|02-01-08, 09:35 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - January 5th, 2008
"Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies. However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process." – Attorney General Hardy Myers, D-Oregon
"People get pushed into [RIAA] settlements. The Oregon attorney general is showing what a real fight among equals would look like." – Fred von Lohmann
"We cannot allow the media and marketing industries to construct a childhood that is all screens, all the time." – Susan Linn
"Sony’s PSP is doing great. The [Nintendo] DS is just doing better." – Michael Pachter
January 5th, 2008
Is 2008 to be RIAA’s Death Knell?
I realize lots of folks have been predicting the imminent demise of the RIAA and the music industry since the inception of Napster and yet both are still here and still treating legitimate customers as criminals - or at least as potential criminals. Sure individuals have tried to fight the RIAA’s questionable lawsuits and SWAT like tactics but there has yet to be a smack down of any substance to put them in their place.
With the latest tactic by the RIAA to target universities, colleges and the students at these bastions of higher education they have tried everything from manipulating Congress into creating laws forcing educational institutions to play along with the RIAA or have funding cut to threatening wholesale lawsuits against students.
Well while Congress might be waffling on helping out the RIAA because after all they don’t want to endanger their own cash flow it maybe the students themselves that will be the harbingers of the end to the RIAA threats and possibly setting legal precedents along the way.
According to a post on p2pnet.net a small university legal clinic in Maine are taking up the fight in lawsuits being brought against fellow students. Under guidance from the clinic director and University of Maine associate professor Deirdre Smith law students Hannah Ames and Lisa Chmelecki are representing the students being sued.
If successful this move by the legal clinic could pave the way for other university law students to fight back against these actions by the RIAA providing both protection for their students, a low cost method for the universities to get out from under the RIAA threats and provide the students with some real world heavy weight legal experience.
Now if you think that these law students might not be up to the legal shenanigans that can go on the real world this is what Ray Beckerman; the lawyer behind Recording Industry vs The People, said to p2pnet.net:
RIAA's Sherman Speaks (Un)Believable 'Catch 22'
Don't believe Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, when he told a National Public Radio audience that Sony BMG's anti-piracy chief had misspoken during her testimony in the copyright infringement trial against Jammie Thomas.
And if Sherman was telling the truth during that NPR interview, Thomas was the victim of a miscarriage of justice -- despite the mountain of evidence against her.
Here's the skinny:
In October, a Minnesota federal jury found Thomas liable for copyright infringement and dinged her $222,000 for unlawfully sharing 24 songs on the Kazaa file-sharing network in what was and still is the nation's first and only RIAA case against an individual to go to trial. Most of the RIAA's 20,000 or more lawsuits have settled out of court.
During Thomas' trial in Duluth, RIAA attorney Richard Gabriel asked Sony's Jennifer Pariser if it was OK for a consumer to make one copy of a track that was legally purchased. No, she replied, saying that's "a nice way of saying, steals just one copy."
On Thursday, while debating a Washington Post reporter, Sherman told an NPR audience that Pariser "actually misspoke in that trial."
"I know because I asked her after stories started appearing. It turns out that she had misheard the question. She thought that this was a question about illegal downloading when it was actually a question about ripping CDs," Sherman said. "That is not the position of Sony BMG. That is not the position of that spokesperson. That is not the position of the industry."
One of the reasons jurors dinged Thomas was because she forked over to RIAA investigators a different hard drive than the one industry snoops detected her using on Kazaa in 2005. On the hard drive she did turn over were thousands of songs Thomas said she ripped from her CDs.
The RIAA's Gabriel suggested to jurors that copying one's purchased music was a violation of the Copyright Act.
Gabriel, for example, asked Thomas whether she had ever burned CDs, either for herself, or to give away to friends.
"Did you get permission from the copyright owners to do that?" Gabriel asked.
"No," Thomas responded.
Gabriel, the RIAA's lead attorney, apparently misspoke too -- prejudicing jurors along the way.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis is weighing a motion from Thomas to lower the award or grant a new trial. She claims the Copyright Act, and the maximum $150,000 fine for each violation, is unconstitutionally excessive. THREAT LEVEL wonders what are the odds the RIAA would file papers with Davis explaining the misstatements?
UPDATE: RIAA spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said in an e-mail message that Pariser "was quoted out of context and believed the question referred to downloads, not physical copies." THREAT LEVEL rests its case.
Antitrust Lawsuit Charges Apple With Monopolizing Online Music
The complaint takes issue with Apple's refusal to support the Windows Media Audio format.
An antitrust lawsuit filed against Apple on Dec. 31 charges the company with maintaining an illegal monopoly on the digital music market.
Plaintiff Stacie Somers, represented by attorneys Craig Briskin and Steven Skalet of Mehri & Skalet PLLC, Alreen Haeggquist of Haeggquist Law Group, and Helen Zeldes, alleges that Apple dominates the market for online video, online music, and digital music players and that its dominance constitutes a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The attorneys are seeking to have their lawsuit certified as a class action.
"Apple has engaged in tying and monopolizing behavior, placing unneeded and unjustifiable technological restrictions on its most popular products in an effort to restrict consumer choice, and to restrain what little remains of its competition in the digital music markets," the complaint states. "Apple's CEO Steve Jobs had himself compared Apple's digital music dominance to Microsoft's personal computer operating system dominance, calling Apple's Music Store 'the Microsoft of music stores' in a meeting with financial analysts."
After years of government scrutiny, Microsoft was found to be exercising illegal monopoly power in late 1999. Some of its obligations under the settlement the company reached with the Department of Justice have expired; others remain.
The complaint against Apple claims that the company controls 75% of the online video market, 83% of the online music market, more than 90% of the hard-drive based music player market, and 70% of the Flash-based music player market.
A spokesperson for Apple said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
The complaint takes issue with Apple's refusal to support the Windows Media Audio format. "Apple's iPod is alone among mass-market Digital Music Players in not supporting the WMA format," it states, noting that America Online, Wal-Mart, Napster, MusicMatch, Best Buy, Yahoo Music, FYE Download Zone, and Virgin Digital all support protected WMA files.
This is based on the proposition that music companies "are generally unwilling to license their music for online sale except in protected formats." Such assertions look increasingly tenuous as unprotected music becomes more widely available through legitimate channels. Amazon.com, for example, claims to offer "Earth's biggest selection of a la carte DRM-free MP3 music downloads with more than 2.9 million songs from over 33,000 record labels." A week ago, Amazon said that Warner Music Group would make its artists' songs available in the unprotected MP3 format. EMI last year also began offering unprotected music online. And that's to say nothing of Web sites like Amie Street that have been offering unprotected music from independent artists for even longer.
Apple, for its part, might reasonably claim it doesn't want to license WMA from Microsoft, a cost the complaint speculates is unlikely to exceed $800,000, or 3 cents per iPod sold in 2005.
But the complaint goes beyond software licensing politics and charges Apple with deliberately designing its iPod hardware to be incompatible with WMA. One of the third-party components in iPods, the Portal Player System-On-A-Chip, supports WMA, according to the complaint. "Apple, however, deliberately designed the iPod's software so that it would only play a single protected digital format, Apple's FairPlay-modified AAC format," the complaint states. "Deliberately disabling a desirable feature of a computer product is known as 'crippling' a product, and software that does this is known as 'crippleware.' "
Attorneys for the plaintiff did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The filing claims that the SigmalTel STMP3550 chip in Apple's iPod Shuffles also supports WMA but that "Apple's crippleware operating system software prevents the iPod Shuffle from playing WMA files."
As for the injury to consumers, the complaint says that Apple's pricing is "monopolistic, excessive, and arbitrary," citing how a wholesale $5.52 price difference between 1-Gbyte ($4.15) and 4-Gbyte ($9.67) NAND flash memory modules results in a $100 retail price difference between 1-Gbyte iPod Nano and a 4-Gbyte Nano.
To buttress its antitrust claims under U.S. law, the complaint points to the fact that European antitrust authorities have taken issue with the way Apple operates its iPod and iTunes Music Store ecosystem.
University of South Florida - Letter to Students Regarding File Sharing.
I have a couple of friends who attend the University of South Florida... and they forwarded this email to me this morning:
[quote]From: USF CTO
Subject: RE: File Sharing at USF
Monitoring Usage of Filesharing Software on Campus
"As you are aware, universities around the country including USF have been struggling with the issue of illegal file-sharing and Peer to Peer (P2P) traffic on their network. We're faced with a dilemma: we want to allow students to do their work and to use the wealth of resources available through the Internet, but at the same time we can't support copyright infringement. It's the responsibility of those using the USF network to adjust their own behavior and avoid illegal sharing of copyrighted material. It's also the university's responsibility to help protect the system from illegal file-sharing.
Effective this month, Academic Computing will begin to more proactively monitor the network for the use of P2P software, such as Limewire, Bittorent, eMule, and others. Students found using such software will be redirected to a website which will inform them of the issues involved with using P2P software associated with the distribution of copyrighted music and videos. The student will be asked to acknowledge that their existing use of the software neither violates the University's Acceptable Use Policy and Code of Conduct, nor utilize the software in a manner which violates copyright laws. They will, additionally, be advised that violation of the University's Acceptable Use Policy would be cause for loss of on campus network privileges, in addition to other legal ramifications.
Should the student not acknowledge the agreement, access to the network will be denied. If the student using the P2P program agrees, he or she regains access to the network to continue their legal use of the P2P. This agreement would be valid for one month and the student will be required to re-acknowledge the Acceptable Use Policy each month that they utilize P2P software.
Subsequently, if the University receives any notice of copyright infringement violation due to the illegally sharing of copyrighted material, in accordance with University Policy, the student's network access will be suspended immediately and the case forwarded to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities for further penalties. The University of South Florida is committed to the education of the students and the protection of the intellectual rights of the copyright holder.[quote]
It appears that USF is more interested in covering itself then it is in defending the rights and privacy of it's students. Any thoughts?
In the Fight Over Piracy, a Rare Stand for Privacy
The record industry got a surprise when it subpoenaed the University of Oregon in September, asking it to identify 17 students who had made available songs from Journey, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sting and Madonna on a file-sharing network.
The surprise was not that 20-year-olds listen to Sting. It was that the university fought back.
Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices. Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.”
No one should shed tears for people who steal music and have to face the consequences. But it is nonetheless heartening to see a university decline to become the industry’s police officer and instead to defend the privacy of its students.
The recording industry may not be selling as much music these days, but it has built a pretty impressive and innovative litigation subsidiary.
In the past four years, record companies have sued tens of thousands of people for violating the copyright laws by sharing music on the Internet. The people it sues tend to settle, paying the industry a few thousand dollars rather than risking a potentially ruinous judgment by fighting in court.
“People get pushed into settlements,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group. “The Oregon attorney general is showing what a real fight among equals would look like.”
In his filings, Mr. Myers claimed to be looking for a middle ground.
“Certainly it is appropriate for victims of copyright infringement to lawfully pursue statutory remedies,” Mr. Myers wrote last month. “However, that pursuit must be tempered by basic notions of privacy and due process.”
“The larger issue,” Mr. Myers said, “is whether plaintiffs’ investigative and litigation strategies are appropriate.”
Mr. Myers questioned the tactics of MediaSentry, an investigative company hired by the recording industry. He said the company seemed to use data mining techniques to obtain “private, confidential information unrelated to copyright infringement.” He added that it may have violated an Oregon criminal law requiring investigators to be licensed.
A spokeswoman for MediaSentry said it collected only information that users of peer-to-peer networks make available to anyone who cared to look. She had no comment on the licensing law.
The record companies, in an apoplectic response in court, accused the university of having “a political agenda.” They said that it was protecting people who had broken the law and that it was not entitled to raise privacy and due process arguments on behalf of its students.
“Hundreds of universities and dozens of commercial Internet service providers have responded to the exact same subpoenas,” the record companies’ lawyers wrote.
James Gibson, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Mr. Myers’s arguments had been raised in other cases and had met with little success. Still, Professor Gibson said, “it’s significant that a public university and its state apparatus is standing up to the R.I.A.A.”
Mr. Sherman, of the recording industry association, predicted that Mr. Myers’s motion would fail and said the industry’s litigation strategy had worked well.
“The litigation program, as controversial as it is often written up to be, has been very successful in transforming public awareness,” Mr. Sherman said. “Everybody used to think this was legal. Now everybody knows it’s illegal.”
Indeed, the program seems to be expanding, and universities are being asked to play an even bigger role. In February, the association started asking universities to identify students suspected of file sharing and to pass along “prelitigation letters” to them. The association says it has provided some 4,000 such letters to more than 150 colleges and universities. The letters offer the students what they call bargain settlements of about $3,000 if they act fast, by punching in a credit card number at www.p2plawsuits.com.
“The ‘reduced’ settlement amount, in other words, represents the record companies’ savings from cutting out the middleman — our justice system,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a recent report.
The universities are under no legal obligation to pass the letters along, but most do. Those that don’t typically receive subpoenas like the one issued to the University of Oregon.
At least one other public university in Oregon has cooperated with the industry. In 2004, Portland State responded to a record industry subpoena by blandly and efficiently providing the names, addresses, phone numbers and goofy e-mail addresses of two roommates. The university said it could not say which student’s computer was involved, so it fingered both of them.
“We definitely felt betrayed,” said Karen Conway, the mother of one of the roommates. “They readily turned over private information without notifying us. They placed responding to a legal subpoena far above a student’s right to privacy.”
Though her daughter Delaney was blameless, the record companies’ lawyers demanded $4,500. It was, Ms. Conway said, “basically extortion,” and the family was forced to hire a lawyer. The case against Delaney Conway was eventually dropped. Her roommate settled.
Mr. Sherman said the University of Oregon should disclose what it knew and let the legal system sort out the rest. “It’s no different than us subpoenaing Verizon,” he said.
But an institution of higher education has different aspirations and obligations than an Internet service provider, which is why Portland State’s actions are so unsettling. The University of Oregon’s efforts may be doomed, but there is something bracing about them nonetheless.
All the university is saying, after all, is that the record industry must make its case in court before the university will point a finger at one of its own.
Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use
Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.
Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.
Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.
The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.
"I couldn't believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. "The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation."
RIAA's hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: "If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages."
They're not kidding. In October, after a trial in Minnesota -- the first time the industry has made its case before a federal jury -- Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay $220,000 to the big record companies. That's $9,250 for each of 24 songs she was accused of sharing online.
Whether customers may copy their CDs onto their computers -- an act at the very heart of the digital revolution -- has a murky legal foundation, the RIAA argues. The industry's own Web site says that making a personal copy of a CD that you bought legitimately may not be a legal right, but it "won't usually raise concerns," as long as you don't give away the music or lend it to anyone.
Of course, that's exactly what millions of people do every day. In a Los Angeles Times poll, 69 percent of teenagers surveyed said they thought it was legal to copy a CD they own and give it to a friend. The RIAA cites a study that found that more than half of current college students download music and movies illegally.
The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.
But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.
As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don't usually kill off old media: That's the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.
The RIAA's legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed. Four years of a failed strategy has only "created a whole market of people who specifically look to buy independent goods so as not to deal with the big record companies," Beckerman says. "Every problem they're trying to solve is worse now than when they started."
The industry "will continue to bring lawsuits" against those who "ignore years of warnings," RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said in a statement. "It's not our first choice, but it's a necessary part of the equation. There are consequences for breaking the law." And, perhaps, for firing up your computer.
The Shrinking Market Is Changing the Face of Hip-Hop
UNTIL a few weeks ago it seemed like one of the few happy stories to emerge from an otherwise difficult year in hip-hop. UGK, the Port Arthur, Tex., duo that influenced a generation of Southern rappers, returned after a five-year hiatus. They came back bearing a sublime single, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You).” And they came back bearing a great double album, “Underground Kingz” (Jive/Zomba), which made its debut atop Billboard’s album chart.
Then, on Dec. 4, the news arrived: Pimp C — the duo’s flamboyant half, a slick drawler and an even slicker producer — had been found dead in his hotel room. His bereaved musical partner, Bun B, gave a handful of eloquent interviews, trying to explain what he had lost, what fans had lost.
“I appreciate the concern,” he told Vibe. “But I wouldn’t ask anyone to stop their life, because Pimp would’ve wanted us all to keep grinding.”
If you’re looking for a two-word motto for hip-hop in 2007, you could do worse than that: “Keep grinding.” This was the year when the gleaming hip-hop machine — the one that minted a long string of big-name stars, from Snoop Dogg to OutKast — finally broke down, leaving rappers no alternative but to work harder, and for fewer rewards. Newcomers arrived with big singles and bigger hopes, only to fall off the charts after selling a few hundred thousand copies, if that. Hip-pop hybrids dominated the radio, but rappers themselves seemed like underground figures, for the first time in nearly two decades.
Sales are down all over, but hip-hop has been hit particularly hard. Rap sales slid fell 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and that trend seems to be continuing. It’s the inevitable aftermath, perhaps, of the genre’s vertiginous rise in the 1990s, during which a series of breakout stars — Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. — figured out that they could sell millions without shaving off their rough edges. By 1997 the ubiquity of Puff Daddy helped cement hip-hop’s new image: the rapper as tycoon. Like all pop-music trends, like all economic booms, this one couldn’t last.
This was a bad year for hip-hop sales, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad year for the genre. The scrappy New York independent Koch flourished, releasing a couple of great CDs by major-label refugees: “Return of the Mac,” by Prodigy from Mobb Deep, and “Walkin’ Bank Roll,” by Project Pat. (Koch also released “We the Best,” a sanctioned mixtape by DJ Khaled that produced a couple of hip-hop hits, and “The Brick: Bodega Chronicles,” the well-received debut album from Joell Ortiz.)
And then there is Turf Talk, a loudmouthed upstart from Vallejo, Calif., who made arguably the year’s most exciting hip-hop album, “West Coast Vaccine (The Cure).” It came out through Sick Wid’ It Records, which is run by his cousin, the rapper E-40. (The album was released through a distribution deal with Navarre, which sold its music distribution business to Koch in May.) And despite Turf Talk’s flamboyant rhymes, the album has pretty much remained a secret. Without a national radio hit or even a proper music video, Turf Talk has promoted the CD mainly through West Coast regional shows, from San Diego to Tacoma, Wash.
Reached by telephone at his home in Concord, Calif., Turf Talk tried to put the best spin on a mixed-up year. “The independent game is starting to shine again,” he said. But when pressed, he said he would love to cross over to the mainstream, speaking in the third person: “Turf Talk wants to be known all across the world.”
A few years ago that might have seemed like a reasonable goal, and an attainable one. During the boom the industry was flooded with scowling optimists: small-time hustlers with dreams of big-time success. And some dreams came true. In 1998 Juvenile went from a New Orleans secret to a pop radio staple, selling five million copies of “400 Degreez”; two years later, Nelly came from nowhere (actually St. Louis) to sell six million copies of “Country Grammar.” Overall CD sales peaked in 2000, and by then even second-tier major-label rappers were routinely earning gold plaques for shipping half a million CDs.
Because hip-hop is so intensely self-aware, and self-reflexive, it came to be known as big-money music, a genre obsessed with its own success. If we are now entering an age of diminished commercial expectations, that will inevitably change how hip-hop sounds too.
How bad are the numbers? Well, no rapper was more diminished by 2007 than 50 Cent, who challenged Kanye West to a sales battle and lost. His solid but not thrilling recent album, “Curtis” (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope), has sold about 1.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan; considering that he’s supposed to be the genre’s biggest star, that’s a disaster. (His 2005 album, “The Massacre,” sold more than five million.) In fact “Curtis” has sold about the same as T. I.’s “T. I. vs. T. I. P.” (Atlantic), the underwhelming and underperforming follow-up to his great 2006 album, “King,” which sold about 1.6 million.
This year veterans like Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan also returned, pleasing old fans but not, for the most part, making new ones. And Lil Wayne released another slew of great mixtapes — available for free download, not for sale. Meanwhile Mr. West’s “Graduation” (Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam), which stands at 1.8 million sold and counting, is the only hip-hop album of the year that really seems like a hit, although he loves to portray himself as outside the hip-hop mainstream. Only one problem: After a year when the hitmaker Fabolous and the bohemian Common sold about equally, as did the BET favorite Yung Joc and the indie-rap alumnus Talib Kweli, it’s not clear that there’s still a hip-hop mainstream to be outside.
And eager newcomers discovered that the definition of success has changed. Rich Boy, Shop Boyz, Plies, Hurricane Chris and Soulja Boy Tell’em all released major-label debuts, buoyed by big, lovable hits: “Throw Some D’s,” “Party Like a Rockstar,” “Shawty,” “A Bay Bay” and “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” But of those only Soulja Boy has managed to sell half a million CDs. Hurricane Chris’s disappointing CD, “51/50 Ratchet” (Polo Grounds/J Records), has sold only about 80,000 copies. To a major label that number is almost indistinguishable from zero. (Despite the hit the No. 1 chart debut and the half-decade of anticipation, UGK’s triumphant double album hasn’t reached the half-million mark either.)
Hip-hop has always had a complicated relationship with full-length albums. They’re both too long (for impatient hit lovers) and too short (for ephemera- obsessed mixtape listeners). And even though the South has been hip-hop’s most fertile region since the 1990s, the industry, based in New York and Los Angeles, harbors a lingering anti-Southern bias. Southern rappers are often viewed as one-hit wonders, and that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the time Rich Boy, from Mobile, Ala., tried to drum up interest in his excellent fourth single, “Let’s Get This Paper,” it seemed everybody had already moved on.
At least independent-label rappers have no one to blame. Turf Talk knew from the start that he would have to fight for his album, which he released in June. “I had a lot of hopes for ‘West Coast Vaccine,’ that’s why I’m still pushing it now,” he said, adding that he was finalizing plans for a video. The song he chose was “Popo’s,” a sleek and infectious collaboration with E-40, who adds a memorable touch: a thunderous “Oooh!” In his mesmerizing verses, Turf Talk raps about selling drugs and avoiding the police. His breathless rhymes — “I’m tryna stack every dollar,” he pants — evoke not a kingpin’s confidence but a survivor’s tenacity.
It’s easy to romanticize Turf Talk’s grass-roots approach: his do-it-yourself video shoot, his evident pride in how much he has accomplished on his own, his commitment to the family business. But for him the promise of exposure and the long shot at stardom are too tempting to reject.
