some free hospitality at the local strip club Scores. (Whew: at The New York Times, our idea of living on the edge is a second trip to the afternoon coffee cart.)
The affidavit also renewed allegations that Post coverage has been manipulated to protect the business interests of its owner. An item on a Chinese diplomat was spiked, according to the affidavit, which further alleged that Page Six went easy on the Clintons after they had reached a truce with Mr. Murdoch.
Nobody likes waking up and seeing their name plastered all over Page Six, but for Mr. Murdoch, the much chattered-about item is remarkably ill-timed. He is in the midst of a public makeover from ruthless mogul to reverent steward of the news because he wants to buy The Wall Street Journal. So while there’s fun to be had with the allegations of payoffs and lap dances, it should be pointed out that the paper’s alleged behavior raises serious implications for Mr. Murdoch’s plans to buy The Journal.
But there’s plenty of time for that later.
Mr. Spiegelman’s allegations surfaced because Jared Paul Stern, another former reporter for Page Six, is seeking a settlement with The Post, which had suspended him after it was alleged that he tried to blackmail the grocery magnate Ronald W. Burkle. (Federal prosecutors declined to charge Mr. Stern). As part of the settlement negotiations, Mr. Stern sent along Mr. Spiegelman’s affidavit.
In some legal circles that would be known as setting the gun on the table. But then The Post reached across the table, grabbed the gun and promptly shot itself right between the eyes.
Under a herald of trumpets, “Lies & Smears Aimed at Post,” the newspaper then made some stunning admissions. The Post acknowledged that Mr. Johnson did accept money from a restaurant in 1997, $1,000 was used to pay for a big day of drinking by the staff.
The big party for Mr. Johnson held by a sex-entertainment entrepreneur was wanly defended by a spokesman, who said Mr. Johnson had paid for his own flight. The item also quoted Mr. Allan saying that, while he had gone to Scores, his behavior had been “beyond reproach” (which somehow defeats the point).
More important, the allegations that coverage in The Post was finessed to the advantage of the paper’s owner were not denied beyond a blanket characterization of the affidavit as “a tissue of lies” from a disgruntled ex-employee.
The Post had been in negotiations with Mr. Stern’s lawyer, Larry Klayman, about the possibility of a settlement, and it became clear they were not going to meet Mr. Stern’s terms, which included some kind of return for him to the paper. Mr. Allan, Gary L. Ginsberg, a high-ranking official at the News Corporation, and Howard J. Rubenstein, a longtime spokesman for the paper, decided that the affidavit would inevitably show up somewhere and decided to pull the trigger themselves.
There is some logic to The Post’s decision.
“The Post wanted to break their own story so their denial would not be relegated to the last paragraph of a story in some other newspaper where all they would get to say is, ‘We didn’t do it.’ ” Mr. Rubenstein said. “They wanted to portray what they claim are false accusations — well, mostly false — and control the context in which they appeared.”
Just as likely, Mr. Allan, a ferociously competitive journalist, could not stand to have such a grand scoop appear elsewhere, especially in The Daily News, which has giddily covered every step of the imbroglio thus far.
“We thought it was appropriate to read the charges in their totality and reach the appropriate conclusions,” Mr. Allan said.
But one of the conclusions might be that the attentions of Mr. Johnson, an important franchise for The Post, can be bought, or at least rented.
“Well, if I were to hire only people that had never made a mistake, I would be working in an empty room,” Mr. Allan said, pointed out that Mr. Johnson had been reprimanded, whatever that means.
Mr. Allan also made clear that he was not about to sign off on any kind of arrangement that suggested he had endorsed kickbacks as a way of life at the newspaper or personally received favors, sexual or otherwise, allegations he flatly denies.
It may be entirely predictable that The Post would want to break the news first, but there’s something paradoxical here as well. In an effort to blunt charges that newspaper coverage is slanted to defend Mr. Murdoch’s business interests, The Post used its signature column to do exactly that. The item was a weird act of journalistic jujitsu, even in the greasy, payback-rich environment of New York media gossip.
“They say that there is no culture of vindictiveness or no culture of using the paper to business ends,” said Mr. Spiegelman. “But then again, that is exactly what they did on Friday.”
Here’s the part where the story walks back to Mr. Murdoch. Everything is a misdemeanor in the context of gossip world, but at a certain point, the conduct of Page Six begins to reflect on its newspaper host and its corporate owner.
It has been written here and elsewhere that Mr. Murdoch will eventually crack the Bancroft family’s hold on Dow Jones. And if an owner were of a mind to use control of media to advance his own interests, that company would be a pretty nifty item to have in the tool belt.
Sure, when most people read the item on Friday, they probably just shrugged and said, “It’s The New York Post. Whaddaya expect?” What would they say if it appeared in The Wall Street Journal?
Meet the Murdochs
Last August, a management conference for senior executives of the News Corporation in Pebble Beach, Calif., featured a range of attention-getting speakers, like Prime Minister Tony Blair, former President Bill Clinton and the rocker-humanitarian Bono.
Less noticed was the presence of all six children of Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation’s billionaire chairman and chief executive.
A year earlier, Lachlan Murdoch, the oldest son, left his executive role at his father’s company and moved back to Australia. Around the same time, a dispute over its future control surfaced as Rupert Murdoch tried to have his two young children with his third wife, Wendi Deng, added as equal partners to the Harris Trust, the entity through which the family controls around 30 percent of the company’s shares.
The reunion of the far-flung Murdoch clan that weekend was an unspoken sign that a rift in the usually tight-knit family was on the mend. In addition to dining privately one night as a family, Mr. Murdoch’s four grown children, all of whom have children of their own, mingled at a tea party for Grace, 5, and Chloe, 3.
“We have come through some tough tests,” Rupert’s second daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch, said in an interview last week. “Not only have we come through it intact, we have actually solidified our position as a family — both on a professional level and a private level.”
The family’s cohesion has been under new scrutiny in the three weeks since the senior Mr. Murdoch, 76, offered $5 billion to buy Dow Jones & Company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Murdoch has long wanted to add the newspaper, America’s second largest behind USA Today, to his global assemblage of publishing, film, television, satellite and Internet businesses.
He has been making his pitch in a series of letters to members of the Bancroft family, who control 64 percent of Dow Jones voting stock and who have been stewards of the paper for nearly a century. One of his arguments is purely economic — a hard-to-beat 67 percent premium to where Dow Jones stock had traded.
But it may take more of Mr. Murdoch’s considerable powers of persuasion to convince the Bancroft family that one of the most important institutions in journalism will be in the good hands of another media family for years to come.
“We’ve got journalism in the blood,” Mr. Murdoch said in a recent interview. “I’ve tried very hard to imbue my own children with the same thing. It carries special responsibilities.”
His hope is that the Bancrofts will at least agree to hear him out, and possibly meet him and his grown children. Mr. Murdoch is in frequent contact with his children — just as he seems to be with each outpost of his business — and has discussed his ambitions for Dow Jones with them.
Current and former company executives have speculated that if the News Corporation is successful in acquiring Dow Jones, it could set the stage for either Lachlan, 35, or his brother James, 34, (or both) to return to the company in senior roles — a new wrinkle in the continuing parlor game.
After Lachlan left, Mr. Murdoch said he hoped he would return to the company one day. A person close to the News Corporation said Rupert mentioned the possibility of bringing James back to headquarters when laying the groundwork for a Dow Jones bid last year. Two people close to James, however, said he was committed to running the British pay-television service BSkyB and had no immediate plans to move to the United States.
Neil Chenoweth, a journalist with The Australian Financial Review who wrote a biography of Mr. Murdoch in 2002, said, “The children have always been very close to each other and to their father.”
There’s no question that for Mr. Murdoch’s children, particularly the three from his second marriage — Elisabeth, Lachlan and James — media is all in the family. Elisabeth and Lachlan both worked for their father but left the company after clashing with other executives and yearning to strike out on their own.
Elisabeth, 38, who is known as Liz, owns a burgeoning television production business in London and is credited with urging her father to buy the United States rights to the show that became “American Idol” — which is broadcast on the News Corporation’s Fox network and is the most popular program on television. Lachlan, who grew up at the company’s Australian newspaper arm, is on its board and has begun investing in his own media ventures. And James, chief executive of BSkyB, is considered by people in and outside the company as the most likely Murdoch to succeed their father atop News Corporation, a $26 billion conglomerate.
Others in the family also play roles. Prudence, 48, Mr. Murdoch’s oldest daughter from his first marriage, is married to a senior executive in the company’s Australian newspaper business. And Mr. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, who was born in China, has taken an interest in its ventures there and helped negotiate the introduction of the company’s MySpace Web business with Chinese partners.
Elisabeth Murdoch seconded her father’s characterization of how family members were brought up, saying that as children they would read the newspapers around the kitchen table and discuss issues and ideas with him.
“It’s about what media can do in terms of empowering individuals and being aspirational and democratizing — that’s what’s always motivated my dad,” she said, adding that criticism that he has taken serious papers like The Times of London down-market after buying them are untrue.
“I think it’s nonsense about this dumbing down. He has respected media assets across the board and imbued life into them.”
So far, beyond an initial statement on May 1 that family members controlling 52 percent of Dow Jones voting stock opposed Mr. Murdoch’s offer, the Bancrofts have been quietly mulling their intentions. Mr. Murdoch made his offer in the belief that some of the three dozen family members who own a stake in the controlling block can be persuaded to come over to his side — particularly since the family has not played a hands-on role in running the company for decades and professional managers have struggled to translate its world-class journalism into a world-class business.
What the News Corporation might look like once Mr. Murdoch is no longer at the helm is unknown, but Mr. Murdoch’s four oldest children are bound by a trust to keep the company together for decades, according to people familiar with its terms.
“It’s easy for the kids to be united right now,” Mr. Chenoweth said, “but give it 10 to 20 years as their interests diverge and the reality of shared power becomes more restricting.”
Mr. Murdoch has said he would eventually like one of his children to succeed him atop the company, though he has not designated a successor and says he will leave such a decision to the board. It is a subject Mr. Murdoch was reluctant to discuss for awhile — after Lachlan resigned in July 2005.
Lachlan Murdoch said publicly that he wanted to return to Australia — where he had run the company’s original newspaper business a grandfather, Keith Murdoch, had first built — to strike out on his own.
But with his departure, company officials also acknowledged that Lachlan had come to feel undermined by his father in making decisions.
His departure was not altogether different from Elisabeth’s resignation from a role at overseeing BSkyB’s programming in London in 2000. “For Lachlan and I, we had to do our own things,” she said.
James, she noted, had already done things on his own before joining the company, including starting a music label after dropping out of Harvard. And James seemed determined to be as autonomous within the company as he could, first by running its Star television businesses in Asia while based in Hong Kong and, since 2003, taking the top post at BSkyB, in which the News Corporation holds a major stake. James Murdoch declined to comment for this article, and Lachlan did not respond to requests for an interview.
When Lachlan left the company, word emerged that relations among all the grown children and their father had become strained by Mr. Murdoch’s efforts to have Grace and Chloe added to the Harris Trust. (The family’s 30 percent stake is expected to increase to 38 percent when the News Corporation soon completes a transaction to sell DirecTV to Liberty Media, giving Mr. Murdoch the most solid grip on the company’s control in years.)
As a consequence of his divorce in 1999 from second wife, Anna Murdoch-Mann, Mr. Murdoch’s four grown children were given clear and equal eventual control over the Harris Trust. While they were willing to grant their father’s wish that their new half-sisters be equal financial partners in the trust, the children and Mrs. Mann did not want to concede any decision-making control — or dilute their interests in the trust if Mr. Murdoch had any more children.
After several chilly months, the family quietly settled the dispute without lawyers or another intermediary. As part of the resolution, each of the Murdoch children were granted $100 million worth of News Corporation stock from the trust for their personal use — a distribution that occurred earlier this year.
As billionaire dynasties go, the grown Murdoch children have never acted particularly entitled. Elisabeth has pursued acquisitions and the kinds of envelope-pushing moves her father is often associated with to build her television production company, Shine, into one of the largest independent producers in Britain with some $250 million in revenue.
James has proved something of a chip off the old block, amid skepticism about nepotism, to increase the price of BSkyB’s stock by 24 percent since taking over in November 2004. He resigned from the News Corporation board over his father’s objections to try to demonstrate that he would be his own man at BSkyB.
The most technologically oriented of the Murdochs, he diversified that company’s video service into broadband and telephone, and has engaged in a corporate feud with Richard Branson of the Virgin Group. James also helped in getting his father to champion environmental issues and to announce that the News Corporation’s global operations would become carbon-neutral.
Lachlan has maintained low visibility since returning to Australia. He is said to be quite happy and to remain close to his father. A company he started, Illyria, is run from the head office of the News Corporation’s newspaper subsidiary in Sydney, and he is frequently seen coming and going. He recently took a stake in an Indian company that manages actors and athletes there.
One place the family is planning to see one another all together is at 100th-birthday festivities in two years that are being planned for Rupert’s mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, who lives in Australia.
Facebook Expands Into MySpace’s Territory
With an ambitious strategy for expansion, Facebook is getting in MySpace’s face.
Facebook, the Internet’s second-largest social network, was originally popular on college campuses, but over the last year it has opened its dorm-room doors to all, and its membership rolls have exploded at triple-digit growth rates.
Now Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is inviting thousands of technology companies and programmers to contribute features to its service. They can even make money from the site’s users by doing so, and, at least for now, Facebook will not take a cut.
Some of the new features, demonstrated by software developers at a Facebook event here on Thursday, will allow members to recommend and listen to music, insert Amazon book reviews onto their pages, play games and join charity drives, all without leaving the site.
The result is expected to be a proliferation of new tools and activities for Facebook’s 24 million active users, who have largely been limited to making online connections, sharing photos and planning events.
The move could foster some of the chaotic creativity that is more closely associated with MySpace, its larger competitor. It could also open the door to hazards like spam, and make Facebook’s identity less clear.
But Facebook is thinking big. In the parlance of its 23-year-old chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, the company is positioning itself as a “social operating system” for the Internet. It wants to sit at the center of its users’ online lives in the same way that Windows dominates their experience on a PC — while improving its own prospects for a lucrative acquisition or an eventual public offering.
“This may be the most important development since the company got started,” said Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook and one of its three board members. “But the company is taking a massive gamble. There are lots of things that can go wrong with this.”
Facebook, which is largely supported by advertising, has gained significant momentum over the last year. Since the site opened up to nonstudents eight months ago, its membership has doubled to 24 million, according to the research firm ComScore. Users now spend an average of 14 minutes on the site every time they visit, up from eight minutes last September, according to Hitwise, a traffic measuring service.
MySpace remains nearly three times the size of Facebook, with 67 million active members — up from 48 million a year ago — who spend an average of 30 minutes on the site each time they visit. It has recently focused on entering new markets like Japan and China.
The two social networks have carved out contrasting, though shifting, reputations. MySpace, owned by the News Corporation, has fostered an anarchic aura with few restrictions on creativity, while allowing users to integrate tools from other companies into their pages, like slide show displays. Recently, however, the company has blocked the efforts of several companies to advertise to MySpace users or otherwise make money through those tools.
Facebook, on the other hand, has kept its members in something of a creative straitjacket. Users could not customize their pages or add tools created by other companies.
Those restrictions helped preserve Facebook’s clean, uniform appearance and reinforced its emphasis on offering practical ways to communicate online with friends.
It has also made Facebook appealing to some groups beyond its student base. For example, Facebook is in vogue in Silicon Valley tech circles. David Belden, a 32-year-old technology worker from San Francisco, says he checks Facebook several times a day but hardly touches his MySpace account. “MySpace is so messy and there’s so much spam. It’s not worth it,” he said.
Facebook wants to keep those faithful while turbocharging its growth by harnessing some of the magic of MySpace’s openness. It is also going one step further by allowing companies that contribute features to make money on Facebook through their own advertising or commissions on sales.
“You can build a real advertising business on Facebook,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on Thursday during his speech to more than 700 developers and journalists. “If you don’t want to run ads, you can sell something. We encourage you to do both.”
In its new effort, which was to be unveiled on the site Thursday night, Facebook will be relying on the work of entrepreneurs like Ali Partovi, the chief executive of iLike, a company in Seattle that gives users the opportunity to hear and buy the music their friends are listening to.
Facebook does not have a music feature, but iLike, which along with Amazon and Microsoft was one of 65 companies that appeared at Facebook’s event, is one of several that plans to make music-related tools available on the site.
If users choose to add iLike to their Facebook pages, the software will automatically see where they live and what bands and songs they say they enjoy. It will then recommend songs and local concerts.
ILike will get a commission if the user acts on either recommendation, and it will also show its own ads. “We are truly building an entire business within Facebook,” Mr. Partovi said.
The companies now working with Facebook assert that it is facilitating a deeper level of integration in the social network than MySpace currently allows.
PicksPal, another company that will work with Facebook, lets users predict the winners in sporting events and awards them points for being correct. The points can be cashed in for prizes. If Facebook users add PicksPal to their pages, their “bets” will be sent as a short message (“George has picked Cleveland over Pittsburgh”) to everyone in their network via Facebook’s news feed, which keeps users constantly updated on their friends’ activities.
“It’s exciting to build something that works so well in their world and to really engage in what was heretofore an off-limits, walled garden,” said PicksPal’s chief executive, Tom Jessiman.
Facebook hopes that thousands of outside companies will eventually build features for its site. One inevitable drawback is that Facebook pages will no longer all look the same. To preserve some of its uniformity, the company is asking developers to stay within certain lines — for example, preventing images from blinking or music from automatically playing on a Facebook page unless clicked on.
There are other potential pitfalls for Facebook as well. Spammers and other online miscreants might crack Facebook in the same way they have infiltrated MySpace, where many profiles do not represent real people and entreaties from attractive women mask advertisements for pornographic Web sites.
Facebook might also inadvertently turn itself into a launching pad for other companies that could eclipse it — in the same way that YouTube rose to prominence because MySpace users found it an easy way to add video to their MySpace pages.
MySpace continues to face that challenge and is now acquiring the photo-sharing site PhotoBucket for $300 million, according to two people familiar with the ongoing negotiations, because so many of its users have come to rely on it to store images for their MySpace pages.
When asked about Facebook’s plans, MySpace painted them as nothing new. “From MySpace’s first day, our members have had the freedom to create the experiences they want,” the company said in a statement. “We have always offered our users a blank canvas for their creativity and self-expression.”
Nevertheless, Facebook clearly has Silicon Valley-size ambitions that are pushing it to take big risks. Last year, according to published reports, Facebook turned down a $900 million acquisition offer from Yahoo.
“Although a lot of companies continue to approach us, we are not for sale,” said Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist who invested in Facebook and is a board member.
Firefox and the Anxiety of Growing Pains
IF the open-source software movement were an upstart political campaign, Chris Messina would be one of its community organizers — the young volunteer who decamps to New Hampshire, knocking on doors, putting up signs.
In 2004, Mr. Messina, a 26-year-old Web entrepreneur from San Francisco, found his dream candidate in Firefox, the open-source Internet browser that is a rival to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Unlike the other candidate he volunteered for that year, Howard Dean, Firefox is still racking up victories. And unlike Mr. Dean, the people behind Firefox have a dilemma: what happens — and what is owed to volunteer contributors — when an open-source project starts to become successful?
Some 1,000 to 2,000 people have contributed code to Firefox, according to the Mozilla Foundation, which distributes the Firefox browser. An estimated 10,000 people act as testers for the program, and an estimated 80,000 help spread the word.
In 2004, with the release of version 1.0, Firefox became the dream of techies like Mr. Messina. Much in the way he helped coordinate supporters for Mr. Dean online, he got behind Spread Firefox, a campaign to rally the open-source base behind the browser.
That effort culminated in a fund-raising drive to advertise Firefox in The New York Times. The ad, a double-page spread designed by Mr. Messina, ran on Dec. 16, 2004.
“It was 10,000 people, putting in like 5 bucks to — I don’t know what the highest was,” he said. “It was in the spirit of the Howard Dean campaign.”
The Firefox campaign has been very successful, according to Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation that directs the project.
“The best we can figure, 75 to 100 million people are using Firefox,” she said. “Those people did not get it in a box. That is 75 million decisions, somewhere around the world to put this piece of software on someone’s machine.”
According to outside estimates, Firefox has about 15 percent of the market, Internet Explorer has more than 78 percent, and Apple’s Safari a little less than 5 percent. Mozilla has 90 employees and revenue of more than $100 million in the last couple of years.
Mozilla plans to make enough money to keep growing. But a windfall came in the form of a royalty contract with Google, which, like the other search companies, is always competing for better placement on browsers. Under the agreement, the Google search page is the default home page when a user first installs Firefox, and is the default in the search bar. In the last two years, the deal has brought in more than $100 million. (Google has a similar placement with Apple’s Safari.)
So far, no one has figured out how to balance keeping an open-source or collaborative project fully financed while remaining independent and noncommercial. Wikipedia, for example, holds occasional fund-raisers, while its leaders debate if it should take steps toward some sort of sponsorship or advertising.
Thanks to the Google agreement, the Mozilla Foundation went from revenue of nearly $6 million in 2004 to more than $52 million the next year. The foundation plans to increase its work force, and to add some engineering capability. In 2005, the foundation created a subsidiary, the for-profit Mozilla Corporation, also led by Ms. Baker, mainly to deal with the tax and other issues related to the Google contract. (The foundation’s 2006 tax return has not yet been made public, but Ms. Baker said the Google revenue will remain about the same.)
She described the decision to align with Google as an organic one that predates the official release of Firefox. “We had Google in a beta version for a long time, so we approached them first,” she said.
Mitch Kapor, who is on the Mozilla board, said that accepting a deal with Google was a no-brainer. “Always on my mind, in all my involvement is, how is it going to be sustainable?” he said. “I am a big believer that begging is not the right business model. When it began to become clear there was a business opportunity, in monetizing search in the browser, I saw this as a great opportunity.”
But with opportunities came changes. By creating a corporation to run the Firefox project, Mozilla was committing to be less transparent. In part, that is because Google insists on the secrecy of “its arrangement and agreements,” Mr. Kapor said. (Google declined to comment for this article.)
Because transparency is one of the principles of the so-called Mozilla manifesto released in February, Mr. Kapor said, there was “some tension around getting the deal done and disclosure.”
Another complication for Mozilla, some critics say, is that it could be perceived as acting as an extension of Google. For example, they note that one of Google’s growth areas, Web-based software applications, would have a better chance of success with a browser not controlled by its biggest rival, Microsoft.
The exact nature of Mozilla’s relationship with Google has been good fodder for bloggers. When Mr. Messina recently posted a 50-minute video of his thoughts about Firefox development, the comments included a back and forth between Asa Dotzler of the Mozilla Corporation, and a commentator on the blog named Corey.
When Corey wrote that “it seems like half” of the top contributors to Mozilla “work directly for Google,” Mr. Dotzler responded harshly, dismissing the claim outright: “No one who has looked at the actual development of Firefox recently could say with a straight face that Google employees are top contributors to Mozilla.”
Finally, there is the problem of what Mozilla should do with the money, at least the portion that isn’t being reinvested in the Firefox. Throwing money around among volunteers can backfire, Ms. Baker said, though the foundation has been quietly assisting contributors who are hampered by poor equipment.
Instead, Mozilla’s solution is to put money into what Mr. Kapor calls “community purposes.” To that end, the foundation is looking for a new executive director who would focus on worthy projects, although no decisions on what constitutes a worthy project has been made. “We go out and ask,” Ms. Baker said, “and even the community is not actually clear where large amounts of money should go.”
A Splash of Photo History Comes to Light
At first glance the two pictures seem to be gorgeous anachronisms, full-color blasts from the black-and-white world of 1908, the year Ford introduced the Model T and Theodore Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term.
But they are genuine products of their time, rare ones, among the few surviving masterpieces from the earliest days of color photography, made using a process developed by the Lumière brothers in France and imported to the United States by the photographer Edward Steichen a century ago this year. They were taken by Steichen, probably in Buffalo, and are thought to be portraits of Charlotte Spaulding, a friend and student who became his luminous subject for the portraits, which resemble pointillist miniatures on glass.
Almost as intriguing as the pictures themselves, however, is the story of how they recently made their way from a house in Buffalo, where they apparently sat unseen for decades, to the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, one of the world’s leading photography museums, where they will be exhibited for the first time this fall.
Eastman House has a substantial collection of Steichen works, including 22 of the same kind of color photographs, known as autochromes. But when Anthony Bannon, the museum’s director, received a call last summer from a Buffalo lawyer, who said his client, Charlotte Albright, a 96-year-old painter, wanted to donate three examples of what were probably antique glass-plate negatives, Mr. Bannon assumed they were the works of her mother, Charlotte Spaulding.
That would have been an important find in itself. Spaulding had a brief career as a photographer and member of the influential scene known as the Photo Secession, led by Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. Then she put down her camera for good in 1910 after marrying Langdon Albright, the son of a prominent Buffalo industrialist, John J. Albright, an early benefactor of what is now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.
In August Mr. Bannon drove to Buffalo to meet the lawyer, Robert J. Plache. Because of the two men’s erratic schedules, they arranged on the fly to meet in the parking lot of an ice cream parlor in a Buffalo suburb, where Mr. Plache emerged from his car with a plastic-wrapped package.
Upon opening it, Mr. Bannon saw that one item inside was a Spaulding glass-plate negative. Then, almost immediately, he realized that the other two 5-by-7-inch pieces of glass, portraits of a beautiful young woman in an Edwardian gown and pearls, were not.
They were Steichens, one of them signed.
“And I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ ” Mr. Bannon recalled dryly in a recent interview.
Steichen was hugely influential during his lifetime, serving for almost two decades as the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. Although his reputation dimmed after his death in 1973, it has surged back. In February 2006 one of his platinum prints, “The Pond — Moonlight,” made in 1904, set an auction record for a photograph, selling for almost $3 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
“It is so rare that one has a chance to add imagery to an artist’s oeuvre, never mind one of the stature of Steichen,” Mr. Bannon said. “You think the ground has been pretty well covered, and then you find something like this.”
Mr. Plache, speaking on behalf of Mrs. Albright, said that she was unable to conduct an interview about the photographs, which probably came into her possession after her mother’s death in 1939. But as far as anyone associated with Mrs. Albright knows, she never displayed them and they were kept in a cupboard or closet in her house for decades. It is unclear whether she knew that two of the plates were Steichen photographs and not works by her mother.
Mr. Bannon said that because the photographs had sat for so long out of the light, their colors remained particularly vivid. “They’re in just as perfect a shape as you could expect from something from almost a century ago,” he said.
Autochromes are positive images, meaning they are unique and not negatives that can be used to create prints. They were made using a complex process in which tiny dyed grains of potato starch were spread across a piece of glass and light was passed through them to a photo-sensitive plate.
The three colors of the starch grains — bright blue-violet, bright orange-red and Kelly green — worked together to produce a wide range of realistic-looking colors, in the same way that combinations of red, blue and green dots produce a color-television picture.
“If you did it right, you had the basic colors you were looking at when you took the picture,” said Mark Osterman, the photographic-process historian at Eastman House.
Unlike most other antique prints, autochromes are usually displayed with a light source behind them, allowing their colors, which are dim in regular light, to shine through the semi-transparent glass or to reflect onto a mirror. But prolonged exposure to light can wash out the images. After Eastman House displays the pictures they will be returned to storage. (The pictures will be exhibited on a light table sometime in October, although a date has not been set.)