“I love the independent money,” he said. “I’m living good, I drive nice cars. But right now, if you asked me, I’d say, ‘Turf Talk wants to go major.’ Because you can always come back to independent.”
That’s what Prodigy discovered. Last year his duo, Mobb Deep, flopped with “Blood Money,” a misconceived CD on 50 Cent’s label, G Unit, an Interscope imprint. This year he went independent for “Return of the Mac,” a hallucinogenic, willfully obscure solo album that evokes the grimy old New York, and the grimy old Prodigy too. (It sold about 130,000 copies.) He has a new album scheduled for next year, though he pleaded guilty in October to gun possession and was sentenced to three and a half years. His new single, “ABC’s,” begins with a halfway defensive boast: “It don’t matter who poppin’ for the moment/P is forever.” If you’re not making hits, why not claim to be making history?
Like Prodigy, Project Pat is a major-label refugee. He emerged from Memphis in the late ’90s and swiftly took advantage of the hip-hop boom. “Chickenhead,” his memorable but medium-sized hit (it peaked at No. 24 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart), helped his 2001 major-label album, “Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin,” sell nearly 1.1 million copies. (Five years ago, in other words, Project Pat sold about as well as 50 Cent sells today.)
After a prison sentence and an underperforming major-label comeback, Project Pat made his Koch debut with “Walkin’ Bank Roll.” The boast in the title track is a defiant (and typically absurd) response to his diminished commercial success: “I’m a walkin’ bank roll/You can rubber-band me,” he keeps shouting, and his glee is infectious. It’s a weird, funny little album; though it has sold only about 40,000 copies, it feels triumphant.
Is it possible to hear a shrug over the phone? Project Pat, when asked about his newfound independence, seemed profoundly unimpressed. “It’s the same old, same old,” he shouted, over the roar of a Mortal Kombat game, though he conceded, “People say they liked it better.” He said he was planning his next album and gearing up for more live dates, which are crucial for independent acts. “Alaska — yessirrr, Anchorage,” he said, sounding a bit like the eccentric rapper from the CDs. “They asked for me per-son-al-ly.”
Under-the-radar releases, weird tour schedules, modest sales figures: none of this is new. The success of Southern hip-hop in the last decade was built on a foundation of independent and independent-minded rappers, many of whom worked with the scrappy regional distributor Southwest Wholesale, which is now closed, like many of the little shops it used to serve. In an earlier era these regional scenes were farm teams for the industry, grooming the top players and then sending them up to the big leagues. But what if there are no big leagues anymore? What if there’s no major label willing or able to help Turf Talk get his platinum plaque? Would his next album sound as brash? Will his musical descendants be as motivated? The mainstream hip-hop industry relies on a thriving underground, but isn’t the reverse also true?
Eventually, a (new?) group of executives will find a business model that doesn’t depend on shiny plastic discs, or digital tracks bundled together to approximate them. But for now the major league is starting to look a lot like the minor one. And in ways good and bad and utterly unpredictable, rappers may have to reconsider their place in the universe, and their audience. Some will redouble their commitment to nonsense, like Project Pat. Some will wallow in their misery, like Prodigy. Some will merely revel in their own loudmouthiness, like Turf Talk, hoping someone will pay attention. But if sales keep falling, more and more rappers will have to face the fact that they aren’t addressing a crowd, just a sliver of one.
On Oct. 14, less than two months before Pimp C’s death, there was another death in the Houston hip-hop family. His name was Big Moe, and he died of a heart attack. He was a much more local figure than Pimp C: a crooner turned rapper and an associate of DJ Screw, who popularized the art of remixing records by slowing them down. (DJ Screw died in 2000.) Big Moe’s best tracks are sublime and disorienting. His was a huge, wobbly sing- rapping voice, often paired with slowed-down drums and lyrics extolling the pleasures of cough syrup.
Big Moe eventually got himself a deal, but his odd and entertaining 2002 major- label debut, “Purple World” (Priority/Capitol), quickly disappeared, and soon he was back to independent releases. It’s no slight to his legacy to say that when news of his death arrived in October, even most hip-hop fans didn’t know who he was. That’s all right. Music that seems lost — there’s a head-spinning selection on “Big Moe Classics Volume One” (Wreckshop) — will be found, over and over again. And after this dispiriting year, it’s not hard to admire Big Moe’s little career. He made secrets, not hits, but so what? He kept grinding.
Beatles for Sale: Rappers, Brands Turn to Fab Four
Susan Butler and Paul Sexton
It's perfectly legal, but it will still seem to some listeners like the sound of someone making off with England's crown jewels.
On rap collective Wu-Tang Clan's new single "The Heart Gently Weeps," a Santana-style rock guitar opening gives way to an almost celestial chorus of something very familiar. There, and throughout the track, is the unmistakable melody of George Harrison's timeless contribution to the Beatles' "White Album" from 1968: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Now, the track is accompanied by Wu-Tang's trademark, uncompromising language, rapping out a gritty street story, even as Harrison's son Dhani plays along.
Meanwhile on the just-finished "Judas," Ja Rule is introducing the rap community to another incongruous musical motif. This is no unthinking appropriation of a classic act's creativity, as has sometimes been the case in rap. As he works at folding the original flavor into the hook of this midtempo treatise on "love, hate, jealousy and betrayal," he's doing so with the help of "Eleanor Rigby."
Forty years and more after the Beatles changed rock music forever, their songs have truly arrived in the 21st century as part of the rap/hip-hop art form -- with the express permission of their publishers. Although there are hundreds of covers of "Yesterday," "Something" and the rest, this approach of "interpolation" -- essentially rerecording a portion of a song -- of the Beatles' compositions represents new access to the most famous catalogue in the world. These developments may ultimately signal a fresh attitude toward Beatles masters appearing in everything from commercials to movies.
Can't Buy Me Love
But don't expect to hear samples of the Beatles' original recordings, which remain strictly under lock and key, for now at least. Instead Sony/ATV, which owns all but a handful of the Lennon/McCartney copyrights, is allowing a select few to license some celebrated compositions and reference them in their own, newly recorded material.
The first lucky participants in these interpolations are acts from the arena of hip-hop and rap, with Ja Rule joining Common -- who used "She's Leaving Home" on "Forever Begins" from his current album "Finding Forever" -- and Jay-Z, who commandeered "I Will" on "Encore" from his 2003 "The Black Album" and "Numb/Encore" on his 2004 collaboration "Collision Curse" with Linkin Park. Meanwhile, Wu-Tang licensed rights from Harrisongs, George Harrison's publisher, for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Ja Rule's "Eleanor Rigby"-appropriating "Judas" will appear on his next album, "The Mirror," due in the first quarter, while the Wu's Harrison-referencing "The Heart Gently Weeps" is the first single from its new album "8 Diagrams," which came out December 11. The song features a re-created backing track plus electric guitar by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante as well as acoustic contributions from Dhani Harrison.
Sony/ATV chief executive Martin Bandier says he's very much in favor of licensing Beatles songs for things that haven't been licensed in the past -- under certain circumstances. Jay-Z, Common and Ja Rule received Sony/ATV's blessing because "they're prominent and well-regarded," Bandier says, but the way the song is used must also be acceptable.
"If Jay-Z interpolates a Beatles song and his album sells 2 million units, it doesn't change the economic structure" of the license deal, Bandier says. "It's wonderful to have that income, but we're more concerned about the possible repercussions of a bad message and something that we might not find tasteful."
The ever-sensitive nature of the Beatles' copyrights is reflected by the reluctance of several key players to participate in this story. Paul McCartney, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Jones (who became Apple Corps' new CEO in April) and EMI Music U.K. and Ireland chairman/CEO Tony Wadsworth were either "unavailable" or declined to comment.
In fact, Sony/ATV is not contractually required to obtain approval by John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, or by McCartney before it can license the compositions, but Bandier says he believes there is a "moral obligation" to speak with them about licensing the songs. In the internecine history of the Beatles' publishing, Lennon and McCartney effectively lost control of the group's song rights even while the group was still a recording entity, in 1969.
That was when Northern Songs, the company established six years earlier solely to publish their joint compositions by English publisher Dick James and Beatles manager Brian Epstein, was sold to British media tycoon Lew Grade's ATV Music. Ownership of ATV subsequently passed to Australian entrepreneur Robert Holmes a Court and then, in 1985, to Michael Jackson.
In 1995, Sony came into the picture, forming a joint venture with trusts formed by Jackson, creating a new entity: Sony/ATV Music Publishing. That publishing company includes the Northern Songs catalogue that contains 259 copyrights by Lennon and McCartney. These songs essentially represent everything recorded under the Beatles name by Lennon and McCartney, except for five songs: their first two U.K. singles, "Love Me Do"/"P.S. I Love You" and "Please Please Me"/"Ask Me Why," and "Penny Lane," "gifted" by Jackson to Holmes a Court under a specific provision of Jackson's purchase of the ATV catalogue.
The Long And Winding Road
When it comes to the Beatles' original studio recordings, controlled by EMI-Capitol Records, permission is another matter. After Nike used the Beatles' original of "Revolution" in 1987 for its "Revolution in Motion" TV commercial campaign (in a licensing deal worth $250,000 to the label, according to Nike at the time), Apple Corps and Apple Records sued Nike, its advertising agency and EMI-Capitol for $15 million.
Paul Russell, former chairman of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, recalls, "Once Sony/ATV was formed, any requests for those songs came to Sony/ATV and not to Michael Jackson.
"(When) those requests came in, serious requests for serious money, for products that we knew were noncontentious, they would come to me and we would form a view, and then we'd go to Michael, even though he didn't have the right to approve it, and say, 'We've received this request, we think it's the right price and an OK use, what do you think?' If somebody had come back to us, either Michael or the Apple people, and said, 'We really don't want you to do this,' we probably wouldn't have done it."
According to a 1988 New York Times report, Apple's attorney Leonard Marks said that "Ono and the (then) three surviving Beatles each own 25% of Apple and that the company required 'unanimity among the four Beatles' interests in order to act.'"
In 1989, it was announced that the dispute had been resolved, in a formal statement that all outstanding lawsuits between the Beatles/Apple and EMI-Capitol-- some of them dating back 20 years -- had been settled. The parties agreed that no further Beatles recordings would be licensed for commercial use, although the Nike commercial can now be seen on YouTube.
Brian Southall, author of "Northern Songs: The True Story of the Beatles' Publishing Empire," published in August in the United States by Omnibus Press, says, "There aren't a lot of Lennon/McCartney songs that appear in adverts since the Nike ad. And you'll never, ever find the Beatles singing as a background to a TV commercial. You could take a song and get it recorded by 'A. N. Other.' But Michael (Jackson)'s attitude in the early days was, 'These are the greatest songs ever recorded, and they ain't gonna end up on a cornflakes ad.'"
Nevertheless, Ono was quoted by Time magazine at the time as saying the "Revolution" commercial was "making John's music accessible to a new generation." That's exactly how Bandier feels today about actively promoting the Beatles via licensing, and others agree that current commercial realities make the eventual appearance of their original recordings in commercials and films much more likely.
The type of licensing that's been the most contentious for music purists is for commercials. But a license for a Lennon/McCartney song -- albeit in a cover version -- not only drives revenue for the advertiser, publisher and writers, it can convey a message in the most powerful way.
Rob Kaplan, director of music production for New York-based advertising agency Mcgarrybowen, has been involved with three commercials using Lennon/McCartney songs licensed from Sony/ATV. In 1998, Europe-based Philips Consumer Electronics had very little brand recognition in the United States, Kaplan says. It was using the tag line, "Let's make things better," and wanted an anthemic song to unify its products and create a corporate identity.
"They needed something that was a big statement, that could cut across generations, was instantly recognizable but also kind of cool and clever," Kaplan says. Since the Beatles recording wasn't available, they had Gomez, then an emerging English band signed to Virgin, record the chorus to "Getting Better," the last seven seconds of which played at the end of every Philips commercial for about three years.
"We literally got thousands of requests from consumers wanting to know where to buy the song," Kaplan says.
Mcgarrybowen subsequently licensed Rufus Wainwright's recording of "Across the Universe" for Canon digital cameras in 2004, as well as a version of "All You Need Is Love" for Chase Bank's 2006 campaign for rewards programs and customized credit cards with partners including Marriott Hotels, Disney and Borders Books & Music.
"What makes a Beatles song special in advertising is that it's one of the few things that you know everybody is going to 'get,' no matter what," Kaplan says. "The lyrics are really clear. There are very few things that cut across every demographic imaginable and are still special. The Beatles really are. There's no comparison."
Such campaigns are even rarer in the Beatles' homeland but in 2000, U.K. bank Halifax used a cover of "Help!" in a six-month TV campaign.
"To get something as anthemic as 'Help!' was a massive coup," recalls Tim Male, the company's head of advertising and media. "We were very surprised when we got it, on the basis that artists like that aren't interested, or the process or cost of doing it makes it prohibitive.
"The thought of a Beatles track being used in anything is abhorrent to certain people," Male adds, "and you've got to be mindful of that."
All You Need Is ... Luvs?
Sony/ATV U.K. says that no applications for British commercial licenses of Beatles songs are in the works, and that the company will take its lead on potential recorded interpolations from the U.S. company. A London representative for Universal Music Publishing Group, which administers "Please Please Me" and "Ask Me Why," says, "We're very selective over any requests and uses of the songs. We would consider commercials if appropriate."
Bandier notes that the publisher's decision to grant a license for a Beatles song can be informed by whether it will take the composition to a new audience. Hence Luvs Diapers' current campaign, which proclaims, "All You Need Is Luvs."
"The thought and the song were ideal for morning TV, when young mothers are watching," Bandier says, adding that the commercial was being aired to young parents who may not know the song or have a sense of the theme. "We thought it was very tasteful."
Since Bandier joined Sony/ATV in March after leaving EMI Music Publishing -- which holds rights in Lennon's solo compositions -- he has strived to ensure that these classic songs reach the next generation of listeners in a myriad of ways, not just from their parents talking about them.
Seemingly the most successful venture to date is the Las Vegas show "Love," a joint production of Cirque du Soleil and Apple Corps using the original Beatles recordings, remixed by George Martin and son Giles. Since the show opened in June 2006, it has drawn more than 600,000 spectators and generated music publishing fees nearing $500,000 per month, according to a source close to the show. Worldwide sales of the accompanying "Love" album, released this time last year, stand at 5 million units, according to EMI in London.
Elsewhere, Beatles lyrics are appearing on clothing, after Sony/ATV sealed a deal with Lyric Culture authorizing use of the lyrics on jeans, T-shirts and other items. The publisher is negotiating other merchandising deals.
On the big screen, Julie Taymor's "Across the Universe" -- with a plot based on the Beatles songbook and a soundtrack featuring cover versions of Beatles classics -- was released this fall. It grossed about $24 million in the United States and Canada. (The soundtrack album also just received a Grammy Award nomination for best compilation soundtrack album for motion picture, television or other visual media.)
On TV, a special edition of NBC's "The Singing Bee" was recently dedicated to Lennon and McCartney, while the sixth season's final episode of "American Idol" was a Lennon, McCartney and the Beatles special, with the contestants all singing Beatles songs.
"In all of the years that 'American Idol' has been around, there's never been a Lennon and McCartney song performed on that show," Bandier says. "I thought it was preposterous. We were missing an audience of tens of millions of people.
"It's important that the world knows this music," Bandier adds. "It just can't be hidden forever, otherwise you're going to miss generations of music listeners."
A Film Year Full of Escapism, Flat in Attendance
Despite a modest increase in 2007 box office receipts, moviedom is trudging into January with a droop in its shoulders.
Ticket sales at North American movie theaters totaled $9.7 billion, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to Media by Numbers, a box office tracking company. But attendance was flat, after a narrow increase in 2006 and three previous years of sharp declines. Movie fans bought about 1.42 billion tickets last year, according to Media by Numbers. The high watermark of the last 10 years came in 2002, when moviegoers bought about 1.61 billion tickets.
The results last year were largely driven by expensive sequels like “Spider-Man 3” (the top-grossing film) and “Shrek the Third” (the runner-up), although a handful of expert marketing campaigns turned some oddball entries like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” into bona fide hits. One surefire franchise was born to Paramount and DreamWorks in “Transformers” (which placed third).
Nine of the Top 10 grossing films were science fiction, fantasy or animation. The sole exception (unless you count the mock-historical “300”) was Universal’s action thriller “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which placed sixth with $227 million in domestic ticket sales.
As the movie industry turns its attention to 2008, the dark “No Country for Old Men” is showing box office legs, and one film in particular is already shaping up as a home run. Early results for “Juno,” about a quirky teenager who becomes pregnant, have outpaced those for the indie hits “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
“The critical acclaim and award recognition have magnified the movie,” said Peter Rice, the president of Fox Searchlight, which is distributing “Juno.”
But box office results are always a game of glass half-full and glass half-empty, and the half-empties this time seem more prominent.
DVD sales continue to slump both domestically and abroad. The private money that has washed over Hollywood in recent years is starting to slow, investment bankers say, as more hedge funds go home with little to show. And movie executives are worried about the impending collision between striking screenwriters and the important awards shows.
The strike, now in its ninth week with no new talks scheduled, is starting to weigh more heavily on the movie business over all. Until now, the damage has been mostly confined to television, which operates with a shorter production pipeline. But as the strike drags on, movie executives — and their corporate bosses — are starting to worry about having enough time to put together their mega-movie slates for summer 2009.
At the box office the happy surprises of 2007 were almost all confined to escapist offerings like “The Game Plan,” a Walt Disney release about an N.F.L. quarterback and his young daughter, or sophomoric comedies like “Superbad,” a Sony release from the producer Judd Apatow.
But studios have instead churned out gloomy message movies, and more are on the way, noted Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Media by Numbers.
“There were some great films, but the appetite wasn’t there,” he said. Movies rooted in the Iraq war or terrorism — “In the Valley of Elah,” “Rendition,” “Redacted” — particularly struggled. A glut of serious-minded awards hopefuls canceled one another out. Signs of trouble lurked even during the blockbuster-packed summer, in which ticket sales surpassed the $4 billion mark for the first time. Sequels, with the notable exception of “Bourne,” the third in a series, were generally not well reviewed and sold fewer tickets than their second or first installments.
“Shrek the Third,” “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” all marked low points for these franchises at the domestic box office when ticket sales are adjusted for inflation, according to Box Office Mojo, another tracking service.
(The studios note that more than half of the ticket sales for each of those titles came from overseas. While there are no reliable independent data for overseas ticket sales, entertainment trade publications estimate that foreign receipts for the six biggest studios increased 9 percent in 2007 over a year earlier, to $9.4 billion.)
Stars did not seem to interest moviegoers, with marquee names playing to empty seats. Angelina Jolie flopped with “A Mighty Heart,” about the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Nicole Kidman’s career grew chillier with the North American collapse of “The Golden Compass.” Among the men, Tom Cruise struggled to avoid blame for a dead-on-arrival “Lions for Lambs,” and Brad Pitt drew shrugs for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
One big exception: Will Smith cemented his status as a top box office draw — and perhaps the biggest star in the business today — with robust results for “I am Legend,” a Warner Brothers release about a man wandering a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. The picture has sold $195 million in tickets since its Dec. 14 opening, with another $61.3 million coming from overseas, according to Box Office Mojo.
(Denzel Washington also gets credit for helping to turn Universal’s “American Gangster” into a $184 million hit, although he appears to be having a harder time with the just-opened “Great Debaters.”)
Of course results vary by studio, and some are entering 2008 on a high note. Walt Disney, for instance, has played the game better than most.
“Ratatouille” overcame early skepticism about its rat-in-the-kitchen subject to become both a global blockbuster and a critical darling. “Enchanted,” about an animated princess who comes to life, continues to chug away in theaters, and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a slam dunk. That action film, starring Nicolas Cage, sold $124 million in tickets domestically in its first 10 days of release, according to Box Office Mojo.
Mark Zoradi, president of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, cited a recent decision to focus more intently on the company’s brand as a catalyst for its performance. “The Disney name continues to be enormously successful with audiences,” he said.
Twentieth Century Fox appears to be able to sell just about anything. That studio has set the standard for effective Internet marketing by coming up with ways for fans to personalize messages. “The Simpsons Movie,” with its $526 million in total ticket sales around the world, benefited from Simpsonize Me, a Web promotion (simpsonizeme.com) that allowed visitors to animate pictures of themselves. Fox used a similar promotion to fuel “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
Judge Will Not Dismiss Evidence in Private Investigator's Hollywood Wiretapping Case
A federal judge refused to suppress evidence in a government case that accused a Hollywood private investigator of illegally wiretapping stars.
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer issued six separate rulings on Friday that went against private eye Anthony Pellicano and five co-defendants, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
Pellicano is in federal custody pending trial. An indictment accused him of tapping phones and bribing police to get information on celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone and comedian Garry Shandling.
Pellicano and the other defendants have pleaded not guilty to wiretapping and conspiracy.
The motions sought to suppress evidence the defense argued was mishandled or obtained through government misconduct. That included recordings of Pellicano's telephone conversations that were seized in a search of his Sunset Strip offices four years ago.
One of the motions sought to have the entire criminal indictment dismissed.
"We are extremely pleased with the court's ruling," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
"This investigation was conducted well within the confines of the law ... the investigators demonstrated the highest degree of integrity," he said.
Attorneys for Pellicano declined to comment on the rulings after the hearing.
An attorney for co-defendant Terry Christensen said an appeal will be considered.
"At the very least, we thought we were entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine the seriousness of the government mistakes in this case," attorney Terree Bowers said.
World's Smallest Projector Set for Launch
The world's smallest business and personal projector could arrive in stores later this year.
Just 12 months after demonstrating a working prototype of the world's smallest projector, Redmond, Wash.-based Microvision is unveiling a fully functioning, self-contained prototype that should be available as a real product—possibly from Motorola—later this year.
Dubbed SHOW, the lensless PicoP projector is designed for home and business use, and uses tiny lasers to shoot a WVGA (848 by 480, roughly DVD resolution) image on virtually any surface that isn't a dark color or textured. It can even project onto curved and uneven surfaces. From a distance of two feet, it could project a two-foot diagonal, full-color image on a white T-shirt. From five feet away, it could show a five-foot image on, say, a white wall or ceiling.