Mr. Bannon said it was hard to estimate what the market value of the pictures might have been had Mrs. Albright put them up for auction, but he believed that each probably would have generated six figures. The only other known example of a Steichen portrait like them, perhaps from the same session with Spaulding, is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Mr. Bannon said.
Hans P. Kraus Jr., a Manhattan photo dealer who just mounted an exhibition of antique autochromes by Stieglitz and other Photo-Secession artists, said that Steichen autochromes rarely appeared on the market. The last one he remembered seeing, years ago, was a portrait of J. P. Morgan.
As Mr. Bannon recounted the handoff of the autochromes, he was asked whether he went into the ice-cream parlor for a celebratory cone after he knew exactly what he had in his possession. He said it didn’t even cross his mind.
“With a couple of century-old autochromes in my car, I wasn’t going anywhere but directly back to the museum,” he said. “And I was driving very, very carefully.”
Venezuela Court Orders Troops to Take TV Station
Venezuela's top court on Friday ordered the Defense Ministry to take control of installations of an opposition television station amid a show of military force before the station's controversial closure.
President Hugo Chavez's decision to close the RCTV television channel, which he accuses of backing a 2002 coup against him, has prompted international condemnation and several demonstrations.
Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered the military to "guard, control and monitor" some of the station's installations and equipment including transmission equipment and antennas throughout the country.
An RCTV source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said staff at the station believed troops would take over the station's Caracas headquarters.
The court determined that the government must take RCTV's broadcast equipment to ensure a smooth handover to a state channel that will replace RCTV with broadcasts promoting the values of Chavez's socialist revolution.
A Defense Ministry official said he had not seen the court decision. An RCTV lawyer declined to comment on the issue.
The decision came hours after a convoy of troop carriers, motorcycles and armored anti-riot vehicles patrolled the highways of Caracas in what authorities called an effort to deter any disturbances by opposition demonstrators.
Chavez, clad in military fatigues at the inaugural flight of Sukhoi fighter jets bought from Russia, said the country was ready for any attack by "the oligarchy," a rich, pro-U.S. elite which he says RCTV epitomizes.
"We will be on alert, we are always on alert. Whatever flares up, we will snuff it out," he said.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution against the "transgression of freedom of thought and expression" in Venezuela. A protest in Caracas on Saturday attracted tens of thousands of people.
Chavez's critics say he has sought to build a Cuban-style system in Venezuela, accusing him of politicizing the military, judiciary and oil industry of the OPEC member country.
Political analysts have often identified Venezuela's critical media as the main obstacle to Chavez following the model of his mentor -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
The government has repeatedly warned that opposition demonstrators are preparing a "destabilization campaign" to spark street violence as RCTV loses its license.
"Minority groups cannot go against the will of the majority of the Venezuelan people to create uncertainty in the case of RCTV's license," Defense Minister Raul Baduel told state news agency ABN on Friday.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Rondon)
Journalists Quit Over Censorship
Tom Parfitt in Moscow and Kate Connolly in Berlin
A group of journalists at a state-controlled broadcast news agency in Russia have resigned en masse in one of the few open rebellions in recent years against censorship imposed by the Kremlin.
Eight reporters from the Russian News Service said they could not work under new rules that required them not to interview or mention opposition leaders such as Garry Kasparov and to ensure 50% coverage of "positive news".
In an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag yesterday, Mr Kasparov praised the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for being the first European leader to confront Vladimir Putin when she complained at last week's EU-Russia summit that opposition leaders had been prevented from travelling to the Volga city of Samara for a demonstration coinciding with the summit.
"This was the first time that a European leader delivered such a serious reprimand to Putin and with that she put Putin in an extremely awkward position," he said. "After all, he's not used to being so blatantly criticised. Merkel was very right to confront him about the human rights situation in Russia."
He added: "Samara was a turning point ... [it] is the heartland of Russia. It was here that she delivered her verdict."
With the exception of one vibrant radio station, Ekho Moskvy, Russia's broadcast media has largely been transformed into a propaganda machine since Mr Putin came to power in 2000.
Yesterday, about 300 demonstrators gathered in Moscow to protest against the increasing censorship.
Artyom Khan, one of the reporters who resigned, said restrictions were introduced when new management was imported last month from Channel One, the state television station that documents Mr Putin's every move.
Catholics Say Blog Spreads ‘Slander’
Paper lashes out at documentary alleging Church cover-up of sex abuse
Italy’s leading Roman Catholic newspaper lashed out at bloggers on Saturday for spreading “slander” by posting a BBC documentary that alleged a Church cover-up of child sexual abuse.
The documentary aired on the BBC in October, but never in Italy. The bloggers translated it and it now ranks as Google Video Italia’s most popular item.
“We did the patient work of translating and subtitling it to fill this shameful gap,” they wrote at http://www.bispensiero.it/.
Newspaper Avvenire, which is owned by the Italian Conference of Roman Catholic bishops, slammed the web version in a front-page editorial headlined “Infamous Slander Via Internet.”
The BBC documentary examined what it described as a secret document written in 1962 that set out a procedure for dealing with child sexual abuse within the Church.
It imposed an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest and any witness, a policy the BBC documentary said was meant to protect the priest’s reputation during the investigation but “can offer a blueprint for cover-up.”
Avvenire called the documentary “a potpourri of affirmations and pseudo-testimony that were at the time publicly repudiated” for being false and misleading.
The Roman Catholic Church has been hit in several countries, including the United States and Ireland, by lawsuits and allegations of sex abuse by priests.
British bishops last year criticized the BBC, saying it should be “ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict.”
Before being elected pope in 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that enforces doctrine.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, writing on behalf of the British bishops, has said the original document in question was concerned not directly with child abuse but with the abuse of the confessional by a priest to silence his victim.
The document was revised in 2001 to deal more specifically with sex abuse cases but still remained secret, Nichols said. He added Pope Benedict had worked to punish offenders.
Adam and Eve in the Land of the Dinosaurs
The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.
But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.
What is this, then? A reproduction of a childhood fantasy in which dinosaurs are friends of inquisitive youngsters? The kind of fantasy that doesn’t care that human beings and these prefossilized thunder-lizards are usually thought to have been separated by millions of years? No, this really is meant to be more like one of those literal dioramas of the traditional natural history museum, an imagining of a real habitat, with plant life and landscape reproduced in meticulous detail.
For here at the $27 million Creation Museum, which opens on May 28 (just a short drive from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport), this pastoral scene is a glimpse of the world just after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, in which dinosaurs are still apparently as herbivorous as humans, and all are enjoying a little calm in the days after the fall.
It also serves as a vivid introduction to the sheer weirdness and daring of this museum created by the Answers in Genesis ministry that combines displays of extraordinary nautilus shell fossils and biblical tableaus, celebrations of natural wonders and allusions to human sin. Evolution gets its continual comeuppance, while biblical revelations are treated as gospel.
Outside the museum scientists may assert that the universe is billions of years old, that fossils are the remains of animals living hundreds of millions of years ago, and that life’s diversity is the result of evolution by natural selection. But inside the museum the Earth is barely 6,000 years old, dinosaurs were created on the sixth day, and Jesus is the savior who will one day repair the trauma of man’s fall.
It is a measure of the museum’s daring that dinosaurs and fossils — once considered major challenges to belief in the Bible’s creation story — are here so central, appearing not as tests of faith, as one religious authority once surmised, but as creatures no different from the giraffes and cats that still walk the earth. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah’s flood; in fact dinosaurs were on the ark.
So dinosaur skeletons and brightly colored mineral crystals and images of the Grand Canyon are here, as are life-size dioramas showing paleontologists digging in mock earth, Moses and Paul teaching their doctrines, Martin Luther chastising the church to return to Scripture, Adam and Eve guiltily standing near skinned animals, covering their nakedness, and a supposedly full-size reproduction of a section of Noah’s ark.
There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah’s flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days. There is a special-effects theater complete with vibrating seats meant to evoke the flood, and a planetarium paying tribute to God’s glory while exploring the nature of galaxies.
Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministry’s views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the “Jaws” and “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.
For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.
The Creation Museum actually stands the natural history museum on its head. Natural history museums developed out of the Enlightenment: encyclopedic collections of natural objects were made subject to ever more searching forms of inquiry and organization. The natural history museum gave order to the natural world, taming its seeming chaos with the principles of human reason. And Darwin’s theory — which gave life a compelling order in time as well as space — became central to its purpose. Put on display was the prehistory of civilization, seeming to allude not just to the evolution of species but also cultures (which is why “primitive” cultures were long part of its domain). The natural history museum is a hall of human origins.
The Creation Museum has a similar interest in dramatizing origins, but sees natural history as divine history. And now that many museums have also become temples to various American ethnic and sociological groups, why not a museum for the millions who believe that the Earth is less than 6,000 years old and was created in six days?
Mark Looy, a founder of Answers in Genesis with its president, Ken Ham, said the ministry expected perhaps 250,000 visitors during the museum’s first year. In preparation Mr. Ham for 13 years has been overseeing 350 seminars annually about the truths of Genesis, which have been drawing thousands of acolytes. The organization’s magazine has 50,000 subscribers. The museum also says that it has 9,000 charter members and international contributors who have left the institution free of debt.
But for a visitor steeped in the scientific world view, the impact of the museum is a disorienting mix of faith and reason, the exotic and the familiar. Nature here is not “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson asserted. In fact at first it seems almost as genteel as Eden’s dinosaurs. We learn that chameleons, for example, change colors not because that serves as a survival mechanism, but “to ‘talk’ to other chameleons, to show off their mood, and to adjust to heat and light.”
Meanwhile a remarkable fossil of a perch devouring a herring found in Wyoming offers “silent testimony to God’s worldwide judgment,” not because it shows a predator and prey, but because the two perished — somehow getting preserved in stone — during Noah’s flood. Nearly all fossils, the museum asserts, are relics of that divine retribution.
The heart of the museum is a series of catastrophes. The main one is the fall, with Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge; after that tableau the viewer descends from the brightness of Eden into genuinely creepy cement hallways of urban slums. Photographs show the pain of war, childbirth, death — the wages of primal sin. Then come the biblical accounts of the fallen world, leading up to Noah’s ark and the flood, the source of all significant geological phenomena.
The other catastrophe, in the museum’s view, is of more recent vintage: the abandonment of the Bible by church figures who began to treat the story of creation as if it were merely metaphorical, and by Enlightenment philosophers, who chipped away at biblical authority. The ministry believes this is a slippery slope.
Start accepting evolution or an ancient Earth, and the result is like the giant wrecking ball, labeled “Millions of Years,” that is shown smashing the ground at the foundation of a church, the cracks reaching across the gallery to a model of a home in which videos demonstrate the imminence of moral dissolution. A teenager is shown sitting at a computer; he is, we are told, looking at pornography.
But given the museum’s unwavering insistence on belief in the literal truth of biblical accounts, it is strange that so much energy is put into demonstrating their scientific coherence with discussions of erosion or interstellar space. Are such justifications required to convince the skeptical or reassure the believer?
In the museum’s portrayal, creationists and secularists view the same facts, but come up with differing interpretations, perhaps the way Ptolemaic astronomers in the 16th century saw the Earth at the center of the universe, where Copernicans began to place the sun. But one problem is that scientific activity presumes that the material world is organized according to unchanging laws, while biblical fundamentalism presumes that those laws are themselves subject to disruption and miracle. Is not that a slippery slope as well, even affecting these analyses?
But for debates, a visitor goes elsewhere. The Creation Museum offers an alternate world that has its fascinations, even for a skeptic wary of the effect of so many unanswered assertions. He leaves feeling a bit like Adam emerging from Eden, all the world before him, freshly amazed at its strangeness and extravagant peculiarities.
The Creation Museum opens Monday at 2800 Bullittsburg Church Road, Petersburg, Ky.; (888) 582-4253.
India Works to Shield Traditional Knowledge from Modern Copyrights
A new digital library in India is safeguarding ancient knowledge from patents, which can force royalty payments for knowledge that is common in that part of the world. NewsHour correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from New Delhi.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, safeguarding ancient knowledge in a digital library in India. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from New Delhi.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent: The healing art of yoga goes back thousands of years in India. But over the past three decades, it's become a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. Yoga guru Balmukund Singh is proud of the Indian export, but when he hears that some asanas, or postures, have been copy-written by Indians who have moved to the U.S., Singh gets, well, forgive me, tied up in knots.
BALMUKUND SINGH, Yoga Guru (through translator): This is our cultural heritage. It's ours. How can anybody else patent this? If they invent it, they can patent it. But this is originally an Indian thing. Our sages long ago developed and demonstrated it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: It's not just yoga. In 1997, a Texas company got a patent on basmati rice, which meant that it would get a royalty payment when anyone else sold rice by that name. The Indian government filed 50,000 pages of evidence to show that basmati rice grown in India for centuries was essentially the same stuff. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office finally revoked the basmati patent in 2001.
India's markets are filled with herbs and plants that, over the centuries, have been concocted into remedies for almost every ailment. It's a medicine chest that Dr. V.K. Gupta says is raided all the time by companies and individuals in the West.
Elements of Indian culture
V.K. GUPTA, Director, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library: Every year, at least 2,000 wrong patents are getting awarded on India's system of knowledge, like turmeric for wound healing, which should not get granted.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The turmeric refers to is a mainstay of Indian cooking, but for centuries turmeric has also been used for medicinal purposes, applied to skin rashes and wounds.
In the '90s, two Indian-American university researchers got a U.S. patent for turmeric, saying they've discovered its wound-healing properties. Once again, India's government fought to have the claim invalidated.
Dr. Gupta says the problem is patent offices depend on accessible, understandable documentation to check on the validity of a claim. And that's just what India's government, under his leadership, aims to provide.
It's called TKDL, Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. The ambitious project began in 2002 and is transferring 5,000 years of ancient texts onto a digital database in Hindi, English and eventually French, Spanish and Japanese.
Dozens of scholars spend their day pouring over photocopies of ancient manuscripts. They'll eventually catalog architecture, music and the arts, but the first task is formidable enough: medical knowledge. There are three main healing traditions reflecting India's varied history and geography.
There is Unani, a system begun in ancient Greece, developed later by Arabs, and brought to India by traders and rulers. Unani texts can be in Persian, Urdu, or Arabic, all sharing the same script.
Nearby are desks for Siddha, a medical science developed in south India. These texts are in Tamil. On the other side is Ayurveda, in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Tens of thousands of drug formulations, or ingredients, are buried in verse, says Dr. Jaya Saklani Kala.
Archiving 30 million pages
DR. JAYA SAKLANI KALA, Ayurvedic Physician: Earlier, what the teachers, arajayas, used to do was, they used to transfer the knowledge orally.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: So it was put into verse form so that the students could read them?
DR. JAYA SAKLANI KALA: Easily memorize them. Later on, it was penned down.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Some 30 million pages will eventually go from pen to hard drive. If a patent office in the West gets an application, they'll be able to check this new library for existing knowledge, or prior art, before granting a patent.
V.K. GUPTA: Through the route of TKDL, now we are giving access to the patent offices, several patent offices we are in dialogue with -- instead of stealing, we want to have a system when both collaborate with each other.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not everyone is that optimistic. There's worry that putting the knowledge in one place will make it easier for those looking to steal ideas. And when there is a false patent claim, poor countries simply won't have the means to challenge it, says Devinder Sharma, an activist on biotechnology issues.
DEVINDER SHARMA, Trade Policy Activist: Thousands of patents are being drawn every week in America on plant-based remedies and plant-based products. What happens is that, when the company draws a patent, you know, and somebody challenges it, then you have to go on building up a huge battery of, you know, not only lawyers with them, but also a whole lot of research to challenge those cases in America.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: For his part, Dr. Gupta says patent offices will be better able to police false patent claims themselves by using the new library.
V.K. GUPTA: No patent examiner would ever like to grant a wrong patent. It is not in his interest.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: At the same time, he says access to the library will be strictly limited and regulated to prevent unscrupulous exploitation.
V.K. GUPTA: We will draw experts from all disciplines. Our view is for every country who is the holder of such resources must designate a national competent authority of experts and that authority must negotiate with the user of that knowledge so there is some level playing field.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Ultimately, Dr. Gupta hopes joint projects with drug and biotechnology companies can revitalize research in India's traditional systems, which languished under British colonial rule. In time, he says, the marriage of ancient plant-based remedies, the library will catalog at least 150,000 of them with modern biotechnology, and create effective new drugs for the world and an economic bonanza for India.
Step one in all of this: The library on traditional medical knowledge, including yoga, is expected to be complete by the end of this year.
For an mp3 of this report, click here. – Jack
Google to Scan 800,000 Manuscripts, Books From Indian University
Need to dig up some information from a centuries-old text on ayurvedic medicine? Soon you'll be able to do so from the comfort of your living room. Google has agreed to index and digitize 800,000 texts stored at the University of Mysore in India as part of its attempt to broaden the Google Book Search program, according to the Indo-Asian News Service.
"Written in both papers and palm leaves, there are around 100,000 manuscripts in our library, some dating back to the eighth century," said the vice chancellor of Mysore. "The effort is to restore and preserve this cultural heritage for effective dissemination of knowledge." He also added, cryptically, that the University plans to "patent them before making them available on public domain."
Google has been aggressively expanding its Book Search program to include non-English library materials. It recently announced a deal with the University of Lausanne to scan a large collection of French-language works, and the new partnership with Mysore will digitize works in Sanskrit and Kannada. These schools lack the fear of Google displayed by the French government, which has so far introduced projects like Gallica and Quaero to challenge the search giant without any apparent success.
India has become increasingly important to Google in the last few years. The company opened a billion-dollar data center in Andhra Pradesh, and it recently announced the availability of Google News in Hindi. But how will the might of Google's technology fare when confronted with handwritten Sanskrit?
How steady is your hand?
Making an archive like this useful to scholars will involve using optical character recognition to translate the handwritten texts into searchable characters—and it's a tough task. Our own Jon Stokes has done extensive research in this area and says, "The hard part about doing a project like this lies not so much in the actual digitization of the page images, but in doing OCR on a handwritten script. OCR can work quite well on handwritten manuscript pages, if the handwriting is regular enough. Researchers doing this stuff with Greek manuscripts have gotten some good results, but again only on regular hands."
Google has developed open-source tools like OCRopus to address these problems. The new project is built on Tesseract, the company's open-source OCR engine, and it adds a handwriting recognizer and "novel high-performance layout analysis methods." The research is clearly of more than academic interest to Google. As it expands its digitization efforts, OCR is the only feasible way to convert handwriting into text on such a massive scale. But the problems go beyond the actual character recognition—storage and markup of the data is also a problem.
The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) was founded in 1987 with the aim of providing SGML-compliant, machine-readable texts for humanities scholars and social scientists. The organization's "P3" text encoding guidelines have been in use since 1994 in a range of digital library and manuscript encoding projects, but marking up documents into a TEI-compliant format is a challenge.
If Google is using the OCRopus project to do the handwriting recognition, then the engine is probably going to generate text encoded in the HTML format. "HTML is fine if you're making the texts directly available online," Jon says, "but the Holy Grail is really to do automated capture of handwritten texts into some TEI-compliant flavor of SGML. Once the text is marked up with TEI tags, you can output to HTML or any other format from that. You can also let scholars come behind the OCR engine and do things to make the marked-up version more useful, like tagging proper names, changes in hand or ink color, supralinear and marginal corrections, and so on."
Until that Holy Grail is found, hand-coding of handwriting remains the only solution.
Indian Dealers are Squealers Over Microsoft Piracy Raids
Computer dealers in Gujarat, India held a one-day strike to protest ongoing anti-piracy raids from Microsoft.
India news portals itVARnews and CIOL report about 350 dealers joined in a statewide bandh (that's a general strike) initiated by Surat-based South Gujarat Information Technologists Association (SITA).
This month, six PC dealers in Gujarat received notices from Microsoft for selling pirated copies of Windows. Microsoft demanding a payment of 200,000 Rupee ($4,955) and a fine of 1,600,000 Rupee ($39,638) if the vendor continued to sell pirated copies of the OS.
Microsoft conducted the raids by sending a dummy customer into the stores asking for a copy of Windows be installed on their PC.
The resellers are demanding an end to Microsoft's OS offensive.
"We are not against piracy but against the way Microsoft is working to stop it," SITA president Bharat Randheri told itVARnews. "Moreover, if they want to do business in India then they should change their prices and policies according to the Indian market. We are the one who are promoting their products in the market and if they will behave in such a rash manner with us then we will stop business with them.”
One retailer told CIOL that they are just doing a service to the customer by installing illegitimate copies of the OS.
"Since we are are not charging anything extra for installing the software, it means that we are actually not trading in pirated software. For us this is just a sewa (selfless act) that we are offering to our customers. Besides, the pricing of their operating systems is way too high for the Indian markets."
The resellers have also planned boycotts against Microsoft. Those participating in the strike agreed to stop all purchases of Microsoft products for this quarter.
Brian Campbell of Microsoft India sees the raids as a firm, but loving hand; guiding the vendors to the world of IP Shangri-La.
"Microsoft, though its own efforts in partnership with other industry groups, is committed to increasing the understanding and appreciate for intellectual property rights and original software," he told CIOL. "Further, Microsoft is committed to working with the channel to help them understand the benefits of original software. We expect our channel partners to support us in further spreading the message of the value of original software among the end-consumers, and we will continue to support all initiatives to do so."
Sprint Opens Pandora's Music Box
Sprint Nextel has teamed with Pandora Media, a popular online music service, to deliver personalized streaming radio to its mobile phone users.
Pandora is a free Internet-based radio service that lets people create stations based on their favorite artists and other songs it finds that match in style.
The music service has attracted 6.9 million users since launching in November 2005 and was recently banned, along with a dozen other popular media Web sites, such as YouTube and MySpace , from the Defense Department's computer system because of network bandwidth concerns.
Making It Mobile
Pandora's Internet radio service now will be available beyond computers -- on Sprint beginning Wednesday. It will be free for the first 30 days of use but will cost an additional US$2.99 per month with a Sprint data plan.
The service will work initially on five phone models but will expand to all high-speed data phones sold by Sprint by the end of June, the company said.
Sprint is the first mobile carrier to offer Pandora, the companies said. However, if the Oakland, Calif.-based startup has its way, other cellular networks will follow suit.
"We knew that if we wanted to be radio with a capital 'R,' we have to be everywhere, and not just on the Internet," said Pandora founder Tim Westergren. "We knew we had to make it mobile."
Facing Royalty Fees
Pandora is expanding to other devices as well. Also starting Wednesday, its music streams can be directly tapped from Sonos' home digital music system.
Pandora, however, faces a potentially life-threatening expense of music royalty fees that a panel of copyright judges recently approved for Internet radio providers. The new royalty rates are set to kick in July 15 but are being contested by a coalition of companies, including Pandora, Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) .
"If those rates don't change, business doesn't make sense for us anymore," Westergren said.
|23-05-07, 01:34 PM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
New Internet Radio Royalty Fees Pressure Webcasters
Internet-based radio stations are battling the record industry -- and the clock -- as they face hefty new copyright fees in two months.
Radio listeners rarely pay for music. That burden is usually placed on stations or, in the case of online music, Webcasters such as Live365, National Public Radio, Pandora Internet Radio and AOL Music.
Webcasters pay royalties, as a percentage of their earnings, to collection companies, which then split the royalties between the music industry and musicians.
But with CD music sales decreasing and with audience shifting online to cheaper music alternatives, the Copyright Royalty Board, a Library of Congress panel, decided in March to increase royalty fees for streamed online music.
Under the new rules, Webcasters would no longer pay royalties as a percentage of earnings. Instead, they would pay a fee each time a user listens to a song.
Webcasters are multiplying the number of songs streamed each year by the estimated 70 million Americans who listen to Internet radio by the $0.0008 per song royalty rate set for 2006 by the federal panel -- and do not like what they see.
"We don't have the money to pay up," Live365 Chief Executive Mark Lam told the Washington Post, calculating that the fees his radio network would have to pay based on its 4 million listeners per month could rise from $1.4 million in 2006 to between $7 million and $8 million in 2007.
With the royalty rate set to rise to $0.0019 per song per listener in 2010, large Webcasters would see an increase in royalty expenses of about 40 percent to 70 percent of revenues, according to a congressional estimate. For small Webcasters, the royalty increase could be up to 1,200 percent of revenues.
It's an increase Webcasters say would devastate their industry. They predict that, in the short term, few small online stations will survive the fee change, which includes 18 months of retroactive payment.
Greg Scholl, president of the online music distribution company The Orchard, told National Public Radio the change could also have a long-term effect.
"Higher rates means less diversity of programming; it means slower development of the digital music space; and it means more difficult time for independent artists and labels to take advantage of this incredible new medium ... to build audiences and make and sell music," Scholl said.
With the fee change slated to take effect July 15 -- dubbed "the day the music dies" by Webcaster supporters -- the clock is ticking for Webcasters, who are scrambling to lobby Congress to change the royalty fees as they re-evaluate how they do business online.
Webcasters -- large and small, public and private -- have joined the SaveNetRadio coalition, seeking support from listeners, musicians and politicians to fight the copyright board's new fees.
SaveNetRadio supports the Internet Radio Equality Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the House and Senate that would set royalty rates comparable to those paid by satellite radio -- about 7.5 percent of revenue.
The bill also would set special rules to limit fees paid by non-commercial online radio stations, such as college stations, and public online stations, such as National Public Radio.
But SoundExchange, the nonprofit company established by the Recording Industry Association of America to collect digital music royalties, called the Webcaster coalition's lobbying move a "money grab."
SoundExchange said the bill would save larger companies that operate online stations -- AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Clear Channel -- from paying up to $100 million in royalties, money that would be kept out of the artists' pockets.
"The fact that [SaveNetRadio] would advance the profit-grinding agenda of big Webcasters without regard to the artists they are hurting speaks to SaveNetRadio's true mission and evident hypocrisy," Rebecca Greenberg, national director of the Recording Artists' Coalition, said in a SoundExchange press statement.
Many independent musicians, however, depend on online radio for exposure, and Laurie Joulie, the director of the artists collective Roots Music Association, said they would side with the Webcasters.
"Artists understand that when we proactively support the overall viability of the industry, we support them," Joulie wrote in a BusinessWeek editorial.
SoundExchange Executive Director John Simson wrote in his BusinessWeek editorial that the new fee is reasonable when broken down by listener -- $0.68 per month for a 40-hour-per-month online radio listener.
"I think in any new area like the Internet there will be some businesses that survive and some that don't," Simson told the New York Times.
"Whether you're a corner market versus a big supermarket, you both have to pay the same amount for the milk that you sell. It's not like the little guy gets a cheaper price for milk," Simson said, NPR reported.
Tim Westergren of Pandora Internet Radio said in a 10 Zen Monkeys Webzine interview, that he viewed his popular 6.5-million-listener, personalized radio company as a "wildly promotional service" that shouldn't be subject to the increased fees.
To keep costs down as the July 15 deadline looms, Pandora has closed its service to international audiences because of "legal realities."
Artists and Labels Seek Royalties From Radio
With CD sales tumbling, record companies and musicians are looking at a new potential pot of money: royalties from broadcast radio stations.
For years, stations have paid royalties to composers and publishers when they played their songs. But they enjoy a federal exemption when paying the performers and record labels because, they argue, the airplay sells music.
Now, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and several artists' groups are getting ready to push Congress to repeal the exemption, a move that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually in new royalties.
Mary Wilson, who with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard formed the original Supremes, said the exemption was unfair and forced older musicians to continue touring to pay their bills.
"After so many years of not being compensated, it would be nice now at this late date to at least start," the 63-year-old Las Vegas resident said in Milwaukee, where she was performing at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. "They've gotten 50-some years of free play. Now maybe it's time to pay up."
The decision to take on the volatile performance royalty issue again highlights the rough times the music industry is facing as listeners abandon compact discs for digital downloads, often listening to music shared with friends or obtained from file-sharing sites.
"The creation of music is suffering because of declining sales," said RIAA Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol. "We clearly have a more difficult time tolerating gaps in revenues that should be there."
It's not the first attempt to kill the exemption. In the past, politically powerful broadcasters beat back those efforts.
But with satellite and Internet radio forced to pay "public performance royalties" and Web broadcasters up in arms about a recent federal decision to boost their performance royalty rate, the record companies and musicians have a strong hand.
Broadcasters are already girding for the fight, expected to last more than a year. In a letter to lawmakers this month, the National Assn. of Broadcasters dubbed the royalties a "performance tax" that would upend the 70-year "mutually beneficial relationship" between radio stations and the recording industry.
"The existing system actually provides the epitome of fairness for all parties: free music for free promotion," wrote NAB President David Rehr.
Performance royalties are collected from traditional radio stations in nearly all major industrialized countries, but U.S. musicians and record companies can't because there is no similar royalty on the books here.
"The time comes that we really have to do this," said John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange, a group created by the recording industry to collect and distribute Internet and satellite music royalties.
For record labels and musicians, addressing the issue now is crucial because digital radio, now being rolled out, allows broadcasters to split a signal into several digital channels and play even more music exempt from performance royalties.
Groups preparing to push Congress to change the law include the RIAA, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the American Federation of Musicians and other organizations. The U.S. Copyright Office has long supported removing the exemption.
The groups have a major ally in Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), who now chairs the House subcommittee dealing with intellectual property law. Berman is "actively contemplating" leading a legislative push to end the exemption.
"Given the many different ways to promote music now that didn't exist as effectively when this original exemption was made," he said, "the logic of that I think is more dubious."
Congress granted composers and publishers of music copyright protection in 1909. But the recording and radio industries were in their infancy, and the actual musical recordings were not covered. Congress extended limited copyright protection to musical performances in the 1970s to guard against an earlier form of piracy: the copying of records and tapes.
But by then, broadcasters were influential enough to snuff out any talk of making them pay musicians and recording companies for playing their music.
"The old saying is the reason broadcasters don't pay a performance royalty is there's a radio station in every congressional district and a record company in three," said Chris Castle, a music industry lawyer.
Broadcasters even successfully fought a group of singers and musicians led by Frank Sinatra in the late 1980s who tried to pressure Congress into changing the law. Broadcasters also prevailed in 1995, when Congress exempted them from new fees for digital recordings that everyone else had to pay.
"Congress has always recognized that broadcasters generate enormous sums of revenue to record companies and artists in terms of airplay," said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. Radio stations also have public-interest obligations that satellite and Internet broadcasters don't have to worry about, he said.
Satellite radio, Internet broadcasters and cable television companies offering digital music channels now pay performance royalties. The recording industry and musician groups say it's time for traditional radio stations to pony up.
"Most of the artists in the world are kind of middle-class cats, trying to piece together a living," said Jonatha Brooke, a singer-songwriter who is part of the Recording Artists Coalition advocacy group. "It's important to be recognized and paid for our work."
SoundExchange Offers Olive Branch to Small Webcasters Over Royalties
Smaller webcasters will not have to pay higher royalties on Internet broadcasts, at least not until 2010. SoundExchange, the licensing authority backed by the Big Four labels, has relented on its desire for higher royalties and announced that it will allow smaller webcasters to continue to pay royalties at the same rates they have since 2002. Larger, commercial webcasters aren't getting any love from SoundExchange; they will have to begin paying the higher rates beginning next month, which SoundExchange says will ensure that the "subsidy" will be available only to small webcasters who are "forming or strengthening their business."
Those higher rates result from a March Copyright Royalty Board ruling that drastically raised the royalty rates for Internet radio webcasters. Under the CRB's new fee structure, webcasters would have to pay SoundExchange a flat fee for each user on every song that they stream. The fees would double over the next five years and are retroactive to 2006.
NPR and a group of webcasters quickly appealed the Copyright Royalty Board's decision, arguing that the Board's ruling was an "abuse of discretion" that would result in many webcasters going dark. A panel of judges upheld the CRB's new fee structure with one relatively minor modification.
Late last month, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced the Internet Radio Equality Act (IREA), which would overturn the CRB's new fee structure. Instead, SoundExchange would continue to receive a percentage of the webcasters' revenue, which would be set at the same 7.5 percent mark paid by satellite radio providers.
The IREA was a major factor in SoundExchange's decision to roll back the clock on the licensing fees, which the licensing group admitted in a press release announcing the extension. "Although the rates revised by the CRB are fair and based on the value of music in the marketplace, there's a sense in the music community and in Congress that small webcasters need more time to develop their businesses," said John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange. "Artists and labels are offering a below-market rate to subsidize small webcasters because Congress has made it clear that this is a policy it desires to advance, at least for the next few years."
SaveNetRadio has rejected SoundExchange's offer. "The proposal made by SoundExchange today would throw 'large webcasters' under the bus and end any 'small' webcaster’s hopes of one day becoming big," said SaveNetRadio spokesperson Jake Ward. "Under government-set revenue caps, webcasters will invest less, innovate less and promote less. Under this proposal, Internet radio would become a lousy long-term business, unable to compete effectively against big broadcast and big satellite radio—artists, webcasters, and listeners be damned."
The organization still supports the passage of IREA, believing it is the best way to ensure a level playing field for all webcasters, because larger webcasters like Live365 are still in trouble. "The new CRB regulations now require Live365 to pay up to $10 million on July 15, much of it for a $500-per-channel minimum for its roughly 10,000 channels to cover SoundExchange 'processing' fees," a company spokesperson recently explained to Ars. "[This is] despite the fact that Live365 handles all station administration, licensing, and submits reports to SoundExchange as a single service." If the IREA doesn't pass, Live365, Pandora, and other large webcasters may find themselves off the air.
NAB Board Adopts Resolution On Internet Royalty Rates
The opposition continues over the Copyright Royalty Board's (CRB) decision to raise the royalty rate for radio stations that stream on the Internet. On May 10, new legislation was introduced to the U.S. Senate which would wipe out the decision. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sam Brownback (R-KA) introduced the Internet Radio Equality Act, which would vacate the CRB decision and set a 2006-2010 royalty rate for Webcasters at the same rate currently paid by satellite radio (7.5 percent of revenue).
Now, the NAB Radio Board has unanimously adopted a resolution regarding the topic. "The radio board of the National Association of Broadcasters recognizes that the new streaming rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) will cause significant harm to broadcasters that stream over the Internet," the NAB said in a statement. "The radio board supports a comprehensive approach to addressing the CRB rate determination, including legislation that vacates the CRB decision and establishes an interim royalty rate structure."
Back in March, the CRB voted to drastically increase the royalties paid to musicians and record labels for streaming songs online. The board's new rules dictate that the current rate of 0.08 of a cent each time a song is played would more than double by 2010. Since then, many operators of Internet-only radio stations and non-commercial stations that stream online have expressed fears that the new costs will put their Web streams out of business.
Massive Outage Hits XM Radio
XM Radio is experiencing massive outages after one of its satellites was disabled. The company says satellite number 1 is down for “performance” reasons and the company is currently performing a “software update”. While the company has a spare satellite, many customers in the United States and Canada are still experiencing problems.
XM subscribers on the xmfan.com website are talking up a storm with an outage message thread that has reached 17 pages as of 2:05 PM PST.
We called up XM technical support and it was apparent that the customer service representative was reading from a script. He told us that “engineers were aware of this problem” and that they did not have an estimated time of completion. He added that we should continuously point our antennas towards the southern sky for when the signal did come back.
Interestingly enough, we were able to receive XM Radio just a few minutes ago on an XM-equipped car in Culver City California. XM Radio operates mainly on satellite, but those signals are also bounced to cars with repeater towers in some urban areas.
What the Copyright Office Thinks About Fair Use
Fair is fair... or is it?
The Sony Betamax Supreme Court decision was one of the most important "fair use" decisions of the last 25 years, but it's been a constant source of frustration for Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights in the US since 1994. As head of the Copyright Office, Peters is in charge of the triennial DMCA anticircumvention review process. And every three years, her office sees the Sony case used as the basis for the most popular requested exemption: DVD ripping.
Each time the Copyright Office deals with the issue, consumer groups contend that fair use rights to use the material on DVDs are being violated by access controls, and they want an exemption in order to back up discs or to use video clips in noninfringing ways. After all, didn't the Sony case put an official blessing on all recording equipment that had substantial noninfringing uses? Doesn't this mean that consumers have a right to use DVD rippers and that an anticircumvention exception should therefore be made for all DVDs? The EFF certainly thought so, arguing as much at the first triennial rulemaking back in 2000.
But when I spoke with Peters about fair use, she pointed out that the Sony decision is in fact a narrow one and that fair use itself is often ambiguous unless defined by a judge. The Court's ruling in the Sony case was limited to "free, over-the-air television for time-shifting," she tells Ars. "It is not space-shifting; it's not anything beyond that. It's not off cable, it's not off video-on-demand, and yet if you talk to most consumers, they think that anything they do in the home that comes through their television set is fair use."
"That becomes a consumer expectation that you hear about that they want enabled," she continues, "and I don't disagree with that; that's what the market is demanding, and that's what the market should provide, but don't call it fair use."
"I don't want to say it's a crapshoot"
Her comment points out that fair use in the US can be a vague concept. Section 107 of the Copyright Act allows for the fair use of material "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research" but speaks in broad terms rather than specific instances. Fair use can extend beyond these listed purposes (note the "such as" statement in the law), but to qualify as "fair," a use has to pass the famous four-part test, which considers the following factors:
• The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
• The nature of the copyrighted work;
• The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
• The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
What this means in practice is that people cannot know if something is fair use without testing their theory in front of a judge. This has happened on plenty of occasions—like the Sony/Universal case that opened the door to legal VHS recordings from TV broadcasts—but these rulings are generally quite narrow, applying only to the specific circumstances of the case. "Once a court has actually handed down a decision with regard to specific facts," Peters says, "if you fall within those facts, you're safe, but once you start wandering away from those facts then—I don't want to say it's a crapshoot—but it's not clear."
In the minds of many Americans, though, "fair use" means a whole host of things that are not contained in the Copyright Act or outlined in a judicial decision. As Peters puts it, "'fair use' has become a shortcut for what 'I think the balance should be as I look at the copyright law.'"
Take DVD ripping as an example. As noted above, it's an issue that Peters hears about without fail every three years as users seek a DMCA exemption to the anticircumvention protections that extend to DVDs. Why has the Copyright Office rejected the proposed exemption at each triennial rulemaking to date? In her words, it's because the widely-hacked CSS encryption on DVDs does not actually prevent fair use at all, and those who think otherwise don't understand exactly what rights fair use grants them.
Very nice work
Using borrowed clips from several Disney films, many of whose stories were themselves snatched from the public domain, film history professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University has assembled a short advocacy piece on copyright and fair use.
Opera users who viewed the YouTube stream will find a 29 MB .TMP of the file sitting right in their cache. It’s easily converted to a 49MB .MPG with Batch FLV Converter (or just change the file ending to .FLV if you can play those).
Everyone else can download the 71 MB .MP4 of the primer here.
From last month
In Media, We Distrust
Happy World Intellectual Property Day! Yes, it's that time of year again, April 26, when we all pause to give silent thanks for the rules and regulations over the creative branches of human activity.
You mean you have yet to raise your voice today in praise of copyrights, patents and trademarks? You aren't alone. Professionals in the arts, entertainment and media businesses, whose livelihood intellectual property rights are designed in part to protect, aren't exactly celebrating, either.
They have little to be happy about, with those rules and regulations being flouted around the world - when their music, films, writings, design innovations and original software are being digitized, replicated and poured freely into the open arms of the Internet or sold cheaply on the street.
Recent studies suggest that the media and entertainment industries have only themselves to blame. Asked to rank their level of trust in a dozen industries ranging from insurance to health care, respondents around the world invariably put media and entertainment dead last, according to Edelman, the U.S. public relations and consulting company that conducted the surveys.
The technology industry, meanwhile, comes out consistently at No. 1 or No. 2.
In follow-up studies in Britain and France of consumers under 35 years old, the world's first generation of "digital natives," the company found that many say they will not buy an entertainment company's products because they don't believe they are getting good value for their money. Four out of 10 in Britain said that, while more than half did so in France.
In a world where pirated material can be had free or for next to nothing, "value for money" takes on a new dimension: What value is a record company giving me when I pay full price for a CD, for instance, compared with when it's free?
Gail Becker, head of Edelman's digital entertainment practice in Los Angeles, acknowledged that the message from young adults about value was not a particular surprise. The lesson for companies that want to change that perception is not to emphasize the "money" side but the "value" side, she said.
"They need to communicate the message that their products, bought legitimately, don't give the family computers any viruses," she said, "that the sound quality is better, that you can get extras like the music video with it."
For me, the biggest revelation out of Edelman's "trust" survey was the high ranking of the technology industry around the world, where it is almost without exception ranked as the most trusted on the list.
Becker said Edelman attributed that result to three causes: Technology is a "clean" industry that is not perceived as particularly scandalous or bad for society; it is seen as making our lives better, or at least more productive; and, for investors, tech companies are seen as sources of financial rewards.
What perplexes me is how those factors overcome the fact that technology companies also continuously promise more than they deliver; that their products often seem designed for engineers rather than end-users; and that many of them are practically entertainment companies themselves - Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. - which should earn them a poor trust rating.
Despite the gloom of this World Intellectual Property Day, Becker sees some signs of encouragement for the entertainment industry. For instance, 59 percent of survey respondents in France and 69 percent in Britain said they trusted entertainment companies to make content widely and legally available online.
"The message about legal availability is coming through," she said. "When I think about how recently the complaint was that they were making it hard to find legal music for sale online, this is really progress."
The next step is making a dent in the industry's trustworthiness problem, she said.
"The industry can build trust by leading, or being seen as leading, the revolution in entertainment distribution by leading the change in business models," Becker said.
The Market Function of Piracy
In marketing the most effective way to introduce new products is the free sample. In 1978 Lever Brothers spent $15 million ($47.55 million in today's currency) delivering a free sample of Signal Mouthwash to two-thirds of all US households. The strategy was a success and the product remained on the market well into the 1990s.
The significance of the free sample is product trial; it gets the product into consumers' hands. If consumers use the sample and like it, they may go on to buy the product and buy it again and again, that is, become repeat purchasers; they may even spread the good word to others. When repeat purchasing and favorable word of mouth kick in, the product's sales will experience a shift from slow to rapid growth and management will consider the product a success.
Free sampling is the best method of introducing new products, but it is also the most expensive. Not surprisingly, then, Forbes ASAP magazine reports this alternative way to practice free sampling:
One security manager for a major manufacturer, who asked not to be identified, says she is sure some companies actually view being counterfeited as a boon to their efforts to build brand awareness. After all, she says, if some companies give away merchandise to expand market share, what's not to like about having someone else take on the expense of manufacturing and distributing the goods, as long as they're high-quality copies?
Imitation is a universal trait of human behavior, ranging from the use of phrases and mannerisms of admired others to the reuse of hummable themes in music, recognizable images in paintings and well-known plots in literature and Disney movies. Imitation is a normal part of the competitive process in growth markets. As the sales of an innovative new product takes off, competitors enter the market with their own, often cheaper, versions.
If the innovative product is patented, competitors make minor design or functional changes to secure their own patents. Knock-offs are unauthorized, usually cheaper copies. And, of course, the innovative marketer often produces its own cheap version, sometimes called a fighting brand, to fend off the competition. Over time real prices in the product category decline and quality improves.
Knock-offs are pirated products. Because they are usually cheaper than the original, knock-offs tend to appeal to a more price-conscious segment of the market; that is, the buyers of pirated products are probably not legitimate prospects for the innovative new product, either because they cannot afford, or do not want to pay, the higher price. Message to the innovative marketer? Either drop the price of the new product or produce a cheaper version — or be the first to exploit a new technology, something the movie and recording industries chose not to do. Many, including these two industries, would rather sue than practice good marketing.
One study found that users of pirated software sufficiently influenced — by word-of-mouth communication — eighty percent of the software's prospects to buy the legal product and another described several scenarios in which piracy can help increase the sales of legal products. The pirated product functions as a free sample that the innovator does not have to fund. $30
So what about free copies? How do you compete with free, to state the battle cry of the new Luddites who fear digital technology? It's done all the time. One of the most dramatic recent instances of this was the strategy of science fiction writer Cory Doctorow who, over the course of three years, gave away 700,000 electronic copies of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Sales of the hard copy went through six printings and surpassed his publisher's expectations. Many of the downloaders, Doctorow said, did not buy the hard copy and probably would not have regardless, but the giveaway created considerable buzz and a significant minority did buy the hard copy. Compare this to the experience of the Mises Institute with Omnipotent Government.
Free — no matter where it comes from — can help sell.
Fight The Justice Department's Copycrime Proposal!
Should ordinary Americans face jail time for attempted copyright infringement? Should the sort of property forfeiture penalties applied in drug busts also threaten P2P users, mixtape makers, and mash-up artists? Of course not, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has drafted an outrageous legislative proposal that applies these severe penalties and much more. Take action now to stop it using the form below.
Criminal copyright infringement already goes beyond situations involving large-scale commercial piracy. Thanks to laws like the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act and the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA), the federal government can now criminally charge (i.e., send to prison) people for simply uploading a single "pre-release" song (as two Ryan Adams fans discovered last year when they were brought up on federal charges for uploading tracks from pre-release promotional CDs).
Most of the DoJ's proposed changes to copyright's criminal provisions fall into two categories: (1) making it easier to convict people by eliminating the inconvenient necessity of proving that actual infringement took place, and (2) increasing the financial and confinement punishments. Law enforcement would also be allowed to use wiretaps and to spy on personal communications as part of copyright investigations. That potentially translates into wiretap authority for millions of American homes, since surveys show that 1 in 5 American Internet users downloads music and movies from P2P networks.
This guarantees one result: more costly, unnecessary, and draconian investigations and prosecutions funded by taxpayer dollars. Not only will this end up costing Americans tremendous amounts of time, money, and peace of mind, but it will also give law enforcement yet another opportunity to invade your privacy. All it takes is a single attempt to download the wrong file online.
Law enforcement already has enough tools to go after commercial pirates, and the entertainment industry has the tools to pay its own lawyers to sue infringers. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars, Congress ought to be focusing on meaningful copyright reform that protects fans' rights to use creative material and supports new technologies.
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Breaking Network Logjams
An approach called network coding could dramatically enhance the efficiency and reliability of communications networks. At its core is the strange notion that transmitting evidence about messages can be more useful than conveying the messages themselves Muriel Médard , Michelle Effros and Ralf Koetter
The history of modern communications systems has been marked by flashes of startling insight.
Claude E. Shannon, mathematician and engineer, launched one such revolution almost 60 years ago by laying the foundation of a new mathematical theory of communications--now known as information theory. Practical outgrowths of his work, which dealt with the compression and reliable transmission of data, can be seen today in the Internet, in landline and wireless telephone systems, and in storage devices, from hard drives to CDs, DVDs and flash memory sticks.
Shannon tackled communications over phone lines dedicated to individual calls. These days, information increasingly travels over shared networks (such as the Internet), in which multiple users simultaneously communicate through the same medium--be it a cable, an optical fiber or, in a wireless system, air. Shared networks can potentially improve the usefulness and efficiency of communications systems, but they also create competition for communal resources. Many people must vie for access to, say, a server offering downloadable songs or to a wireless hot spot.
The challenge, then, is to find ways to make the sharing go smoothly; parents of toddlers will recognize the problem. Network operators frequently try to solve the challenge by increasing resources, but that strategy is often insufficient. Copper wires, cables or fiber optics, for instance, can now provide high bandwidth for commercial and residential users yet are expensive to lay and difficult to modify and expand. Ultrawideband and multiple-antenna transmission systems can expand the number of customers served by wireless networks but may still fail to meet ever increasing demand.
Techniques for improving efficiency are therefore needed as well. On the Internet and other shared networks, information currently gets relayed by routers--switches that operate at nodes where signaling pathways, or links, intersect. The routers shunt incoming messages to links heading toward the messages' final destinations. But if one wants efficiency, are routers the best devices for these intersections? Is switching even the right operation to perform?
Until seven years ago, few thought to ask such questions. But then Rudolf Ahlswede of the University of Bielefeld in Germany, along with Ning Cai, Shuo-Yen Robert Li and Raymond W. Yeung, all then at the University of Hong Kong, published groundbreaking work that introduced a new approach to distributing information across shared networks. In this approach, called network coding, routers are replaced by coders, which transmit evidence about messages instead of sending the messages themselves. When receivers collect the evidence, they deduce the original information from the assembled clues.
Although this method may sound counterintuitive, network coding, which is still under study, has the potential to dramatically speed up and improve the reliability of all manner of communications systems and may well spark the next revolution in the field. Investigators are, of course, also exploring additional avenues for improving efficiency; as far as we know, though, those other approaches generally extend existing methods.
Bits Are Not Cars
Ahlswede and his colleagues built their proposal in part on the idea, introduced by Shannon, that transmitting evidence about data can actually be more useful than conveying the data directly. They also realized that a receiver would be able to deduce the original data once enough clues had been gathered but that the receiver would not need to obtain all of the evidence emitted. One kind of clue could be replaced by another, and all that was important was receiving some combination of clues that, together, would reveal the original message. (Receivers would be able to make sense of the evidence if they were informed in advance about the rules applied to generate it or if instructions on how to use the evidence were included in the evidence itself.)
Network coding breaks with the classic view that communications channels are analogous to roads and that bits are like the cars that travel those roads. But an understanding of the transportation model of communications is useful for grasping how the new scheme works and why it has such promise.
Shannon proved mathematically that every channel has a capacity--an amount of information it can relay during any given time frame--and that communications can proceed reliably as long as the channel's capacity is not exceeded. In the transportation analogy, a road's capacity is the number of cars per second it can handle safely. If traffic stays below capacity, a car entering the road at one end can generally be guaranteed to exit at the other end unchanged (barring the rare accident). Engineers have built increasingly complex communications systems based on the transportation model. For example, the phone systems Shannon pondered dedicate a distinct "road" to every conversation; two calls over traditional phone lines never share a single line at the same time and frequency.
Computer networks--and the Internet in particular--are essentially a maze of merging, branching and intersecting roads. Information traveling from one computer to another typically traverses several roads en route to its destination. Bits from a single message are grouped into packets (the carpools or buses of the information superhighway), each of which is labeled with its intended destination. Routers sit at the intersections of the roads, examine each packet's header and forward that packet toward its destination.
Ironically, the very transportation model that fueled today's sophisticated communications systems now stands in the way of progress. After all, bits are not cars. When two vehicles converge on the same narrow bridge, they must take turns traversing the bottleneck. When two bits arrive at a bottleneck, however, more options are possible--which is where network coding comes in.
How It Works
The hypothetical six-node digital network depicted in the box on these two pages can help clarify those options. Recall that in computers, all messages take the form of a string of binary code. Imagine that each link, or road, in this network can carry one bit--be it a 0 or a 1--per second and only in the direction designated by the corresponding arrow. Amy, a network user at node A, hopes to send information at one bit per second to Dana at node D. Meanwhile Ben at node B hopes to send, at exactly the same time and rate, information to Carl at node C. Can both Amy's and Ben's demands be satisfied simultaneously without exceeding any of the links' capacities?
In a router system [see leftmost illustration], the outlook seems bleak. Both paths, from Amy to Dana and from Ben to Carl, require traversing link 5. This link becomes the equivalent of a narrow, one-lane bridge. The router at node E, where link 5 starts, receives a total of two bits per second (one from link 2 and one from link 3), but because link 5's capacity is one, the router can send only one bit per second along it. In the transportation model, such bottlenecks cause nightmare traffic jams, with more and more bits piling up over time, waiting their turn.
In the new approach [see illustrations above], though, the plain router would be replaced by a coder, which would have more options than would be open to a traffic cop. Instead of relaying the actual bit streams collected at the bottleneck, the coder could send quite different information. It could, for example, add up the number of 1s that arrive during any given second and transmit a 0 if that sum is even. If the sum is odd, the device could transmit a 1. So, if link 5 simultaneously receives a 1 and a 0 from links 2 and 3, it carries a 1. If either two 0s or two 1s are received from links 2 and 3, link 5 carries a 0. The result then gets sent by router F down links 6 and 7 to Carl and Dana, respectively.
This approach replaces each pair of bits at node E with a hybrid of the two. Such a bit stream seems ridiculous. Our proposed coder has done the equivalent of combining one phone conversation with another in a way that obscures both. The apparent absurdity of the approach is precisely why it went uninvestigated for so long.
But sometimes apparent madness is true innovation. A hybrid bit stream may describe neither transmission perfectly, yet it can supply evidence about both. Suppose we additionally send Amy's missive to Carl along link 1 and Ben's to Dana along link 4. Sending these two messages uses network resources (links 1 and 4) that the routing system could not usefully employ for meeting Amy's and Ben's demands. Carl's node receives Amy's transmission and knows for each instant (from link 6) whether the number of 1s in the pair of messages issued by Amy and Ben is even or odd. If Carl's node is programmed to also "know" the rule used by the coders at the start of link 5 or if it can infer the rule from the evidence itself, the collected evidence will enable it to decipher the message sent by Ben. And Dana's node will similarly uncover Amy's message.
This strategy accomplishes two goals that were unthinkable given the limitations of the transportation model. First, it enables the bit leaving a node to travel two paths simultaneously, something a car cannot do. Second, it allows a pair of bit streams arriving at the head of a bottleneck to combine into a single stream, whereas two cars converging on one narrow bridge cannot become a single entity; one would have to wait for the other to pass before it could proceed across the bridge.
The data-handling approach exemplified by our six-node model (a minor variation on one first given by Ahlswede and his colleagues in 2000) can potentially increase the capacity of a network without requiring the addition of extra conduits because it avoids logjams. Using routing alone, our six-node network could sustain simultaneous transmissions averaging one half of a bit per second. (Because the two competing transmissions would have to share link 5, the effective data rate would be one bit per two seconds, or one half of a bit per second, for each of the competing demands.) With network coding, the same system supports simultaneous transmissions at one bit per second. So, here, network coding doubles capacity.
Sometimes network coding could yield even bigger capacity gains, sometimes none. But the approach would never decrease the capacity of a network because, at worst, it would precisely mimic the actions of router systems. It should also increase reliability and resistance to attacks in relatively substantial networks, because the interchangeable nature of evidence means that some packets of evidence can be lost without creating problems.
Lessons from Multicast Networks
So far much of the research into implementing network coding has focused on multicast networks--in which all receivers need to get the same information. Internet video games rely on multicast systems to update every player each time one makes a move. Webcasts of videos or live sporting events and new software released electronically to a large group of customers also travel over multicast networks. Today such networks still use routers, and a return to the transportation analogy helps to explain why designing them is usually quite difficult.
Imagine the country's highways teeming with cars. Each router is like a police officer directing traffic at a single intersection. Incoming cars join the queue behind vehicles that arrived before them. The officer reads each car's destination in turn and directs it on its way. The goal in system design is for each router to direct traffic in a way that not only speeds each subsequent car to its intended destination but also allows the nation's transportation system as a whole to satisfy as many drivers as possible.