"It's a great for-use mode when it comes to spontaneously sharing content with your friends," said Russell Hannigan, Microvision's Director of Product Management for Consumer Projection Displays.
And while last year's prototype relied on some peripheral technology outside the handheld-size projector, SHOW needs no external parts. It includes a rechargeable battery and can charge and power via USB cable, as well.
Hannigan explained that SHOW is plug and play and should work with any video-out capable devices, including laptops, the iPod touch, and some phones.
SHOW is even something of a green product. Hannigan noted that its three colored lasers turn on only when needed. So unlike the powerful lamps in standard business projectors which are always on during operation, SHOW doesn't need a fan to keep the PicoP-based projector cool. Also, the lack of a physical lens allows Microvision to make SHOW as thin or thinner than your standard cell phone. The rechargeable battery on the prototype lasts about an hour and a half, but Hannigan expects the final product's battery to last almost twice as long. Shipping SHOW projectors could sell for between $200 and $300.
Netflix Partners With LG to Bring Movies Straight to TV
Netflix, the DVD-by-mail company with more than seven million customers, has a new strategy that may one day make those red envelopes obsolete.
The company wants to strike deals with electronics companies that will let it send movies straight to TV screens over the Internet. Its first partnership, announced Wednesday night, is with the South Korean manufacturer LG Electronics to stream movies and other programming to LG’s high-definition televisions.
The partnership will extend a novel feature from Netflix, announced a year ago, that allows paying subscribers to watch any of 6,000 movies and television shows on its Web site free. But that service can be accessed only with a personal computer.
Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, said he hoped to strike other such deals and that Netflix would soon be viewed as a movie channel that might appear on myriad devices.
“We want to be integrated on every Internet-connected device, game system, high-definition DVD player and dedicated Internet set-top box,” he said. “Eventually, as TVs have wireless connectivity built into them, we’ll integrate right into the television.”
The move could help transform Netflix from a successful company with a cumbersome dependence on physical media and the Postal Service into an important player in a rapidly emerging digital media landscape.
That landscape has recently been characterized by a frenzy of experimentation, as technology and media companies try to figure out how to bring the unlimited media choices of the Internet to the traditionally restricted confines of the television.
The players include cable, satellite and telephone companies. Newer entrants include Amazon.com, which lets customers buy movies over its Unbox service and download them to their TiVo boxes. Wal-Mart, which experimented with movie downloads on its Web site, pulled the plug on the service last month when Hewlett-Packard, its partner in the project, stopped supporting the technology.
Then there is the digital media heavyweight Apple. At the annual Macworld expo opening on Jan. 15, the company plans to announce a deal to allow users of its iTunes service to rent films from some Hollywood studios and watch them on their computers and iPods.
Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group, a market research firm, said Netflix’s model had the virtue of being free to existing subscribers and relatively easy for consumers to understand. “You’re already a subscriber and you don’t pay anything extra. That’s called a slam dunk in most businesses we follow,” Mr. Doherty said.
The companies said LG products with Netflix’s movie service would begin shipping in the second half of this year. They did not say which devices would have it.
Mr. Doherty, who was briefed on the Netflix announcement and LG’s other plans to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, said LG could integrate the Netflix service into a future version of its dual-mode HD DVD/Blu-ray DVD player, which now sells for $799, and a new line of high-definition TVs with wireless connections to the Internet, among other products.
Mr. Hastings said the new service would combine the benefits of an Internet browser with the luxury of watching movies and TV shows on large, high-definition TV screens. He said subscribers would be able to go to the Netflix Web site to create lists of movies they wanted to see. The Netflix service on the TV would offer a simple way to watch those movies.
“We think we have solved the real fundamental problem, which has been that choosing movies on a television has been extremely challenging,” Mr. Hastings said. “Video-on-demand companies worked at it for a long time, but choosing movies on the TV just doesn’t have the power of the Web.”
The Netflix streams will not initially be in high definition, and there are some limits to how many programs customers can watch. For example, customers who pay Netflix’s most popular $17-a-month rate are entitled to watch up to 17 movies on their PC, though a spokesman said the company had been experimenting with unlimited digital viewing.
Netflix says it is able to offer the online service free to subscribers because when customers watch online, the company does not have to spend the money to mail them a DVD.
The deal with LG is something of a strategy shift for Netflix. The company had been experimenting with building its own Netflix-brand set-top box. Last spring, to help create the device, the company hired Anthony Wood, the founder of ReplayTV and a pioneer of the digital video recorder.
But Mr. Hastings said that integrating Netflix into other companies’ devices made more sense. He said Mr. Wood would soon leave Netflix to return to another company he founded, Roku.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch, said the move was a wise one. “Software and services companies that get into hardware and try to sell hardware usually don’t end up doing particularly well,” he said.
Mr. Hastings said that the company’s new digital effort did not augur the end of its valuable DVD-by-mail business, which helped the company earn around $1.2 billion in 2007. “If anything, we are going to see some extra life and growth in DVD rental,” he said. “This doesn’t reflect a view that DVD rental is going to shrink any time soon.”
Bad COPP No Netflix
When In Doubt Blame Microsoft
Even though I'm an HDTV fanatic, it wasn't until this past weekend, that I finally made the jump to an HD monitor. While I don't have HDTV tuners on my Media Center, I do have an HD camcorder and it was important for me to be able to edit my high resolution videos.
After doing a little bit of research, I decided to pick up a SyncMasterTM 226BW from Samsung. Between the new monitor and my ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT video card, the resolution looks absolutely stunning. Even my home movies look fantastic in HDTV. I really couldn't have been happier with the upgrade.
Unfortunately, Hollywood isn't quite as thrilled about my new HD Media Dream Machine and they've decided to punish me by revoking my Watch Now privileges from Netflix.
I first found out about the problem on New Year's Eve, when I went to log into my account. When I tried to launch a streaming movie, I was greeted with an error message asking me to "reset" my DRM. Luckily, Netflix's help page on the topic included a link to a DRM reset utility, but when I went to install the program, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this warning.
The minute I saw"this will potentially remove playback licenses from your computer, including those from companies other than Netflix or Microsoft" I knew better than to hit continue. Before nuking my entire digital library, I decided to call Netflix's technical support, to see if I could get to the bottom of my C00D11B1 error message.
When I called them they confirmed my worst fears. In order to access the Watch Now service, I had to give Microsoft's DRM sniffing program access to all of the files on my hard drive. If the software found any non-Netflix video files, it would revoke my rights to the content and invalidate the DRM. This means that I would lose all the movies that I've purchased from Amazon's Unbox, just to troubleshoot the issue.
Technically, there is a way to back up the licenses before doing a DRM reset, but it's a pretty complex process, even by my standards. When I asked Netflix for more details, they referred me to Amazon for assistance.
Perhaps even worse than having to choose between having access to Netflix or giving up my Unbox movies was the realization that my real problems were actually tied to the shiny new monitor that I've already grown fond of.
Netflix's software allows them to look at the video card, cables and the monitor that you are using and when they checked mine out, it was apparently a little too high def to pass their DRM filters.
Because my computer allows me to send an unrestricted HDTV feed to my monitor, Hollywood has decided to revoke my ability to stream 480 resolution video files from Netflix. In order to fix my problem, Netflix recommended that I downgrade to a lower res VGA setup.
As part of their agreement with Hollywood, Netflix uses a program called COPP (Certified Output Protection Protocal). COPP is made by Microsoft and the protocol restricts how you are able to transfer digital files off of your PC. When I ran COPP to identify the error on my machine, it gave me an ominous warning that "the exclusive semaphere is owned by another process."
My Netflix technician told me that he had never heard of this particular error and thought that it was unique to my setup. When I consulted Microsoft, they suggested that I consult the creator of the program. Since Microsoft wrote the COPP software, I wasn't sure who to turn to after that.
The irony in all of this, is that the DRM that Hollywood is so much in love with, is really only harming their paying customers. When you do a DRM reset, it's not your pirated files that get revoked, it's the ones that you already paid for that are at risk. I'm not allowed to watch low res Netflix files, even though I have the capability to download high def torrents? How does this even make sense? It's as if the studios want their digital strategies to fail.
While I understand the need for the studios to protect their content, I believe that these measures go too far. It makes little sense to block my ability to copy low res internet movies, when I can always rip the DVD straight from my Netflix discs instead. By blocking access to my Netflix membership, Hollywood is once again punishing their customers by pushing defective DRM.
Look, when the shit comes down I'm gonna be prepared and you're not - that's all I'm saying.
Top 10 Most Popular Torrent Sites of 2007
2007 is almost over so it’s time to make a list of the Top 10 “public” BitTorrent sites getting the most traffic this year. Mininova is out in the lead followed by IsoHunt and The Pirate Bay. TorrentSpy, the most popular BitTorrent site last year, has dropped down to 6th place.
The list is based on Alexa’s traffic rank, and this data was backed up by reports from quantified sites on quantcast and traffic reports from some of the site admins.
Here is the list, as of December 29, public BitTorrent sites only.
Without a doubt the most visited BitTorrent site. In November, Mininova reached a milestone by entering the list of the 50 most visited websites on the Internet.
Alexa rank: 46
IsoHunt continued to grow this year. In September they were forced to close their trackers to US traffic because of the issues they have with the MPAA, but this had no effect on the visitor count.
Alexa rank: 143
3. The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay has been in the news quite a bit this year and remains not only the most used BitTorrent tracker, but also one of the most visited BitTorrent sites. At the moment they are fighting with IsoHunt for the second place in this list.
Alexa rank: 147
Torrentz is the only “torrent site” in the top 10 that doesn’t host .torrent files. Several improvements and new features have been introduced over the past year such as a comment system, private bookmarks and a cleaner layout.
Alexa rank: 160
BTjunkie was one of the fastest risers last year and continued to grow throughout 2007. Last month they were, like many others, forced to leave their ISP (LeaseWeb), but the transition to a new host went smoothly and didn’t result in any downtime.
Alexa rank: 445
TorrentSpy was the most popular BitTorrent site of 2006, but dropped to sixth place due to legal issues with the MPAA. To ensure the privacy of their users, TorrentSpy decided that it was best to block access to all users from the US, causing their traffic to plunge.
Alexa rank: 461
Not much news about TorrentPortal this year, but that probably is a good thing. Like most other sites they have grown quite a bit in 2007.
Alexa rank: 481
It’s quite a surprise to see GamesTorrents in the list of 10 most popular BitTorrent sites of 2007. This Spanish BitTorrent site had a huge dip in traffic earlier this year but managed to secure 8th place.
Alexa rank: 583
TorrentReactor.net has been around for quite a while, four years to be exact, and is still growing.
Alexa rank: 604
BTmon was one of the newcomers in 2006, and it is the youngest BitTorrent site in the top 10 this year.
Alexa rank: 673
Honorable Mention: Demonoid
For being one of the most visited BitTorrent sites until they pulled the plug in November.
Top 5 Newcomers
SumoTorrent launched this April and quickly became one of the more popular BitTorrent sites.
Alexa rank: 1021
SeedPeer launched in September and is formerly known as Meganova.
Alexa rank: 2924
A BitTorrent meta-search engine, launched in January.
Alexa rank: 2987
Launched a year ago, it got a serious traffic boost when it was indexed by Torrentz.com.
Alexa rank: 5304
BitTorrent.am is also indexed by Torrentz.com, and was launched early 2007.
Alexa rank: 6903
Note: Alexa’s data gathering is not perfect. The exact figures may be not be completely accurate, but it is a great tool (especially the traffic rank) to compare sites within the same niche and to get a global impression of traffic shifts over time.
YouTube Videos of the Year - Most Memorable Weren't the Most Viewed
Like everyone else YouTube has an end of the year list, but there's something a little strange about all the media coverage today on the "top YouTube videos of 2007." These aren't the most viewed videos of the year. They are YouTube's selection of the "most memorable."
The most popular videos on YouTube this year were a bunch of major label music videos - not the user generated content the site would like to be known for. Ultimately there's plenty of room for both, but let's get our story straight.
The most viewed video on YouTube this year was Avril Lavigne's Girlfriend, an examination of predatory female adolescent heterosexuality. Embedding is turned off for Girlfriend, but below (in a single playlist) are all of the videos on YouTube's Most Memorable List that can be embedded, followed by the videos that were most viewed this year. You can also check out ReadWriteWeb's commentary in August of the Top 10 YouTube Videos of All Time.
Both lists are fun to watch - even if the mega-classic Shoes was somehow not included on either. (I mean, "these lists SUCK.") I suppose to be fair, Shoes was a 2006er - as was Dick in a Box, but do any of the videos below come close to the awesomeness of either of those videos?
Noontime Web Video Revitalizes Lunch at the Desk
In cubicles across the country, lunchtime has become the new prime time, as workers click aside their spreadsheets to watch videos on YouTube, news highlights on CNN.com or other Web offerings.
The trend — part of a broader phenomenon known as video snacking — is turning into a growth business for news and media companies, which are feeding the lunch crowd more fresh content.
In some offices, workers coordinate their midday Web-watching schedules, the better to shout out punch lines to one another across rows of desks. Some people gravitate to sites where they can reliably find Webcasts of a certain length — say, a three-minute political wrap-up — to minimize both their mouse clicks and the sandwich crumbs that wind up in the keyboard.
“Go take a walk around your office” at lunchtime, said Alan Wurtzel, head of research for NBC. “Out of 20 people, I’m going to guarantee that 5 are going to be on some sort of site that is not work-related.”
The midday spike in Web traffic is not a new phenomenon, but media companies have started responding in a meaningful way over the last year. They are creating new shows, timing the posts to coincide with hunger pangs. And they are rejiggering the way they sell advertising online, recognizing that noontime programs can command a premium.
In 2007, a growing number of local television stations, including WNCN in Raleigh, N.C., and WCMH in Columbus, Ohio, began producing noon programming exclusively for the Web. Among newspapers, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., and The Ventura County Star in California started posting videos at lunchtime that have young journalists as hosts and are meant to appeal to 18- to 34-year-old audiences.
The trend has swept across large as well as small independent sites. Yahoo’s daily best-of-the-Web segment, called The 9 and sponsored by Pepsi, is produced every morning in time for lunch. At MyDamnChannel.com, a showcase for offbeat videos, programmers have been instructed to promote new videos around noon, right when the two-hour traffic spike starts.
“Based on the traffic I’m seeing,” said Miguel Monteverde, executive director of AOL Video, “our nation’s productivity is in question.”
From an apartment in Greenwich Village, Rob Millis and Will Coghlan are hosts and producers of a three-minute daily Webcast, Political Lunch, done around 10 a.m., followed by an hour and a half of editing, in time for uploading just before noon. Political Lunch, which was introduced in September and appears on several Web sites, is viewed 10,000 to 20,000 times a week, with a peak in traffic from 1 to 3 p.m.
“It’s an Internet version of appointment viewing,” Mr. Millis said.
One man who takes his midday video schedule seriously is Jason Spitz, a merchandise manager for a major record label in Los Angeles. He trades links to videos with his friends all day — usually low-budget sketch comedy bits from FunnyOrDie.com or CollegeHumor.com — and stockpiles them to watch during lunch breaks. He and his colleagues like to look at the same videos at the same time from their separate desks, turning the routine into a communal activity.
“The clips are shorter than a full 30-minute TV show, so we can cram several small bites of entertainment into one lunch break,” Mr. Spitz said. “The funniest moments usually become inside jokes among my co-workers.”
Noah Lehmann-Haupt, the founder of an upscale car rental company in New York, said that video snacking on short clips is “a good excuse to stay at my desk during lunch, which I prefer since it keeps the momentum of the day going.” He often watches segments from “The Daily Show,” now that Comedy Central has put eight years’ worth of episodes online for free viewing.
Plus, the format leaves both hands free to consume the day’s takeout meal. “I can’t exactly surf while eating, and it’s healthy to step away from e-mails and work for a few minutes a day,” he said.
Some content plays better over lunch. CNN.com, which draws an average of 69 million video plays each month, tends to promote lighter videos in the middle of the day. (“Cloned cats glow in the dark” and “Bulldog straps on skateboard” were among the most popular on a recent weekday.)
At NBC.com and other network Web sites, shorter videos draw more lunchtime traffic than longer ones, which are more often downloaded at night. For that reason, sites like NBC.com emphasize short-form highlights during the day and entire half-hour or hourlong shows in the evening.
From an advertiser’s perspective, the Web is a more flexible medium than television, because technology makes it easy to monitor people’s behavior and adjust programming accordingly. Better still, marketers have found that consumers are up to 30 percent more likely to make a purchase after viewing an advertisement at lunchtime than at other times of the day.
“Not only is advertising volume and Internet use increasing during the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. time period, but people are actually buying and purchasing and reacting to advertising,” said Young-Bean Song, vice president for analytics at Atlas Solutions, a unit of Microsoft that helps companies with digital marketing campaigns.
Sticking to a set schedule turns out to be almost as important on the Web as it is on television. At blip.TV, a video-sharing site, Mike Hudack, the chief executive, encourages his producers to post videos at the same time each day or week.
“Continuity and consistency is incredibly important,” Mr. Hudack said.
“If you want to attract a loyal audience, you have to give them what they expect when they expect it.”
TorChat a Anonymous Instant Messenger
Posted by toni66
TorChat is a peer to peer instant messenger with a completely decentralized design, built on top of Tor's location hidden services, giving you extremely strong anonymity while being very easy to use without the need to install or configure anything.
TorChat just runs from an USB drive on any Windows PC. (It can run on Linux and Mac too, in fact it was developed on Linux with cross platform usability in mind from the very first moment on, but the installation on other platforms than Windows is a bit more complicated at the moment)
Tor location hidden services basically means:
* Nobody will be able to find out where you are.
* If they are already observing you and sniff your internet connection they will not be able to find out
o what you send or receice
o to whom you are sending or receiving from
o where your contacts are located
There basically is no need for any installation or configuration. It just runs out of the box, all batteries are included. Download and unzip the complete archive to somewhere on your harddisk or USB-Drive. The program is inside the folder "bin". Just doubleclick the blue earth symbol named "torchat" or "torchat.exe" and you are done.
You will also need python2.5, python-wxgtk2.8 (aka wxPython) and Tor. Download and unzip the archive. Configure a Tor hidden service pointing to localhost port 11009 and start Tor. Edit TorIM.py and change OWN_HOSTNAME to the .onion name of your hidden service. (only the 16 characters without the ".onion"). If you have Tor running on a separate machine, configure the other settings in TorIM.py accordingly. Start torchat.py
It doesn't work?
Please let me know about every unexpected behaviour, I need your feedback! There have been a few versions which under certain circumstances didn't work at all. At the moment I upload a new version every few days and with every version it is becoming more stable and robust. You can also always try the latest version from SVN, they usually work because i try to avoid committing totally broken revisions.
This is how it should look like:
You will see a window with your contact list. One of the contacts is labled "myself". This 16 numbers and letters are your unique address inside the Tor-Network. Wait a few minutes until the icon becomes green. Give this address to your friends so that they can add you to their list or add your friends address to your list. It all basically behaves like you would expect from an instant messenger.
After starting TorChat it can sometimes take up to 15 Minutes until you will become available. There is a hardcoded time-to-live of 15 minutes for already fetched service descriptors inside the Tor proxy. I have yet to find a way to invalidate this cache without restarting Tor.
You can run TorChat from an USB-Drive and no matter where you are, you always have the same address as long as you don't delete the files in the folder tor\hidden_service. The contents of this folder are your key. They must always be kept secret. If someone wants to impersonate your identity he must and will try to steal the contents of this folder from you. Keep this always in mind. It would probably be a good idea to use TorChat in conjunction with something like TrueCrypt or at least a password protected USB-Drive to protect your key file.
Proof the iPod's White Earbuds Don't Suck...That Much
We had a plan. After years of bitching and moaning about crappy, stock Apple earbuds, we were going to put Apple in their place, and once and for all, prove what a lousy product they were packaging with their iPods—the one kink in their plan of global music player dominance. Obviously, the $30 stock earphones in the iPod would get destroyed versus more expensive competitors like those from Shure, Ultimate Ears or V-Moda. So we ordered a bunch of earbud-style headphones all under $20 for "testing". We use those quotes because we really meant "slaughter". Who would have thought that the disrespected Apple earbuds would hold their own?
1. Maxell Digital Earbuds 191208
Better fit, deep in the ear. Volume control on wire. But soft sound levels, and a slight static. Music was in the other room, not my ears.
Verdict: Staticky, NOT BETTER
2. Genius HP-02 Live
Once again, deep ear fit. These bad boys are exploring places of my body I didn't know I had. Sound doesn't have a bad balance, but once again, nothing spectacular here.
Verdict: Frisky but NOT BETTER
3. Philips SHE2650
Design is very similar to iPod headphones, as is the sound. But these are just a hair less sparkling than Apple's headphones with even less impressive lows.
Verdict: Has a case, NOT BETTER
4. Jlabs JBuds Hi-Fi
These had the strongest bass of any model we tested. And they gave Bolero, our test song, more of a stage feel. But fidelity was lacking. So while the headphones sound "big" they don't always sound so clear.
Verdict: NOT BETTER
5. Coby Super Bass CV-E92
The balance reminded me of the jLab model we tested, possibly with even better clarity in some ranges. There is certainly more bass in these headphones than Apple's offerings, but while it makes us crave more lows in the iPod stock earbuds, Coby doesn't touch the present highs to mids of Apple. They're a pretty sweet deal for $5 though.
Verdict: A bargain, but NOT BETTER
6. Koss BDZ1 Two-Pack Earbud Headphones with Case
Unresponsive. Very quiet at a given volume level compared to the ipod earbuds. But for this price, you get TWO sets of earbuds and a case.
Verdict: (NOT BETTER X 2) + Case
7. Philips SHS3201/37 Flexible Earhook w/ Bud -White
I'd expected these fancy white headphones to sound better, given Philips' reputation and the solid placement coming from the earhooks, but they were loud, but less clear than the iPod's.
Verdict: White, impossible to Shake Off, but NOT BETTER
Also of note, the iPod earbuds fit the Nano a lot better than competitors. We think this is mostly because the earbud jack isn't bent on Apple's model, unlike all the other models which bend at a 90-degree angle before the wire. A non-bending plug translates to less cord rotation and subsequent static/pops.
As for fitting the ears, most models on the market now offer multiple sized earplug adapters. If Apple's earbuds aren't fitting you correctly, then don't think twice about finding something more comfortable or just using the black foam inserts. You'll never get optimal sound out of any headphone that doesn't fit you properly, anyway.
At the end of the day, Apple might not give us the best headphones around with our iPods, but they're not highway robbery either. Given that they were better than quite a few $20 and under models, we're thinking that $30 isn't the most ludicrous price in the world, and "free with iPod" is looking pretty freaking decent.
The Airport Security Follies
Six years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, airport security remains a theater of the absurd. The changes put in place following the September 11th catastrophe have been drastic, and largely of two kinds: those practical and effective, and those irrational, wasteful and pointless.
The first variety have taken place almost entirely behind the scenes. Explosives scanning for checked luggage, for instance, was long overdue and is perhaps the most welcome addition. Unfortunately, at concourse checkpoints all across America, the madness of passenger screening continues in plain view. It began with pat-downs and the senseless confiscation of pointy objects. Then came the mandatory shoe removal, followed in the summer of 2006 by the prohibition of liquids and gels. We can only imagine what is next.
To understand what makes these measures so absurd, we first need to revisit the morning of September 11th, and grasp exactly what it was the 19 hijackers so easily took advantage of. Conventional wisdom says the terrorists exploited a weakness in airport security by smuggling aboard box-cutters. What they actually exploited was a weakness in our mindset — a set of presumptions based on the decades-long track record of hijackings.
In years past, a takeover meant hostage negotiations and standoffs; crews were trained in the concept of “passive resistance.” All of that changed forever the instant American Airlines Flight 11 collided with the north tower. What weapons the 19 men possessed mattered little; the success of their plan relied fundamentally on the element of surprise. And in this respect, their scheme was all but guaranteed not to fail.
For several reasons — particularly the awareness of passengers and crew — just the opposite is true today. Any hijacker would face a planeload of angry and frightened people ready to fight back. Say what you want of terrorists, they cannot afford to waste time and resources on schemes with a high probability of failure. And thus the September 11th template is all but useless to potential hijackers.
No matter that a deadly sharp can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened, asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and loss of our belongings.
The folly is much the same with respect to the liquids and gels restrictions, introduced two summers ago following the breakup of a London-based cabal that was planning to blow up jetliners using liquid explosives. Allegations surrounding the conspiracy were revealed to substantially embellished. In an August, 2006 article in the New York Times, British officials admitted that public statements made following the arrests were overcooked, inaccurate and “unfortunate.” The plot’s leaders were still in the process of recruiting and radicalizing would-be bombers. They lacked passports, airline tickets and, most critical of all, they had been unsuccessful in actually producing liquid explosives. Investigators later described the widely parroted report that up to ten U.S airliners had been targeted as “speculative” and “exaggerated.”
Among first to express serious skepticism about the bombers’ readiness was Thomas C. Greene, whose essay in The Register explored the extreme difficulty of mixing and deploying the types of binary explosives purportedly to be used. Green conferred with Professor Jimmie C. Oxley, an explosives specialist who has closely studied the type of deadly cocktail coveted by the London plotters.
“The notion that deadly explosives can be cooked up in an airplane lavatory is pure fiction,” Greene told me during an interview. “A handy gimmick for action movies and shows like ‘24.’ The reality proves disappointing: it’s rather awkward to do chemistry in an airplane toilet. Nevertheless, our official protectors and deciders respond to such notions instinctively, because they’re familiar to us: we’ve all seen scenarios on television and in the cinema. This, incredibly, is why you can no longer carry a bottle of water onto a plane.”
The threat of liquid explosives does exist, but it cannot be readily brewed from the kinds of liquids we have devoted most of our resources to keeping away from planes. Certain benign liquids, when combined under highly specific conditions, are indeed dangerous. However, creating those conditions poses enormous challenges for a saboteur.
“I would not hesitate to allow that liquid explosives can pose a danger,” Greene added, recalling Ramzi Yousef’s 1994 detonation of a small nitroglycerine bomb aboard Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The explosion was a test run for the so-called “Project Bojinka,” an Al Qaeda scheme to simultaneously destroy a dozen widebody airliners over the Pacific Ocean. “But the idea that confiscating someone’s toothpaste is going to keep us safe is too ridiculous to entertain.”
Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. The three-ounce container rule is silly enough — after all, what’s to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance — but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of T.S.A.’s confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless. But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you accept it or you don’t fly.
But of all the contradictions and self-defeating measures T.S.A. has come up with, possibly none is more blatantly ludicrous than the policy decreeing that pilots and flight attendants undergo the same x-ray and metal detector screening as passengers. What makes it ludicrous is that tens of thousands of other airport workers, from baggage loaders and fuelers to cabin cleaners and maintenance personnel, are subject only to occasional random screenings when they come to work.
These are individuals with full access to aircraft, inside and out. Some are airline employees, though a high percentage are contract staff belonging to outside companies. The fact that crew members, many of whom are former military fliers, and all of whom endured rigorous background checks prior to being hired, are required to take out their laptops and surrender their hobby knives, while a caterer or cabin cleaner sidesteps the entire process and walks onto a plane unimpeded, nullifies almost everything our T.S.A. minders have said and done since September 11th, 2001. If there is a more ringing let-me-get-this-straight scenario anywhere in the realm of airport security, I’d like to hear it.
I’m not suggesting that the rules be tightened for non-crew members so much as relaxed for all accredited workers. Which perhaps urges us to reconsider the entire purpose of airport security:
The truth is, regardless of how many pointy tools and shampoo bottles we confiscate, there shall remain an unlimited number of ways to smuggle dangerous items onto a plane. The precise shape, form and substance of those items is irrelevant. We are not fighting materials, we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur.
Thus, what most people fail to grasp is that the nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes is not really the job of airport security at all. Rather, it’s the job of government agencies and law enforcement. It’s not very glamorous, but the grunt work of hunting down terrorists takes place far off stage, relying on the diligent work of cops, spies and intelligence officers. Air crimes need to be stopped at the planning stages. By the time a terrorist gets to the airport, chances are it’s too late.
In the end, I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of protest rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation. The op-ed pages are silent, the pundits have nothing meaningful to say.
The airlines, for their part, are in something of a bind. The willingness of our carriers to allow flying to become an increasingly unpleasant experience suggests a business sense of masochistic capitulation. On the other hand, imagine the outrage among security zealots should airlines be caught lobbying for what is perceived to be a dangerous abrogation of security and responsibility — even if it’s not. Carriers caught plenty of flack, almost all of it unfair, in the aftermath of September 11th. Understandably, they no longer want that liability.
As for Americans themselves, I suppose that it’s less than realistic to expect street protests or airport sit-ins from citizen fliers, and maybe we shouldn’t expect too much from a press and media that have had no trouble letting countless other injustices slip to the wayside. And rather than rethink our policies, the best we’ve come up with is a way to skirt them — for a fee, naturally — via schemes like Registered Traveler. Americans can now pay to have their personal information put on file just to avoid the hassle of airport security. As cynical as George Orwell ever was, I doubt he imagined the idea of citizens offering up money for their own subjugation.
How we got to this point is an interesting study in reactionary politics, fear-mongering and a disconcerting willingness of the American public to accept almost anything in the name of “security.” Conned and frightened, our nation demands not actual security, but security spectacle. And although a reasonable percentage of passengers, along with most security experts, would concur such theater serves no useful purpose, there has been surprisingly little outrage. In that regard, maybe we’ve gotten exactly the system we deserve.
We Have Everything to Fear From ID Cards
We start the year in Britain with a challenge to our essential nature, for 2008 might turn out to be the year when we decide to rip up the Magna Carta.
Video: Phil Booth on what the Government isn't telling us
Among the basic civil rights in this country, there has always been, at least in theory, an inclination towards liberal democracy, which includes a tolerance of an individual's right to privacy.
We are born free and have the right to decide what freedom means, each for ourselves, and to have control over our outward existence, yet that will no longer be the case if we agree to identity cards.
Britain is already the most self-watching country in the world, with the largest network of security cameras; a new study suggests we are now every bit as poor at protecting privacy as Russia, China and America.
But surveillance cameras and lost data will prove minuscule problems next to ID cards, which will obliterate the fundamental right to walk around in society as an unknown.
Some of you may have taken that freedom so much for granted that you forget how basic and important it is, but in every country where ID cards have ever been introduced, they have changed the relation between the individual and the state in a way that has not proved beneficial to the individual. I am not just talking Nazi Germany, but everywhere.
It is also a spiritual matter: a person's identity is for him or her to decide and to control, and if someone decides to invest the details of their person in a higher authority, then it should not be the Home Office.
The compulsory ID card scheme is a sickness born of too much suspicion and too little regard for the meaning of tolerance and privacy in modern life.
Hooking individuals up to a system of instantly accessible data is an obscenity - not only a system waiting to be abused, but a system already abusing.
Though we don't pay much attention to moral philosophy in the mass media now - Bertrand Russell having long been exchanged for the Jeremy Kyle Show - it may be worth remembering that Britain has a tradition of excellence when it comes to distinguishing and upholding basic rights and laws in the face of excessive power.
The ID cards issue should be raising the most stimulating arguments about who we are and how we are - but no, it is not: we nose the grass like sheep and prepare to be herded once again.
It seems the only person speaking up with a broad sense of what this all means is Nick Clegg, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has devoted much of his new year message to underlining the sheer horribleness of the scheme.
He has said he will go to jail rather than bow to this "expensive, invasive and unnecessary" affront to "our natural liberal tendencies".
I have to say I cheered when I heard this, not only because I agree, but because it is entirely salutary, in these sheepish times, to see a British politician express his personal feelings so strongly.
Many people on the other side of the argument make what might be called a category mistake when they say: "If you've nothing to hide, why object to carrying a card?"
Making it compulsory to prove oneself, in advance, not to be a threat to society is an insult to one's right not to be pre-judged or vetted.
Our system of justice is based on evidence, not on prior selection, and the onus on proving criminality is a matter for the justice system, where proof is of the essence.
Many regrettable things occur as a result of freedom - some teenage girls get pregnant, some businessmen steal from their shareholders, some soldiers torture their enemies, some priests exploit children - but these cases would not, in a liberal society, require us to end the private existence of all people just in case.
If the existence of terrorists, these few desperate extremists, makes it necessary for everybody in Britain to carry an ID card then it is a price too high.
It is more than a price, it is a defeat, and one that we will repent at our leisure. Challenges to security should, in fact, make us more protective of our basic freedoms; it should, indeed, make us warm to our rights.
In another age, it was thought sensible to try to understand the hatred in the eyes of our enemies, but now it seems we consider it wiser just to devalue the nature of our citizenship.
What's more - it won't work. Nick Clegg has pointed to the gigantic cost and fantastic hubris involved in this scheme, but recent gaffes with personal information have shown just how difficult it is to control and protect data.
A poll of doctors undertaken by doctors.net.uk has today shown that a majority of doctors believe that the National Programme for IT - seeking to contain all the country's medical records - will not be secure.
In fact, it is causing great worry. Many medical professionals fear that detailed information about each of us will soon be whizzing haphazardly from one place to another, leaving patients at the mercy of the negligent, the nosy, the opportunistic and the exploitative.
"Only people with something to hide will fear the introduction of compulsory ID cards."
That is what they say, and it sounds perfectly practical. If you think about it for a minute, though, it begins to sound less than practical and more like an affront to the reasonable (and traditional) notion that the state should mind its own business.
In a just society, what you have to hide is your business, until such times as your actions make it the business of others. Infringing people's rights is not an ethical form of defence against imaginary insult.
You shouldn't have to tell the government your eye colour if you don't want to, never mind your maiden name, your height, your personal persuasions in this or that direction, all to be printed up on a laminated card under some compulsory picture, to say you're one of us.
You weren't born to be one of us, that is something you choose, and to take the choice out of it is wrong. It marks the end of privacy, the end of civic volition, the end of true citizenship.
Airport Profilers: They're Watching Your Expressions
If a pair of Transportation Security Administration officers strolling by a Sea-Tac Airport ticket counter wish you happy holidays and ask where you're traveling, it might be more than just Christmas spirit.
Travelers at Sea-Tac and dozens of other major airports across America are being scrutinized by teams of TSA behavior-detection officers specially trained to discern the subtlest suspicious behaviors.
TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program -- called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) -- that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent.
But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions -- a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt, said Carl Maccario, who helped start the program for TSA.
"In the SPOT program, we have a conversation with (passengers) and we ask them about their trip," said Maccario from his office in Boston. "When someone lies or tries to be deceptive, ... there are behavior cues that show it. ... A brief flash of fear."
Such people are referred for secondary screening, which can include a pat-down search and an X-ray exam. The microfacial expressions, he said, are the same across many cultures.
Since January 2006, behavior-detection officers have referred about 70,000 people for secondary screening, Maccario said. Of those, about 600 to 700 were arrested on a variety of charges, including possession of drugs, weapons violations and outstanding warrants.
Maccario will not say whether the teams have disrupted any terrorist operations. But he did say that there are active counterterrorism investigations under way that began with referrals from the program.
SPOT began spreading out to airports across the nation two years after initial testing began in 2003 in Boston, Providence, R.I., and Portland, Maine. It's now at more than 50 airports and continues to grow.
Lynette Blas-Bamba manages Sea-Tac's 12-officer behavior-detection team. Since the program started here in November 2006, more than 600 people have been referred for secondary inspections, she said. Of those, 11 were arrested.
The officers ask simple questions:
"How are you today?"
"Where are you heading?"
"Is this all your property?"
"It's almost irrelevant what your answers are," Maccario said. "It's more relevant how you respond. Vague, evasive responses -- fear shows itself. When you do this long enough, you see it right away."
Maccario emphasized that the program takes into account the typical stress many of us experience when traveling, especially during the holidays.
Ordinary people who are feeling anxious are "much more open with their body movements and their facial expressions as compared to an operational terrorist (thinking) 'I've got to defeat security,' " Maccario said. "We're looking for behavior indicators that show a certain level of stress, fear or anxiety above and beyond that shown by an anxious member of the traveling public."
The detection teams look for those indicators to spike when a traveler with something to hide approaches security checkpoints.
Blas-Bamba and her team were trained in fall 2006. She says she did behavioral detection of a sort in her last job as a probation officer. "We all do it to a degree. It's just a matter of understanding and articulating what we see."
Part of the training is a cultural awareness component, Maccario said. For example, in some cultures people don't make eye contact with people in authority.
And to emphasize the sensitivity TSA is bringing to the program, he recalled a meeting with an association for people with Tourette's disorder to assure them that having a tic will not result in a pat-down.
The TSA considers the program a powerful tool to root out terrorists, but also an antidote to racial profiling.
"We don't care where you are from," Maccario said. "It's no longer subjective. If you are acting a certain way, that's what is going to attract our attention.
"There is no reliable picture of a terrorist," he added, citing American terrorists like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and "the fact that al-Qaida continues to recruit people that blend into society."
The program, however, has raised privacy and civil liberties concerns.
"The problem is behavioral characteristics will be found where you look for them," the American Civil Liberties of Massachusetts legal director John Reinstein told The Washington Post.
But Naseem Tuffaha, political chairman of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's Seattle chapter, looks at the program as a potential step away from racial profiling.
"Our message in working with federal and local authorities has been to make behavioral-based decisions rather than ethnic-profiling decisions. Our message is to really focus on suspicious behavior rather than suspicious-looking people," he said.
But Tuffaha warned that if the TSA "only looked hard when somebody is Middle Eastern-appearing ... then you are still conducting racial profiling under a different name."
The U.S. is Now an "Endemic Surveillance Society"
Pass the Freedom Fries! The French are still filmed, monitored and intercepted less than we are, but barely. Their status also "deteriorated" in 2007.
The U.S. has been downgraded from "Extensive Surveillance Society" to "Endemic Surveillance Society," according to Privacy International's 2007 International Privacy Ranking released on Friday. We now share the "Endemic" distinction with China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and the UK:
In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In terms of overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines.
It's worth noting that Canadian and EU papers have reported on this, but I have yet to find coverage in a U.S. newspaper. It's up to you and me to let our friends and family and presidential candidates know that we rank at the bottom when it comes to:
• Legal protections
• Privacy enforcement
• Use of identity cards and biometrics
• Visual surveillance
• Communications interception
• Workplace monitoring
• Medical, financial and movement surveillance
• Border and trans-border issues
Take a gander at the report for a thorough explanation. Then think about where you'd like to live!
Romania and Canada are in the best shape (though Canada is slipping due in part to cooperation with U.S. data gathering and border programs). Greece stands out as a the only country with "adequate safeguards" against abuse.
Hmm... I could live on Kalamata olives... What did you say? You'd like some "freedom feta" with that? Yum.
~~ Privacy International Leading surveillance societies in the EU and the World 2007
Canada better than U.S., U.K. at protecting citizens' privacy: study
Computer Forensics Faces Private Eye Competition
The Internet is boundless and cybercrime scenes stretch from personal desktops across the fiber networks that circle the globe. Digital forensic investigators like Harold Phipps, vice president of industry relations at Norcross Group in Norcross, Ga., routinely slip across conventional geographic jurisdictions in pursuit of digital evidence and wrongdoers.
Lawmakers across the Savannah River in Columbia, S.C., have different ideas, however. Under pending legislation in South Carolina, digital forensic evidence gathered for use in a court in that state must be collected by a person with a PI license or through a PI licensed agency.
If the law passes, the highly specialized task of probing deep into computer hard drives, network and server logs for telltale signs of hacking and data theft would land in the hands of the same people who advertise in the Yellow Pages for surveillance on cheating spouses, workers' compensation fraud and missing persons. Otherwise, digital evidence collected by unlicensed practitioners could be excluded from criminal and civil court cases. Worse yet, those caught practicing without a license could face criminal prosecution.
"It's an ambush," says Phipps, a 31-year FBI veteran now with Norcross Group, a digital e-discovery business. "Under the South Carolina statute, only a handful of licensed PIs across that state have the years of information system and tools experience needed to do true digital forensics with repeatable processes of documentation and chain of custody. This is the only group that stands to gain."
South Carolina isn't alone in considering regulating digital forensics and restricting the practice to licensed PIs. Georgia, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington are some of the states going after digital forensic experts operating in their states without a PI license.
Tools and training for digital forensics have existed for years, but the process of forensics remains a relative unknown art among the information security profession. It's a growing field, though, given the ever-increasing amount of cybercrime, identity theft, data leakage and regulatory landscape around data protection. Digital forensic specialists perform critical tasks ranging from identifying sources of data compromises and holes in security infrastructure, to collecting evidence for employee disciplinary actions, to testifying in criminal prosecutions.
With much of today's evidence lingering on computers and handhelds, PIs see this is as a lucrative field to pursue, even if they lack the requisite experience, contend digital forensic experts like John Mellon, founder of the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE) based in Brentwood, Tenn. IT professionals also feel that putting forensics into the hands of what are mostly inexperienced, one-off divorce and surveillance PIs will ultimately bring the evolving, highly specialized field to its knees.
All but six states have PI licensing laws on the books, according to Jimmie Mesis, publisher of PI Magazine, 32 of which could be interpreted to include digital forensic investigators. While their languages differ, these licensing laws essentially consider a PI to be anybody engaging in the business of securing evidence to be used in criminal or civil proceedings.
"In April , the state attorney general opined that even if you never set foot in South Carolina, if you're collecting evidence to be used in court here, you still need a South Carolina [PI] license," says Steve Abrams, a licensed independent PI and computer forensic examiner based in Sullivans Island, S.C. "Licensing authorities in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Oregon have opined the same way."
As one of eight permanent members of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Private Investigations Business Advisory Committee, Abrams is a key promoter and developer of the South Carolina PI licensing legislation. He is also one of a handful of state professionals Phipps refers to who can successfully dovetail digital and conventional PI skills into a single business. In addition to legal and computer programming background, Abrams has PI licenses in South Carolina and New York, and he's looking into getting a license in Utah.
The state PI measures are not meant to be punitive against ethical, skilled forensic professionals working on behalf of their corporations, Abrams contends. Rather, they are being established to protect and preserve the integrity of evidence.
Abrams' concerns about digital evidence integrity are not unfounded.
Defense attorneys have used lapses in the chain of custody of evidence, poorly documented evidence collection techniques and lack of credibility of forensic investigators as means to have evidence thrown out of court cases. Conversely, computer security specialists have quietly complained that prosecutors and government investigators—particularly the FBI—rely heavily on the naivety of defendants and their attorneys in computer-related cases. In some cases, an attorney doesn't know enough to challenge the validity of digital evidence presented by the state.
"The problems in South Carolina occur when folks from national [law] firms come into South Carolina, seize digital evidence, have that evidence analyzed in a lab in some other state, and then send it back to South Carolina for litigation," Abrams says. "The state has no mechanism to hold them accountable if they screw up, which I see all the time in cases."
A Matter or Jurisdiction
Computer forensics is more often used as an internal investigatory tool. In other words, probes and evidence collected inside the firewall stay inside the firewall. In these cases, none of the proposed or existing state laws requiring PI licenses apply. That is, until the case spills outside the enterprise domain—to a partner network or an Internet service provider, for instance.
At this point, most organizations should be turning investigations over to law enforcement or licensed PI agencies anyway, Abrams says. Maybe so, but history doesn't support Abrams' perspective, and IT experts and forensic consultants say most enterprises would rather keep their investigations quiet than risk public disclosure by going to law enforcement.
At greater risk of exposure, however, are security and network management service providers, which often conduct investigations on behalf of their clients. In this case, they would be considered PI firms and need licensing in a majority of states, confirm Abrams and others.
Neither of these interpretations offers much comfort to forensic professionals or IT executives who hire them. And Abrams makes no bones about his desire to see South Carolina start prosecuting violators as soon as the ink dries on requirements amendments to South Carolina law, which could be as early as February. South Carolina's statute proposes fines of up to $5,000 and a year in jail for practicing without a license.
Because most organizations hire outside consultants to do their digital forensic processing, such interpretations could also call into question every piece of digital evidence enterprises gather through consultants that winds up in court, says William Boni, corporate vice president of information security and protection at Motorola. This, he says, would put a great burden on enterprise organizations and potentially paralyze their investigations.