Even a central designer with a complete map of all the nation's roads in hand would be hard put to determine the best possible strategy for every router to follow. The difficulty increases as the network changes over time: rush hours, road repairs, accidents and sporting events mean the roadways and the demands placed on them change constantly.
Intuition might suggest that designing a system reliant on network coding should be even harder, because there are more options to consider. A node could forward data unchanged, thereby mimicking a router. But it might also mix two or more incoming data streams before sending them on, and how it mixes them might also be open to consideration; further, different nodes might use different algorithms.
Luckily, this logic is flawed. Sometimes adding more options actually simplifies things. Without coding, architects of a multicast system would need to enumerate as many paths as possible from the transmitter to each receiver and then determine how many of those paths the network could support simultaneously. Even for simple networks, finding and testing all combinations of paths would be a dizzying task.
In contrast, a multicast system using network coding would be rather easy to design. The startling truth is that addition and multiplication are the only mathematical functions that coded networks need apply. Also, even if the function, or rule, programmed into each coder in a network is chosen independently of the message and the other coding functions and without any knowledge of the network layout, the system as a whole will, with extremely high probability, operate at peak performance. Even if the system changes over time, as can happen in mobile or reconfigurable networks, the network will continue to perform optimally without requiring redesign. To learn why, see the illustration.
The operation of networks, then, will be very different if coders replace routers. The way our messages traverse networks will change: they will not only share "the road" with other transmissions but may become intimately entangled with traffic from a variety of other sources. Some might fear that such entanglement would compromise the security of the messages. More likely, though, traffic traversing networks would become a locally undecipherable algebraic stream. Users on the network would unwittingly collaborate to one another's mutual advantage, allowing not just higher rates or faster downloads of data but also, in the case of wireless networks, an improvement in energy efficiency. (Because each wireless transmission consumes energy, a node can reduce consumption by mixing together the information intended for several neighbors and sending only a single transmission.)
By changing how networks function, network coding may influence society in ways we cannot yet imagine.
Moreover, delays in downloading videos and lost cell phone calls will be far less common. On the Internet, routers fail or are taken down for maintenance and data packets are dropped all the time. That is why people must sometimes rerequest Web pages and why a site sometimes comes up slowly. Reliability will increase with network coding, because it does not require every single piece of evidence to get through.
And network managers will provide such benefits without having to add new communications channels, because better use will be made of existing channels. Network coding will thereby complement other communications technologies, allowing users to get as much as possible out of them.
Sometimes users will know that network coding is operating, because it may modify how some common applications, such as peer-to-peer downloads, function. Today someone seeking to download a file searches for a collaborating user on whose machine the file resides. In a system using network coding, the file would no longer be stored as a whole or in recognizable pieces.
But users would not personally have to figure out how to find the evidence needed to obtain the desired files. A request sent into a network from a user's computer or phone would cause either that individual's computer or a local server to scavenge through the network for pieces of evidence related to a file of interest. The gathered evidence, consisting of algebraically mixed pieces of information relating to the desired file, would help recover that file. Instead of putting together a puzzle whose pieces are recognizable fragments of a whole, the server or an individual's computer would solve a collection of algebraic equations. And, all the while, most people would remain blissfully unaware of these operations--just as most of us are ignorant of the complicated error-correction operations in our cell phones.
The military has recognized the robustness of network coding and is now funding research into its use in mobile ad hoc networks, which can form on the fly. Such networks are valuable in highly changeable environments, such as on the battlefield, where reliable communications are essential and establishing and maintaining an infrastructure of fiber-optic cables or cell towers is difficult. In an ad hoc network, every soldier's radio becomes a node in a communications system, and each node seeks out and establishes connections to neighboring nodes; together these connections establish a network's links. Every node can both send and receive messages and serve as an intermediary to pass along messages intended for other receivers. This technique extends communications capabilities far beyond the transmission range of a single node. It also allows enormous flexibility, because the network travels with the users, constantly reconfiguring and reestablishing connections as needed.
By changing how networks function, network coding may influence society in ways we cannot yet imagine. In the meantime, though, those of us who are studying it are considering the obstacles to implementation. Transitioning from our router-based system to a network-coded one will actually be one of the more minor hurdles. That conversion can be handled by a gradual change rather than a sudden overhaul; some routers could just be reprogrammed, and others not built to perform coding operations would be replaced little by little.
A bigger challenge will be coping with issues beyond replacing routers with coders. For instance, mixing information is a good strategy when the receiving node will gather enough evidence to recover what it desires from the mixture. This condition is always met in multicast networks but may not be the case in general. Moreover, in some circumstances, such as when multiple multicasts are transmitted, mixing information can make it difficult or impossible for users to extract the proper output. How, then, can nodes decide which information can and cannot be mixed when multiple connections share the same network? In what ways must network coding in wireless networks differ from its use in wired ones? What are the security advantages and implications of network coding? How will people be charged for communications services when one person's data are necessarily mixed with those of other users? In collaborations that span the globe, we and others are pondering how to unravel such knots even as we strive to enhance the capabilities of the communications networks that have become such an integral part of so many lives.
The Man Who Owns the Internet
Kevin Ham is the most powerful dotcom mogul you've never heard of, reports Business 2.0 Magazine. Here's how the master of Web domains built a $300 million empire.
Kevin Ham leans forward, sits up tall, closes his eyes, and begins to type -- into the air. He's seated along the rear wall of a packed ballroom in Las Vegas's Venetian Hotel. Up front, an auctioneer is running through a list of Internet domain names, building excitement the same way he might if vintage cars were on the block.
As names come up that interest Ham, he occasionally air-types. It's the ultimate gut check. Is the name one that people might enter directly into their Web browser, bypassing the search engine box entirely, as Ham wants? Is it better in plural or singular form? If it's a typo, is it a mistake a lot of people would make? Or does the name, like a stunning beachfront property, just feel like a winner?
When Ham wants a domain, he leans over and quietly instructs an associate to bid on his behalf. He likes wedding names, so his guy lifts the white paddle and snags Weddingcatering.com for $10,000. Greeting.com is not nearly as good as the plural Greetings.com, but Ham grabs it anyway, for $350,000.
Ham is a devout Christian, and he spends $31,000 to add Christianrock.com to his collection, which already includes God.com and Satan.com. When it's all over, Ham strolls to the table near the exit and writes a check for $650,000. It's a cheap afternoon.
Just a few years ago, most of the guys bidding in this room had never laid eyes on one another. Indeed, they rarely left their home computers. Now they find themselves in a Vegas ballroom surrounded by deep-pocketed bankers, venture-backed startups, and other investors trying to get a piece of the action.
And why not? In the past three years alone, the number of dotcom names has soared more than 130 percent to 66 million. Every two seconds, another joins the list.
But the big money is in the aftermarket, where the most valuable names -- those that draw thousands of pageviews and throw off steady cash from Google's and Yahoo's pay-per-click ads -- are driving prices to dizzying heights. People who had the guts and foresight to sweep up names shed during the dotcom bust are now landlords of some of the most valuable real estate on the Web.
The man at the top of this little-known hierarchy is Kevin Ham -- one of a handful of major-league "domainers" in the world and arguably the shrewdest and most ambitious of the lot. Even in a field filled with unusual career paths, Ham's stands out.
Trained as a family doctor, he put off medicine after discovering the riches of the Web. Since 2000 he has quietly cobbled together a portfolio of some 300,000 domains that, combined with several other ventures, generate an estimated $70 million a year in revenue. (Like all his financial details, Ham would neither confirm nor deny this figure.)
Working mostly as a solo operator, Ham has looked for every opening and exploited every angle -- even inventing a few of his own -- to expand his enterprise. Early on, he wrote software to snag expiring names on the cheap. He was one of the first to take advantage of a loophole that allows people to register a name and return it without cost after a free trial, on occasion grabbing hundreds of thousands of names in one swoop.
And what few people know is that he's also the man behind the domain world's latest scheme: profiting from traffic generated by the millions of people who mistakenly type ".cm" instead of ".com" at the end of a domain name.
Try it with almost any name you can think of -- Beer.cm, Newyorktimes.cm, even Anyname.cm -- and you'll land on a page called Agoga.com, a site filled with ads served up by Yahoo (Charts, Fortune 500).
Ham makes money every time someone clicks on an ad -- as does his partner in this venture, the West African country of Cameroon. Why Cameroon? It has the unforeseen good fortune of owning .cm as its country code -- just as Germany runs all names that end with .de.
The difference is that hardly any .cm names are registered, and the letters are just one keyboard slip away from .com, the mother lode of all domains. Ham landed connections to the Cameroon government and flew in his people to reroute the traffic. And if he gets his way, Colombia (.co), Oman (.om), Niger (.ne), and Ethiopia (.et) will be his as well.
"It's in the works," Ham says over lunch in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. "That's why I can't talk about it." He's nearly as reluctant to share details about his newest company, called Reinvent Technology, into which he's investing tens of millions of dollars to build a powerhouse of Internet businesses around his most valuable properties.
Given Ham's reach on the Web -- his sites receive 30 million unique visitors a month -- it's remarkable that so few people know about him. Even in the clubby world of domainers, he's a mystery man. Until now Ham has never talked publicly about his business. You won't find his name on any domain registration, nor will you see it on the patent application for the Cameroon trick.
There are practical reasons for the low profile: For one, Ham's success has drawn enemies, many of them rivals. He once used a Vancouver post office box for domain-related mail -- until the day he opened a package that contained a note reading "You are a piece of s**t," accompanied by an actual piece of it.
Bitter domainers are one thing, lawyers another. And at the moment, Ham's biggest concern is that corporate counsels will come after him claiming that the Cameroon typo scheme is an abuse of their trademarks. He may be right, since this is the first time he's been identified as the orchestrator.
When asked about the .cm play, John Berryhill, a top domain attorney who doesn't work for Ham, practically screams into the phone, "You know who did that? Do you have any idea how many people want to know who's behind that?"
Spreading the word
Kevin Ham is a boyish-looking 37-year-old, trim from a passion for judo and a commitment to clean living. His drink of choice: grapefruit juice, no ice. His mild demeanor belies the aggressive, work-around-the-clock type that he is. Ham frequently steers conversations about business back to the Bible. Not in a preachy way; it's just who he is.
The son of Korean-born immigrants, Ham grew up on the east side of Vancouver with his three brothers. His father ran dry-cleaning stores; his mother worked graveyard shifts as a nurse. A debilitating illness at the age of 14 led Ham to dream of becoming a doctor. He cruised through high school and then undergraduate work and medical school at the University of British Columbia.
Christianity had long been a mainstay with his family, but as an undergrad, he made the Bible a focal point of his life; he joined the Evangelical Layman's Church and attended regular Bible meetings. Ham recalls that it was about this time -- 1992 or 1993 -- that he was introduced to the Web. A church friend told him about a powerful new medium that could be used to spread the gospel.
"Those words really struck me," Ham says. "It's the reason I'm still working."
After he graduated from med school in 1998, Ham and his new bride took off for London, Ontario, for a two-year residency. By the second year, Ham had become chief resident, and when he wasn't rushing to the emergency room, he indulged his growing fascination with the Net, teaching himself to create websites and to code in Perl.
Information about Web hosting at the time was so scattered that Ham began creating an online directory of providers, complete with reviews and ratings of their services. He called it Hostglobal.com.
From there it was a short step to the business of buying and selling domains. About six months after he launched Hostglobal, Ham was earning around $10,000 per month in ad sales. But when one of his advertisers -- a service that sold domain registrations -- told him that a single ad was generating business worth $1,500 a month, Ham figured he could get in on that too.
From doctor to domainer
It made sense: People shopping for hosting services were often interested in buying a catchy URL, so Ham launched a second directory, called DNSindex.com. Like similar services operating at the time, it gave customers a way to register domain names.
But Ham added the one feature that early domain hunters wanted most: weekly lists of available names, compiled using free sources he found on the Web. Some lists he gave away; others he charged as much as $50 for. In a couple of months, he had more than 5,000 customers.
By the time he finished his residency in June 2000, his two small Web ventures were pulling in more money in a month -- sometimes $40,000 -- than Ham made that year at the hospital. That was enough, he reasoned, to put off starting a medical practice for three more months, maybe six. "It just didn't make sense not to do it," he says.
With a new baby in tow, Ham and his wife moved back to Vancouver, settling into a one-bedroom apartment. Ham's timing, it turned out, was spot-on. Tech stocks were tumbling, dotcoms were folding left and right, and investors were fleeing the Web. More important to him, hundreds of thousands of valuable domain names that were suddenly considered worthless began to expire, or "drop." Ham and a handful of other trailblazers were ready to snap them up.
Figuring out when names would drop was tedious work.
At the time, Network Solutions controlled the best names; it was for a long time the only retail company, or registrar, selling .coms. It didn't say when expiring names would go back on the market, but twice a day it published the master list of all registered names -- the so-called "root zone" file (now managed by VeriSign (Charts)). It was a fat list of well over 5 million names that took hours to download and often crashed the under-powered PCs of the day.
So Ham wrote software scripts that compared one day's list with the next. Then he tracked names that vanished from the root file. Those names would be listed briefly as on hold, and Ham figured out that they would almost always drop five or six days later -- at about 3:30 a.m. on the West Coast. In the dark of night, Ham launched his attacks, firing up five PCs and multiple browsers in each. Typing furiously, he would enter his buy requests and bounce from one keyboard to the next until he snagged the names he wanted.
He missed a lot of them, of course.
Ham had no clue that there were rivals out there who were way ahead him, deploying software that purchased names at a rate that Ham's fingers couldn't match. Through registration data, he eventually traced many of those purchases to one owner: "NoName." Behind the shadowy moniker was another reclusive domain pioneer, a Chinese-born programmer named Yun Ye, who, according to people who know him, operated out of his house in Fremont, Calif.
By day Ye worked as a software developer. At night he unleashed the programs that automated domain purchases. (Ye achieved deity status among domainers in 2004 when he sold a portfolio of 100,000 names to Marchex (Charts), a Seattle-based, publicly traded search marketing firm, for $164 million. He then moved to Vancouver.)
Ham went back to the keyboard, writing scripts so that he, too, could pound at the registrars. Ham's track record began to improve, but he still wasn't satisfied. "Yun was just too good," he says.
Then Ham did something brash: He bought his way to the front of the line. Since registrars had direct connections to Network Solutions's servers, Ham's play was to cut out the middleman. He struck deals with several discount registrars, even helping them write software to ensure that they captured the names Ham wanted to buy during the drops. In exchange for the exclusivity, Ham offered to pay as much as $100 for some names that might normally go for as little as $8.
Within weeks Ham had struck so many deals that, according to rivals, he controlled most of the direct connections. "I kept telling them to hit them harder," Ham says in a rare boastful moment. "We brought down the servers many times." During one six-month period starting in late 2000, Ham registered more than 10,000 names.
Rival domainers, locked out of much of the action, didn't appreciate Ham's tactics. It was one of them, most likely, who sent him the turd. "Kevin came in and closed the door for everyone else," says Frank Schilling, a domainer who figured out what Ham had done and sealed similar deals. "There was a ton of professional jealousy."
Ham, in fact, owes a lot to Schilling. Both men lived in Vancouver at the time, and after Ham sought out Schilling in November 2000, the two met at a restaurant to compare notes.
"How much traffic do you have?" Schilling asked. An embarrassed Ham replied that he had no idea. Schilling mentioned that he was experimenting with a new service, GoTo.com, that would populate his domains with ads. Ham spent the next week figuring out how much traffic his sites were generating, and he was amazed by the initial tally: 8,000 unique visitors per day from the 375 names he owned at the time.
"From then on," Ham says, "I knew that what I was building would be very, very valuable." He soon signed up with GoTo (which was later purchased by Yahoo). On his first day, Ham made $1,500.
The system worked then as it does now: People don't always use Google (Charts, Fortune 500) or Yahoo to find something on the Web; they'll often type what they're looking for into a browser's address bar and add ".com."
It's a practice known as "direct navigation," or type-in traffic, and millions do it. Need wedding shoes? Type in "weddingshoes.com" -- a site that Ham happens to own -- and you'll land on what looks like a shoe-shopping portal, filled with links from dozens of retailers.
Click on any one of those links, and the advertiser that placed it pays Yahoo, which in turn pays a cut to Ham. That single site, Ham says, brings in $9,100 a year. Small change, maybe, but the name cost him $8, and his annual overhead for it is about $7. Multiply that model several thousand times over, and you get a quick idea of the kind of cash machine that Ham was creating from his living room.
By early 2002, roughly $1 million a year was pouring into Ham's operation, which he ran with the help of his high school friend and current partner, Colin Yu. But again he felt the tug of his conscience. He occasionally left Vancouver to do medical missionary stints, helping patients in Mexico, the Philippines, and China. He found the experience rewarding, but the development boom he saw taking off in China just reminded him of the virtual real estate boom he was leading back home.
Soon Ham was back working full-time on the Web. "There was just too much more to do," he says.
A little taste
There was no looking back. The next few years were among Ham's most aggressive. One of his most valuable tricks was one he had experimented with in the early days, a practice called domain "tasting." Tasting takes advantage of a provision that allows domain-name buyers a free five-day trial period. Intended to protect customers who mistakenly purchase the wrong name, it handed aggressive domainers another means with which to expand -- and exploit -- their portfolios.
Ham cobbled together new lists of domain words in every combination, registering hundreds of thousands of new names for free, monitoring the traffic, and then returning the duds. By 2004, Ham had amassed such a deep portfolio that he pulled his names from third-party registrars, launched his own registrar, and then created another company, appropriately named Hitfarm, that could do a better job than Yahoo of matching ads with domain names -- for himself and 100 or so other domainers.
Like any shopping spree, though, Ham's tasting binge didn't last. It brought in so many names -- offbeat strings of letters, names with too many dashes, and other variations that humans would be hard-pressed to think of -- that Ham saw the quality of his portfolio dropping in proportion to its growing size. For every few thousand names he'd register, he'd toss back all but a hundred or so.
Tasting exacerbated another problem too: Ham's software grabbed all kinds of typographical variations of trademarked names. Called typo-squatting, it's a practice now coming under the same intense scrutiny long faced by cybersquatters. Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) and Neiman Marcus are just two companies whose lawyers have brought anti-cybersquatting lawsuits, charging domainers with intentionally profiting from variations of their trademarks.
"Tasting changed everything," says Ham, who has since abandoned the practice, though he concedes that Hitfarm still holds some problematic names. "I said, forget it," he says. "Generic names are already too hard to come by. And the legal risks are too great."
The legal risks should diminish, however, if you don't own the domain names at all -- and that's the secret behind the Cameroon play.
New world order
The domain confab in Vegas is like any other trade conference: The real intrigue happens at cocktail hour. One subject in the air is Cameroon. Late last summer, domainers began noticing that something odd happens to .cm traffic: It all winds up at a site called Agoga.com. Domainers know, of course, that .cm belongs to Cameroon. And they know that whoever controls Agoga.com has created a potential gold mine.
What they don't know is who's behind it all.
At one of the meet-and-greets, Ham is standing drinkless, as usual, sporting a polo shirt, chatting with a few people he knows and some he's just met. In this crowd, it seems, everyone wants to know Ham. Finally, he is alone.
"I hear you're the guy behind .cm?"
Ham looks surprised by the reporter's question, then flashes a big smile and says, "I had help."
Over a series of conversations a few weeks later in Vancouver, Ham shares some details about a deal that, despite his innate reticence, he's clearly proud of. About a year ago, he says, he worked his contacts to gain connections to government officials in Cameroon. Then he flew several confidantes to Yaoundé, the capital, to make their pitch. His key programmer went along to handle the technical details.
"Hey," Ham says, flagging his techie down near the office elevator. "Didn't you meet with the president of Cameroon?"
"Nah," the programmer says. "We met with the prime minister. But we did see the president's compound."
It's an odd scene to picture: a domainer's reps in a sit-down with Ephraim Inoni, the prime minister of Cameroon, to discuss the power of type-in typo traffic and pay-per-click ads. And yet, as with most of the angles Ham has played, the Cameroon scheme is ingeniously straightforward.
Ham's people installed a line of software, called a "wildcard," that reroutes traffic addressed to any .cm domain name that isn't registered. In the case of Cameroon, a country of 18 million with just 167,000 computers connected to the Internet, that means hundreds of millions of names. Type in "paper.cm" and servers owned by Camtel, the state-owned company that runs Cameroon's domain registry, redirect the query to Ham's Agoga.com servers in Vancouver.
The servers fill the page with ads for paper and office-supply merchants. (Officials at Yahoo confirm that the company serves ads for Ham's .cm play.) It all happens in a flash, and since Ham doesn't own or register the names, he's not technically typo-squatting, according to several lawyers who handle Internet issues.
The method is spelled out in a patent application filed by a Vancouver businessman named Robert Seeman, who Ham says is his partner in the venture and who also serves as chief adviser at Reinvent Technology. (Seeman declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Ham won't reveal specifics but says Agoga receives "in the ballpark" of 8 million unique visitors per month. Fellow domainers, naturally, are envious.
"As soon as it started happening, there was a huge sense of 'Why didn't I think of that?'" says attorney Berryhill, who represents Schilling and other domainers.
Still, several companies have already tracked down Ham's attorneys, claiming trademark infringement. Ham argues that his system is legally in the clear because it treats every.cm typo equally and doesn't filter out trademarked names.
Berryhill concurs. "You can't really say that [wildcarding] is targeting trade-marks," he says. "It captures all the traffic, not just trademark traffic." Moreover, the anti-cybersquatting statute applies only to people who register a trademarked domain; using a wildcard doesn't require registering names.
Clever though it may be, .cm is "a very small part of our operations," Ham says. He won't disclose how much he pays to the government of Cameroon, whose officials could not be reached for comment.
The partnership has been a rocky one so far, and the system has sporadically shut down. But .cm is only one of several country domains where the typo play can work. According to Ham, he and his team are working with other governments. The dream typo play -- .co -- belongs to Colombia, to which Ham says Seeman paid several visits long before they began working on Cameroon. (Citing safety concerns, Ham hasn't yet made the trip. "I would only go if the president requests to meet me," he says.)
As for other countries he might soon invade, Oman (.om) is an obvious target. Niger and Ethiopia are out there too, but since they would play off less lucrative .net typos, they might not be worth the trouble.
As for Colombia, Ham says, "we're making progress."
The long view
Ham leans over his office PC to check on a domain auction. Steven Sacks, a domainer based in Indianapolis who works for Ham, is telling him about some names up for sale. Ham shoots back an instant message: "I like doctordegree.com ... and rockquarry.com ... sunblinds.com."
The days of figuring out the drop are long over. Everything's open now. Lists are easy to obtain. You can preorder a name before it drops and hope to get it. Or, like Ham, you can shell out five or six figures in online auctions. The only great deals, at least for .com names, tend to happen privately, when a domainer manages to find an eager or naive seller.
Ham still buys 30 to 100 names a day, but he's no longer getting them on the cheap. In fact, he and Schilling, who today maintains a $20 million-a-year portfolio from his home in the Cayman Islands, are often accused of driving up prices.
Take, for example, the $26,250 Ham paid for Fruitgiftbaskets.com, or the $171,250 for Hoteldeals.com. "The amount he will pay is crazy," says Bob Martin, president of Internet REIT, a domain investment firm that has raised more than $125 million from private investors, including Maveron, the venture firm backed by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz.
Nonsense, Ham says. The names are expensive only if you value them the way people like Martin do. The VCs and bankers, who were late to the domain gold rush, assess names by calculating the pay-per-click ad revenue and attaching a multiple based on how long it would take to pay off the investment.
Viewed that way, Ham's personal portfolio alone is worth roughly $300 million. But some of Ham's recent domain purchases would also look silly: They'd take 15 or 20 years just to justify the price, and that assumes continuation of the pay-per-click model.
But Ham is taking a longer view. The Web, he says, is becoming cluttered with parked pages. The model is amazingly efficient -- lots of money for little work --but Ham argues that Internet users will soon grow weary of it all.
He also expects Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo to find ways to effectively combat typo-squatting. Some browsers can already fix typos; Internet Explorer catches unregistered domains and redirects visitors to a Microsoft page -- in effect controlling traffic the same way that Ham is doing with .cm. "The heat is rising," Ham says.
When Ham buys a domain now, he's not doing pay-per-click math but rather sizing it up as a potential business. Reinvent Technology aims to turn his most valuable names into mini media companies, based on hundreds of niche categories.
Among the first he'd like to launch, not surprisingly, is Religion.com. Ham recently leased the entire 27th floor in his Vancouver building and is now hiring more than 150 designers, engineers, salespeople, and editorial folks.
Much of that effort is going into developing search tools based more on meaning and less on keywords. "Google is only so useful," Ham says.
The aim is to apply a meaning-based, or "semantic," system across swaths of sites, luring customers from direct navigation and search engines alike. Religion.com would then become an anchor to which scores of other sites would be tied.
"It's time to build out the virtual real estate," Ham says. "There's so much more value in these names than pay-per-click." Seeman's patent application even mentions the possibility of turning Web traffic from Cameroon and other future foreign partners into full-fledged portals.
It's all part of the master plan, as Ham aims to become the first domainer to move from the ranks of at-home name hunter to Internet titan. Smaller players have been selling out to VC-backed groups, and Ham expects that the best names will eventually be owned by just a handful of companies.
If he bets right, he might very well be one of them. "If you control all the domains," he says, "then you control the Internet."
Net Taxes Could Arrive by This Fall
The era of tax-free e-mail, Internet shopping and broadband connections could end this fall, if recent proposals in the U.S. Congress prove successful.
State and local governments this week resumed a push to lobby Congress for far-reaching changes on two different fronts: gaining the ability to impose sales taxes on Net shopping, and being able to levy new monthly taxes on DSL and other connections. One senator is even predicting taxes on e-mail.
At the moment, states and municipalities are frequently barred by federal law from collecting both access and sales taxes. But they're hoping that their new lobbying effort, coordinated by groups including the National Governors Association, will pay off by permitting them to collect billions of dollars in new revenue by next year.
If that doesn't happen, other taxes may zoom upward instead, warned Sen. Michael Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. "Are we implicitly blessing a situation where states are forced to raise other taxes, such as income or property taxes, to offset the growing loss of sales tax revenue?" Enzi said. "I want to avoid that."
A flurry of proposals that pro-tax advocates advanced this week push in that direction. On Tuesday, Enzi introduced a bill that would usher in mandatory sales tax collection for Internet purchases. Second, during a House of Representatives hearing the same day, politicians weighed whether to let a temporary ban on Net access taxes lapse when it expires on November 1. A House backer of another pro-sales tax bill said this week to expect a final version by July.
"The independent and sovereign authority of states to develop their own revenue systems is a basic tenet of self government and our federal system," said David Quam, director of federal relations at the National Governors Association, during a Senate Commerce committee hearing on Wednesday.
Internet sales taxes
At the moment, for instance, Seattle-based Amazon.com is not required to collect sales taxes on shipments to millions of its customers in states like California, where Amazon has no offices. (Californians are supposed to voluntarily pay the tax owed when filing annual state tax returns, but few do.)
Ideas to alter this situation hardly represent a new debate: officials from the governors' association have been pressing Congress to enact such a law for at least six years. They invoke arguments--unsuccessful so far--like saying that reduced sales tax revenue threatens budgets for schools and police.
But with Democrats now in control of both chambers of Congress, the political dynamic appears to have shifted in favor of the pro-tax advocates and their allies on Capitol Hill. The NetChoice coalition, which counts as members eBay, Yahoo and the Electronic Retailing Association and opposes the sales tax plan, fears that the partisan shift will spell trouble.