"Anytime courts start interpreting statutes like these so narrowly, there should be concern," Boni says. "IT professionals at large, multinational organizations believe they could be challenged under these laws whenever they take a case to court. They've been particularly concerned over the outcome of the Sony case in Texas."
In the Sony case, a defendant of a copyright infringement lawsuit in Texas filed a motion last July to disqualify evidence because the investigative firm, MediaSentry (since acquired by SafeNet), did not have a private investigation license required under state law.
Sony dropped the case last month. Some speculate that this was the result of the bad publicity accumulating regarding the hefty six-figure fine that would have been levied against the elderly defendant. Had it gone to court, Abrams and others believe MediaSentry would have been subjected to the Texas licensing law because the digital evidence was gathered by a digital forensic consulting firm acting on behalf of a client.
The Recording Industry Association of America wouldn't say whether the counterclaim had any bearing on Sony's decision to drop the case. However, the RIAA doesn't believe that the absence of a PI license had any bearing on the admissibility and reliability of evidence. State PI laws cannot stop the collection of public digital evidence across cyberspace because it's "boundaryless," according to the RIAA.
"There may requirements that PIs be licensed in Texas, but we do not believe the absence of a license has any impact on the admissibility and reliability of the evidence that was collected," says Cara Duckworth, spokesperson for the RIAA. "The information [MediaSentry is] collecting is being distributed in cyberspace, which is larger than even Texas."
This is a situation that slices both ways because evidence presented in the case should have been called into question, says John Stoneham, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid in Beaumont, Texas, who filed the motion in July on behalf of Rhonda Crain, whom he describes as a "grandma" and a Hurricane Rita victim. The evidence presented, he contends, was incomplete, since it consisted merely of records taken over a public file-sharing system but did not investigate Crain's computer to see if it had been infected with a remote control program, which he suspects it had.
Incomplete or bungled evidence could just as easily be submitted by a PI, say forensic practitioners who feel such mistakes will become more common if private eyes try to embark on or oversee these kinds of digital probes.
"Forensics is a very new field. And now, anyone with a PI license can take an EnCase class [a popular computer examination tool] and declare themselves a forensic expert," Phipps says, citing the years of platform, system and forensic tool skills required to make a good technician that he says the vast majority of gumshoes lack.
Skill Certifications VS. Licensing
Do a keyword search on "Digital Forensics and Private Investigation" in any state private investigator database and you'll see that the listings do reflect poorly on the reputation of digital forensics. Most are for cheesy divorce and personal monitoring firms advertising, "Is your spouse cheating on you?"
Quality control around digital forensics is a major issue. Private investigators and IT experts alike say they are worried about protecting the evolving profession and are looking for ways to institute measurable quality controls.
"Requiring digital forensic experts to obtain PI licenses does not serve the public's best interest," says Toby Finnie, executive officer of the High Tech Crimes Consortium (HTCC). "Instead, digital forensic examiners should be required to show demonstrated levels of competencies, based on standards and practices developed by peers."
HTCC, a law enforcement assistance network with more than 1,800 members in 37 countries, is drafting a briefing paper to provide background information and guide state legislators in their development of independent practical regulatory controls for forensics that can keep pace with the dynamic discipline.
"Like a doctor who's gone to medical school, works in his field, takes continuing education and maintains his medical licenses—that's the level of accountability we need for digital forensics," says Stan Kang, a principal in the Forensics and Investigative Response Practice of Verizon Business Services in Norfolk, Va. "Since most companies outsource digital forensics to consultants, they need a way to know that chain of custody and other rules of legal evidence are applied."
Because they are already licensed by their industry-specific agencies, certified accountants, medical examiners and engineers are exempt from state PI requirements, Abrams explains. IT professionals are pushing for the same thing for forensics, but Abrams contends that states don't want the cost and overhead of setting up another independent licensing body.
In South Carolina, an ad-hoc advisory committee is revising the state's computer forensic regulation under its PI laws to include definitions and guidelines for digital forensic professionals, which will go to legislature by end of January, according to Abrams. These guidelines are being modeled after the Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina guidelines. The North Carolina guidelines are currently in committee. Both the Georgia and Nevada guidelines have died in committee, but expect them to be back, says Finnie.
States are looking to the failed Nevada legislation as a model for defining these qualifications. The attempted revision to the proposed statute defined a digital forensic professional as "a person who engages in the business of, or accepts employment using, specialized computer techniques for the recovery or analysis of digital information from any computer or digital storage device, with the intent to preserve evidence, and who as a part of his business provides reports or testimony in regards to that information."
Nevada's qualification guidelines include 18 months' experience, a Bachelor's degree in computer forensics, and a Certified Computer Examiner (CCE) credential or its successor equivalent. South Carolina won't have a requirement for any particular degree, but will require minimal training, CCE certification and annual continuing education to remain licensed, according to Abrams.
At present, the CCE is the most recognized forensic certification available to the private sector and the only one open to the private sector being considered in state PI licensing laws. The credential requires professionals to abide by a strict code of ethics and pass a stringent certification exam that tests skills and knowledge. There are about 1,000 CCEs, of which about 70 percent are in the private sector and the balance in law enforcement, says ISFCE's Mellon.
Mellon acknowledges that the ISFCE and his training firm, Key Computer, have a lot to gain through such legislation. The exams are offered at a modest $300 fee, he says, so they're not a big money maker. Still, experts question the ability of one organization to meet the demand.
The ISFCE is currently considering reorganizing itself into a non-profit to be more flexible in structure, Mellon says. As a non-profit, he notes, the ISFCE can take a stronger political stand against the takeover of his profession by private eyes.
"Forensic examiner licensing can only be a good thing," says Mellon. "But you don't want it to fall on 50 state PI licensing agencies to manage. So, we're reaching out to our listserve of CCEs telling our members how to reach their legislatures and what to tell them."
All state examiners need to get together with their digital forensic communities to develop a unified exam for the states before it's too late, says Norcross Group's Phipps. He adds, "Under an independent exam, we [digital forensic professionals] can control our own destiny."
Opinion: I Want to Live in a Surveillance Society
In my first year as a reporter for a local newspaper back in the year (mumble, mumble), I sat down to interview three candidates for city council who were running as a "slate." I pulled out my tape recorder, and one of them said, "I'm sorry, but we're not willing to do the interview if you're going to record it." When I asked why, he said, "Because we don't want to be misquoted."
The candidates didn't trust me because the editorial page of the newspaper I worked for had endorsed their opponents. But the encounter always bothered me. How can a verbatim record of a conversation increase the chance of being misquoted?
At the time, I hesitated for a moment and considered walking away from the interview. But I changed my mind and put the tape recorder away. In hindsight, I should have said, "Look, I can't take notes as fast as my tape recorder can. Why don't you go grab a tape recorder, too. We'll both tape it. If I misquote you, you can prove it."
The problem they had -- and one problem with surveillance in general -- is that it upsets the balance of power. Whoever has the tape has the power to use, not use, selectively use or misuse the information or proof or evidence recorded.
The opposite of privacy
Privacy advocates warn of a wide range of new assaults on our freedoms facilitated by new technologies. Among these, the growing ubiquity of surveillance cameras -- especially in the U.K. and the U.S., which now have "endemic surveillance," according to a new report. Our freedoms are threatened because technology dramatically improves the efficiency with which they can monitor us, yet we often have no counterbalancing way to monitor them.
Privacy advocates fight hard to oppose secret phone taps, surveillance cameras and other intrusions based on the idea that some things are private and Big Brother has no business always watching you.
I support those who fight for our right to privacy. But I think they're fighting only half the battle. In addition to the right to keep private what should be private, we also need to fight for our right to make public what should be public.
Reverse police surveillance
A teen murder suspect named Erik Crespo complained during his recent trial that he was inappropriately interrogated by New York City Police Detective Christopher Perino. The teen claimed that during the interrogation, the detective told him that he wouldn't be allowed to see a judge unless he signed a confession. He also claimed that the detective tried to talk him out of speaking with a lawyer.
But the detective claimed -- under oath -- that he never even interrogated Crespo.
Conflicts like this happen in court all the time. People lie to spin events in their favor. Sometimes the best liar wins. Sometimes the most credible source wins. An experienced police detective, for example, might be considered by a jury as more credible than some 17-year-old kid.
It turns out, however, that the detective was lying through his teeth. We know this because the teenager secretly hit the "record" button on his MP3 player during the interrogation. His lawyer produced the recording in court after the detective committed 12 counts of perjury.
In this case, justice was served for one and only one reason -- a recorder in the control of the suspect was running during the interrogation. And, although I can't prove it, I believe the suspect was "extra honest" about the interrogation, too, for the very same reason. When people know an event or a conversation was or might have been recorded, they tend to be very honest about it later on.
Crespo was able to record the interrogation only because he did so secretly. If he had announced at the beginning of the interview his intention to record, the police could and would have taken it away.
Shouldn't recording your own police interrogation be a constitutionally protected right, like the right to an attorney? If not, why not?
A mobile nanny cam
A few years ago, the parents of a 9-year-old with both Down syndrome and ADHD suspected a school bus driver of abusing their son, so they secretly stashed a tape recorder in the boy's backpack. Sure enough, the recorder captured evidence of abuse.
It was legal for the parents to hide the recorder, but the tape was ruled inadmissible in court because Wisconsin state law prohibits the use of "intercepted conversations." What made the tape an "intercepted conversation" was the fact that the adults doing the recording were not themselves on the bus. The law exists to protect the privacy of those recorded. But is a special-needs bus really a "private space" for the bus driver?
Shouldn't parents be able to secretly record the actions of their children's caregivers if they suspect abuse and to use those recordings in court against the abusers? If not, why not?
There are many situations where I'd like to see surveillance legalized, normalized or even required, including:
• Interaction with police: When we get pulled over, it should be perfectly legal to openly videotape the entire conversation, as well as when we're questioned or interrogated. They've got a dash cam or interrogation room camera pointed at us. We should have one pointed at them, too. (The knowledge that such cameras are allowed might prevent abuse like this.)
• Any interaction between caregiver and child: When babies and children or seniors or others who for whatever reason aren't able to defend themselves are potential targets for abuse, it should be legal for their parents or other relatives to secretly tape encounters with caregivers and use those recordings as evidence in court.
• Anytime politicians meet with lobbyists: Why not use required surveillance to expose or prevent backdoor wheeling and dealing? When our representatives meet with special interest groups, corporate executives or other people out to buy influence, it's not something that's personal or private for the elected politician. There should be special lobbyist meeting rooms with cameras running 24/7. If congressmen and others meet with lobbyists outside the rooms, they go to jail for corruption. This is the people's business, and we have the right to know all about those conversations.
• Court: It should be our right to record any public hearing or courtroom proceeding. If the public is invited, then banning video cameras and voice recorders is only to reduce the accountability of the judge (rather than, say, to protect the privacy of the accused). Why should judges be granted this protection?
• Your own phone calls: It's legal to secretly record your own phone calls in 38 states (plus the District of Columbia). But it's illegal in the other 12 states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. You can record calls only if you get the consent of the other person on the phone. But I think all rights and protections involving your home (such as the right to keep security cameras and other cameras running without announcing the fact to visitors) apply to your home phone as well -- and your cell phone, too, for that matter.
Surveillance technology is on the rise. Powerful organizations -- law enforcement, corporations, governments and others -- have demanded and won their right to videotape the public, often secretly. They do this in order to hold individuals accountable for their actions.
Yet the rights of individuals to use similar technology to do the same are often restricted. Why should shoppers, pedestrians, bank customers and citizens be held accountable, but politicians, police, judges and others are not? What kind of democracy is that?
As we fight and argue, vote and campaign for keeping private business private, let's also make sure we claim and win the right to use our own ubiquitous camera phones, recording devices and other technologies to keep public business public.
Man Tasered For Filming Warrantless Police Search
A man from Portland Oregon is suing police for unlawful seizure with excessive force after officers fired a Taser and bean bag rounds at him when he refused to stop filming a warrantless search of his neighbour's property last year.
According to a report in The Oregonian, Frank Waterhouse claims that on May 27, 2006 he was brutally assaulted by police when officers followed a sniffer dog onto the property in pursuit of a fleeing suspect.
Waterhouse says that the dog keyed on a car, prompting officers to break out a window which upset residents who maintain that no one ran onto the property. It was at that point that an angry resident grabbed a video camera and started to film the police search.
The Oregonian report states:
When one woman was told to stop recording, she gave the video camera to Waterhouse. He walked to the edge of the property, climbed up a dirt embankment and continued to record. At one point, he yelled to his friend, "Yes, I got it all on film. They had no right to come on this property."
He says in the suit that police immediately came after him, and yelled at him "put it down." Officers moved towards him, and he said, "Don't come after me." Waterhouse said seconds later he was shot with a bean bag gun and a Taser and fell to the ground.
UK Gov Sets Rules for Hacker Tool Ban
The UK government has published guidelines for the application of a law that makes it illegal to create or distribute so-called "hacking tools".
The controversial measure (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/01...r_crime_revamp) is among amendments to the Computer Misuse Act included in the Police and Justice Act 2006. However, the ban along with measures to increase the maximum penalty for hacking offences to ten years and make denial of service offences clearly illegal, are still not in force (http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org/2...-little-longer) and probably won't be until May 2008 in order not to create overlap with the Serious Crime Bill, currently making its way through the House of Commons.
A revamp of the UK's outdated computer crime laws is long overdue. However, provisions to ban the development, ownership and distribution of so-called "hacker tools" draw sharp criticism from industry. Critics point out that many of these tools are used by system administrators and security consultants quite legitimately to probe for vulnerabilities in corporate systems.
The distinctions between, for example, a password cracker and a password recovery tool, or a utility designed to run denial of service attacks and one designed to stress-test a network, are subtle. The problem is that anything from nmap through wireshark to perl can be used for both legitimate and illicit purposes, in much the same way that a hammer can be used for putting up shelving or breaking into a car.
Following industry lobbying the government has come through with guidelines that address some, but not all, of these concerns about "dual-use" tools. The guidelines establish that to successfully prosecute the author of a tool it needs to be shown that they intended it to be used to commit computer crime. But the Home Office, despite lobbying, refused to withdraw the distribution offence. This leaves the door open to prosecute people who distribute a tool, such as nmap, that's subsequently abused by hackers.
The Crown Prosecution Service guidance (http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/section12/chapter_s.html), published after a long delay on Monday, also asks prosecutors to consider if an article is "available on a wide scale commercial basis and sold through legitimate channels". Critics argue this test fails to factor in the widespread use of open source tools or rapid product innovation.
IT and the law are never easy bedfellows. While the guidelines probably make it less likely the security consultants will be prosecuted by over-zealous lawyers for actions they don't understand are legitimate, they are still a bit of a mess.
Richard Clayton, a security researcher at Cambridge University and long-time contributor to UK security policy working groups, has a useful analysis of the proposals here (http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org/2...nally-appears).
A Wi-Fi Virus Outbreak? Researchers Say it's Possible
If criminals were to target unsecured wireless routers, they could create an attack that could piggyback across thousands of Wi-Fi networks in urban areas like Chicago or New York City, according to researchers at Indiana University.
The researchers estimate that a Wi-Fi attack could take over 20,000 wireless routers in New York City within a two-week period, with most of the infections occurring within the first day.
"The issue is that most of these routers are installed out of the box very insecurely," said Steven Myers, an assistant professor at Indiana University, who published the paper in November, along with researchers from the Institute for Scientific Interchange in Torino, Italy,
The researchers theorize that attack would work by guessing administrative passwords and then instructing the routers to install new worm-like firmware which would in turn cause the infected router to attack other devices in its range.
Because there are so many closely connected Wi-Fi networks in most urban areas, the attack could hop from router to router for many miles in some cities.
The team used what is known as the Susceptible Infected Removed (SIR) model to track the growth of this attack. This methodology is typically used to estimate things like influenza outbreaks, but it has also been used to predict things like computer virus infections, Myers said.
Although the researchers did not develop any attack code that would be used to carry out this infection, they believe it would be possible to write code that guessed default passwords by first entering the default administrative passwords that shipped with the router, and then by trying a list of one million commonly used passwords, one after the other. They believe that 36% of passwords can be guessed using this technique.
Even some routers that use encryption could be cracked, if they use the popular WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) algorithm, which security experts have been able to crack for years now. Routers that were encrypted using the more-secure WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) standard were considered impossible to infect, Myers said.
Myers' model is based on data compiled from the Wireless Geographic Logging Engine (WiGLE), a volunteer-run effort to map Wi-Fi networks around the world, which has over 10 million networks in its database.
Using this data, they were able to map out large networks of made out of Wi-Fi routers that were each no more than 45 meters (49 yards) from the network -- in other words, close enough for an infection to spread. The largest such network in New York included 36,807 systems; in Boston it was 15,899; and in Chicago: 50,084.
Because New York is such a dense city with a relatively low percentage (25.8%, according to the researchers) of encrypted routers, it was particularly susceptible to this type of attack. San Francisco, on the other hand, where 40.1% of routers are encrypted and which had a lower density of routers was less susceptible.
Myers says that because the attack would be technically complex, he doubts that criminals will attempt it any time soon. There are simply too many other, easier ways to take over computers, he said.
Still, he thinks hardware makers should take note. "The bigger point for developers and people making wireless information technology is to realize that there are serious security issues."
Eased Rules on Tech Sales to China Questioned
Steven R. Weisman
Six months ago, the Bush administration quietly eased some restrictions on the export of politically delicate technologies to China. The new approach was intended to help American companies increase sales of high-tech equipment to China despite tight curbs on sharing technology that might have military applications.
But today the administration is facing questions from weapons experts about whether some equipment — newly authorized for export to Chinese companies deemed trustworthy by Washington — could instead end up helping China modernize its military. Equally worrisome, the weapons experts say, is the possibility that China could share the technology with Iran or Syria.
The technologies include advanced aircraft engine parts, navigation systems, telecommunications equipment and sophisticated composite materials.
The questions raised about the new policy are in a report to be released this week by the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, an independent research foundation that opposes the spread of arms technologies.
The administration’s new approach is part of an overall drive to require licenses for the export of an expanded list of technologies in aircraft engines, lasers, telecommunications, aircraft materials and other fields of interest to China’s military.
But while imposing license requirements for the transfer of these technologies, the administration is also validating certain Chinese companies that may import these technologies without licenses.
Five such companies were designated in October, but as many as a dozen others are in the pipeline for possible future designation.
Mario Mancuso, under secretary of Commerce for industry and security, said the new system of broadening the list of technologies that require licenses, but exempting some trustworthy companies from the license requirement, results in more effective protections.
“We believe that the system we have set up ensures that we are protecting our national security consistent with our goal of promoting legitimate exports for civilian use,” he said in an interview. “We have adopted a consistent, broad-based approach to hedging against helping China’s military modernization.”
But the Wisconsin Project report, made available to The New York Times, asserts that two nonmilitary Chinese companies designated as trustworthy are in fact high risk because of links to the Chinese government, the People’s Liberation Army and other Chinese entities accused in the past of ties to Syria and Iran.
One of the Chinese companies, the BHA Aero Composites Company, is partly owned by two American companies — 40 percent by the American aircraft manufacturer Boeing and 40 percent by the aerospace materials maker Hexcel. The remaining 20 percent is owned by a Chinese government-owned company, AVIC I, or the China Aviation Industry Corporation I.
“In principle, you could find companies that would be above suspicion, but in this case they haven’t done it,” said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project. “If you just look at the relations these companies have, rather than be above suspicion, they are highly suspicious.”
The Wisconsin Project report also charges that both Boeing and Hexcel have been cited for past lapses in obtaining proper licenses for exports.
Spokesmen for Boeing and Hexcel said in interviews that they are fully confident that BHA has no ties to the Chinese military and that its use of aircraft parts and materials were strictly for commercial and civilian ends.
“Boeing is not involved in any defense activities in China,” said Douglas Kennett, a company spokesman. “All our activities in China are in compliance with U.S. export laws and regulations.”
Both companies also say that the past failure to get proper licenses has led to tighter controls and, in any case, was the result of improper paperwork affecting products that continue to be exported as licensed.
Mr. Milhollin said that research by his staff had uncovered several links with the Chinese military establishment involving both BHA and another of the five companies, the Shanghai Hua Hong NEC Electronics Company.
AVIC I, the Chinese government entity that owns a minority share of BHA, also produces fighters, nuclear-capable bombers and aviation weapons systems for the People’s Liberation Army, the report says. The State Department has cited another AVIC subsidiary, the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation, for links to arms sales to Iran and Syria.
The report also says that Shanghai Hua Hong NEC Electronics is majority owned “through a corporate chain” by the China Electronics Corporation, which the report says is a government conglomerate that produces military equipment along with consumer electronics. It has a unit, the report says, that procures arms for the military.
Mr. Milhollin said that the new policy granting companies the right to import some technologies without prior licenses was adopted quietly as “a stealth attack on export controls.”
But Mr. Mancuso, the Commerce Department official who oversees the program, noted that the department proposed it publicly in mid-2006 and adopted it a year later after lengthy public comment by interested parties and members of Congress.
In addition, he said, no Chinese company can receive certain technologies — as part of a category known as “validated end-users” — without a vetting of its record by the State, Energy and Defense Departments and by relevant intelligence agencies. The five companies designated in October, he said, were approved without dissent by these units of the government.
In general, the Commerce Department tries to make it easier for American companies to export to markets overseas, and there has been a particular emphasis on selling to China. The United States is expected to show a trade deficit with China of nearly $300 billion in 2007.
At the same time, at least since the 1990s, Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders have called on the Bush administration, and the administration of President Bill Clinton, to exercise more vigilance toward China as it seeks to modernize its aerospace defense network.
“China is a huge market for our commercial technology exports,” said Mr. Mancuso. “Yet there are real security risks we are mindful of. We take that concern very, very seriously.” Only those companies that have “a demonstrable record of using sensitive technologies responsibly” are approved, he said.
Beyond that, he said companies for which licensing rules have been lifted are subject to additional disclosure obligations, including on-site visits by American government personnel.
Groups that advocate greater technology-sharing with China in civilian aeronautics and other areas say the administration has been cautious in its policy, choosing Chinese companies with American partners or owners.
The three other Chinese companies named “validated end-users” in October are Applied Materials China, a subsidiary of Applied Materials, a maker of semiconductors based in California; Chinese facilities operated by the National Semiconductor Corporation, another American company; and the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, based in Shanghai.
William A. Reinsch, head of the National Foreign Trade Council, which promotes international trade, said the administration over all had tightened controls on China and called the lifting of license requirements on only five firms “a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.”
Mr. Reinsch administered export controls as an official in the Clinton administration.
A House Republican staff member had a similar view. “We were told by Commerce that they were going to make some very safe choices,” he said, speaking anonymously because of the delicacy of the subject.
The Commerce Department says that, out of $55 billion in American exports to China in 2006, only $308 million were items requiring licenses to make sure the Chinese military could not use them. The five companies named as “validated” accounted for $54 million of those goods.
China Finds American Allies for Security
In preparation for the Beijing Olympics and a series of other international events, some American companies are helping the Chinese government design and install one of the most comprehensive high-tech public surveillance systems in the world.
When told of the companies' transactions, critics of China's human rights record said the work violated the spirit of a sanctions law Congress passed after the Tiananmen Square killings.
The Commerce Department, however, says the sophisticated systems being installed, by companies like Honeywell, General Electric, United Technologies and IBM, do not run afoul of the ban on providing China with "crime control or detection instruments or equipment." But the department has just opened a 45-day review of its policies on the sale of crime-control gear to China.
With athletes and spectators coming from around the world, every Olympic host nation works to build the best security system it can. In an era of heightened terrorism concerns, it could be argued, high-tech surveillance will be an indispensable part of China's security preparations for the Olympics, which runs August 8 to 24. And given China's enormous economic potential, corporations are always eager to get a foothold here; the Olympics provides a prime opportunity.
But China's regime, the most authoritarian to hold an Olympics since the Soviet Union's in 1980, also presents particular challenges. Long after the visitors leave, security industry experts say, the surveillance equipment that Western companies leave behind will provide the authorities here with new tools to track not only criminals, but dissidents too.
"I don't know of an intelligence-gathering operation in the world that, when given a new toy, doesn't use it," said Steve Vickers, a former head of criminal intelligence for the Hong Kong police who now leads a consulting firm.
Indeed, the autumn issue of the magazine of China's public security ministry prominently listed places of religious worship and Internet cafes as locations to install new cameras.
A Commerce Department official who insisted on anonymity said that the agency was reviewing its entire list of banned exports, including military equipment, although the sale of crime control gear to China is on a special, fast-track review. Asked whether equipment identified as commercial by Western manufacturers could have crime control applications, the official replied, "There may be users in China who figure out law enforcement uses for it."
Multinationals are reluctant to discuss their sales to China's security forces, but they say they have done everything necessary to comply with relevant laws.
Information is not easy to come by, but an outline of China's mammoth effort can be found in interviews with engineers at the public security ministry's biennial convention, in visits to Chinese surveillance camera factories and police stations, and in reports on China prepared for member companies of the Security Industry Association, a trade group based in Alexandria, Va.
Interviews with security experts and executives in Asia and the United States also provided previously unknown details about the systems American companies are providing.
Honeywell has already started helping the police to set up an elaborate computer monitoring system to analyze feeds from indoor and outdoor cameras in one of Beijing's most populated districts, where several Olympic sites are located.
The company is working on more expansive systems in Shanghai, in preparation for the 2010 World Expo there--in addition to government and business security systems in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Nanjing, Changsha, Tianjin, Kunming, and Xi'an.
General Electric has sold to Chinese authorities its powerful VisioWave system, which allows security officers to control thousands of video cameras simultaneously and automatically alerts them to suspicious or fast-moving objects, like people running. The system will be deployed at Beijing's national convention center, including the Olympics media center.
IBM is installing a similar system in Beijing that should be ready before the Olympics and will analyze and catalog people and behavior.
Julie Donahue, IBM's vice president for security and privacy services, told a technology news service in early December that by next summer IBM would install in Beijing its newly developed Smart Surveillance System, a powerful network that links large numbers of video cameras. Company officials declined repeated requests to answer questions about the system or discuss Donahue's remarks.
United Technologies flew three engineers from its Lenel security subsidiary in Rochester to Guangzhou, the biggest metropolis in southeastern China, to customize a 2,000-camera network in a single large neighborhood, the first step toward a citywide network of 250,000 cameras to be installed before the Asian Games in 2010. The company is also seeking contracts to build that network.
Critics argue that all these programs violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the American law written in response to the military crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Commerce Department, charged with developing regulations that put the law in effect, stands by its rules. The department bars exports whose sole use is law enforcement, like equipment for detecting fingerprints at crime scenes. But video systems are allowed if they are "industrial or civilian intrusion alarm, traffic or industrial movement control or counting systems," according to the regulations.
Since multinationals increasingly manufacture some security systems in China, export rules are irrelevant. But the post-Tiananmen law also prohibits companies from using American security technology anywhere in the world to supply China with banned products.
The companies note that the products they provide are not banned by the government. Honeywell said that it complies with the letter and spirit of the laws in every country where it operates. GE said it had reviewed the VisioWave sale to China and believed that it has complied fully with both the letter and spirit of the law.
United Technologies said that the equipment it is selling for Guangzhou is not banned under the legislation. IBM said only that it complies with American regulations.
James Mulvenon is the director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, a government contractor in Washington that does classified analyses on overseas military and intelligence programs. He said the companies' participation in Chinese surveillance "violates the spirit of the Tiananmen legislation."
Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said United States companies "obviously don't know the meaning of decency if they're seeking out ways to wriggle through the loopholes in our laws to capitalize on the market opportunities presented by the Olympics."
He added that his committee would continue its investigation into what he sees as American corporate assistance for political repression.
Mulvenon said that the pace of technological change means that products with mainly civilian applications, like management computer systems with powerful video surveillance features, had blurred the distinction between law enforcement and civilian technologies. But he said the Commerce Department tended to define narrowly the technologies that qualify as crime control and prevention under the Tiananmen legislation.
The Commerce Department official said the department's Bureau of Industry and Security had prevented the export of a "medium-tech" product to China for the Olympics that was clearly intended for law enforcement use. The official declined to identify the product and insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the department.
Olympics security spending increased rapidly this year, after China's little-noticed decision last winter to create a nationwide "safe cities" program, establishing surveillance camera networks in more than 600 cities.
A table in the security ministry's magazine suggested the number of surveillance cameras needed in each community, based on its size, international prominence and location--from 250,000 to 300,000 cameras in metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai to 1,000 to 5,000 cameras for small towns and rural counties.
London already has as many as 500,000 cameras, if the count includes video systems at banks, supermarkets, and other commercial locations. But government agencies in London have installed smaller, separate systems of a few hundred cameras at a time, in contrast with the highly integrated approach of the Chinese government.
By comparison, in New York City, the police are trying to assemble a network of 3,000 public and private cameras below Canal Street to discourage terrorism in Lower Manhattan; they are starting with 100 cameras.
Even China lacks enough security guards to watch the video feeds from so many cameras. So authorities have been shopping for foreign computer systems that automatically analyze the information, security executives said.
At this year's security equipment convention--in Shenzhen, the center of China's security industry--multinationals competed with Chinese companies to offer high-tech products, as police officials from around the country browsed the booths.
Part of the sales pitches from American companies is that their systems can protect the local police in incidents of alleged police abuse. When a car in Beijing hit an elderly foreign tourist, the police used Honeywell systems to check a nearby street camera and discovered that the tourist had been jaywalking, said He Han, a Honeywell engineer who had worked on the system.
"We were one of the first to introduce foreign advanced products and management practices," He said. "We have the biggest user network in China."
If American companies do not sell security systems here, Chinese companies will; the Shenzhen conference drew a handful of American companies, but about 800 of the nearly 1,000 exhibitors were Chinese--and they were aggressively pursuing contracts.
The young engineers in jacket and tie at the American booths stood in sharp contrast, for example, to a Chinese company's booth with a half-dozen young women in black patent-leather boots and metallic silver micro-mini dresses.
China is likely to emerge from the Olympics with remarkable surveillance capabilities, said Vickers, the former Hong Kong police official.
"They are certainly getting the best stuff," he added. "One, because money talks, and second, because whatever the diplomatic issues, the U.S. wants to supply the Olympics."
The 5 Most Annoying Programs on Your PC
Elephantware. That is what we are talking about. Bloated programs that make brand new PCs boot like Pentium 2s with 64 MBs of RAM.
This is software that causes your screen to freeze while it works, consumes enough system resources to display a reminder box letting you know there is a new, even bigger, version available for download. Software we've been forced to install so we can read some special document format, enjoy some DRM infected piece of media, or communicate with others who also live with the same brand of behemoth riding on their backs.
We all have it. We are all stuck with it. And, aside from a glimmer or two of hope, we can't expect to escape their boot screens, quick launch icons, or update reminders anytime soon.
This is the worst of the worst.
1. Acrobat Reader
Adobe Acrobat Reader is like a stocky frat guy you never want to invite to your Halloween parties, because he'll show up wearing a giant gift-wrapped box with a "To: Women, From: God" label on top. He thinks he is all that, but he really just wore a costume so big he can't get through the front door and has to stay outside by the fire all night (true story!).
Back on topic though, Acrobat reader does one thing poorly -- read PDFs. To do this it needs to download updates at least twice a month. Acrobat's other big feature is the ability to bring your system to a roaring halt while it boots up its massive amount of plugins and libraries. All this to display (wait for it) -- a page.
FoxIt Reader is a much better solution. Download it, and you'll no longer cringe each time your accidentally click on a PDF link while browsing the internet.
I CAN HAZ MANY HOURS OF IPOD SYNCING? KTHXBYE!
For the love of Apple, why is iTunes such a cow of an application? It is a media player! It should be light and the media should be heavy. Instead we have a bloated and increasingly complex application that takes so long to load, is so ugly, and takes up so much memory the only option is to not use it and pull up Pandora. And let's not even talk about the painful process of syncing a new iPod using this pile of cowplop.
3. Real Player
Real Player could have been YouTube. Instead it is, well, Real Player. Like a pushy kid on your front lawn trying to sell you a magazine subscription, Real Player just doesn't leave you alone. It is constantly trying to take over all the media on your hard drive, your web browser, and your MP3 Players. To make matters worse it continuously tries to upsell you on Rhapsody and SuperPass. Yeah, let's just SuperPass on those options. Thanks.
You might try Real Alternative instead.
4. Internet Explorer
Yes, the great drunk-and-raving-at-family-Christmas-gatherings granddad of bad software. Will Microsoft ever fix this? Sure IE 7.0 is better than IE 6.0, but that is only in a "at least Mussolini made the trains run on time" sort of way. It is still evil. Can't believe it? Ask any web developer to explain how many hours they've spent in the last month getting their site to work in IE and you'll get the picture.
If you aren't using FireFox, do.
5. Microsoft Outlook
Hello Microsoft! Please! It is nearly 2008! How is it possible GMail and Yahoo Mail are so much faster and so much more feature-rich than your flagship mail client? How is it, in the world of 500 spam messages a day, that Outlook becomes pitch-drip slow as soon as you have a couple thousand messages? How is it your business contact manager is always trying to do mysterious things, always failing to do them, and always complaining about it in the middle of startup? And how, oh please tell us how, can you justify a message search that scans a folder at the same speed we do?
Let's face it, no matter how fast your processor, how big your hard drive, or how many Gigs of RAM you have -- your PC will still never run like a gazelle. With junk like the aforementioned software cluttering up your C Drive from day one, you'll always be stuck waddling along at Winnie-the-Pooh speeds. And if that is too fast for you, perhaps a downgrade to Vista is in order.
Long Live Closed-Source Software!
There's a reason the iPhone doesn't come with Linux.
If you’ve just been cornered by Martha Stewart at an interdisciplinary science conference and chastised for being a wimp, you could only be at one event: Sci Foo, an experimental, invitation-only, wikilike annual conference that takes place at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. There is almost no preplanned agenda. Instead, there’s a moment early on when the crowd of scientists rushes up to blank poster-size calendars and scrawls on them to reserve rooms and times for talks on whatever topic comes to mind. For instance, physicist Lee Smolin, sci-fi author Neal Stephenson, and I talked about the relationship between time and math (touching on ideas presented in my October 2006 column).
The wimp comment was directed at me, and Martha was right. I hadn’t stood up for myself in a group interaction. I’ve always been the shy one in the schoolyard. Back in the 1980s, I was drawn to the possibility that virtual reality would help extend the magical, creative qualities of childhood into adulthood. Indeed, the effect of digital technology on culture has been exactly that, but childhood is not entirely easy. If Lee hadn’t forged through the crowd to create our session, I never would have done it. What made Martha’s critique particularly memorable, though, is that her observation was directly relevant to what emerged from Sci Foo as the big idea about the future of science.
It wasn’t official, of course, but the big idea kept popping up: Science as a whole should consider adopting the ideals of “Web 2.0,” becoming more like the community process behind Wikipedia or the open-source operating system Linux. And that goes double for synthetic biology, the current buzzword for a superambitious type of biotechnology that draws on the techniques of computer science. There were more sessions devoted to ideas along these lines than to any other topic, and the presenters of those sessions tended to be the younger ones, indicating that the notion is ascendant.
It’s a trend that seems ill-founded to me, and to explain why, I’ll tell a story from my early twenties. Visualize, if you will, the most transcendentally messy, hirsute, and otherwise eccentric pair of young nerds on the planet. One was me; the other was Richard Stallman. Richard was distraught to the point of tears. He had poured his energies into a celebrated project to build a radically new kind of computer called the LISP Machine. It wasn’t just a regular computer running LISP, a programming language beloved by artificial intelligence researchers. Instead it was a machine patterned on LISP from the bottom up, making a radical statement about what computing could be like at every level, from the underlying architecture to the user interface. For a brief period, every hot computer-science department had to own some of these refrigerator-size gadgets.
It came to pass that a company called Symbolics became the sole seller of LISP machines. Richard realized that a whole experimental subculture of computer science risked being dragged into the toilet if anything happened to that little company—and of course everything bad happened to it in short order.
So Richard hatched a plan. Never again would computer code, and the culture that grew up with it, be trapped inside a wall of commerce and legality. He would instigate a free version of an ascendant, if rather dull, program: the Unix operating system. That simple act would blast apart the idea that lawyers and companies could control software culture. Eventually a kid named Linus Torvalds followed in Richard’s footsteps and did something related, but using the popular Intel chips instead. His effort yielded Linux, the basis for a vastly expanded open-software movement.
But back to that dingy bachelor pad near MIT. When Richard told me his plan, I was intrigued but sad. I thought that code was important in more ways than politics can ever be. If politically correct code was going to amount to endless replays of dull stuff like Unix instead of bold projects like the LISP Machine, what was the point? Would mere humans have enough energy to carry both kinds of idealism?
Twenty-five years later, that concern seems to have been justified. Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it.
Before you write me that angry e-mail, please know I’m not anti–open source. I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But a politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts.
Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash—the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.
Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed software-development shop on Earth?
There were plenty of calls at Sci Foo for developing synthetic biology along open-source lines. Under such a scheme, DNA sequences might float around from garage experimenter to garage experimenter via the Internet, following the trajectories of pirated music downloads and being recombined in endless ways.
A quintessential example of the open ideal showed up in Freeman Dyson’s otherwise wonderful piece about the future of synthetic biology in a recent issue of The New York Review of Books. MIT bioengineer Drew Endy, one of the enfants terribles of synthetic biology, opened his spectacular talk at Sci Foo with a slide of Freeman’s article. I can’t express the degree to which I admire Freeman. Among other things, he was the one who turned me on to an amazing 11-sided geometric figure (see Jaron’s World, April 2007). In this case, though, we see things differently.
Freeman equates the beginnings of life on Earth with the Eden of Linux. Back when life first took hold, genes flowed around freely; genetic sequences skipped around from organism to organism in much the way they may soon on the Internet. In his article, Freeman derides the first organism that hoarded its genes as “evil,” like the nemesis of the open-software movement, Bill Gates. Once organisms became encapsulated, they isolated themselves into distinct species, trading genes only with others of their kind. Freeman suggests that the coming era of synthetic biology will be a return to Eden. Species boundaries will be defunct, and genes will fly about, resulting in an orgy of creativity.
But the alternative to open development is not necessarily evil. My guess is that a poorly encapsulated, communal gloop of organisms lost out to closely guarded species for the same reason that the Linux community didn’t come up with the iPhone: Encapsulation serves a purpose.
Let’s say you have something complicated like a biological cell, or even something much less complicated, like a computer design or a scientific model. You put it through tests, and the results of the tests influence how the design will be changed. That can happen either in natural evolution or in a lab.
The universe won’t last long enough to test every possible combination of elements in a complicated construction like a cell. Therefore, the only option is to tie down as much as possible from test to test and proceed incrementally. After a series of encapsulated tests, it might seem as though a result appears magically, as if it couldn’t have been approached incrementally.
Fortunately, encapsulation in human affairs doesn’t need lawyers or a tyrant; it can be achieved within a wide variety of political structures. Academic efforts are usually well encapsulated, for instance. Scientists don’t publish until they are ready, but publish they must. So science as it is already practiced is open, but in a punctuated way, not a continuous way. The interval of nonopenness—the time before publication—functions like the walls of a cell. It allows a complicated stream of elements to be defined well enough to be explored, tested, and then improved.
The open-source software community is simply too turbulent to focus its tests and maintain its criteria over an extended duration, and that is a prerequisite to evolving highly original things. There is only one iPhone, but there are hundreds of Linux releases. A closed-software team is a human construction that can tie down enough variables so that software becomes just a little more like a hardware chip—and note that chips, the most encapsulated objects made by humans, get better and better following an exponential pattern of improvement known as Moore’s law.
The politically incorrect critique of Freeman’s point of view is that the restrictions created by species boundaries have similarly made billions of years of natural biology more like hardware than like software. To put it another way: There won’t be an orgy of creativity in an overly open version of synthetic biology because there have to be species for sex to make sense.
I seem to hold a minority opinion. I’ve taken a lot of heat for it! I can’t hire Martha Stewart as a life coach, so the one thing I hope synthetic biology won’t import from the open-software world is the cultlike mania that seems to grip so many open-source enthusiasts.
How to Surf the Web Even if Internet Explorer is Disabled
Ever find yourself sitting in front of a computer that's been locked down by an overzealous IT administrator who won't let you install any software or even open Internet Explorer or Firefox? If that PC is running Windows XP, there's a good chance you can still visit Download Squad (or other sites if that sort of thing appeals to you).
All you have to do is launch a Windows application like Calculator, and then click the Help button. Under Help, click "Help Topics," which will bring up a help window. Next, all you have to do is right click on the title bar and select "Jump To URL." Now you can type in any web address you like, but make sure to include "http://" at the beginning. Basically what you're looking at is Internet Explorer 6 inside a help window, but this version of the program isn't quite as smart as IE6. It won't automatically add the http:// for you. And of course, there's no bookmarking feature.
Office 2003 Service Pack Disables Older File Formats
In Service Pack 3 for Office 2003, Microsoft disabled support for many older file formats. If you have old Word, Excel, 1-2-3, Quattro, or Corel Draw documents, watch out! They did this because the old formats are "less secure", which actually makes some sense, but only if you got the files from some untrustworthy source. Naturally, they did this by default, and then documented a mind-bogglingly complex workaround (KB 938810) rather than providing a user interface for adjusting it, or even a set of awkward "Do you really want to do this?" dialog boxes to click through. And of course because these are, after all, old file formats ... many users will encounter the problem only months or years after the software change, while groping around in dusty and now-inaccessible archives.
Fedora 8: An Assault On Ubuntu
"(Preview) - Lately, I have been looking into other distributions that, like Ubuntu, are working to make strides to attract new users. I still have Debian Etch burned to a CD, waiting for a test in our lab. Next up is going to be Fedora. In the past, I have never been too impressed with RPM-based distributions, but to be fair, most of this came from nightmare scenarios with Mandriva and SuSE. And the last time I really took Fedora for a solid run was with Fedora 5, so it has been a while since I tested the Red Hat supported distro."
But I can only take so much of Debian's minimalist approach when it comes to describing features and why I should care to use the distro. After looking into what Fedora has done , I think it is clear which distribution is really working hard to attract new users.
Could Fedora Outperform Ubuntu for Casual Users? With the upcoming release of Fedora 8 (at the time of press time), I see solid indications that Fedora could dethrown Ubuntu with its latest release. I especially like what I'm reading about their work on issues, such as notebook suspend/resume working, power consumption and perhaps most of all, PulseAudio . This rationale really struck me, and while a user could potentially install this into Ubuntu Gutsy, props to the Fedora guys for just getting in there. After reading this thread and how one Ubuntu user even saw significant improvement using PulseAudio, I found myself becoming intrigued further. From what I can gather, it is still under heavy development, but having better control over your sound device is just what popular Linux distros need right now.
Then we have the CodecBuddy, Fedora's approach to dealing with restricted codecs. What I found most refreshing was educating the user in the immediate space rather than merely telling them they might be breaking the law and then providing a link to another page. Very cool. And of course, this page just made my day because the person who wrote it did so by speaking plain English, instead of boring us with maybes and possibilities regarding legalities. Providing me as a user with a clear reason why I should be using open formats was really quite refreshing.
Restricted Codecs Mess in Linux
Fedora Spins. I love this idea - a Fedora release for gamers, developers and those who are interested in working with electronics outside of just computing. If there is one thing that is becoming obvious to me, it is Fedora's attack on Ubuntu.
Then we have their new theme. OK, let's be honest, I'm getting pretty tired of the same old Ubuntu theme over and over. Yes, it takes just a minute to change it, but when trying to attract new users, it helps to have something attractive to look at. And I must admit, Fedora's Nodoka is definitely a clean look without being totally boring. Sweeet!
Not Interested Fedora in the Past, Could This Be Changing in the Future? I was never that swept up with past releases of Fedora. There was nothing compelling about it. But for the first time, I cannot help but feel that the Fedora team has been spoon fed an extra helping of Wheaties , which has put them into overdrive with their accessibility efforts.
In the coming weeks, I will be looking to do an all out review of Fedora 8. From what I have seen thus far, I'm definitely interested in seeing what they have in store and if they can catch up with PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu and other distros that have bent to the needs of the growing beginner-friendly userbase.