One long-standing objection to mandatory sales tax collection, which the Supreme Court in a 1992 case left up to Congress to decide, is the complexity of more than 7,500 different tax agencies that each have their own (and frequently bizarre) rules. Some legal definitions (PDF) tax Milky Way Midnight candy bars as candy and treat the original Milky Way bar as food. Peanut butter Girl Scout cookies are candy, but Thin Mints or Caramel deLites are classified as food.
The pro-tax forces say that a concept called the Streamlined Sales Tax Agreement will straighten out some of the notorious convolutions of state tax laws. Enzi's bill, introduced this week, relies on the agreement when providing "federal authorization" to require out-of-state retailers "to collect and remit the sales and use taxes" due on the purchase. (Small businesses with less than $5 million in out-of-state sales are exempted.)
It's "important to level the playing field for all retailers," Enzi said during Wednesday's hearing.
While it's too early to know how much support Enzi's bill will receive, foes of higher taxation are marshaling their allies. Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said Wednesday that he'd like "to see an impregnable ban on taxes on the Internet."
A taxing question
Pro-tax and antitax forces are jockeying for position before a Net access tax moratorium expires in November. Also on the table: a proposal to usher in mandatory online sales taxes.
Enzi bill: Ushers in mandatory sales taxes on Internet purchases.
S. 156: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently.
H.R. 1077: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently and eliminates grandfather provision permitting nine states to collect taxes.
H.R. 763: Renews expiring access tax moratorium permanently.
Jeff Dircksen, the director of congressional analysis at the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va., said in written testimony prepared for the hearing: "If such a system of extraterritorial collection is allowed, Congress will have opened the door to any number of potential tax cartels that will eventually harm rather than help taxpayers."
Internet access taxes
A second category of higher Net taxes is technically unrelated, but is increasingly likely to be linked when legislation is debated in Congress later this year. That category involves access taxes, meaning taxes that local and state governments levy to single out broadband or dial-up connections. (See CNET News.com's Tech Politics podcast this week with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on this point.)
If the temporary federal moratorium is allowed to expire in November, states and municipalities will be allowed to levy a dizzying array of Net access taxes--meaning a monthly Internet connection bill could begin to resemble a telephone bill or airline ticket with innumerable and confusing fees tacked on at the end. In some states, telephone fees, taxes and surcharges run as high as 20 percent of the bill.
These fees that states levy on mobile phones, cable TV and landlines run far higher than state sales taxes at an average of 13.3 percent, cost the average household $264 a year, and total $41 billion annually, according to a report published by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute this month. Landlines are taxed at the highest rate, 17.23 percent, with Internet access being virtually tax free, with the exception of a few states that were grandfathered in a decade ago.
Dircksen, from the National Taxpayers Union, urged the Senate on Wednesday to "encourage economic growth and innovation in the telecommunications sector--in contrast to higher taxes, fees and additional regulation" by at least renewing the expiring moratorium, and preferably making it permanent. Broadband providers like Verizon Communications also want to make the ban permanent.
But state tax collectors are steadfastly opposed to any effort to renew the ban, let alone impose a permanent extension. Harley Duncan, the executive director of the Federation of Tax Administrators, said Wednesday that higher taxes will not discourage broadband adoption and his group "urges Congress not to extend the Act because it is disruptive of and poses long-term dangers for state and local fiscal systems."
Sen. Daniel Inouye, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, said: "Listening to the testimony, I would opt for a temporary extension, if at all."
If the moratorium expires, one ardent tax foe is predicting taxes on e-mail. A United Nations agency proposed in 1999 the idea of a 1-cent-per-100-message tax, but retreated after criticism. (A similar proposal, called bill "602P," is, however, actually an urban legend.)
"They might say, 'We have no interest in having taxes on e-mail,' but if we allow the prohibition on Internet taxes to expire, then you open the door on cities and towns and states to tax e-mail or other aspects of Internet access," said Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican. "We need to be honest about what we're endorsing and what we're opposing."
As the Grapevine Withers, Spam Filters Take Root
Thanks to the sociologist Dan Ryan, I’m coming to terms with my need for spam filters against my friends’ e-mail.
It’s not that I’ve lost interest in them. I still want to know how they’re doing, but I can survive without their vacation itinerary or last weekend’s golf scores. I’d like to keep up with their work, but I don’t need all their blog posts or their deep thoughts on the Iowa caucuses.
I’m glad to see a joke or an article that they picked out for me, but not one that they blasted to everyone in their address book. Did they really imagine I wanted to drop everything this second to contemplate the future of NATO? Are they writing personal notes to their A-list friends and relegating me to the @-list? What am I, chopped Spam?
What we have here is obviously not a failure to communicate, but it’s not quite the opposite either. It’s not a simple case of information overload, according to a seminal article in the journal Sociological Theory by Dr. Ryan, a professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. He defines it — with all the flair we’ve come to expect from that journal — as a violation of the “notification norms” that “constrain the behavior of nodes in social networks.”
Technology now lets us tell everyone everything at once, but we still value a network that existed before the Web: the grapevine. When you pass along gossip to a friend or colleague, you’re doing more than just relaying news. You’re defining a social circle. You’re reassuring the listeners that they’re in the loop — and subtly obliging them to remember that you are, too.
The golden rule of this “information order,” as Dr. Ryan calls it, is to tell unto others as you would have them tell unto you. You shouldn’t leave your trusted colleagues at the office in the dark about a coming shake-up, but you shouldn’t be an electronic font of trivia, either. You filter the news for them and expect them to do the same for you. You tell them what they need to know in the way they expect to hear it.
“Even though we all claim to hate gossip and being in or out of the loop, there’s an emotional benefit to grapevines,” Dr. Ryan says. “I think of it as informational grooming, like primates picking bugs off each other. We don’t want to get information all at once. Some you want to get as an insider: ‘I talked to Bob yesterday and he wanted me to tell you...’ Telling everyone violates our sense that we live in a rich array of social relationships.”
Technology hasn’t eliminated the desire for rules about who tells what, when and how. You don’t want your wife or girlfriend to tell you she’s pregnant by sending an e-mail message. A close friend could be miffed if he found about your hot date on Friday not from you, but from a casual acquaintance who had already seen pictures of it on your Facebook page.
A host may think it’s a friendly gesture to e-mail invitations to a party with all the recipients’ names in the address line, but if the names aren’t in alphabetical order and yours is near the end, the message may not seem so friendly. You could have the same out-of-the-loop feeling as a manager who learns big news about his department in the same e-mail message sent to everyone else in the company.
Every message incorporates another message in the way it is delivered, whether it’s an e-mail or a ransom note pinned to an ear. Dr. Ryan calls this metanotification. The metamessage is usually less gruesome than a body part, although once a CC: list reaches critical mass it has a horror all its own. Dr. Ryan said that in barraging me with “friendly-fire spam,” my correspondents were also telling me:
“I’m too busy to be bothered thinking much about whether and why you, recipient, might actually want to know this.”
“At this moment I’m treating you just like everyone else in my address book.”
“I have this category for you — journalist — and some really crude and naïve sense of what you must be interested in, and I think that I’m plugged into the stuff that’s going on in the world a lot better than you are, so you’re lucky that I’m your eyes and ears out here.”
Yes, those messages came through pretty clearly, although I like to think my friends didn’t mean to do all that metanotifying. They presumably figured I might be interested in what they were thinking — and often I am. Compared with all the spam I get from strangers, their stuff is riveting — even when they launch into their Middle East peace plans.
But it’s still spam, and you don’t expect that from friends. It’s the equivalent of the holiday cards with the what-our-family-did-last-year letter. We recognize that these letters serve a purpose — they can even be entertaining, intentionally or not — and we realize that the writers don’t have time to send personal letters to all their friends. But the mass-produced pseudo-intimacy still seems dorky.
That’s why, as Dr. Ryan pointed out, so many of these holiday dispatches begin with an apology like, “We hate these photocopied letters, too.” The writers know they must acknowledge that a notification norm has been broken. The most diligent will scribble a brief personal note on the letter to send a further message: See, you’re not like all the others. We have a relationship!
That’s the kind of signal I’ve started looking for in the e-mail messages from my friends-turned-spammers — some recognition that I’m more than just a Contact. I’m trying filters that distinguish letters with a small display of netiquette, like having my name somewhere besides the address line. I’m not looking for a long personal note. It’s the metanotification that counts.
Google Co-Founder's Bride Search Gets Result
Google Inc. billionaire co-founder Sergey Brin married his longtime girlfriend recently in a ceremony in the Bahamas, a relative said on Wednesday.
The relative, who asked to remain anonymous, said about 60 people attended the wedding to Anne Wojcicki, which was held on a sandbar on May 5 and mixed Jewish traditions with unconventional elements.
"In most Jewish ceremonies you don't wear your swimsuit," the person said. "Everyone took a boat, but some people got off the boat early" to swim.
But Brin himself was not talking.
During a media question-and-answer session about Google's new unified Web search service at the company's "Googleplex" headquarters in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday, a reporter congratulated Brin.
A long, uncomfortable silence followed before Brin offered a faint smile and said, "Let's keep it to search," triggering an outburst of laughter from the audience.
Brin, 33, started Google in 1998 with Stanford University classmate Larry Page. The company went public in 2004, and the stock's stratospheric rise has driven Brin's net worth up to an estimated $14 billion, placing him at No. 12 on Forbes magazine list of richest Americans last year.
Wojcicki met Brin through her sister Susan, who sublet the garage in the house she was renting to Brin and Page as they were getting Google off the ground, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Google Invests $3.9M in Start-Up of Co-Founder's Wife
Fresh off her marriage to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, biotechnology entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki is now wedded to the company too.
In Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed Tuesday, Google revealed that it invested $3.9 million to obtain a minority stake in Wojcicki's biotech start-up, 23andMe.
Some of the money that Google staked this month was used to repay $2.6 million in financing previously provided to 23andMe by Brin, one of the world's wealthiest men with an estimated $16 billion fortune.
The disclosure, which marked Google's first confirmation of a secretive marriage consummated in the Bahamas earlier this month, could pose nettlesome questions of nepotism for the Internet search leader, which ranks among the world's most scrutinized publicly held companies.
But any criticism of Google's ties to 23andMe is likely to be tempered by the investment's relatively small size. Google earned $1 billion during the first quarter, or about $11 million per day, and ended March with $11.9 billion in cash.
Tuesday's filing didn't explain the rationale for Google's investment in 23andMe, but it said the company's audit committee had consulted an independent adviser to assess the start-up's value.
Google invested in 23andMe as part of its goal of developing new ways to help people make sense of their genetic information, spokesman Jon Murchinson said in a statement. He said Brin recused himself from all management and board discussions about the 23andMe investment to avoid a conflict of interest.
Formerly a biotech investor herself, Wojcicki co-founded 23andMe last year with biopharmaceutical industry veteran Linda Avey. The start-up, located near Google's Mountain View headquarters, is trying to "allow individuals to gain deeper insights into their ancestry, genealogy and inherited traits," Wojcicki said in a statement.
The start-up, whose name refers the 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans, plans to officially launch by the end of this year, according to its website.
23andMe also has attracted investments from venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates and MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures as well as biotech bellwether Genentech, whose chief executive, Arthur Levinson, sits on Google's board. The amount contributed by the other investors wasn't disclosed.
Brin, 33, might not have met his wife if he and his partner Larry Page hadn't decided to incorporate Google in September 1998 and move their work from their Stanford University dorm rooms.
Google subsequently leased the garage of a Menlo Park home of Susan Wojcicki, who introduced her sister Anne to Brin. Susan Wojcicki now works as a vice president of development for Google, which now owns the home where Brin and Page launched the company.
What's Hot? Google Offers Daily Updates on Trends
The art of trend-spotting is set to take a more scientific turn as Google Inc., the world's top Web search company, on Tuesday unveils a service to track the fastest-rising search queries.
Google Hot Trends combines elements of Zeitgeist and Trends -- two existing Google products that give a glimpse into Web search habits, but only in retrospect based on weeks-old data.
Hot Trends, a list of the current top-100 fastest-rising search trends, will be refreshed several times daily, using data from millions of Google Web searches conducted up to an hour before each update, the company said.
What's hot and what's not will be knowable to the masses in ways pioneering social philosophers could never have imagined.
"There are events going on all the time that most of us aren't aware of happening," Amit Patel, a Hot Trends software engineer and an early Google employee, said in an interview.
From news to gossip, the profound to the truly inane: baffled Google users seek the meaning of the phrase "motion to recommit" in the latest congressional debate, or search the phrase "I who have nothing" -- the title of a song sung by a recent contestant on televised competition "American Idol."
And watch how the Web generation cuts corners: Each night before a national college entrance examination, Google sees heavy searches from what appears to be high-school students making last-minute preparations ahead of the test, Patel said.
Top Of The Top Of The Pops
For years, Google has compiled a list of popular searches it calls Google Zeitgeist, offering a weekly, monthly or annual retrospective look back at what its users wanted to know.
Hot Trends updates and automates this process by giving a contemporary snapshot of what is on people's minds -- at least as reflected by what goes through Google Web search each day.
Each Hot Trends response shows not just links to potentially related sites, but also links to associated Google News stories and blog searches, providing added context.
"After we find what trends that are interesting, users will want to know why are they important?" Patel said. "We are helping you find an explanation: There is some investigation that has to be done by the user."
The experimental service also allows users to select specific dates to see what the top-rising searches were at a given point in the recent past, starting in mid-May.
The Mountain View, California-based company is also introducing changes to its existing Google Trends service, which offers charts and other data to see how a trend evolves over time or how it compares to other trends over time.
Now, in addition to viewing the top countries and cities that searched for a term, users can see how search habits around a particular trend vary from region to region in the United States, as well as across 70 different countries.
For example, political junkies can track Google search patterns for particular U.S. presidential candidates by state.
Hot Trends, at http://www.google.com/trends/, finds the fastest-rising trends instead of the most-popular topics, which search experts say still centers around sex, sex and more sex. Hot Trends screens "inappropriate language" and pornography.
MySpace Agrees to Share Sex Offender Data With States
MySpace.com will provide law enforcement officials with data on registered sex offenders who use the popular social networking Web site, the company said today.
Attorneys general from eight states demanded last week that the company provide data on how many registered sex offenders are using the site and where they live. MySpace initially refused, citing federal privacy laws.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said today the company agreed to comply with subpoenas from at least 14 states.
"Our subpoena compels this information right away within hours not weeks, without delay because it is vital to protecting children," Blumenthal said. "Many of these sex offenders may have violated their parole or probation by contacting or soliciting children on MySpace."
Blumenthal said along with names and addresses, his office also will be looking for detailed information about how each sex offender used MySpace. That information will be cross-reference against the terms of probation and parole for each of those MySpace members, he said.
"Contact with children, is likely to be prohibited in many of these cases," Blumenthal said.
MySpace obtained the data from Sentinel Tech Holding Corp., which the company partnered with in December to build a database with information on sex offenders.
"We developed ’Sentinel Safe’ from scratch because there was no means to weed them out and get them off of our site," said Mike Angus, MySpace’s executive vice president and general counsel.
Angus said the company, owned by media conglomerate News Corp., had always planned to share information on sex offenders it identified and has already removed about 7,000 profiles out of a total of about 180 million.
"This is no different than an offline community," he said. "We’re trying to keep it safe."
Angus said the company had also made arrangements to allow law enforcement to use the Sentinel software directly.
Lawmakers Want Sex Offenders to Register e-Mail Addresses
Connecticut and more than a dozen other states are considering whether to require convicted sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses as part of efforts to combat online sexual predators.
Three states – Virginia, Arizona and Kentucky – already require sex offenders to provide law enforcement with their e-mail addresses as well as their home addresses.
The bills have support from the popular social networking site MySpace.com, which has been under increasing pressure to ferret out convicted child molesters and stop them from creating online profiles.
Connecticut’s proposal, which passed the state House of Representatives 149-0 on Thursday, would expand the state’s version of Megan’s Law, named after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a sex offender who lived across the street.
"Megan’s Law is based on keeping track of where sex offenders reside. So it makes sense to track their location in cyberspace," said Connecticut House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, who championed a 1995 bill requiring sex offenders to register their home addresses. "The Internet represents a new frontier of sex predators."
Connecticut’s bill would require sex offenders to register any e-mail addresses, instant message addresses or other Internet identifiers with the state police. Those who don’t report the information would face up to five years in prison.
It also makes it a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for any person to misrepresent his or her age to entice a minor on the Internet to engage in sexual activity.
The bill awaits action in the Senate.
MySpace is lobbying for similar legislation on both state and national levels. The company’s chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, appeared at a state Capitol news conference with Amman on Thursday.
"Our laws need to change with the times," he said. "We can no longer unwittingly provide an advantage to predators online."
Besides Connecticut, MySpace said California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas have considered or are considering legislation that requires registered sex offenders to report their e-mail addresses.
Typical MySpace profiles include photos, music and personal information, including hometowns and education. Users can send messages to one another and, in many cases, browse other profiles.
The company said Thursday that it has removed 7,000 registered sex offenders’ profiles from its site after hiring a software company to identify them. It is providing the information to law enforcement and state attorneys general.
"Mandatory sex offender e-mail registration legislation would significantly expedite this process and help keep sex offenders off our sites," Nigam said.
Under the bill, whenever MySpace determines that one of Connecticut’s approximately 4,100 registered sex offenders is using the site, it must contact state police.
The bill has support from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who, along with six of his counterparts in other states, demanded this month that MySpace turn over the names and information of the identified sex offenders on its site. But he said more needs to be done.
"This one step alone is insufficient," Blumenthal said. "Many predators have never been convicted of any sexual offense, and many more use aliases and fake information. Against this threat, we need age verification, identity checks and other measures to protect children on social networking sites."
Connecticut’s bill also adds people paid to repair computers to the list of those required by law to report suspicions of child abuse they come across while on the job.
Thirty-seven professions in the state are required to report child abuse, including teachers, medical personnel and counselors. People in those professions who report abuse in good faith are immune from civil and criminal liabilities. Failure to notify the state Department of Children and Families could lead to fines up to $500.
Web Sites Listing Informants Concern Justice Dept.
There are three “rats of the week” on the home page of whosarat.com, a Web site devoted to exposing the identities of witnesses cooperating with the government. The site posts their names and mug shots, along with court documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences.
Last week, for instance, the site featured a Florida man who agreed in September to plead guilty to cocaine possession but not gun charges in exchange for his commitment to work “in an undercover role to contact and negotiate with sources of controlled substances.” The site says it has identified 4,300 informers and 400 undercover agents, many of them from documents obtained from court files available on the Internet.
“The reality is this,” said a spokesman for the site, who identified himself as Anthony Capone. “Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale.”
Federal prosecutors are furious, and the Justice Department has begun urging the federal courts to make fundamental changes in public access to electronic court files by removing all plea agreements from them — whether involving cooperating witnesses or not.
“We are witnessing the rise of a new cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a Justice Department official wrote in a December letter to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the administrative and policy-making body of the federal court system.
“The posting of sensitive witness information,” the letter continued, “poses a grave risk of harm to cooperating witnesses and defendants.”
In one case described in the letter, a witness in Philadelphia was moved and the F.B.I. was asked to investigate after material from whosarat.com was mailed to his neighbors and posted on utility poles and cars in the area.
The federal court in Miami has provisionally adopted the department’s recommendation to remove plea agreements from electronic files, and other courts are considering it and experimenting with alternative approaches.
Judge John R. Tunheim, a federal judge in Minneapolis and the chairman of a Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, acknowledged the gravity of the safety threat posed by the Web sites but said it would be better addressed through case-by-case actions.
“We are getting a pretty significant push from the Justice Department to take plea agreements off the electronic file entirely,” Judge Tunheim said. “But it is important to have our files accessible. I really do not want to see a situation in which plea agreements are routinely sealed or kept out of the electronic record.”
Judge Tunheim said his committee was working on recommendations for a nationwide approach to the issue. He said he favored putting the details of a witness’s cooperation into a separate document and sealing only that document, or withholding it from the court file entirely.
For those who want to read the details on cooperating witnesses, whosarat.com charges between $7.99 for a week and $89.99 for life. The latter option comes with a free “Stop Snitching” T-shirt.
The site was started by Sean Bucci in 2004, after he was indicted in federal court in Boston on marijuana charges based on information from an informant. The site was initially modest and free, the seeming product of a drug defendant’s fit of pique.
Over time, it attracted thousands of postings, many backed by court documents.
Mr. Bucci was convicted in February and will be sentenced next month. Stylianus Sinnis, a lawyer for Mr. Bucci, who is incarcerated, would not say whether Mr. Bucci was still affiliated with the site.
Contacted by e-mail, Mr. Capone called a reporter at an arranged time. He would not provide his phone number but insisted that his name was authentic. He said Mr. Bucci was no longer associated with the site.
The site itself says it is “designed to assist attorneys and criminal defendants with few resources.”
Defense lawyers are, in fact, hungry for any information about the nature of the case against their clients. “The more information out there, the easier it is for the truth to come out at trial,” said David O. Markus, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami.
Lawyers and their investigators can, of course, check court files and gather other material featured on the site themselves. But the site makes it easier, cheaper and quicker to find information about informants who may be involved in several cases in several jurisdictions, the site’s spokesman said.
Eliminating electronic access to plea agreements and related documents would represent a real hardship, Mr. Markus said.
“It doesn’t advance any of the stated safety goals, and it just serves as a roadblock to the public’s constitutional right to access to their court,” Mr. Markus said. “If there is an issue in a particular case, then let’s address it, but to sweep everything under the rug isn’t right.”
The site says that it “does not promote or condone violence or illegal activity against informants or law enforcement officers.”
Frank O. Bowman, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at the University of Missouri, disputed that. “It’s reprehensible and very dangerous,” Professor Bowman said of the site. “People are going to die as a result of this.”
Defendants who choose to go to trial will, of course, eventually learn the identities of the witnesses who testify against them. But the site also discloses the identities of people engaged in undercover operations and those whose information is merely used to build a case. The widespread dissemination of informants’ identities, moreover, may subject them to retribution from friends and associates of the defendant.
Still, Professor Bowman, an authority on federal sentencing law, said he would hate to see the routine sealing of plea agreements. “It certainly is terribly important for the public ultimately to know who’s flipped,” he said.
Professor Bowman added that he was studying the deals prosecutors made in the aftermath of the collapse of Enron, the energy company. “To do that effectively,” he said, “I really need to know who flipped and the nature of their plea agreements.”
Judge William J. Zloch, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in Miami, said the move to bar electronic access to plea agreements there was supported by prosecutors and some defense lawyers. “It’s available to the public,” he said of the documents. “It’s just that you have to go the courthouse.”
Judge Zloch added that his court would discuss whether to make the change permanent in the coming months.
The existence of the site raises a First Amendment issue for its founder, Mr. Bucci. After his conviction, he filed a motion last month seeking a new trial, saying the government’s true purpose in prosecuting him was to shut down the site because “he dared to assert his First Amendment right” to post the information.
In a response filed Thursday, prosecutors conceded that “various levels of government have long expressed concern that the Web site endangers the lives of informants and undercover agents, and compromises investigations.” But they denied that the government’s dismay about the site influenced their decision to prosecute Mr. Bucci.
Most legal experts agreed that whosarat.com is protected by the First Amendment. In 2004, a federal judge in Alabama refused to block a similar site created by a criminal defendant, Leon Carmichael Sr., who has since been convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering.
“While the Web site certainly imposes discomfort on some individuals,” Judge Myron H. Thompson wrote, “it is not a serious threat sufficient to warrant a prior restraint on Carmichael’s speech or an imposition on his constitutional right to investigate his case.”
But Judge Thompson’s ruling was not categorical. “A few differences in Carmichael’s site could have changed the court’s calculus,” he wrote. And some law professors said that sites like whosarat.com might be subject to prosecution for obstruction of justice or aiding and abetting crimes.
In its December letter, from Michael A. Battle, then the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, the Justice Department urged courts to put a statement on their Internet sites “warning against the republishing or the other use of official court records for illicit purposes such as witness intimidation.” Judge Tunheim said his Judicial Conference committee was awaiting legal advice on that possibility.
For now at least, the Justice Department and the federal judiciary appear to be focused on keeping information from the sites rather than trying to stop the sites from publishing what they learn.
Government secrecy, said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, “ends up being part of the price you pay for having broad speech protection.”
Microsoft is not the Real Threat
Much has been written about Microsoft’s allegation of patent infringements in Linux (by which I’m sure they mean GNU/Linux ). I don’t think Microsoft is the real threat, and in fact, I think Microsoft and the Linux community will actually end up fighting on the same side of this issue.
I’m in favour of patents in general, but not software or business method patents. I’ll blog separately some day about why that’s the case, but for the moment I’ll just state for the record my view that software patents hinder, rather than help, innovation in the software industry.
And I’m pretty certain that, within a few years, Microsoft themselves will be strong advocates against software patents. Why? Because Microsoft is irrevocably committed to shipping new software every year, and software patents represent landmines in their roadmap which they are going to step on, like it or not, with increasing regularity. They can’t sit on the sidelines of the software game - they actually have to ship new products. And every time they do that, they risk stepping on a patent landmine.
They are a perfect target - they have deep pockets, and they have no option but to negotiate a settlement, or go to court, when confronted with a patent suit.
Microsoft already spends a huge amount of money on patent settlements (far, far more than they could hope to realise through patent licensing of their own portfolio). That number will creep upwards until it’s abundantly clear to them that they would be better off if software patents were history.
In short, Microsoft will lose a patent trench war if they start one, and I’m sure that cooler heads in Redmond know that.
But let’s step back from the coal-face for a second. I have high regard for Microsoft. They produce some amazing software, and they made software much cheaper than it ever was before they were around. Many people at Microsoft are motivated by a similar ideal to one we have in Ubuntu: to empower people for the digital era. Of course, we differ widely on many aspects of the implementation of that ideal, but my point is that Microsoft is actually committed to the same game that we free software people are committed to: building things which people use every day.
So, Microsoft is not the real patent threat to Linux. The real threat to Linux is the same as the real threat to Microsoft, and that is a patent suit from a person or company that is NOT actually building software, but has filed patents on ideas that the GNU project and Microsoft are equally likely to be implementing.
Yes, Nathan, I’m looking at you!
As they say in Hollywood, where there’s a hit there’s a writ. And Linux is a hit. We should expect a patent lawsuit against Linux, some time in the next decade.
There are three legs to IP law: copyright, trademark and patents. I expect a definitive suit associated with each of them. SCO stepped up on the copyright front, and that’s nearly dealt with now. A trademark-based suit is harder to envisage, because Linus and others did the smart thing and established clear ownership of the “Linux” trademark a while ago. The best-practice trademark framework for free software is still evolving, and there will probably be a suit or two, but none that could threaten the continued development of free software. And the third leg is patent law. I’m certain someone will sue somebody else about Linux on patent grounds, but it’s less likely to be Microsoft (starting a trench war) and more likely to be a litigant who only holds IP and doesn’t actually get involved in the business of software.
It will be a small company, possibly just a holding company, that has a single patent or small portfolio, and goes after people selling Linux-based devices.
Now, the wrong response to this problem is to label pure IP holders as “patent trolls”. While I dislike software patents, I deeply dislike the characterisation of pure IP holders as “patent trolls”. They are only following the rules laid out in law, and making the most of a bad system; they are not intrinsically bad themselves. Yes, Nathan, all is forgiven . One of the high ideals of the patent system is to provide a way for eccentric genius inventors to have brilliant insights in industries where they don’t have any market power, but where their outsider-perspective leads them to some important innovation that escaped the insiders. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. Ask anyone on the street if they think patents are good, and they will say, in pretty much any language, “yes, inventors should be compensated for their insights”. The so-called “trolls” are nothing more than inventors with VC funding. Good for them. The people who call them trolls are usually large, incumbent players who cross-license their patent portfolios with other incumbents to form a nice, cosy oligopoly. “Trolling” is the practice of interrupting that comfortable and predictably profitable arrangement. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for the incumbents at all when you look at it that way.
So it’s not the patent-holders who are the problem, it’s the patent system.
What to do about it?
Well, there are lots of groups that are actively engaged in education and policy discussion around patent reform. Get involved! I recently joined the FFII: Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, which is doing excellent work in Europe in this regard. Canonical sponsored the EUPACO II conference, which brought together folks from across the spectrum to discuss patent reform. And Canonical also recently joined the Open Invention Network, which establishes a Linux patent pool as a defensive measure against an attack from an incumbent player. You can find a way to become part of the conversation, too. Help to build better understanding about the real dynamics of software innovation and competition. We need to get consensus from the industry - including Microsoft, though it may be a bit soon for them - that software patents are a bad thing for society.
Microsoft Will Not Sue Over Linux Patents
Microsoft has said it has no immediate plans to sue after alleging patent infringements by open-source vendors.
In an official statement emailed to ZDNet UK, Microsoft confirmed that it would not litigate for now.
"If we wanted to go down that road we could have done that three years ago," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "Rather than litigate, Microsoft has spent the last three years building an intellectual property bridge that works for all parties--including open source--and the customer response has been tremendously positive. Our focus is on continuing to build bridges."
The infringement allegations, made by Microsoft in a Fortune magazine article, were that free and open-source software violated more than 230 of its patents.
In the interview, Microsoft counsel Brad Smith alleged that the Linux kernel violated 42 Microsoft patents, while its user interface and other design elements infringed on a further 65. OpenOffice.org was accused of infringing 45 patents, along with 83 more in other free and open-source programs, according to Fortune.
Microsoft has so far refused to specify which patents are allegedly being infringed by open-source vendors, leading some experts to assert that its threats are empty.
According to John McCreesh, OpenOffice.org marketing project lead, the open-source world is convinced that Microsoft would not substantiate its allegations. "[Patent litigation] is not an issue, but the Microsoft statements turn a non-issue into an issue in the minds of some corporate buyers," said McCreesh.
McCreesh added that while Microsoft may not have plans to sue, it could be using the threat of litigation to try to encourage corporate customers to move to those open-source product vendors with whom it had signed licensing agreements, such as Novell. "Microsoft has spent time and money accumulating patents. Maybe it has started using that armory to move corporate customers to open-source software that Microsoft approves of," McCreesh told ZDNet UK. "The patent covenant with Novell covers OpenOffice.org, and guarantees corporate customers will not be pursued by Microsoft."
McCreesh said that he suspected Microsoft was also trying to encourage more open-source vendors to enter into a commercial agreement such as the one with Novell.
Nick McGrath, Microsoft's UK director of platform strategy, told ZDNet UK last week that some customers were worried about the possibility of patent litigation. "We conducted research into the best way to give customers peace of mind," said McGrath. "For patent violation we give unlimited indemnification to customers [using Novell]."
Senior analysts said that while the threat of patent litigation might have caused a furore in the open-source community, actual litigation could cause damage to Microsoft similar to the damage suffered by SCO. "I hope it doesn't turn into another SCO," said Jon Collins, service director of Freeform Dynamics. "Microsoft is trying to play nice with the open-source community, but it has to do the Republican stance for its shareholders. There's a massive tension between the two positions."
"The danger is that it makes its stance too strong. SCO came away with egg on its face and damaged share price. The danger is Microsoft might respond to a situation to try to make an example, and that action could damage the brand," Collins added.
Apple TV and the Origin of Home Theater
Will Apple TV take off like the iPod? Just like the original iPod, Apple TV isn't designed to impress analysts doing reviews. There are few buzzwords to drop and little need for high priests to explain how it works. In typical Apple fashion, it just works, without really even requiring a manual. Whether it sells or not will have little to do with analysts' opinions, and more to do with how useful it is to consumers.
Here's a historical overview of the origins of home theater, leading toward a comparison of how Apple TV stacks up against previous and current generations of consumer home theater products.
Before Home Theater: Theater through the 30s.
Before home theater we just had the theater. At the turn of the century, the fledgling film industry quickly spawned movie theaters as a cheap form of entertainment. Not even Daddy Warbucks was flush enough to have a home theater; he simply rented out an entire show to watch a movie.
Early movies up into the 20's were filmed with hand cranked cameras without any sound, and delivered to theaters with sheet music for an organist to play during the film. New technology eventually allowed for both automated cameras and projectors as well as synchronized sound recording, ushering in a golden age of cinema.
There wasn't a huge choice in what to watch because of the overhead required to project a film and maintain a theater, but there also wasn't much competition in entertainment.
Television in the 40s.
The arrival of television would change that, but not immediately. TV was introduced to consumers during the Depression at a time when many Americans didn't even have electricity, let alone the money to buy an expensive entertainment novelty. Home entertainment was commonly limited to radio until World War II.
In the 40s, just as TV began to gain in popularity, the US War Production Board halted the manufacturing of consumer TVs for over three years. After that, pent up demand combined with the new post-war prosperity quickly increased the installed base of television, which in turn prompted the creation of new content to watch.
New TV content followed the existing pattern of radio: local affiliate stations broadcast television programming created by major networks, and supported their operations with local sponsors.
TV and Movies Fight For Attention in the 50s and 60s.
As TV became affordable, the movie industry scrambled to maintain customers. TV networks didn't commonly play movies; the TV networks developed their own content, acting as radio stations with a picture rather than a home version of the movie theater.
Still, the new availability of home entertainment ate into theaters' business. To attract customers, the movie industry invented a variety of new technologies that distinguished movies with:
•high definition picture
Color picture: Adding color to movies was straightforward: use color film. Color production was more expensive, but it didn't cost theaters extra to show color movies.
Before color movie film became common in the early 50s, systems like Technicolor required capturing multiple reels of black and white film using color filters. Each reel of film was then soaked in a primary color dye and used to print a color version of the film.
Adding color to TV was more difficult. Early designs uses complex mechanical systems that projected images through spinning color wheels and aligned the picture using mirrors. Even after a simpler and backwardly compatible system for broadcasting color TV was standardized upon, it didn't magically upgrade the networks’ broadcasts.
Color support was not only more expensive to produce and broadcast, but also required far more expensive sets to watch it. Without an installed base of color TVs, it made little sense for broadcasters to upgrade all their equipment to support color. In fact, half of the American TV networks actually resisted the move to color.
Only two of the four major TV networks in the US were owned by TV makers, and one of them--the DuMont Network--was already going out of business in the early 50s.
NBC survived, and was left the only network with a real reason to produce color TV broadcasts; after all, NBC was owned by RCA, which had color TVs to sell. CBS and ABC had nothing to gain from selling Americans on color broadcasts, apart from enriching NBC's parent company and having to invest in expensive new equipment.
The high cost of color equipment and the lack of color content prevented color TV from gaining much popularity well into the late 60s, despite the technology having been invented back in the 40s.
That helped to make color in the movies a compelling reason to go to the theater. Another movie theater feature unavailable at home on TV was:
Widescreen display: Silent movies were originally shot at the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio (4:3) commonly used by television. When sound was added, the Academy standardized on a compatible full screen ratio of 1.37:1, which allowed for a vertical soundtrack to be printed on the film next to the picture without creating a tall picture.
This standard aspect ratio was widened in three ways in the 50s and 60s to help differentiate movies from TV:
•anamorphic films are shot with a lens that compresses the picture on film. A anamorphic projector presents the movie at around 2.40:1. Fox developed CinemaScope as one of the first anamorphic systems and licensed it to other studios. One of the better examples of CinemaScope was Disney’s 2000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Panavision later replaced CinemaScope with an improved anamorphic system that is commonly used today.
•wide film Instead of using Fox’ CinemaScope, Paramount developed its own system called VistaVision, which ran film through the camera to actually capture a wider frame using more film for a better picture.
•matted films simply block out portions of the original film to present a wider aspect ratio, creating a widescreen display by simply cutting the top and bottom and blowing up the picture.
In the frame below, the yellow box represents the widescreen version seen in theaters, and the red box shows what would be displayed on TV in a open matte version.
The shot has to protect for full screen display, as this scene from A Fish Called Wanda illustrates. The alternative is to pan-and-scan: crop a square area of the movie within the widescreen version--with the intent of capturing most of the action--and blow it up.
•multiple display films use more than one camera to capture extremely wide films. Cinerama originally projected three films from three projectors on a special wide screen. The shot from How the West Was Won shows two seams from the three projector system.
The widest films presented multiple cameras around a room to create a circle. Circlorama used eleven cameras; Disney built similar Circle-Vision theaters with nine screens in its theme parks--although most are now closed.
High definition picture: larger format films used larger film, commonly 70 mm, to deliver a clearer picture. Todd-AO filmed movies in 65 mm and distributed them used 70 mm film, providing extra space for soundtracks on the film. A few early Todd-AO films also used faster frame rates, which made action smoother on the screen.
This frame of a 70 mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey shows how much more film area is devoted to recording each frame of the movie compared to the 35 mm clips above. In addition, the 70 mm film also had room for extra magnetic tape audio recordings on both sides of the sprocket holes.
Films shot in 3D can also be included with high definition. Like color and widescreen, 70 mm and 3D films offered an experience that couldn't be found at home.
However, the expense of filming in these formats, as well as the technical issues they created, limited their use. A film shot in Cinerama using three different cameras couldn't zoom in, for example.
3D films and other widescreen formats also required special projectors and screens in theaters. Without an audience of theaters, it made little sense to churn out movies using those features, and without the special content, there was little reason to build theaters that supported them.
A parallel example applies to audio reproduction.
Stereophonic sound: Stereo is typically thought of as two channels of sound using two speakers, but 'stereo' doesn't mean two, it refers to multi-dimensional depth.
Stereo sound relates to any system that plays back more than one channel of sound to create a surrounding, immersive reproduction of audio. Since wide, surrounding effects can be created with just two speakers, common stereo systems involve two recordings played back in concert.
This was another technology theaters could afford to add, while home users couldn't. Using analog tubes in radio or TV, the cost of playing back stereo sound doubled the price of equipment. It literally required a secondary receiver circuit, a second set of preamps, and so on, neatly doubling the cost of the set. Until electronic circuits could reduce the cost of all those components, it was simply too expensive. Stereo TV didn't become widely available until the 80s.
In the theater, the use of multiple sound tracks was a big draw. Disney's Fantasia used four sound tracks, and later 70 mm releases in the 60's put as many as 6 soundtracks on the film.
In the 70s, several movies presented “in 70 mm,” including Logan’s Run, weren’t even originally shot on wide film; they were only printed to 70 mm to carry the extra magnetic sound tracks that couldn’t fit on 35 mm prints, where there was only room for four.
Theaters had to be outfitted to support playback of multiple channels of sound, and movies had to provide compatible, multichannel sound content in order to differentiate the theater from TV; the downfall of both factors helped to erase that advantage in the 70s.
The Decline of Movie Theaters in the 70s.
As competition from color TV began to eat into movie theaters' revenues, any remaining interest in rolling out expensive new technology in theaters began to collapse, killing much of the unique experience movies offered.
For example, many theaters were reluctant to invest in fancy sound systems to take advantage of the multichannel magnetic tape soundtracks glued directly on the film on some blockbuster movies, and commonly just played the movie's soundtrack in mono instead.
Theaters that had upgraded to fancier sound systems found the reverse problem: the magnetic tape soundtracks commonly wore right off the film after several showings, leaving little high quality content to play back using their fancy sound systems.
Increasingly, the multichannel magnetic soundtracks were replaced by two track optical sound, printed directly on the film. Below is a 35 mm print using 4 track magnetic sound, and a print with optical sound. The black graphic exaggerates the optical soundtrack for heightened dramatic effect.
As existing content degraded and fewer films were made using high definition prints or in true widescreen, the palace theaters of the golden age of movies began to disassemble themselves into multiplex outlets in order to at least offer more variety in the lower quality movies available.
The Rise of Home Theater Entertainment.
Many of the advancements pioneered in theaters had made it into the home by the 70s. Color TVs and color broadcasts was both commonly available, and FM radio had begun broadcasting in stereo. Both systems bent backward to support existing equipment.
Inside Apple TV described how color TV signals were designed to be backwardly compatible with black and white TVs.
In the case of stereo FM radio, a similar method was used. Rather than sending the new information as a separate subcarrier signal, FM radio takes the right and left audio channels and combines them into one sum or "mid" signal, and then subtracts the right and left signals to create a difference or "side" channel, and then modulates them together for broadcast.
This allowed older FM radios to play the sum channel in mono sound without losing any part of the broadcast, but enables stereo FM radios to demodulate both signals; they then add both signals to obtain the left channel, and subtracts the two signals to get the right channel. This form of matrixing turns up repeatedly as a strategy for delivering lots of information through a narrow pipe.
Hard Drive Shifts Movie Viewing From the Desk to the Couch
Watching digital movies stored on a computer’s hard drive on a TV set is still a relatively new idea, which is why hybrid products like the TrekStor MovieStation maxi t.u are popping up. This external hard drive with a built-in audio and video player puts the best of many technologies into one package.
The MovieStation, available at J&R Computer World and Amazon.com, starts at $300 for 250 gigabytes. The largest version, a 500-gigabyte model that costs about $400, can store about 128,000 MP3 files or 125 movies. The drive has optical and analog audio outputs along with composite video outputs for playing that content on any stereo or compatible television.
The MovieStation has a U.S.B. port to connect it to PCs or Macintosh computers without the need for software drivers. The onboard software automatically reads MP3, WMA and WAV files along with MPEG-formatted video files and displays an on-screen menu for browsing. The remote control and front control buttons allow selection of tracks and movies, and the composite output supports 1080i HD video. The drive also stores and displays digital photos.
Fujitsu's H.264 Chip Encodes/Decodes in Full HD -- a World's First
Fujitsu just announced a world's first H.264 chip capable of encoding/decoding 1920 x 1080 (60i/50i) video in real time. The chip features 256MB of onboard FCRAM and ultra low 750mW power draw when encoding video. That means lickity quick, MPEG-2 quality processing with only a third, or half the required storage. The ¥30,000 ($247) MB86H51 chip is available to OEMs starting July 1st after which you'll find it bunged into the latest up-scale, consumer-class video recorders.
Ritek Set to Mass Produce Rewritable Blu-Ray Discs
The company will also mass produce HD DVD-RE
Taiwanese disc maker Ritek Corp. plans to start mass producing BD-RE (Blu-Ray Disc Rewritable) discs as well as HD DVD-RE (high definition) discs in the third quarter of this year, a small but important step to helping reduce the cost of such discs for users.
A handful of Taiwanese companies dominate the disc mass production business, including Ritek and rival CMC Magnetics Corp. These companies license disc technology from developers and then spin out as many discs as they can in a bid to drive down the cost of each disc and earn as much revenue as possible.
Initially, however, BD-RE and HD DVD-RE discs will be pricey. The average cost per disc will remain around $10 in retail outlets, despite production costs of around $5 per disc, said Eric Ai, a Ritek representative. Prices won't likely come down until other mass disc producers in Taiwan win accreditation to make the discs, and ramp up volumes.
Each single-layer BD-RE disc has a capacity of 25GB, enough to hold three hours of terrestrial digital high-definition TV, or six hours of standard TV. HD DVD-RE discs can hold around 20GB of data, while DVD discs hold 4.7GB.
Copying HD DVD and Blu-Ray Discs May Become Legal
Under a licensing agreement in its final stages, consumers may get the right to make several legal copies of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies they’ve purchased, a concession by the movie industry that may quell criticism that DRM (digital rights management) technologies are too restrictive.
The agreement, if supported by movie studios and film companies, could allow a consumer to make a backup copy in case their original disc is damaged and another copy for their home media server, said Michael Ayers, a representative of an industry group that licenses the AACS (Advanced Access Content System) copy-prevention system.
AACS is used on HD DVD and Blu-ray discs, the new high-definition DVD formats, to prevent unauthorized copying of the discs.
The concept, called “managed copy,” would undercut one the strongest arguments against DRM technology, which critics say deprives buyers of their legal right to fair uses such as moving their content to other digital systems and devices.
The licensing agreement is under negotiation between the AACS Licensing Adminstrator, which Ayers represents, and companies using AACS technology, including film makers. AACS LA members include Sony, IBM, The Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. and Microsoft.
AACS LA is pushing the studios to support managed copy and offer consumers the option of making at least one copy, Ayers said.
“We want to be able to maximize the number of movies that are able to be offered,” he said.
The idea is that the content companies could charge a premium according to how many copies are allowed, Ayers said. It remains a possibility that consumers, if given the chance to make three copies of “Spider-man 2” could give those copies to their neighbors, which technically would qualify as low-volume piracy.
But AACS LA believes that movie studios will see higher sales with the managed copy option, even with the chance it could be abused, Ayers said. “Studios will have to take that into account when they select pricing,” Ayers said.
On the technology side, a system of servers, run by the studios or third parties, could enable the authorization of copies. Newly-minted discs could be prevented from further copying by employing DRM technology from companies such as Microsoft, Ayers said.
AACS LA is now working out what rights studios and film companies would have under the complex licensing agreement. “We are optimistic that the studios will see this as a benefit that will drive sales,” Ayers said.
Sony Sued Over Blu-Ray Disc-Coating Patent
A California company has filed a lawsuit alleging that Sony's method of coating optical discs infringes upon a patent involving silver-based metal alloys.
It seems that Sony is once again on the receiving end of a lawsuit involving patent infringement. According to a recent report from IPLaw360, three divisions of Sony Corp. were named as defendants in a suit filed last Wednesday, and will be brought to court over the technology behind the creation of the company's Blu-ray discs.
Irvine, CA-based Target Technology Co. LLC alleges that Sony has directly infringed on a patent for an invention originally issued on March 28th, 2006. The technology behind this patent involves coating optical discs with a thin film of silver-based alloy, which makes them more reflective and less susceptible to corrosion. Target Technology founder Han Nee claims to have personally developed this technology, which is currently in use with the majority of DVDs in production today.
Target's patent in this particular case, entitled "metal alloys for the reflective or the semi-reflective layer of an optical storage medium", has been filed under U.S. Patent Number 7,018,696.
The suit, which asks for damages and an injunction to prevent Sony from infringing on the patent further, has so far named three Sony subsidiaries as defendants: Sony DADC U.S. Inc., Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. A Sony spokeswoman declined to offer a statement on the grounds that the company does not comment on pending litigation.
This is the second high-profile case in recent memory involving patent infringement related to gaming technology. In 2002, Immersion Corp. brought both Sony and Microsoft to court due to infringements on the company's touch-feedback technology. Sony and Immersion have since agreed to a settlement earlier this year.
Target is also involved with two other pending lawsuits in the federal court systems in New York and California. According to IPLaw360's report, the defendants in those suits are Williams Advanced Materials Inc. and its disc-manufacturing customers, who have allegedly infringed on ten different patents.
CSS of DVDs Ruled 'Ineffective' by Finnish Courts
The CSS protection used in DVDs has been ruled "ineffective" by Helsinki District Court. This means that CSS is not covered by the Finnish copyright law amendment of 2005 (based on EU Copyright Directive from 2001), allowing it to be freely circumvented. Quoting the press release: "The conclusions of the court can be applied all over Europe since the word effective comes directly from the directive ... A protection measure is no longer effective, when there is widely available end-user software implementing a circumvention method. My understanding is that this is not technology-dependent. The decision can therefore be applied to Blu-Ray and HD-DVD as well in the future."
E.U. Probes Google Over Data Retention Policy
Kevin J. O’Brien and Thomas Crampton
Google has been warned that it may be violating European Union privacy laws by storing search data from its users for up to two years, the latest example of United States technology giant whose practices face a collision with European standards.
An advisory panel of data protection chiefs from the 27 countries in the European Union sent a letter last week to Google asking it to justify its policy of retaining data on Internet addresses and individual search habits, Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the European Union’s justice commissioner, Franco Frattini said today.
Privacy experts said the letter was the first salvo in what could become a determined effort by the European Commission to force Google to change how it does business in Europe, whose 400 million consumers outnumber those in the United States.
Any effort to impose limits on Google, which operates under United States law, would be the latest in a series of increasingly aggressive actions taken by European policy makers to rein in global technology companies.
Mr. Frattini called the working group’s query to Google “pertinent, appropriate and legitimate,” Mr. Abbing said.
According to one member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the group, the panel is concerned that Google’s retention period is too long and is designed to serve commercial interests. The data is often used to direct advertising to users.
“The discussion is only just beginning,” said Christoph Gusy, a privacy law expert at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. “The pressure to regulate this type of business activity, which is still in its infancy, is building, and what you are seeing is the beginning of a serious effort in Europe.”
Google described the committee’s request as reasonable. It noted that the company itself raised the issue with European officials in March by announcing that it was shortening the retention of customer data, which had previously been unlimited, to up to two years. Other large search engines like Yahoo and MSN Search have not disclosed how long they keep data.
“There can be reasonable arguments for and against keeping server logs for this length of time,” said Peter Fleischer, Google’s global privacy counsel. “But we believe that between 18 and 24 months is a reasonable length of time to balance privacy issues with business concerns.”
In a letter to be sent to the E.U. panel, Google will argue that the retention periods are necessary to ward off hackers and prevent Internet advertising fraud, and to improve Google’s search algorithm, Mr. Fleischer said.
The panel plans to meet on June 19 in Brussels to consider Google’s response.
The most prominent E.U. case against a United States technology giant focused on Microsoft, which the European Commission found in 2004 to have violated antitrust laws for using its de facto monopoly Windows operating system to promote its own server software and desktop media players. The company settled a similar case with American antitrust regulators in 1994.
Microsoft is appealing the commission’s decision. In the meantime, the commission and European competition officials have fined the company nearly $1 billion for failing to comply with the terms of its original order.
Some European nations are also challenging the operating practices of global technology companies, with success. In Britain, eBay this year agreed to modify its servers after Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, complained that customers were not able to easily close accounts and wipe out trading logs.
Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, a London-based advocacy group, said that Google was a leading target of complaints received by his organization last year.
Of the 10,000 complaints made to the group in 2006, 2,000 involved Internet-related activities. And of those, 96 percent were about Google and its practice of retaining customer data, Mr. Davies said.
“The E.U.’s action is the first shot in a long, potentially bloody battle with Google,” said he added. “There is definitely a perception that something is amiss with Google.”
How far European officials can go to force Google to change its data retention policies remains unclear. The European Union’s Data Retention Directive, which takes effect on Sept. 1, requires all telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to retain traffic data on users for up to two years.
But E.U. law, according to Mr. Gusy, the German data retention expert, is silent on whether to apply the same limits, which are intended to combat terrorism, to content providers or search engines.
Mr. Abbing, the justice commissioner’s spokesma, said the commission could compel E.U. members to enforce the law.
How that could be used to challenge Google, whose business takes place largely in the Internet universe, was unclear. The data retention panel member said his group was hoping with its letter to persuade Google to voluntarily narrow its retention periods.
But François Bourdoncle, the chief executive of the French search engine Exalead, said European countries have the right to impose their own standards on the collection of Internet data.
“I think it is fair for the state to place boundaries around what a company may do with your private data,” Mr. Bourdoncle said. “We follow the very strict French privacy law that prevents us from storing any personal information that can be traced back to the individual.”
Mr. Bourdoncle said that the growing range of services offered by Google and other search portals posed an increasing threat to privacy. “By offering services from e-mail to search, they can easily build a complete profile of your entire digital life,” he said. “It is worrisome how much they can know simply by correlating all the information they collect on you.”
Yahoo declined to comment on the working group but said user trust is of high importance to the company.
Alex Laity, a spokesman, said Yahoo does not have a single policy on the issue. “Our data retention practices vary according to the diverse nature of our services,” he said in an e-mail.
Mr. Fleischer of Google noted that his company was the first of its kind to voluntarily cut retention periods, not just in Europe but around the world.
“We started this privacy dialogue precisely because we think it is something that needs to be further discussed,” he said.
Google Proposes Innovation in Radio Spectrum Auction
Google filed a proposal on Monday with the Federal Communications Commission calling on the agency to let companies allocate radio spectrum using the same kind of real-time auction that the search engine company now uses to sell advertisements.
Executives at Google, based in the Mountain View, Calif., said that the company had no plans to bid in the closely watched sale of a swath of broadcast spectrum scheduled for February 2009 as part of the nation’s transition to digital broadcast television.
The company, the world’s dominant search engine, has, however, become an active participant in the debate over the control of access to broadband digital networks because it wants to create more competition among digital network providers like cable companies and Internet service providers.
The Google filing comes two days before a deadline for public comments set in an F.C.C. rule-making procedure for the sale of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, now largely used by UHF television broadcasters.
The agency is planning to set the rules for its auction this year as potential bidders, including telephone, cable and satellite operators — as well as potential consortiums interested in creating new next-generation digital wireless networks — jockey for position. Several groups of bidders hope to use the spectrum to create a new nationwide digital wireless network that would serve as an alternative broadband channel to businesses and consumers, competing with existing telephone and cable providers.
“The driving reason we’re doing this is that there are not enough broadband options for consumers,” said Adam Kovacevich, a spokesman for Google’s policy office in Washington. “In general, it’s the belief of a lot of people in the company that spectrum is allocated in an inefficient manner.”
In their proposal, Google executives argue that by permitting companies to resell the airwaves in a real-time auction would make it possible to greatly improve spectrum use and simultaneously create a robust market for innovative digital services. For instance, a company could resell its spectrum on an as-needed basis to other providers, the executives said in their formal proposal to the federal agency.
F.C.C. auction methods used in the past have been criticized because they required advance payments, leaving companies with less money needed to build infrastructure, resulting in fewer benefits to consumers in the way of advanced telecommunications services.
“In Google’s view, many of these thorny problems would be alleviated by a more open and market-driven spectrum access policy,” they wrote.
The Google proposal will be endorsed this week by one of the consortiums that is planning to bid in the spectrum auction: Frontline Wireless, an investor group founded by Reed E. Hundt, a former F.C.C. commissioner, with a number of Silicon Valley venture capitalists including the Google investors L. John Doerr and Ram Shriram.
“I’m hoping we treat spectrum as a scarce renewable resource which should be used for the common good of the consumer and to make available the most innovative devices that can connect to those consumers,” Mr. Shriram said.
Mr. Hundt said in an e-mail message: “We propose that one quarter of the capacity of the network that uses this spectrum must be sold not in a long-term service contract but instead in ongoing open auctions to any and all comers.”
The proposal is for the wholesale auction of spectrum. However, in the future such a system might require that advanced computing technology be built into wireless handsets and computers to automate the auction bidding process and permit it to take place without users noticing. The Google proposal states that such a system would reduce retail prices for wireless spectrum and extend Internet access into rural areas not now served by existing providers.
One significant issue in the debate is whether the F.C.C. will be able to meet a mandate in the digital television law calling for reallocation of the frequencies to public safety organizations while simultaneously making spectrum available for commercial applications.