2008 Killer Apps - Tools for Managing Multiple Social Networks
Managing scattered online Social Life on multiple Social Networking sites, I sense, will become a Killer App Category 2008. There are several startups now in the "Social Network Aggregation" space and this App Category should diversify and catch momentum in 2008. Some startups are focusing on identity consolidation, others on messaging consolidation and on tracking friends. Some like Profilefly offer consolidation of multiple things like Profiles, Contacts and Bookmarks.
Note that I am not talking about Open Social initiative by Google which focuses on providing "A platform for building applications that can be run on multiple social networking sites at the same time...Doesn’t require developers to learn (many) new tricks." Nor am I talking about OpenID which will esentially help users have a single login-password mechanism. (more in another post)
The need for users to be a member of not just one but multiple social networks can be understood through Barry Wellman's concept of "networked individualism". PEW Internet report "The Strenght of Internet Ties" explains networked individualism well:
Rather than relying on a single community for social capital, individuals often must actively seek out a variety of appropriate people and resources for different situations.
In simple words you might be an amateur photographer sharing tips and getting advice about wide angle lenses on Flickr but for your job related networkin/mobility you would depend on LinkedIn. If some of your good friends from high school are on MySpace while the grad school folks went to Facebook you now have 4 Social Networks to Manage! Thats why my predication that tools for helping users manage their memberships across Social Networks will emerge as a Killer App category. This means more funding dollars, acquisitions and even more creative startups.
Recent research data from Compete confirms that people are tending to have multiple Social Network Memberships. E.g. 20% of MySpace members are also Facebook Members.
Compete further gives these interesting data points
• 64% of Facebook members also belong to MySpace. (MySpace has nearly 3x the unique visitors of Facebook and a few years head start.)
• Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster all share more than 49% of their members with MySpace
• LinkedIn shares 42% of its members with Facebook and 32% with MySpace
From Geek to Gods: Why Have “Social Rock Stars” Emerged?
Forget Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison - there’s a new breed of rock star in town. They might be not able to play the guitar, but they still know how to work a crowd. They are “social rockstars” - the power users on social news sites.
There has been a lot of talk about “social rock stars” and their importance to the process of submitting content to social news sites. SEOMoz found that the top 100 Digg users control 56% of the homepage. More recent statistics show that the top 100 Digg users are responsible for 48% of the content that appears on the home page. This isn’t just the case with Digg; if you looked at all social news sites the results would be fairly similar.
While there has been lots of analysis on the power of these “social rock stars”, little attempt has been made to identify exactly why power users are now so important or even why they are needed. The argument is that if a site were truly democratic then content would rise to the top, no matter who submitted it. However, few people have looked at the cultural reasons behind the emergence of these power users.
The simplistic answer is that these power users work hard to build their reputation on the various social news sites and that other users come to trust them because of the quality content they submit. While this is true, it still overlooks the cultural reasons for their emergence.
Now, if you’re going attempt to analyse the cultural changes that technological developments can bring, there’s probably nobody better to base your ideas on than Marshall McLuhan.
Social media is a return to oral culture
McLuhan was perhaps the world’s foremost expert on media and communication. His books and ideas continue to shape media theory even today. McLuhan thought that all technology is an extension of ourselves, for example, a hammer is an extension of our arm and a knife is an extension of our teeth.
McLuhan popularised the term, “global village” in the 1960’s and saw how technology was about to change the landscape of western society. Instead of a visual culture, the new technology would bring about a return to oral/aural tradition.
We still have elements of a visual culture, after all, we have, Youtube, photographs and blogs and emails are written in text. But, in order for those to reach large numbers of people they all need to be talked about.
Yes, blogs are text based, but people linking back to your article and leaving comments is a return to oral tradition. Instant messengers, Twitter and Facebook all use text as the primary method of communication, but they are still all part of a conversation.
These social media tools are an extension of our mouth. Because these social media tools revive an oral tradition, it should come as little surprise that the idea of the tribe leader is also revived from the oral society.
The power user is essentially the new tribe leader.
By understanding that we’re moving away from the visual culture to an oral/aural culture, it becomes easier to see why power users have emerged on social media sites. To see the rise of the power user we can look to McLuhan’s Tetrad of media effects.
The “Tetrad of media effects” was devised by McLuhan as a way of understanding the effect technology has on society. While McLuhan stressed the importance of analysing the technology over the content of the medium, it’s still a useful model to examine cultural trends.
The key questions the tetrad asks you to consider are:
• What is enhanced?
• What is made obsolete?
• What is retrieved that had been made obsolete earlier?
• What is reversed when pushed to extremes?
If we apply these four questions to the emergence of power users on social media sites we might end up with something like this:
What is enhanced? - The idea of an authority for the collective. When we have lots of people speaking it is the voice of authority and experience that commands attention.
What is made obsolete? - The power of the individual is lost. The average social media user becomes redundant. Of course, s/he can still work their way up to being a power user in time, but the average user is left with little or no power and is forced to rely on top users in order to be “heard”.
What is retrieved that had been made obsolete earlier? - Brings back the idea of the shaman or tribe leader.
What is reversed when pushed to extremes? - Back to “master and servant” methods of information retrieval. When pushed to its extremes more users will go back to using search engines. The social media power user is in itself a reversal of search engines - from lots of information sources to trusted sources.
So what does McLuhan’s Tetrad model tell us?
If we use McLuhan’s model we can see that there is a reason why a majority of stories that make it onto the homepage are from a small number of users. The power users have simply filled a hole that exists because we are returning to an oral/aural culture.
McLuhan’s Tetrad shows that the idea of a “tribe” leader is being revived with these tools. Some marketers have recognised this are have seen the need to build relationships with the top users.
Marketers know they’ll have a better chance of making the popular pages if these power users submit their content. It’s the equivalent of having a quiet word with a tribe leader before a meeting and asking them to bring up a particular topic. The power user is holding the conch and speaking on your behalf because they have more authority among the rest of the group than you do.
The Tetrad also shows that there will inevitably be a backlash against power users. People feel frustrated that their voice isn’t being heard, but that is the nature of the oral society. Not everyone can shout loud enough to be heard.
Saudis Confirm Detention of Blogger of Social Issues
An outspoken Saudi blogger is being held for “purposes of interrogation,” the Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed Tuesday.
Gen. Mansour al-Turki, an Interior Ministry spokesman reached by telephone, said that the blogger, Fouah al-Farhan, was “being questioned about specific violations of nonsecurity laws.” Mr. Farhan’s blog, which discusses social issues, had become one of the most widely read in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Farhan, 32, of Jidda, was arrested Dec. 10 at his office, local news sources reported. Two weeks before his arrest, he wrote a letter to friends warning them that it was imminent.
“I was told that there is an official order from a high-ranking official in the Ministry of the Interior to investigate me,” read the letter, which is now posted in English and Arabic on Mr. Farhan’s blog.
Since his arrest, friends have continued to blog on his behalf under a banner that reads “Free Fouad” and features his picture. The blog’s Web address is www.alfarhan.org.
“The issue that caused all of this is because I wrote about the political prisoners here in Saudi Arabia, and they think I’m running an online campaign promoting their issue,” the letter continued, saying that Mr. Farhan had been asked to sign a statement of apology.
“I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that,” he wrote. “An apology for what? Apologizing because I said the government is a liar when they accused those guys to be supporting terrorism?”
Ahmad al-Omran, a blogger and a friend of Mr. Farhan, said that Mr. Farhan had been the first Saudi blogger to be detained by state security. The arrest created widespread anxiety among other Saudi bloggers and advocates, he said.
“An incident like this has its effect,” Mr. Omran said by telephone. “It’s intimidating to think you might be arrested for something on your blog. On the other hand, this means that these voices on the blogosphere are being heard. But it’s really sad that a blogger who is writing about important issues out in the open would get arrested, while there are extremists who call for violence and hate, and the government is not doing much.”
Mr. Omran said that Mr. Farhan was one of the first Saudi bloggers to post items in Arabic and to use his real name. At the top of Mr. Farhan’s blog is a call in Arabic for “freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation and the other lost Islamic values.”
The Interior Ministry would not say specifically why Mr. Farhan had been arrested.
“The violation is not a security matter,” General Turki said. “He is not being jailed. He is being questioned, and I don’t believe he will remain in detention long. They will get the information that they need from him and then they will let him go.”
Al Jazeera No Longer Nips at Saudis
Robert F. Worth
When a Saudi court sentenced a young woman to 200 lashes in November after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her, the case provoked outrage and headlines around the world, including in the Middle East.
But not at Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s leading satellite television channel, seen by 40 million people. The station’s silence was especially noteworthy because until recently, and unlike almost all other Arab news outlets, Al Jazeera had long been willing — eager, in fact — to broadcast fierce criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s rulers.
For the past three months Al Jazeera, which once infuriated the Saudi royal family with its freewheeling newscasts, has treated the kingdom with kid gloves, media analysts say.
The newly cautious tone appears to have been dictated to Al Jazeera’s management by the rulers of Qatar, where Al Jazeera has its headquarters. Although those rulers established the channel a decade ago in large part as a forum for critics of the Saudi government, they now seem to feel they cannot continue to alienate Saudi Arabia — a fellow Sunni nation — in light of the threat from Iran across the Persian Gulf.
The specter of Iran’s nuclear ambitions may be particularly daunting to tiny Qatar, which also is the site of a major American military base.
The new policy is the latest chapter in a gradual domestication of Al Jazeera, once reviled by American officials as little more than a terrorist propaganda outlet. Al Jazeera’s broadcasts no longer routinely refer to Iraqi insurgents as the “resistance,” or victims of American firepower as “martyrs.”
The policy also illustrates the way the Arab media, despite the new freedoms introduced by Al Jazeera itself a decade ago, are still often treated as political tools by the region’s autocratic rulers.
“The gulf nations now feel they are all in the same boat, because of the threat of Iran, and the chaos of Iraq and America’s weakness,” said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “So the Qataris agreed to give the Saudis assurances about Al Jazeera’s coverage.”
Those assurances, Mr. Alani added, were given at a September meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and top officials in the Qatari government. For the meeting, aimed at resolving a long-simmering feud between the nations, the Qataris brought along an unusual guest: the chairman of Al Jazeera’s board, Sheik Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani.
Al Jazeera’s general manager, Waddah Khanfar, did not reply to phone and e-mail requests for comment. But several employees confirmed that the chairman of the board had attended the meeting. They declined to give their names, citing the delicacy of the issue. The governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia have remained silent on the matter.
Repercussions were soon felt at Al Jazeera.
“Orders were given not to tackle any Saudi issue without referring to the higher management,” one Jazeera newsroom employee wrote in an e-mail message. “All dissident voices disappeared from our screens.”
The employee noted that coverage of Saudi Arabia was always politically motivated at Al Jazeera — in the past, top management used to sometimes force-feed the reluctant news staff negative material about Saudi Arabia, apparently to placate the Qatari leadership. But he added that the recent changes were seen in the newsroom as an even more naked assertion of political will.
“To improve their relations with Qatar, the Saudis wanted to silence Al Jazeera,” he wrote. “They got what they wanted.”
The changes at Al Jazeera are part of a broader reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In December, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, announced that Saudi Arabia would send an ambassador back to Qatar for the first time since 2002. Also in December, the Saudis attended the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Doha, Qatar’s capital, which they had refused to do the last time it was held there. The Saudis have also indicated that they may allow Al Jazeera to open a bureau in Riyadh.
The feud between Qatar and its much larger neighbor, for all its pettiness, has had real consequences. It led to the creation of Al Jazeera in the first place, which in turn helped shape perceptions — and, perhaps, realities — across the Arab world and beyond over the past decade.
The feud began in the mid-1990s, when the Qatari leadership accused the Saudis of supporting a failed coup attempt. Soon afterward, Al Jazeera was founded with a $150 million grant from the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and began reshaping the Arab media. The station was helped when the BBC’s Arabic-language television station, co-owned by a Saudi company, collapsed, thanks in part to Saudi censorship demands. The BBC journalists flocked to Al Jazeera.
The mere establishment of the station was a challenge to the Saudis, who since the 1970s had used their oil wealth to establish control over most of the pan-Arab media in an effort to forestall the kind of populist media campaign led in earlier decades by Gamal Abdel Nasser when he was Egypt’s president, said Marc Lynch, a professor of political science at George Washington University and the author of a book about Al Jazeera’s role in reshaping the Arab media.
But the feud grew worse in 2002, after Al Jazeera broadcast a debate on Saudi Arabia’s policy on the Palestinian question, shortly after the unveiling of a peace initiative for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by King Abdullah, who was then the crown prince. The debate included fierce criticisms of the Saudi ruling family, and the Saudis, deeply offended, responded by withdrawing their ambassador from Qatar.
Al Jazeera’s lengthy broadcasts of videotapes by Osama bin Laden — whose cherished goal for years has been to overthrow the Saudi monarchy — also provoked the Saudis. Al Jazeera has often been accused of helping make Mr. bin Laden into a celebrity, and indirectly helping him to recruit more people across the Arab and Islamic world to his cause.
An added frustration was the way Qatar benefited from Al Jazeera’s anti-Americanism, even as American military support and money poured into the tiny country.
“Qatar became immensely popular during the 2003 war, because of Jazeera — despite the fact that the planning for the war was all taking place at Centcom, in Qatar,” said S. Abdallah Schleifer, a veteran American journalist and a professor emeritus at the American University of Cairo, referring to the United States Central Command.
Al Jazeera’s coverage gradually evolved and grew more moderate, partly for internal reasons and partly in response to American pressure. In 2003, Al Arabiya was founded, largely as a Saudi answer to Al Jazeera. It has sometimes countered Al Jazeera’s criticisms of Saudi Arabia with attacks on Qatari policy, as have other Saudi-owned media outlets.
But the recent changes underscore how much Iran’s nuclear ambitions have affected the region.
“It was the fear of a possible Iranian reprisal action, should it be attacked by the U.S., that ultimately appears to have persuaded the Qatari leadership to underline G.C.C. solidarity by mending relations with Saudi Arabia and rein in Al Jazeera’s coverage,” said Neil Partrick, a gulf analyst with the International Crisis Group, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council. On a smaller scale, the Qataris clearly wanted the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting to be a success, which it would not have been without Saudi involvement, Mr. Partrick said.
Some members of Al Jazeera’s newsroom staff say they believe that the station would not ignore or play down major news developments in Saudi Arabia, whatever promises the management may have made. But other Arab journalists said Al Jazeera’s seeming willingness to toe the Saudi line was proof that there still were no truly independent media outlets in the region.
“The Arab media today still play much the same role as the pre-Islamic tribal poets, whose role was to praise the tribe, not tell the truth,” said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, a Dubai-based media analyst and the former editor in chief of Forbes Arabia.
The Pirate Party of the United States Endorses Presidential Candidate Barack Obama
Since you’re reading this, you clearly understand the value and importance of the internet and what it can be used for. It is a tool for aggregating and making available hordes of information; it is a networking and social forum which brings people together instantaneously; it facilitates business, commerce, and is fast becoming an essential part of everyone’s lives. That’s why it’s important that our government protects and nourishes this vital technology. As senator Ted Stevens made apparent, we cannot rely on just anyone for this task, and that’s why the Pirate Party of the United States endorses and supports presidential candidate Barack Obama, as he is the candidate which expresses legitimate concern for the continued improvement of technology, as well as the other key issues of importance: patent and copyright reform.
Mr. Obama has promised to keep the nation up to date with ever improving technologies, ensuring that the United States remains at the forefront of innovative thought. Unlike the current administration which refused to devote funds to certain areas of scientific research, Mr. Obama promises to create permanent tax breaks for the research and development sector which will help improve growth in the sciences and technologies. Furthermore, he has promised to bring the internet to even the poorest of regions and improve broadband speeds, and in these endeavors do we support him. Mr. Obama clearly understands the important role that the internet plays in delivering information and communications in general, and his stance on privacy reflects this, saying at a speech given at the Google campus, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality." Network neutrality is an issue of critical importance, which as of yet, has no legislation to protect this fundamental idea which has thus far governed the internet. However, as commercial interests push to increase their own profits, they will attempt to commoditize the information itself, restricting access to the poor. The ability to access public information must be considered as fundamental as the right to freedom of speech, lest we end up living in a dictatorship. Barack Obama seems to be the leading candidate best qualified to tackle these issues as they arise and promote the advancement and expansion of the internet- as he himself says, "the internet is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way."
As for the matters of copyright and patent reform, in his technology position paper, Barack Obama clearly outlines methods of improving the current systems in order to improve efficiency, promote discourse, and avoid litigation. He advocates updating these systems into the digital age and exposing them to greater peer review. We believe he will negotiate and strike the inevitable balance between producers and consumers of these commodities, where artists and inventors will get their fairly deserved dues, and consumers will not suffer the penalty for it. With independent thought and planning, a fair solution is easily achievable, and Mr. Obama has promised to create one, without bowing to special interests. We believe that Barack Obama will be able to ethically lead our nation into an even greater technological age while preserving and upholding the rights of the citizens of this country.
About the Pirate Party of the US
The Pirate Party of the US was established in July 2006. The basic idea of the Pirate Party is simple - the government should encourage, rather than smother, creativity and freedom. The Pirate Party of the US does not support nor condone any unlawful distribution of copyrighted works.
|02-01-08, 09:36 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
In the DVD War Over High Definition, Most Buyers Are Sitting It Out
Eric A. Taub
What if nobody wins the high-definition DVD format wars? That increasingly looks to be the situation for the next-generation DVD technology, which is available to consumers in two incompatible formats.
A little more than 18 months after their introduction, the two systems — Blu-ray, developed by Sony, and HD DVD, from Toshiba — have sold around one million stand-alone players combined. Both sides promote their technologies, their movie studio allies and the growing list of movies available in the new formats.
Yet neither has a clear advantage, either in terms of technology, number of movies or, increasingly, the price of the equipment. According to data from Adams Media Research, 578,000 HD DVD and 370,000 Blu-ray machines will be sold by the end of this year.
The winner of the format wars could be determined by which company has the most content, in the same way the VHS-Betamax VCR war was decided. But both formats offer about 400 movies. Studios allied with the Blu-ray camp include Columbia, Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, Miramax, New Line and Sony.
In the HD DVD camp are DreamWorks, Paramount, Universal, the Weinstein Company, and several smaller TV and motion picture companies. Warner Brothers releases movies for both systems.
In November, Howard Stringer, the Sony chairman, publicly acknowledged that the formats were in a stalemate, and predicted that neither side would fold.
High-definition DVDs of both formats provide superior picture and sound quality compared with standard DVDs.
They also offer advanced interactive features like multiple camera angles, games, picture-in-picture commentaries and, in the case of HD DVD, a connection to the Internet to download more content.
But the visual and audio differences depend on the size of the TV screen used to display them.
“You start to enjoy the benefits of high-definition DVD at 40 inches and above,” said Chris Fawcett, vice president for product marketing at Sony Electronics’ home video group.
Only high-definition sets can display high-definition DVD images. And only the highest-resolution displays, the so-called 1080p HDTVs, for progressive scan, can show the images at their best. As a result, the potential customer base is limited. With a lower-resolution 720p set, “you are not as likely to see a dramatic a difference” between standard and high-definition DVDs, according to Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association.
The two camps are victims of their own earlier success with DVD. The standard DVDs offered a quantum leap in quality from the picture and sound of VHS videotape, and for many that was more than adequate.
In addition, DVD players that can convert images to near high-definition quality can be found for under $100, hundreds less than a true high-definition DVD player, further reducing the urgency to upgrade to one of the new formats.
“Today, an HDTV owner hooks up a standard DVD and it looks good,” said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president of HD Strategic Marketing at Universal, and co-president of the HD DVD Promotional Group. “Unless they experience the new format, they won’t understand it.”
Not many consumers are interested in even taking a look. According to research by NPD Group, only 11 percent of HDTV set owners strongly intend to buy a Blu-ray or HD DVD player by next spring. Almost three-quarters of those HDTV owners surveyed said that standard DVD was good enough for them.
“This may emerge as a premium, luxury item, not a successor to DVD,” said Ross Rubin, director for industry analysis at NPD.
Blu-ray and HD DVD proponents are doing what they can to change that attitude. And the best technique to pique interest is dropping the price. As with most things electronic, prices for both players have fallen drastically since their introduction.
HD DVD players, the vast majority of which are made by Toshiba, still have the price advantage. The company’s least-expensive model — which displays images in the lower-quality 1080i format — can be found for $200 or less in electronics store promotions or from online discounters.
Its least-expensive 1080p model is selling at Amazon for $250. But it is a tit-for-tat war. A Blu-ray 1080p unit from Samsung is just $30 more at Costco. Blu-ray units are also made by Panasonic, Philips, Sony and others.
Several holiday promotions had players in either version selling for as low as $200.
In an effort to finesse the format war, LG sells a combination unit that plays both formats; however, its $1,000 price has prompted only a few thousand consumers to buy.
As prices drop, high-definition DVD drives will find their way into other devices. Mr. Graffeo predicts that by the end of next year, 5 million notebook computers will be sold with HD DVD drives.
Sony says that 3.4 million Blu-ray disc drives are also in PlayStation 3 machines, giving it a numerical advantage. But the rival camp points out that gamers are not buying the PS3 to watch movies, and in any case, 300,000 HD DVD add-on drives will have been purchased to use with the Xbox 360 game console from Microsoft.
The 400 movies available in each format are a fraction of the 90,000 movies and TV programs that the video rental company Netflix offers. Increasingly, high-definition DVDs are being issued simultaneously with the standard definition DVD release.
Consumers are usually advised to wait until a clear winner emerges. But if there is a deciding factor, it might be which format has the more compelling movies. Good animation looks three-dimensional in high definition, so Sony is hoping to gain an advantage by providing Blu-ray formats of “Ratatouille,” the Disney/Pixar film about a cute French rat who cooks, and blockbusters like “Spider-Man 3.”
As an indication of their owners’ enthusiasm, Blu-ray users are buying twice as many discs as their HD DVD counterparts, according to Tom Adams, president of Adams Media Research.
Discs can be rented at the Blockbuster and Netflix online stores. Of Blockbuster’s 5,000 physical stores, 250 offer both high-definition DVD formats, while 1,450 rent only Blu-ray; the rest offer none. The company emphasizes Blu-ray because 70 percent of its rentals are for that format, said Karen Raskopf, a Blockbuster spokeswoman.