New Superfast Wireless Broadband Device Prototype Submitted to FCC
While the Federal Communications Commission moves ahead with planning for the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction, the White Space Coalition has submitted a second prototype white space wireless broadband device to the FCC for testing. White space devices could use the so-called white space in the current analog television spectrum (2MHz to 698MHz) to deliver wireless broadband service. Former FCC chief engineer Edmond Thomas (and current technology policy advisor for the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, which is representing the Coalition) told Ars that he believes white space broadband could deliver download speeds of up to 80Mbps, which would make it extremely competitive with fiber-to-the-premises solutions like Verizon's FiOS networks.
The newest white space prototype is manufactured by Philips Electronics of North America and consists of a TV tuner, a digital processing board, and a PC which provides the UI, control, and signal processing. It's proof-of-concept hardware intended to demonstrate that it's possible to sense the presence of TV signals and transmit wireless IP data in a way that does not interfere with TV. According to an FCC filing seen by Ars Technica, the new prototype is capable of picking up analog and digital television signals as well as wireless microphone signals (which operate in the same part of the spectrum). It works similarly to the Microsoft-manufactured spectrum sensing device submitted earlier this year. Microsoft also submitted a transmission device to the FCC for testing which will be used to show that white space broadband transmissions won't interfere with TV signals.
There are a few screenshots in the FCC submission, one of which is reproduced above. It's quite simple: the user selects a type of signal to scan for, and the application shows the results. If the sensing module picks up television transmission on a particular channel, then that part of the spectrum will not be used for white spaces broadband in that particular area.
The goal of the White Space Coalition is simple: take advantage of unused television spectrum to provide wireless broadband. Although analog television transmissions will cease in February 2009, digital TV signals will continue to use the spectrum between 54MHz and 698MHz. That is a highly desirable chunk of spectrum because the signals can easily pass through walls and other solid objects, giving them a much greater reach than WiFi or even WiMAX, both of which operate in higher frequency bands.
Television broadcasters have vigorously opposed the usage of the white spaces, citing fears that wireless broadband will interfere with TV signals. The current round of FCC testing is designed to ensure that the prototype white space broadband devices don't cause any interference problems at all. "Like the personal/portable prototype devices previously submitted by Microsoft on the Coalition's behalf, the Philips prototype is designed to demonstrate that operating parameters set forth by the Coalition... will provide incumbent licensees in the television bands with the interference protection to which they are entitled," reads the FCC filing.
The White Space Coalition is comprised of Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics. The FCC should conclude its testing of the white space broadband prototypes in July and the first rules governing the use of the spectrum by wireless broadband devices should be released in October 2007. Once that happens, the IEEE will likely begin the work of standardizing the tech. If all goes as planned, white space broadband service could begin in the US as soon as February 2009.
Michigan Man Arrested for Using Cafe's Free WiFi From His Car
A Michigan man is being prosecuted for using a cafe's free WiFi... from his car. Sam Peterson was arrested under a Michigan law barring access to anyone else's network without authorization, according to Michigan TV station WOOD. Since the cafe's WiFi network was reserved for customers, and Peterson never came into the cafe, he was essentially piggybacking off of the open network without authorization.
The arrest came about because Peterson apparently showed up to the Union Street Cafe to use its free WiFi from the comfort of his car, and he did so every single day. A police officer grew suspicious of Peterson and eventually questioned him as to what he was up to. Peterson, not realizing that what he was doing was (at least) ethically questionable, told the officer exactly what he was doing. "I knew that the Union Street had WiFi. I just went down and checked my e-mail and didn't see a problem with that," Peterson told a reporter.
Under Michigan's "Fraudulent access to computers, computer systems, and computer networks" law, Peterson's actions could result in a five-year felony and a $10,000 fine. However, prosecutors do not plan to throw the book at him, as they don't believe that Peterson was aware he was even breaking the law. Instead, he will pay a $400 fine and do 40 hours of community service, and the arrest will not go on his record.
Coincidentally, the cafe owner that Peterson was leeching WiFi off of didn't even realize that what Peterson was doing was a crime at the time. Neither did the police officer. "I had a feeling a law was being broken, but I didn't know exactly what," Sparta police chief Andrew Milanowski told the TV station.
This is not the first time someone has been arrested for piggybacking on a WiFi connection. In 2005, a Florida man was arrested and hit with a third-degree felony for surfing an open WiFi network from his SUV. Similarly, an Illinois man was arrested in 2006 for, again, using an unsecured WiFi network from his car. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was given one year's court supervision and a $250 fine. A Washington man was also arrested in 2006 for parking outside of a coffee shop and using the open WiFi connection without purchasing anything. And just earlier this year, an Alaska man was arrested for using the WiFi network from the public library after hours to play games from—you guessed it—his car in the parking lot.
Whether or not you agree with the legality of using an open WiFi network without the owner's authorization, one thing is painfully clear: if you're going to leech, try not to do it from a parked car right in front of the building.
Wi-Fi: a Warning Signal
Britain is in the grip of a Wi-Fi revolution with offices, homes and classrooms going wireless - but there is concern the technology could carry health risks.
The Government insists Wi-Fi is safe, but a Panorama investigation shows that radio frequency radiation levels in some schools are up to three times the level found in the main beam of intensity from mobile phone masts.
There have been no studies on the health effects of Wi-Fi equipment, but thousands on mobile phones and masts.
The radiation Wi-Fi emits is similar to that from mobile phone masts. It is an unavoidable by-product of going wireless.
In the last 18 months another two million of us in the UK have begun using Wi-Fi.
Entire cities have become what are known as wireless hotspots.
In 2000, Sir William Stewart, now chairman of the Health Protection Agency, headed the government's inquiry into the safety of mobile phone masts and health. He felt the scientific research was sufficient to apply a precautionary approach when siting masts near schools.
During that same year, the government sold off the 3G licences for £22.5bn.
Sir William recalls: "We recommended, because we were sensitive about children... that masts should not necessarily impact directly on areas where children were exposed, like playgrounds and that."
But what about Wi-Fi? The technology is similar to mobile phone masts and in use in 70 per cent of secondary schools and 50 per cent of primary schools.
Panorama visited a school in Norwich, with more than 1,000 pupils, to compare the level of radiation from a typical mobile phone mast with that of Wi-Fi in the classroom.
Readings taken for the programme showed the height of signal strength to be three times higher in the school classroom using Wi-Fi than the main beam of radiation intensity from a mobile phone mast.
The findings are particularly significant because children's skulls are thinner and still forming and tests have shown they absorb more radiation than adults.
The readings were well beneath the government's safety limits - as much as 600 times below - but some scientists suspect the whole basis of our safety limits may be wrong.
Panorama spoke to a number of scientists who questioned the safety limits and were concerned about the possible health effects of such radiation.
"If you look in the literature, you have a large number of various effects like chromosome damage, you have impact on the concentration capacity and decrease in short term memory, increases in the number of cancer incidences," said Professor Olle Johansson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Another scientist, Dr Gerd Oberfeld, from Salzburg is now calling for Wi-Fi to be removed from schools.
He said: "If you go into the data you can see a very very clear picture - it is like a puzzle and everything fits together from DNA break ups to the animal studies and up to the epidemiological evidence; that shows for example increased symptoms as well as increased cancer rates."
The clear advice from Sir William Stewart to the government on mobile phone masts was that the beam of greatest intensity should not fall on any part of the school grounds, unless the school and parents agreed to it.
Yet the levels tested in the classroom from Wi-Fi were much higher - three times the highest level of the mast.
Panorama contacted 50 schools at random - and found not one had been alerted by the government to any possible health effects.
Philip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers said: "I think schools and parents will be very worried about it...
"I am asking schools to consider very seriously whether they should be installing Wi-Fi networks now and this will make them think twice or three times before they do it.
"I think the precautionary approach doesn't seem to have worked because it is being rolled out so rapidly...
"It's a bit like King Canute. We can't stop the tide and I am afraid if schools are told that there is a serious health implication for having these networks in schools, it is going to be a very serious matter to say to schools, you have to switch them off."
At Washington state university, Professor Henry Lai, a biologist respected by both sides of the argument says he has found health effects at similar levels of radiation to Wi-Fi.
He estimates that of the two to three thousand studies carried out over the last 30 years, there is a 50-50 split - half finding an effect with the other half finding no effect at all.
But the Health Protection Agency has said Wi-Fi devices are of very low power - much lower than mobile phones.
The Government says there is no risk and is backed up by the World Health Organisation which is robust in its language saying there are "no adverse health effects from low level, long-term exposure".
The scientist responsible for WHO's position is Dr Mike Repacholi, who headed up the health organisation's research programme into radio frequency radiation.
He was also the founder of the International Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
He said the statement of "no adverse health effects" was based on the weight of evidence.
In order for a health effect to be established it must mean it has been repeated in a number of laboratories using very good study techniques. The findings of any published studies had been put in the mix before reaching a conclusion, he said.
"It is called a weight of evidence approach - and if that weight of evidence is not for there being an effect or not being an effect that is the only way you can tell whether there really is an adverse health effect," he said.
Wi-Fi: a warning signal, Panorama, Monday, 8.30pm, BBC1. VOTE Are you concerned about wi-fi safety? Yes No Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
Blinding them with science
Wi-Fi Wants To Kill Your Children
Won’t somebody, please, think of the children? Three weeks ago I received my favourite email of all time, from a science teacher. “I’ve just had to ask a BBC Panorama film crew not to film in my school or in my class because of the bad science they were trying to carry out,” it began, describing in perfect detail the Panorama which aired this week.
[ you’ll need to skip through the last two minutes of Eastenders to watch it…]
This show was on the suppressed dangers of radiation from Wi-Fi networks, and how they are harming children. There was no science in it, just some “experiments” they did for themselves, and some conflicting experts. Panorama disagreed with the WHO expert, so he was smeared for not being “independent” enough, and working for a phone company in the past. I don’t do personal smear. But Panorama started it. How independent were they, and the “experiments” they did?
They had 28 minutes, I have under 700 words. Here we go. In the show, you can see them walking around Norwich with a special “radiation monitor”. Radiation, incidentally, is their favourite word, and they use it 30 times, although Wi-Fi is “radiation” in the same sense that light is.
“Ooh its well into the red there,” says reporter Paul Kenyon, holding up the detector (19 minutes in). Gosh that sounds bad. Well into the red on what? It’s tricky to callibrate measurements, and to decide what to measure, and what the cut off point is for “red”. Panorama’s readings were “well into the red” on “The COM Monitor”, a special piece of detecting equipment designed from scratch and built by none other than Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch, the man who leads the campaign against WiFi. His bespoke device is manufactured exclusively for Powerwatch, and he will sell one to you for just £175. Alasdair decided what “red” meant on Panorama’s device. So not very independent then.
Panorama did not disclose where this detector came from. And they know that Alasdair Philips is no ordinary “engineer doing the readings”, because they told us in the show, but they didn’t tell the school that. “They wanted to take some mesurements in my class room, compare them to the radiation from a phone mast and film some kids using wireless laptops. They introduced “the engineer”, whom I googled.”
He found it was the same man who runs Powerwatch, the pressure group campaigning against mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and “electrosmog”. In Alasdair’s Powerwatch shop you can buy shielded netting for your windows at just £70.50 per metre, and special shielding paint at £50.99 per litre. To paint a small eleven foot square bedroom in your house with Powerwatch’s products you would need about 10 litres, costing you £500.
When the children saw Alasdair’s Powerwatch website, and the excellent picture of the insulating mesh beekeeper hat that he sells (£27) to “protect your head from excess microwave exposure”, they were astonished and outraged. Panorama were calmly expelled from the school.
So what about Panorama’s classroom experiment? Not very independent, and not very well designed, as the children pointed out. “They set about downloading the biggest file they could get hold of – so the Wi-Fi signal was working as powerfully as possible - and took the peak reading during that,” says our noble science teacher. It was a great teaching exercise, and the children made valuable criticisms of Panorama’s methodology, such as “well, we’re not allowed to download files so it wouldn’t be that strong”, “only a couple of classes have wifi”, and,“we only use the laptops a couple of times a week”.
Panorama planned to have the man from Powerwatch talk to the students for about 10 minutes about how Wi-Fi worked, and what effects it had on the human body. Then they were going to reveal the readings he had got from the mast, compare them to what Powerwatch had measured in the classrom, and film the kids reaction to the news. So not very independent then.
“Surprisingly enough the readings in my room were going to be higher (about 3 times higher I believe) and with the kids having been briefed by the engineer from Powerwatch first they were hoping for a reaction that would make good telly.” Sadly for them it didn’t happen. “We told Panorama this morning that as they hadn’t been honest with us about what was going on and because of the bad science they were trying to pass off, we didn’t want them to film in the school or with our students.”
The images you see of children in the show are just library footage. I’m sure there should be more research into Wi-Fi. If Panorama had made a 28 minute show about the scientific evidence, we would be discussing that. Instead they produced “radiation” scares, and smears about whether people are “independent”. People in glass houses are welcome to throw stones, at their own risk.
A BBC Spokesperson said: “Alistair Phillips is one of a handful of people with the right equipment to do this test. He was only used in this capacity and was not given an opportunity to interpret the readings let alone campaign on them in the film. We filmed the tests taken at the school and didn’t return.”
Please send your bad science to firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s some more general criticism of the program and a response here, and if you were going to make a complaint, you might be disappointed by the response, since it was written before you complained.
To me this is a very uncomplicated situation of heinous scaremongering and bias. If they really had wanted to measure exposure in classrooms, for example, they could have simply taken some readings up close, a metre away from a laptop (some while it was downloading hard, some while it wasn’t), and lots of ambient measurements from around the room, and combined them. This would have provided a meaningful, naturalistic, real world figure describing what a child is actually exposed to during a day. I can’t see any sense in measuring anything other than that.
Instead, while throwing around accusations of other people being biased, to produce a scare, Panorama - quite unnecessarily - took an “electrosmog” pressure group campaigner, let him decide what to measure, how, where, and with what equipment. They completely failed to come clean on this. The reality is, the producers probably didn’t even know what they were having measured. They say it was because there was nobody else to ask: a nation of engineers reaches for another beer.
And that’s just looking at those parts of the program.
There is the issue of Panorama’s other experts, like associate professor Olle Johansson, awarded Misleader Of The Year 2004 in his native country.
But there are far bigger issues, and ones where Panorama were unambiguously scurrilous. They spent a long time covering “electrosensitivity”. There are over 30 double blind studies of people who believe that their symptoms, such as dizziness and heaches, are caused by immediate exposure to electromagnetic signals: essentially these studies all show that sufferers cannot tell when a source of signal is present or absent (full story and references here).
But there was no mention of these studies in Panorama. Instead they showed us just one subject in an unfinished, unpublished study: Why? Apparently she has guessed if the signal is on or not, correctly, 2/3 of the time. Is that statistically significant? What about the other subjects in the study? It’s meaningless: it’s an anecdote dressed up as science with some pictures of some measuring equipment.
It will be very interesting if the results of this study overall are positive, and it will be very interesting to try and understand why theirs were positive, given that over thirty other studies were negative. If the Essex results are negative, will Panorama broadcast that too? I’d guess “no”, and here’s just one reason why.
Then they talk about how the Swedish government officially “recognises” electrosensitivity. They praise Sweden for paying for special paint (like that sold by Alasdair at Powerwatch at £50.99 a litre).
But in fact Sweden simply pays disability benefits for some people who believe they have the condition, in a spirit of compassionate pragmatism (and quite right too). They seem to be making a spectacular fuss about some largely administrative differences in the generous Swedish disability benefits system.
Let’s remember that 13% of Sweden’s working age population claim disability benefits, and the Wall Street Journal reported prominently just two weeks ago that they are cutting back, and specifically on payments for electrosensitivity.
I could go on.
Of course you should be vigilant about health risks. I don’t question that there may be some issues worth sober investigation around Wi-Fi safety. But this documentary was the lowest, most misleading scaremongering I have seen in a very long time.
It gets trashed on BBC24 here:
transcript of that program here.
Meanwhile over the past few days badscience.net has been just one small part of the mass destruction in the blogosphere:
To name just a few.
Wi-Fi and RFID Used for Tracking People
Wireless tracking systems could be used to protect patients in hospitals and students on campuses, backers of the technology said.
The combination of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and wi-fi allows real-time tracking of objects or people inside a wireless network.
Angelo Lamme, from Motorola, said tracking students on a campus could help during a fire or an emergency.
"You would know where your people are at any given moment," he said.
Marcus Birkl, head of wireless at Siemens, said location tracking of assets or people was one of the biggest incentives for companies, hospitals and education institutions to roll out wi-fi networks.
Both firms were at The Wireless Event, in London, this week selling new products in the area of so-called real-time location services.
Siemens is pushing a complete system, developed with Finnish firm Ekahau, which can track objects or people.
Battery-powered RFID tags are placed on an asset and they communicate with at least three wireless access points inside the network to triangulate a location.
Mr Birkl said: "The tags have a piece of software on them and they detect the signal strength of different access points.
"This information is sent back to the server and it then models the movement of the tag depending on the shift in signal strength detected."
For the system to work, the building or area that has been deployed with a wireless network needs to have been mapped and calibrated.
To effectively locate objects a wireless access point is needed every 30 metres and Siemens said it was able to pinpoint assets to within a metre of their actual position.
Mr Birkl said: "It's very useful for the health care industry - where there are highly expensive pieces of mobile equipment that move around a hospital.
"At every point in the day health staff need to know where it is."
The system can also be used to track wi-fi equipped devices, such as laptops, tablet PCs and wi-fi enabled phones.
"You can record movements over a period of time. You can see if the security guard in the night makes the right rounds, for example," said Mr Birkl.
He added: "You can set certain boundaries and parameters. If a certain device enters or leaves an area it could trigger an alarm."
As wi-fi becomes more popular in schools, the technology could also be used to track students.
"It has to be aligned with the understanding of the people who are tracked," said Mr Birkl.
There have been privacy concerns expressed in some quarters about RFID tags, especially around the possible use of tags on shopping goods to monitor consumer spending habits.
RFID supporters have pointed out that the tags cannot be read at a great distance, but combining the technology with wi-fi raises the possibility of remote tracking.
Tags on products are typically passive - they have no power source and are only activated when read by a scanner in close proximity. These tags contain only an identifying number and can be small enough to embed in a sheet of paper.
But the tags used in conjunction with a wi-fi network have to be active - they need a power source and have software installed on them that communicates with the wireless access points.
The tags, therefore, are larger in size, and currently are impractical for use on anything other than high value consumer goods or, potentially, on people.
"There needs to be standards put in place so the data is not abused for other purposes," said Mr Birkl.
He added: "But there are clear benefits to keeping people safe."
More than half of respondents to a recent pan-Europe consultation on RFID said regulations were needed to police the use of tags.
New Police 'Spy Drone' Takes to Sky
The UK's first police "spy drone" has taken to the skies.
The remote control helicopter, fitted with CCTV cameras, will be used by officers in Merseyside to track criminals and record anti-social behaviour.
The drone is only a metre wide, weighs less than a bag of sugar, and can record images from a height of 500m.
It was originally used for military reconnaissance but is now being trialled by a mainstream police force.
The spy plane was launched as a senior police officer warned the surveillance society in the UK is eroding civil liberties.
Ian Readhead, deputy chief constable of Hampshire Police, said Britain could face an Orwellian situation with cameras on every street corner.
However, senior officers in Merseyside, who are trialling the drone, said they did not believe it was the next phase in creating a Big Brother society.
Assistant chief constable Simon Byrne said: "People clamour for the feeling of safety which cameras give.
"Obviously there is a point of view that has been expressed but our feedback from the public is anything we can do to fight crime is a good thing.
"There are safeguards in place legally covering the use of CCTV and the higher the level of intrusion, the higher the level of authority needed within the police force to use it. So there is that balance there."
'Super Wardens' Go on Patrol
PRIVATELY-employed `super wardens' are to go on patrol in Greater Manchester wearing head-mounted video cameras.
The 20 parking attendants, who work for NCP Services, will be the first in the country to be issued with the equipment.
Their main role is to issue parking tickets but under legislation brought in last year they will also have powers to give on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour.
Salford council has asked the wardens to issue penalties up to £80 for offences which include littering, flyposting and allowing dogs to foul the pavement. NCP will use the film as evidence to back up their wardens if any fine is challenged and also in the event of any attack or abuse.
In some cases the footage could be handed to police and used in court.
The first wardens fitted with the RoboCop style cameras will go on patrol in Salford from the NCP HQ in Eccles next month.
The use of head-mounted cameras was piloted by British Transport Police in Manchester last year and Greater Manchester Police followed suit seven months ago in Little Hulton, Salford, when two officers began using them on the beat.
Local authorities were given greater powers to tackle anti social behaviour under the 2006 Clean Neighbourhoods Act and Salford is one of the first to take advantage of the legislation.
Coun Derek Antrobus said: "We have 20 parking attendants walking around the city and we decided that they might as well look at more than just cars. One of the biggest issues on people's minds is the disrespect that some are showing to our environment. The police have not got the resources when they are chasing criminals so this makes a lot of sense.
"We will be monitoring it very carefully and hopefully the residents of Salford will notice the difference."
NCP's James Pritchard said: "Salford council is very keen to do this and we told them that we were happy for our parking attendants to get involved but they would need a better way of getting evidence.
"The cameras will give a much better standard of evidence in case of disputes or assaults on the attendants.
"We are more than happy to work with the police and pass on any evidence we gather. It can only help them to have people out on the streets with a camera all the time.
"Our attendants do a very good job but they are not police officers and they have very specific powers. It makes the job more interesting."
Work Bill Would Create New ID Database
The U.S. Congress is poised to create a set of massive new government databases that all employers must use to investigate the immigration status of current and future employees or face stiff penalties.
The so-called Employment Eligibility Verification System would be established as part of a bill that senators began debating on Monday, a procedure that is likely to continue through June and would represent the most extensive rewrite of immigration and visa laws in a generation. Because anyone who fails a database check would be out of a job, the proposed database already has drawn comparisons with the "no-fly list" and is being criticized by civil libertarians and business groups.
All employers--at least 7 million, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--would be required to verify identity documents provided by both existing employees and potential hires, the legislation says. The data, including Social Security numbers, would be provided to Homeland Security, on penalty of perjury, and the government databases would provide a work authorization confirmation within three business days.
There is no privacy requirement that the federal government delete the information after work authorization is given or denied. Employers would be required to keep all the documentation in paper or electronic form for seven years "and make it available for inspection by officers of the Department of Homeland Security" and the Department of Labor. It would also open up the IRS' databases of confidential taxpayer information to Homeland Security and its contractors.
Even parents who hire nannies might be covered. The language in the bill, called the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act (PDF), defines an employer as "any person or entity hiring, recruiting, or referring an individual for employment in the United States" and does not appear to explicitly exempt individuals or small businesses. (Its Senate sponsors did not immediately respond on Monday to queries on this point.)
Backers of the proposal, including the Bush administration and many members of Congress, argue the changes to U.S. law are necessary to combat fraud and to ensure employees are truly eligible to work in the United States. According to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center, about 7.2 million undocumented immigrants were working in the United States as of March 2005.
"This bill brings us closer to an immigration system that enforces our laws and upholds the great American tradition of welcoming those who share our values and our love of freedom," President Bush said in his radio address on Saturday.
But the federal government's hardly stellar track record in keeping its databases accurate and secure is prompting an outcry over the verification system. Opponents argue that errors could unwittingly shut out millions of Americans who are actually eligible to work in the United States.
"All the problems that are attendant to the no-fly list are going to be a problem for a nationwide employment eligibility verification system," said Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "And that's because the government as a rule is terrible about setting up massive data systems and then conditioning peoples' exercises of rights and privileges on the proper functioning of these databases."
Supporters of a federal verification requirement argue that some states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona, already require employers to engage in some sort of verification--but Sparapani says they're far less extensive and intrusive.
One well-known example of buggy federal databases can be found in the no-fly list, which is intended to keep known terrorists off commercial airplanes. But it's flagged many other people, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), for questioning at security checkpoints.
In 1996, Congress enacted a related law colloquially known as the "deadbeat dad database," that required employers to report new hires to the federal government. But unlike the current proposal, the new-hire database did not have the ability to deny employment authorization.
The verification system also would likely create innumerable headaches for employers charged with the task of screening the estimated 146 million Americans in the workforce today.
"It would be one of the most fundamental shifts in employment verification in our generation," said Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs for the Society for Human Resource Management, which has expressed strong reservations about that portion of the bill.
Groups that favor lower immigration levels, however, applaud the measure. Jessica Vaughn, senior policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit think tank, said the system "is an efficient one, it's an effective one, and it's very easy for employers to use, and I think they can pretty quickly get to a point where everyone can use it."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee, said on Monday that the immigration proposal was problematic.
"Like the Real ID Act that was forced on the American people outside the normal legislative process, this requirement is yet another example of the administration's consistent denigration of Americans' rights, including the right to privacy," Leahy said. "From America's country stores to our largest corporations, employers will now be de facto immigration officials, and potential employees will be presumed illegal until they prove themselves citizens."
Support for the bill is broader than the Bush administration, however. Prominent Democrats, including Kennedy and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have endorsed it, with Kennedy calling it a reasonable "compromise." Reid said "we have the opportunity to pass a law that treats people fairly and strengthens our economy."
Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, said he worries that the verification system, or the EEVS, will grow beyond its initial plan.
"The system will migrate to all kinds of new uses," Harper said. "Our pictures will be available for government officials to pull up whenever we deal with them and the federal surveillance infrastructure will grow. Watch for news in a few years of government officials and employers using EEVS to play 'Hot or Not' using drivers license photos."
Hiring or continuing to keep illegal aliens on a company's payroll could carry civil fines for employers ranging from $5,000 to $75,000 per unauthorized employee, and failure to keep the requisite records could carry fines of up to $15,000 per violation. Employers that engage in "a pattern or practice of knowing violations" could receive monetary penalties of up to $75,000 or up to six months in prison.
Another privacy concern, Harper said, is how the proposal opens access to IRS databases. It says that information on "each person who has filed" a tax return after 2005 will be available to Homeland Security and its contractors, who are required to undergo a privacy assessment every three years to ensure that confidential data is not lost, stolen or misused.
"I think it's a horrifyingly bad idea," said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, of the mandatory verification system. "Most people in this country who unlawfully get a job do so through document fraud, which means they get some legitimate data and then they just present it as their own. This system is not going to check that."
The idea of electronically verifying the eligibility of employees to work in the United States is not new, but so far, it has been almost exclusively optional. Some 14,000 U.S. employers--including all Dunkin' Donuts franchises, as highlighted by President Bush last summer--are already enrolled in a voluntary program, called the Employment Eligibility Verification Basic Pilot.
Through that system, employers key data from I-9 employment eligibility forms into an online interface and transmit it to Homeland Security. That department then checks the validity of the person's name, Social Security number, date of birth and citizenship information against Social Security Administration databases and responds, typically within a day or two, with an answer about the applicant's eligibility for work.
Making such a system mandatory is not exactly a new idea. In December 2005, the House of Representatives voted 239-182 for a so-called border security bill that included related--but not identical--requirements for employer verification.
The idea also appeared in the Senate's immigration proposal last year. But a handful of U.S. senators including Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, introduced an amendment, which passed 59-39, that was supported by the ACLU because it would have allowed Americans to sue the government for back pay and attorneys fees if they were wrongfully denied employment through the electronic screening process. The latest bill does not allow such an option.
"We need an electronic verification system that can effectively detect the use of fraudulent documents, significantly reduce the employment of illegal workers, and give employers the confidence that their workforce is legal," Obama said in a statement at the time.
According to a Congressional Budget Office report last year (PDF), similar verification requirements in last year's Senate bill were expected to produce "very few EEVS errors that would lead to compensation for lost wages, particularly for native-born workers." Specifically, the office predicted 10 errors per million inquiries for native-born workers and a 0.4 percent error rate for foreign-born workers, which they estimated would decline to 0.025 percent by 2011 because of "system improvements."
But Sparapani argued that virtually all government databases are "riddled with errors" and predicted inconveniences for workers beholden to the nationwide system would be commonplace, particularly if "they set this thing up and do not build in an instant 24-hour hotline with people at an administrative agency, hiring thousands of (people) to answer phone calls and handle data requests."
A year and a half to comply
The immigration bill currently being debated would effectively make today's voluntary system mandatory and expand it to check birth and death records, Department of State passport and visa records, and state drivers license records. By 2013, if a person wanted to present a drivers license, it would have to be one that complies with the requirements of the controversial Real ID Act. (A valid passport or a combination of vital records documents could generally be substituted.)
The changes would take place through multiple steps. Within 18 months of the bill's enactment, all employers would be required to verify new hires or any existing employees whose documentation had expired. Some industries, such as those that deal with homeland security or contract with the government, would be compelled to participate almost immediately upon the bill's passage.
The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 employers would have to be enrolled in the system each day to get everyone covered during that period, which would likely require huge budget increases and the creation of a new bureaucracy at Homeland Security.
No later than three years after the bill's enactment, all employers would be required to verify the work eligibility of each of their employees--regardless of how long they have been employed--who had not yet been screened.
According to the Government Accountability Office, last year's immigration proposal, which included similar provisions, was estimated to cost $11.7 billion per year. Bush administration officials fielding reporters' questions at a press conference last week weren't able to pin a number to this year's effort.
Another glaring problem, critics say, is that the current screening system has not proven itself resistant to fraud.
Notably, it doesn't have any way of directly determining whether a job applicant has presented an entirely fabricated identity, which is what led to a high-profile flap last year involving illegal workers at six meatpacking facilities operated by Swift & Co.
Raids by Homeland Security Department agents in December resulted in thousands of immigration-related arrests, including charges that hundreds of people had stolen others' identities to secure jobs with the Greeley, Colo.-based company. But as a Swift executive told a House of Representatives committee last month, the company had "played by all the rules," counting itself as one of the few U.S. employers that had used Basic Pilot since 1997, but had concluded as a result of the raids that the system is "fatally flawed."
"As currently structured, Basic Pilot does not detect duplicate active records in its database," John Shandley, the company's senior vice president of human resources, told politicians. "The same Social Security number could be in use at another employer, and potentially multiple employers, across the country."
In a recent statement about the bill, the White House maintained that the proposal will allow for "unprecedented" information sharing among federal and state agencies, and that Homeland Security will be able to receive "information on multiple uses of the same Social Security number by more than one individual."
One provision in the bill calls for the design of the verification system to "allow for auditing use of the system to detect fraud and identify theft," including development of algorithms that "detect potential identity theft, such as multiple uses of the same identifying information or documents."
The expanded, mandatory system would also have to be devised in a way that allows employers to compare the photograph of a person on an identity document presented during the hiring process against digital photographs stored in databases by whoever issued the identity card, such as a motor vehicle employee.
Finally, the bill includes broadly worded provisions that attempt to make the underlying documents less prone to counterfeiting. It calls for the Social Security Administration, for instance, to issue "fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant and wear-resistant" cards and to consider the feasibility of including a photograph and other biometric information as well.
The ACLU's Sparapani argued that the bill's penalties for noncompliance aren't tough enough to discourage unscrupulous employers from continuing to pay undocumented workers under the table. Under the new rules, "the black market economy is likely to grow rather than shrink," he said.
New Software Can Identify You From Your Online Habits
IF YOU thought you could protect your privacy on the web by lying about your personal details, think again. In online communities at least, entering fake details such as a bogus name or age may no longer prevent others from working out exactly who you are.
That is the spectre raised by new research conducted by Microsoft. The computing giant is developing software that could accurately guess your name, age, gender and potentially even your location, by analysing telltale patterns in your web browsing history. But experts say the idea is a clear threat to privacy - and may be illegal in some places.
Previous studies show there are strong correlations between the sites that people visit and their personal characteristics, says software engineer Jian Hu from Microsoft's research lab in Beijing, China. For example, 74 per cent of women seek health and medical information online, while only 58 per cent of men do. And 34 per cent of women surf the internet for information about religion, whereas 25 per cent of men do the same.
While each offers only a fairly crude insight, analytical software could use a vast range of such profiles to perform a probabilistic analysis of a person's browsing history. From that it could make a good guess about their identity, Hu and his colleagues last week told the World Wide Web 2007 conference in Banff, Canada.
Hu's colleague Hua-Jun Zeng says the software could get its raw information from a number of sources, including a new type of "cookie" program that records the pages visited. Alternatively, it could use your PC's own cache of web pages, or proxy servers could maintain records of sites visited. So far it can only guess gender and age with any accuracy, but the team say they expect to be able to "refine the profiles which contain bogus demographic information", and one day predict your occupation, level of qualifications, and perhaps your location. "Because of its hierarchical structure - language, country, region, city - we may need to design algorithms to better discriminate between user locations," Zeng says.
However, Ross Anderson, a computer security engineer at the University of Cambridge, thinks the idea could land Microsoft in legal trouble. "I'd consider it somewhat pernicious if Microsoft were to deploy such software widely," he told New Scientist. "They are arguably committing offences in a number of countries under a number of different laws if they make available software that defeats the security procedures internet users deploy to protect their privacy - from export control laws to anti-hacking laws."
The Visible Man: An FBI Target Puts His Whole Life Online
Hasan Elahi whips out his Samsung Pocket PC phone and shows me how he's keeping himself out of Guantanamo. He swivels the camera lens around and snaps a picture of the Manhattan Starbucks where we're dinking coffee. Then he squints and pecks at the phone's touchscreen. "OK! It's uploading now," says the cheery, 35-year-old artist and Rutgers professor, whose bleached-blond hair complements his fluorescent-green pants. "It'll go public in a few seconds. "Sure enough, a moment later the shot appears on the front page of his Web site, TrackingTransience.net.
There are already tons of pictures there. Elahi will post about a hundred today — the rooms he sat in, the food he ate, the coffees he ordered. Poke around his site and you'll find more than 20,000 images stretching back three years. Elahi has documented nearly every waking hour of his life during that time. He posts copies of every debit card transaction, so you can see what he bought, where, and when. A GPS device in his pocket reports his real-time physical location on a map .
Elahi's site is the perfect alibi. Or an audacious art project. Or both. The Bangladeshi-born American says the US government mistakenly listed him on its terrorist watch list — and once you're on, it's hard to get off. To convince the Feds of his innocence, Elahi has made his life an open book. Whenever they want, officials can go to his site and see where he is and what he's doing. Indeed, his server logs show hits from the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense, and the Executive Office of the President, among others.
The globe-hopping prof says his over exposed life began in 2002, when he stepped off a flight from the Netherlands and was detained at the Detroit airport. He says FBI agents later told him they'd been tipped off that he was hoarding explosives in a Florida storage unit; subsequent lie detector tests convinced them he wasn't their man. But with his frequent travel — Elahi logs more than 70,000 air miles a year exhibiting his art work and attending conferences — he figured it was only a matter of time before he got hauled in again. He might even be shipped off to Gitmo before anyone realized their mistake. The FBI agents had given him their phone number, so he decided to call before each trip; that way, they could alert the field offices. He hasn't been detained since.
So it dawned on him: If being candid about his flights could clear his name, why not be open about everything? "I've discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away," he says, grinning as he sips his venti Black Eye. Elahi relishes upending the received wisdom about surveillance. The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there's a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho. "It's economics," he says. "I flood the market."
Elahi says his students get it immediately. They've grown up spilling their guts online — posting Flickr photo sets and confessing secrets on MySpace. He figures the day is coming when so many people shove so much personal data online that it will put Big Brother out of business.
For now, though, Big Brother is still on the case. At least according to Elahi's server logs. "It's really weird watching the government watch me," he says. But it sure beats Guantanamo.
Report Slams FBI Network Security
FBI network vulnerable to insider attacks, government watchdog group says
The Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s watchdog agency, Thursday released a report critical of the FBI’s internal network, asserting it lacks security controls adequate to thwart an insider attack.
In the report, titled “Information Security: FBI Needs to Address Weaknesses in Critical Network,” the authors -- Gregory Wilshusen, GAO’s director of information security issues, and Chief Technologist Keith Rhodes -- said the FBI lacks adequate network security controls.
The FBI “has an incomplete security plan,” the report concluded.
The bureau, which had the opportunity to review the GAO’s findings before publication, responded that it wasn’t arguing with some of the technical observations expressed in the GAO report, but disagreed that the FBI is open to unacceptable risk of an insider attack.
In a letter of response to the GAO, Dean Hall, the FBI’s deputy CIO, and Zalmal Azni, the FBI’s CIO, noted, “The FBI concurs with many of the GAO’s technical recommendations and the programmatic recommendation to continue the implementation of information security activities in order to fully establish a comprehensive Information Assurance Program.”
Hall and Azni defended the FBI’s risk-management posture, however, emphasizing, “The FBI does not agree that it’s placed sensitive information at an unacceptable risk for unauthorized disclosure, modification or insider threat.”
The GAO, however, stated in the report that an evaluation of the effectiveness of the FBI’s security controls over routers, switches, servers, network management, firewalls and other IT infrastructure at FBI headquarters, revealed the FBI “did not consistently configure network devices and services to prevent unauthorized insider access.”
Among its other findings, the GAO said the FBI did not adequately “identify and authenticate users to prevent unauthorized access.” The GAO report also criticized FBI network security in other regards, saying that there was a lack of encryption to protect sensitive data and patch management wasn’t being done in a timely manner.
The GAO’s analysis of the FBI internal network had been requested by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chair of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congress Discovers Spine, Starts Examining NSA Surveillance
Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, this week announced his intention to hold hearings that will probe the extent of the cooperation between telephone companies and the NSA.
After resistance from the White House last year, the Republican-controlled Congress chose not to examine the issue, but it has been raised once again by a recent Bush administration request for immunity for the phone companies. That retroactive immunity was included in the government's most recent House and Senate funding requests for US intelligence services, and it would grant the telephone companies immunity regardless of the legality of their actions.
Before granting such immunity, though, Reyes is determined to find out exactly what these companies might have done. In a statement issued by the Intelligence Committee, Reyes said, "Before granting immunity for any activities, it will be important to review what those activities were, what was the legal basis for those activities, and what would be the impact of a grant of immunity."
To find out, Reyes plans to hold hearings in June to determine the nature of the NSA's surveillance program and to find out whether it was legal. The hearings will also consider the issue of whether laws need to be changed to allow intelligence agencies to better track terrorist communications.
Reyes says that he "will not prejudge the outcome of these hearings," but the fact that he has serious questions about the retroactive immunity suggests that he won't be easily persuaded to sign off on it. That's good news for organizations like the EFF, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with AT&T over the issue. Even if the administration doesn't get its way in Congress, it will continue to push for the courts to throw out such cases on the grounds that they will expose state secrets. Thus far, though, the combined case against the telephone companies remains alive.
Action Alert: Tell Congress Not to Let Telcos Off the Hook for Illegal Spying
The Bush Administration is pushing legislation that could let telecommunications providers off the hook for illegally assisting the NSA's domestic spying program, and one of your Senators may be on the key committee that can stop it. Use the form below and defend your rights.
In January 2006, EFF filed suit against telco giant AT&T for violating its customers' privacy and helping the NSA spy on millions of Americans' telephone and Internet communications. Congress is now considering a bill proposed by the Administration that could threaten cases like EFF's. That proposal appears intended to not only gut current privacy safeguards but also give blanket immunity to anyone who collaborated with the government's spying.
While no Congressional representatives have sponsored the Administration's proposal so far, we're hearing credible rumors that the proposal may soon be taken up by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Don't let the Administration get away with it.
Keep your call to your member of Congress short and polite. Whether or not he or she agrees with you, what is important is that the staffer knows you are a constituent, and that you want your Senator to oppose the "FISA Modernization" legislation proposed by the Administration:
"Hello, I'm a constituent, and I want to urge my Senator to reject the 'FISA Modernization' proposal drafted by the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice. I oppose the NSA's domestic spying program and demand immediate investigations to help stop this unprecedented violation of Americans' rights and the Constitution. I also oppose any attempt to grant immunity to companies or individuals that helped the program."
Hack My Son's Computer, Please
Can an elderly father give police permission to search a password-protected computer kept in his adult son's bedroom, without probable cause or a warrant? In April, a three judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said yes.
This week, the son's attorney, Melissa Harrison, an assistant federal public defender in Kansas City, will ask the court to reconsider the panel's ruling. At stake is whether law enforcement will have any responsibility to respect passwords and other expressions of user privacy when searching devices which contain the most sensitive kinds of private information.
In United States v. Andrus (.pdf), agents suspected that the defendant was accessing websites containing child pornography, but after eight months of investigation still did not have sufficient probable cause to get a search warrant. Instead, they decided to drop by the defendant's house for an impromptu conversation.
The suspect was not at home. However, his 91-year-old father answered the door in his pajamas, invited the agents in, and eventually gave them permission to enter his son's bedroom and search the hard drive on his son's password-protected computer. The agents used EnCase to perform the search, a common forensic tool programmed to ignore Windows logon passwords. Agents found child pornography on the computer.
Without a judge's permission, the search depended on the father's authority to allow police access to his son's computer. On this point, the fact that the son locked his parents out of the computer with a password is critical.
The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits warrantless searches of an individual's home or possessions. There is an exception to the warrant requirement when someone consents to the search. Consent can be given by the person under investigation, or by a third party with control over or mutual access to the property being searched. Because the Fourth Amendment only prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures," permission given by a third party who lacks the authority to consent will nevertheless legitimize a warrantless search if the consenter has "apparent authority," meaning that the police reasonably believed that the person had actual authority to control or use the property.
Under existing case law, only people with a key to a locked closet have apparent authority to consent to a search of that closet. Similarly, only people with the password to a locked computer have apparent authority to consent to a search of that device. In Andrus, the father did not have the password (or know how to use the computer) but the police say they did not have any reason to suspect this because they did not ask and did not turn the computer on. Then, they used forensic software that automatically bypassed any installed password.
The majority held that the police officers not only weren't obliged to ask whether the father used the computer, they had no obligation to check for a password before performing their forensic search. In dissent, Judge Monroe G. McKay criticized the agents' intentional blindness to the existence of password protection, when physical or digital locks are such a fundamental part of ascertaining whether a consenting person has actual or apparent authority to permit a police search. "(T)he unconstrained ability of law enforcement to use forensic software such at the EnCase program to bypass password protection without first determining whether such passwords have been enabled ... dangerously sidestep(s) the Fourth Amendment."
If the 10th Circuit rehears the case, it will have the opportunity to recalculate the balance between individuals' efforts to protect computer privacy and security, and law enforcement efforts to make searches based on mere hunches without judicial supervision.
In this case, the defendant could not have done much more to keep his computer private, other than tape a piece of paper to the monitor like a teenager might post on the door to his room (Do Not Enter Or Else!!). On the other hand, the officers could have simply asked the father whether he had permission to access his son's computer, switched the computer on to see if there was a password prompt, or used a forensic program that notifies investigators when a machine is password protected. It's as if the police entered the defendant's room with x-ray specs on and searched his bureau, closet and footlocker without needing to even ask his father whether these things were private or shared.
The Supreme Court expressly disavowed this technique in Kyllo v. United States, where it held that "obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical 'intrusion into a constitutionally protected area,' constitutes a search -- at least where ... the technology in question is not in general public use."
If courts are going to treat computers as containers, and if owners must lock containers in order to keep them private from warrantless searches, then police should be required to look for those locks. Password protected computers and locked containers are an inexact analogy, but if that is how courts are going to do it, then its inappropriate to diminish protections for computers simply because law enforcement chooses to use software that turns a blind eye to owners' passwords.
Connecticut Man Charged in Toilet Bombings Gets 5 Years
A Weston man once called one of the Internet’s most notorious pirates of music and movies was sentenced today to five years in prison for plowing up a portable toilet, prosecutors said.
Bruce Forest, 50, was charged last year with a series of toilet explosions in 2005 and 2006. But under a plea agreement, Forest admitted only to blowing up one toilet in Weston in February 2006. No one was injured in any of the blasts.
His defense attorney and his wife said the incident was completely out of character for Forest. They said he had been addicted to painkillers initially taken for migraine headaches caused by a severe fall about 10 years ago. A prescribed drug intended to wean him off the painkillers caused psychotic episodes, they said.
Forest was an Internet pirate in the late 1990s, said J.D. Lasica, a San Francisco writer who dubbed Forest "Prince of the Darknet" in his 2005 book "Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation."
His wife also discounted those claims. She said he actually worked with the federal government to tighten safeguards against piracy.
Prosecutors said Forest began a string of bombings in Weston where he blew up portable toilets in 2005 and 2006. He was also charged in explosions at the former Fitch School in Norwalk and at an abandoned gas station in Weston.
Most of the explosions occurred at night in isolated areas, but the last blast in Norwalk occurred during the day in a heavily populated area, authorities said. The explosives involved a mixture of chemicals, police said. Prosecutors said they were detonated by an assault rifle.
N.J. Sues YouTube over Deadly Crash Footage
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is suing several video sites, including YouTube, for infringing on the copyright of car crash footage recorded on the turnpike.
The footage in question was recorded by a NJTA video camera. The video depicts a car traveling southbound on the New Jersey Turnpike and crashing into the Great Egg Harbor toll plaza on May 10. The driver, a 52-year-old New Jersey resident, was killed.
The NJTA is also suing NextPoint LLC, the owner of video-sharing site break.com. The complaint names UK-based LiveLeak.com as a defendant as well, though according to LiveLeak the NJTA has voluntarily removed them from the lawsuit after they removed the video.
The NJTA is suing for direct copyright infringement by public performance, public display and reproduction, as well as inducement, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.
"The video serves no worthwhile purpose and shows a tremendous lack of common human decency towards the family of the victim," the complaint reads. "Nevertheless, defendants have either refused or failed to remove the video from their Web sites."
According to the complaint, the NJTA requested the video's removal from YouTube upon learning of its existence. YouTube complied, but the video had already been copied by other users and remains on the site.
"YouTube did not try to prevent the very same video from being uploaded again by users immediately after it was purportedly removed," the complaint reads.
A Youtube spokesperson said the company removed the video "because it violated our terms of services. Because our removal also complied with our obligations under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, we see no legal basis for a claim." Last month Google CEO Eric Schmidt said YouTube would soon launch an automated system that would help copyright holders detect and deter abuse.
LiveLeak removed the video after receiving a formal court request, according to co-founder Hayden Hewitt.
Hewitt said the lawsuit is guaranteed to bring more publicity to the video.
"To be honest I think it's kind of a strange situation," he said. "Usually you just file a nice, low level, discrete DMCA takedown...And usually these lawsuits are around entertainment video, where there's a financial stake. I don't understand it."
According to the complaint, the offending video has been viewed 19,833 times on YouTube, 189,037 times on LiveLeak.com and 6,933 times on break.com as of May 21. Less than 24 hours later, on May 22, the videos had been viewed 24,346 times, 213,295 times and 16,812 times, respectively.
The NJTA also is suing unnamed corporations and individuals who may have helped distribute the stolen video.
Why Don't You Pay for Software?
This is a post for the crack 'torrenters, the chronic non-donators and the I'll-stick-with-the- free - alternative'ers in the crowd: we want to hear your thoughts on why you don't pay for software. We aren't talking about those of us who simply can't afford this or that; if you're using iPhoto and can't cover the $300 (or $150 educational) price of Aperture that's one thing. If you're just plain happy with what a free version/alternative does, that's fine too.
We're talking to those of you who download that great piece of donationware that beats the pants off the $40 alternative, but still don't even drop so much as $1 in the PayPal tip jar. We wanted to pop this question because we're seeing better and better software coming from open source, donationware and shareware developers, and yet many of them are still having a hard time making a living doing something they love, which is creating the products we obviously appreciate.
So what's up? Are you surviving on a strict diet of ramen noodles and that discount Brand X version of Mountain Dew, with little room to spend on 1s and 0s? Do you simply not believe in paying for bits and bytes? Or are you just a stickler for anything you can get for free?
We would really like to hear thoughts from the community on why you either chose not to - or simply can't - pay for software.
The Show Will Go On, But the Art Will Be Shielded
You enter through a place that looks like the very last picture show, an old movie theater with soda-stained carpet and a busted popcorn machine. Sleeping bags and clothes are scattered around, as if the theater has served as a shelter from some unnamed danger outside its doors.
Beyond those doors sits a tiny mud-brick house, an eerie replica of the one where Saddam Hussein was living when he was captured in his spider hole. And past that, nearly filling a warehouse the size of a football field, loom dozens more unsettling sights: a wrecked police car, a carnival ride rigged with bomb casings, a dilapidated two-story house, a rusted oil tanker, an interrogation chamber.
If it seems that some sort of disaster has taken place here, it has, at least in the view of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, where the warehouse serves as its biggest exhibition space. The pieces make up an immense art installation that was supposed to open last December, created by Christoph Büchel, a Swiss artist known for building elaborate, politically provocative environments for viewers to wander, and sometimes to crawl, through.
But after work began last fall on this installation, one of his most ambitious, it became increasingly more complex under Mr. Büchel’s direction; the $160,000 budget doubled; and relations between the artist and the museum degenerated into an angry standoff, according to Joseph C. Thompson, the museum’s director. Now, after months of frustration, the museum has decided to take an extraordinary step: On Saturday it will open the doors to the show anyway, without Mr. Büchel’s permission or cooperation.
But there is a catch, one that seems in keeping with the surreal nature of the artwork itself. Because of concerns about legal action by Mr. Büchel, the museum will shield all the huge objects in the warehouse from view with tall plastic tarps, as if Christo and Jeanne-Claude had intervened at the last minute. Viewers will be allowed to wend their way through the cavernous hall but they will have to rely on their imaginations, mostly, to appreciate the show.
The decision is intended as an artistic and provocative solution to a difficult situation, but it is one that the museum wants to be only temporary. Yesterday it filed a request in federal district court in Springfield, Mass., seeking protections that would allow it to open the unfinished show full-on, without wrappers.
Even in the ever more expensive and involved world of huge contemporary installations, such a pitched battle between an artist and a museum is virtually unheard of. Mr. Thompson said he believed his institution, known as MASS MoCA, had not only a right but also an obligation to open the show, given its limited overall budget and the effort it has put into bringing the exhibition as far along as it has come.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to our visitors, to our donors, to the people who have provided resources, to the townspeople who have put in lots of blood, sweat and tears and have donated items,” he said.
Cornelia Providoli, a director of Hauser & Wirth, Mr. Büchel’s gallery in Zurich, said yesterday that Mr. Büchel was working on an exhibition that was about to open in London and was unable to comment, though she said he intended to do so later.
But in messages to Mr. Thompson and to The Boston Globe, which published an article about the standoff in late March, he has accused the museum of mismanaging the project, spending more than necessary on some of the bigger pieces, like the two-story house.
“The institution proved not to be capable — neither logistically, neither schedule- nor budget-wise — to manage the project,” he said in a statement to The Globe.
A list of demands Mr. Büchel sent to the museum after he left Massachusetts said, in part, “The artist will not accept any orders and any more pressure or compromises as to how things have to be done from the museum director or museum’s technicians.”
“The artist demands full autonomy with regard to his artwork,” he wrote.
Donn Zaretsky, a lawyer representing Mr. Büchel, contends that MASS MoCA never had a written agreement with his client about the project. Mr. Thompson said yesterday that the museum did have had a basic written agreement with Mr. Büchel, in the form of a letter and follow-up e-mail messages, that set a budget for the project and a timeline for opening it. Mr. Thompson said the agreement did not specify individual objects that would be acquired for the exhibition.
Mr. Büchel contends that during the course of the work, the museum began to “treat the project as though it was the artist’s wish list for Christmas, eliminating necessary and key elements” that had been agreed upon earlier. He says that in its current state it is only half completed.
Mr. Thompson denies Mr. Büchel’s assertions and says that the museum tried very hard, within the budget, to provide everything it was asked for.
Yesterday Mr. Zaretsky denounced the museum’s actions. “To me, this is an unheard of, unprecedented act, for a fine-art museum to go to court to try to show an artist’s work in an unfinished state,” he said.
Called “Training Ground for Democracy,” the installation is intended to draw a viewer into a Grand Guignol maze in which artifacts of everyday Western culture — a movie theater, a home, a voting booth — are jammed together with scenes that seem to have been airlifted from a land of perpetual war and paranoia. In a recent walk through the space, the big elements, like the houses and the tanker truck, were striking.
Mr. Büchel was also concerned with the appearance of even the smallest detail, like a soiled rag hanging near a jail-cell sink or a dusty bag of sunflower seeds atop a television set. As the project grew, the museum says, this kind of obsessiveness began to have its costs. Even by the time the show should have opened, it had run well over budget, including $100,000 alone for the installation of the two-story house, which had to be cut into pieces and reassembled.
The museum bought a second mobile home for the space after Mr. Büchel disapproved of the first one; it reassembled the complete interior of a defunct movie theater, including the wallpaper and carefully numbered ceiling tiles; and it decontaminated the oil tanker, which had once been filled with No. 6 fuel oil.
The museum’s overall visual arts budget is about $800,000 a year, including staff salaries, so “you can imagine what this has done to our budget,” Mr. Thompson said of the show’s price tag, now more than $300,000, none of which was publicly financed.
Mr. Büchel has not worked on the show since early last December, when he returned to Europe to attend to other projects and left behind a list of additional objects that he wanted the museum to find. The list included one item that Mr. Thompson described as a final straw: the fuselage from a large jetliner, like a 767, that Mr. Büchel wanted to be burned and bomb-damaged and then hung from the ceiling.
“That’s when I began to put on the brakes on the project,” Mr. Thompson said in a recent interview at the museum, adding that he and others there had grown “to suspect that there might not ever be an end” to Mr. Büchel’s vision for the space.
“We had clearly bent over backwards and done everything we could do to get all these major elements in place,” Mr. Thompson said, “but at some point the realities of our budget, resources and staff imposed themselves.”
The show that is to open on Saturday will be titled “Made at MASS MoCA.” In addition to the shrouded objects, it will display some installation photographs of them, along with images from other large, complex installations it has done, involving artists like Gregory Crewdson, Cai Guo-Qiang and Ann Hamilton.
The intention, Mr. Thompson said, is to show the public how MASS MoCA works with artists, often in highly collaborative and risky exhibitions. “When you experiment seriously, and at a scale which is our habit, the results can be unexpected,” he said. “Not everything works.”
Some people in the art world have suggested to him that Mr. Büchel might have purposely forced the exhibition to grind to a halt as the final act of the work itself — a literal demonstration of the kind of futility and absurdity that he seeks to communicate in the exhibition, with war, religion and the news media as his motifs.
It would not be the first time that Mr. Büchel has used his work to tweak the art establishment. In 2002 he sold his invitation to participate in Manifesta, an international art exhibition in Frankfurt, for $15,000 in an e-Bay auction to allow the winner to take his place.
Mr. Thompson said he had no way to know whether Mr. Büchel’s actions might be part of an elaborate art stunt. “At times it’s certainly felt that way to me,” he said.
“Made at MASS MoCA” will continue into the fall — a closing date has not been set — at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 87 Marshall Street, North Adams, Mass.; (413) 664-4481, www.massmoca.org.
Until next week,
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