The HD DVD camp is playing up its new interactive features, believing that the next generation of viewers wants to combine TV viewing with video games.
In Universal’s just-released HD DVD of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” viewers can play a game that tests their memories, and then upload their results using a broadband connection to a Web site and compare their scores with others.
Viewers can also find character dossiers, watch “Webisodes” with the Volkswagen Touareg sport utility vehicle featured in the film, and create playlists of their favorite scenes and share them with friends.
Those features will do little to increase sales, said Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group. The market consultants’ surveys show that just 3 percent of consumers want interactivity, he said.
As more consumers buy HDTVs, and the price of dual format players drop, an uneasy truce may descend. With the studios in the United States collectively making $16.5 billion in worldwide video sales, according to Mr. Adams, companies will be loath to miss an opportunity to make money by allying themselves with one high-definition DVD format over the other. And then, the once-unthinkable could happen.
“When high-definition DVD reaches its tipping point, studios will have to release their movies in both HD DVD and Blu-ray,” Mr. Adams said. “No studio will be able to afford not to.”
Did Warner Brothers Just Kill HD DVD?
In addition to Apple, Warner Brothers is now going to throw its weight behind the Blu-ray format for high-definition disks. Warner has been the only major studio to publish its movies in both Blu-ray and HD DVD formats. Today, the studio announced that from now on, it would only issue movies in Blu-ray.
Until now, the war between the formats has seemed like a standoff. Of the big studios, Disney, Fox and Sony have backed Blu-ray. NBC Universal and Viacom back HD DVD.
Richard Greenfield, the media analyst with Pali Research, wrote that this marks the end of the format wars: “We expect HD DVD to ‘die’ a quick death.” He noted that NBC Universal has not committed to backing HD DVD exclusively. Viacom’s studios — Paramount and Dreamworks — have an exclusive deal with the backers of HD DVD, but Mr. Greenfield wonders if there is an escape clause.
Mr. Greenfield further wonders if consumers, on hearing this news, will return their Christmas HD DVD players and exchange them for Blu-ray devices. I’m not so sure that many people pay that close attention to Hollywood. But I certainly wouldn’t spend money on an HD DVD player until this all sorts out.
With Wii and DS, Nintendo Has 2 Hit Game Devices
Eric A. Taub
Nintendo, the maker of the Wii video game machine, does not have just one hit product on its hands. Rather, it has two.
While shoppers are still lining up before stores open to buy Nintendo’s Wii, its older portable sibling, the Nintendo DS, is the best-selling game machine in the United States. The hand-held DS outsold the Wii in November 1.53 million units to 981,000, according to sales figures compiled by NPD Group.
The DS, a three-year-old $130 unit, has been handily outselling its chief rival, Sony’s $170 PSP hand-held game device, as well as the newer and more expensive consoles, like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, selling for $350, and Sony’s PlayStation 3, which starts at $400.
Nintendo expects to finish the year having sold more than 6 million DS consoles, with a total of 15.2 million sold since they were introduced in November 2004. The best-selling game console this year, the Wii, has sold more than 5 million units this year, David Riley of NPD said.
Sony has sold 9.5 million PSP units in the United States since its introduction in March 2005.
Nintendo attributes the success of the DS to the same market positioning it used for the $250 Wii — create devices for young gamers that also appeal to their parents and even grand parents. The DS has proven more popular with younger children than Sony’s PSP; 80 percent of DS owners are 8 to 16 years of age, while PSP players tend to be 16 to 24 years old, according to analysts at Wedbush Morgan.
But Nintendo, based in Kyoto, Japan, has also developed several titles for middle-aged adults, like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, two memory-training games, and Flash Focus, a game designed to improve visual acuity. By making the device appealing to baby boomers, the company also makes parents feel better about buying it for their kids.
“On YouTube, you can see videos of retirees playing both the Wii and the DS,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America’s president and chief operating officer.
The DS is also compatible with Nintendo’s earlier device, the Game Boy Advance, making it an appealing platform for the older gamers, who may have kept libraries of Nintendo games.
Video game creators, already familiar with Game Boy, easily made the transition to Nintendo’s new portable unit.
Like the Wii, the DS was considered an unlikely candidate for success when it first arrived on store shelves. The DS features two screens, one of which can be operated by touching a finger to the screen. It also has wireless connectivity that allows it to communicate with the Wii as well as other users to send them messages and play games.
Sony’s PSP uses a single screen, offers Internet access, allows users in close proximity to play against each other, and can play movies using the company’s proprietary UMD disc format. “The DS was handicapped as ‘what, two screens? Are you kidding me?,’” said Richard Doherty, a partner in the Envisioneering Group. “But the DS ran enough exciting Game Boy applications that it got immediate attention.”
Mr. Fils-Aime said that future DS device will be more tightly integrated with its Wii console. Complete games as well as game samplers will be able to be downloaded into the Wii using its broadband connection, and then transferred wirelessly to the DS.
A puzzle-solving game, Professor Layton, to be introduced next year, will be upgraded with new puzzles transmitted to the DS through a wireless download.
In Japan, the DS’s functionality extends beyond its game-playing ability. There the device is used to give information during museum tours, and to download content from the Wii. A new feature allowing DS users to view movies on the device has also been introduced.
Some of those features will eventually be introduced into the North American market as well. “To aggressively drive DS business we need to provide other forms of entertainment to excite the consumer,” said Mr. Fils-Aime.
As a test this past season, fans watching a baseball game in Seattle’s Safeco Field could also see the game on the DS, and order food and view statistics using the device.
While Sony may be playing catch-up, its PSP has a number of strong-selling titles among the 359 available for the device. Its hits include Grand Theft Auto, which has sold 1.5 million units, as well as SOCOM Fire Team Bravo, Star Wars: Battlefront II, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
“The DS is still a kid’s device,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan. “There is a lot of mature content available for the PSP that is not available for the DS.” .
“Our direction is first party and third-party games from such developers as Electronic Arts. This will pay dividends down the road,” said John Koller, senior marketing manager for the PSP.
But the DS’s movie capabilities have not been a hit with consumers, mostly because the price of the movies — $25 and higher — is limiting sales. “Content and price were two big issues,” Mr. Koller said. “Sixteen year olds were not interested in 1970s romantic dramas.” New lower prices starting at $5, and titles like SuperBad will change that equation, according to Mr. Koller. Additional titles from Sony geared toward teenagers and those in their 20s will be launched in the first half of 2008.
“Sony’s PSP is doing great,” said Mr. Pachter. “The DS is just doing better.”
Web Playgrounds of the Very Young
Forget Second Life. The real virtual world gold rush centers on the grammar-school set.
Trying to duplicate the success of blockbuster Web sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz, children’s entertainment companies are greatly accelerating efforts to build virtual worlds for children. Media conglomerates in particular think these sites — part online role-playing game and part social scene — can deliver quick growth, help keep movie franchises alive and instill brand loyalty in a generation of new customers.
Second Life and other virtual worlds for grown-ups have enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short of breathless expectations. The children’s versions are proving much more popular, to the dismay of some parents and child advocacy groups. Now the likes of the Walt Disney Company, which owns Club Penguin, are working at warp speed to pump out sister sites.
“Get ready for total inundation,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst at the research firm eMarketer, who estimates that 20 million children will be members of a virtual world by 2011, up from 8.2 million today.
Worlds like Webkinz, where children care for stuffed animals that come to life, have become some of the Web’s fastest-growing businesses. More than six million unique visitors logged on to Webkinz in November, up 342 percent from November 2006, according to ComScore Media Metrix, a research firm.
Club Penguin, where members pay $5.95 a month to dress and groom penguin characters and play games with them, attracts seven times more traffic than Second Life. In one sign of the times, Electric Sheep, a software developer that helps companies market their brands in virtual worlds like Second Life and There.com, last week laid off 22 people, about a third of its staff.
By contrast, Disney last month introduced a “Pirates of the Caribbean” world aimed at children 10 and older, and it has worlds on the way for “Cars” and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties.
Add to the mix similar offerings from toy manufacturers like Lego and Mattel. Upstart technology companies, particularly from overseas, are also elbowing for market share. Mind Candy, a British company that last month introduced a world called Moshi Monsters, and Stardoll, a site from Sweden, sign up thousands of members in the United States each day.
“There is a massive opportunity here,” said Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group, in an interview last week.
Behind the virtual world gravy train are fraying traditional business models. As growth engines like television syndication and movie DVD sales sputter or plateau — and the Internet disrupts entertainment distribution in general — Disney, Warner Brothers and Viacom see online games and social networking as a way to keep profits growing.
But more is at stake than cultivating new revenue streams. For nearly 50 years, since the start of Saturday morning cartoons, the television set has served as the front door to the children’s entertainment business. A child encounters Mickey Mouse on the Disney Channel or Buzz Lightyear on a DVD and before long seeks out related merchandise and yearns to visit Walt Disney World.
Now the proliferation of broadband Internet access is forcing players to rethink the ways they reach young people. “Kids are starting to go to the Internet first,” Mr. Wadsworth said.
Disney’s biggest online world is Club Penguin, which it bought in August from three Canadians in a deal worth $700 million. At the time, more than 700,000 members paid fees of $5.95 a month, delivering annual revenue of almost $50 million.
Still, one world, even a very successful one, does not alter the financial landscape at a $35.5 billion company like Disney. So Disney is pursuing a portfolio approach, investing $5 million to $10 million per world to develop a string of as many as 10 virtual properties, people familiar with Disney’s plans said.
Tinker Bell’s world, called Pixie Hollow, illustrates the company’s game plan. Disney is developing the site internally — creative executives who help design new theme park attractions are working on it — and will introduce it this summer to help build buzz for “Tinker Bell,” a big-budget feature film set for a fall 2008 release.
Visitors to a rudimentary version of Pixie Hollow, reachable through Disney.com, have already created four million fairy avatars, or online alter egos, according to Disney. The site will ultimately allow users to play games (“help create the seasons”) and interact with other “fairies.” When avatars move across the screen, they leave a sparkling trail of pixie dust, a carefully designed part of the experience.
“We wanted to come up with a way to make flying around the site feel really good,” said Paul Yanover, executive vice president and managing director of Disney Online.
Disney’s goal is to develop a network of worlds that appeal to various age groups, much like the company’s model. Preschool children might start with Pixie Hollow or Toon Town, another of Disney’s worlds, grow into Club Penguin and the one for “Cars” and graduate to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and beyond, perhaps to fantasy football at ESPN.com.
“All the stars are aligning for virtual worlds to become a mass-market form of entertainment, especially for kids and families,” Mr. Yanover said.
If virtual worlds for adults are about escaping from run-of-the-mill lives, sites for children tap into the desire to escape from the confines of reality as run by mom and dad. “I get to decide everything on Club Penguin,” said Nathaniel Wartzman, age 9, of Los Angeles, who also has a membership to a world called RuneScape.
But shopping is a powerful draw, too; most sites let children accumulate virtual points or spend their allowance money to buy digital loot. “It’s really fun to buy whatever you want inside the game,” Nathaniel said in a telephone interview. For his penguin, “like for Christmas I bought a fireplace, a flat-screen TV and a Christmas tree,” he said.
Online worlds, which typically have low overhead and fat profit margins once they are up and running, charge a monthly fee of $5 to $15 and require the adoption of an avatar. Some sites are free and rely on advertising to make money; others are advertising and subscription hybrids. Webkinz relies on the sale of stuffed animals, which come with tags that unlock digital content.
The power of the virtual worlds business was shown recently when Vivendi announced a plan to buy Activision, a publisher of video games for consoles like the Sony PlayStation 3. Vivendi owns World of Warcraft, a virtual world for adults with more than nine million members and revenue of more than $1 billion.
Still, the long-term appetite for the youth-oriented sites is unclear. Fads have always whipsawed the children’s toy market, and Web sites are no different, analysts warn. Parents could tire of paying the fees, while intense competition threatens to undercut the novelty. There are now at least 10 virtual worlds that involve caring for virtual pets.
Privacy and safety are a growing concern, particularly as companies aim at younger children. Some virtual worlds are now meant to appeal to preschoolers, using pictures to control actions so that reading is not required.
And critics are sharpening their knives. “We cannot allow the media and marketing industries to construct a childhood that is all screens, all the time,” said Susan Linn, a Boston psychologist and the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit group that has complained of ads for movies on Webkinz.com.
Operators shrug off worries about fads and competition. “Are features like creating an avatar a long-term advantage for anyone? Probably not,” Mr. Yanover said. “The viability and sustainability of this business comes from the shifting behavior of kids and how they spend their leisure time.”
As for privacy and safety, companies point to a grid of controls. For instance, Neopets restricts children under 13 from certain areas unless their parents give permission in a fax. Several Neopets employees patrol the site around the clock, and messaging features are limited to approved words and phrases.
“Parents know they can trust our brand to protect kids,” said Steve Youngwood, executive vice president for digital media at Nickelodeon. “We see that as a competitive advantage.”
JK Rowling Drops Hints of Possible Eighth Harry Potter Book
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has strongly hinted for the first time that she could write an eighth book in the series.
Rowling, 42, admits she has 'weak moments' when she feels she will pen another novel about the boy wizard.
One of her biggest fans – her 14-year-old daughter Jessica – has already put pressure on her to revisit the character.
And her younger children – David, four, and Mackenzie, two – are likely to join the clamour for another novel as they discover the Potter books.
However, if an eighth novel were to be written, Rowling concedes it is unlikely that Harry would be the central character.
She finished the seventh book in the series – Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – last January.
At the time she thought she was ending a 17-year association with the boy wizard.
But in an interview with Time magazine, which put Rowling at No 3 in its Person Of The Year list, she said: "There have been times since finishing, weak moments, when I've said 'Yeah, all right' to the eighth novel.
"If - and it's a big if - I ever write an eighth book, I doubt that Harry would be the central character. I feel I've already told his story.
"But these are big ifs. Let's give it ten years."
In the meantime, Rowling is working on two writing projects – an adult novel and a "political fairy tale" – and is involved in charity work.
New Years Action: Giving Away My Book
I've never been one for New Years resolutions. Quit smoking? Yeah, right. However, a New Years action I can deal with. Here's the plan: starting today, I'm going to be giving away the ebook version of Republic for free.
No more sample chapters, partial books that end in the middle, none of that. You can download and read the complete book. Share it with your friends, email it, do anything you want with it except sell it. Hope you enjoy the book and tell others.
Congestion Causes Text Message Slowdown
Geeta Citygirl just figured something was wrong with her phone when she realized the greetings she was sending as the ball dropped New Year's Eve weren't getting through.
In Los Angeles, a half-dozen New Year's text messages bounced back to Reggie Cameron on Wednesday, more than 24 hours after he thought he sent them out.
In fact, so many people tried to send text messages on New Year's Eve that networks got jam-packed and many of the missives arrived hours later -- or not at all.
''Think of any traffic artery during rush hour: You have a large number of people who are trying to access it at the same time,'' said Joe Farren, assistant vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a wireless industry group. ''It's really no different with regard to wireless networks.''
Millions and millions of messages did get through New Year's Eve, and a minor delay in a holiday wish is hardly the end of the world. But there have been multiple occasions in recent years when getting in touch with loved ones was more vital -- the Sept. 11 attacks, the 2003 blackout, Hurricane Katrina.
''What happens where there is an emergency?'' asked Scott Midkiff, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Virginia Tech. ''This has been a big problem with the voice cellular system. It will probably become more of a problem with text messaging.''
The cell phone carriers say they are working to expand their systems' capacity. Jeffrey Nelson, spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said the company invests almost $6 billion annually in the wireless network.
But the number of cell phone subscribers in the U.S. nearly doubled between the end of 2001 and the end of 2006, growing from 128 million to 233 million users, Farren said.
Analysts said last month that Americans may have spent more in 2007 for the first time on their cell phones than on land lines and pay phones. And people are using their cell phones in growing ways -- for text messages, video messages, e-mail and Web access.
In an emergency, it could be a concern, Cameron said.
''I didn't have a connection using cell phones for several days, and that was really frightening,'' he said of living in New York after the Sept. 11 attacks. ''I didn't talk to my parents for a week and a half.''
''It's definitely a really big question mark,'' said Rajan Shah, who sent his New Year's text messages before the clock struck midnight to beat the rush. ''It really makes you rethink technology and whether we are able to be connected through a global catastrophe.''
Text messages already use a different transmission system from cell phone calls. There may be a way to differentiate among types of information or to create a separate system for people to use in emergencies.
Farren said emergency networks in place and now being expanded allow emergency service personnel to maintain voice cell phone service in times of need.
But that doesn't help average Joe trying to find Mrs. Joe.
The next step may be some consumer education, Farren said.
''In an emergency situation, you really should stay off your phone'' if possible, he said.
Emergencies by definition are so unusual that building a full backup network could be cost-prohibitive, Farren said.
''If you're asking everyone to spends billions to billions to build a secondary network, someone's got to pay for it,'' Farren said.
But the wireless field is constantly changing, he noted. ''As innovation continues, I'm sure some of these questions will be addressed.''
It's not a strict technology issue, Midkiff said.
''It's people having to think a little bit differently about how you communicate,'' he said. ''Maybe there's a need for some different models.''
Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes
Berkeley's on YouTube. American University's hoping to get on iTunes. George Mason professors have created an online research tool, a virtual filing cabinet for scholars. And with a few clicks on Yale's Web site, anyone can watch one of the school's most popular philosophy professors sitting cross-legged on his desk, talking about death.
Studying on YouTube won't get you a college degree, but many universities are using technology to offer online classes and open up archives. Sure, some schools have been charging for distance-learning classes for a long time, but this is different: These classes are free. At a time when many top schools are expensive and difficult to get into, some say it's a return to the broader mission of higher education: to offer knowledge to everyone.
And tens of millions are reaching for it.
For schools, the courses can bring benefits, luring applicants, spreading the university's name, impressing donors, keeping alumni engaged. Virginia Tech, for example, offers some online classes free to its graduates.
As the technology evolves, the classes are becoming far more engaging to a broader public. (Think a class on "Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Solutions Using R and Bioconductor" sounds a little dry? Try reading the lecture notes, alone, on a computer screen.) With better, faster technology such as video, what once was bare-bones and hard-core -- lecture notes aimed at grad students and colleagues -- is now more ambitious and far more accessible.
With video, you can watch Shelly Kagan, the well-known Yale philosopher, asking students about existence and what makes someone's life worthwhile.
"If death is the end, is death bad?"
The focus is sharp enough to see the sticks of chalk at the blackboard, the laces on his Converse All-Stars. You can watch his black eyebrows fly up and down as he makes points. You can see which books are on the syllabus and get the assignments online.
Just don't ask him to grade the papers.
* * *
Some professors try this on their own, on a small scale. Schools are feeling their way, experimenting with different technologies; some use Utah State University's eduCommons on the Web; some post to free sites such as YouTube and the Apple university site iTunes U. Other schools have plunged right in: MIT has 1,800 classes online, virtually the entire curriculum free and open to all.
"The idea was to have a broad impact on education worldwide and make a statement at a time when many schools were launching for-profit distance-learning ventures," Steve Carson of MIT OpenCourseWare said, "trying to redefine the role of the institution in the digital age."
MIT is working with more than 150 other colleges and universities interested in open classes, Carson said, and more than 5,000 classes are online at an international site.
Less than a week into Yale's video launch of seven introductory courses, Kagan had gotten enthusiastic, inquisitive e-mail messages from people who had watched his classes. He had started to wonder whether it was just the first sign of a deluge of armchair philosophers trying to reach him.
It is, after all, out there. For anyone.
About 35 million people have tried MIT's online courses, Carson said. The biggest surprise has been that almost half who use the site aren't students or teachers but people just curious to learn.
"Wow now I can go to an Ivy League college . . . for free," someone wrote in the comments section of one of Berkeley's YouTube videos.
"UC Berkeley isn't Ivy League," someone else wrote, but whatever. There it is on YouTube, the third lecture of Chemistry 3B, Electronic Spectroscopy, just as it was taught at Berkeley.
The first lecture of Berkeley's Physics 10, on atoms and heat, was watched almost 115,000 times in its first four months online.
The second lecture has been reached only about 8,100 times.
And people have watched Beaker from the Muppets singing (or beeping?) "Feelings" more than 2 million times over the past year and a half.
MIT gets e-mail messages all the time from such people as Kunle Adejumo, a student in Nigeria. He would print out pages from a metallurgical engineering class online and bring them to his classmates to supplement what they were learning. They kept asking for more. Finally he downloaded the entire course, printed it and brought it in. The class burst into applause.
* * *
Johns Hopkins professors have posted lecture notes from public health courses on their Web site, available to anyone. George Mason's open online research tool and archive Zotero aims to get scholars around the world to share their research. At American, "the university is still trying to figure out, like any university, its way in a technologically and legally changed environment," said Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, director of general education.
"There are intellectual property issues to be worked out here," Jackson said. "There are, frankly, revenue things to be worked out here. There are cultural considerations: What kinds of things are appropriate to what audiences?"
Many school officials have concerns about intellectual property issues -- what's okay to talk about or show in a classroom with a small group might not be appropriate for mass broadcast -- and about ongoing costs. MIT spends $4 million a year and keeps updating, adding video and, recently, a portal for high school students and teachers.
Professors have another set of worries. At Yale, psychology professor Paul Bloom's first thought after agreeing to let his class be filmed was, "Oh, God, this is a terrible mistake."
He wondered whether he would teach differently, inhibited by the camera. He imagined careless comments being immortalized forever or random snippets winding up who knows where.
Some professors worried that students would just sleep in and catch the lecture on a laptop another time. (Jackson makes classroom discussions a big chunk of the final grade to head that off.)
It couldn't replace the real thing, many professors said -- especially not for seminars, in which the discussion and the papers are so important. Students can't earn credit. And yet, Bloom said, he didn't want to say no when he was asked to do it. "I'm very much behind it for moral reasons. . . . There are a lot of people who won't have a chance to go to Yale and won't have a chance to go to university. . . . [But] anyone with access to a computer can hear these brilliant lectures on physics or ethics or the Old Testament."
It's not a solution, he said, to the inequities in education.
But it's a step.
"It's part of this movement in higher education to open up," George Mason professor Dan Cohen said, "to share the products of our research, to be here for the public good."
Besides, Jackson said: "The thing any academic most wants is for people to read their stuff, listen to what they're saying."
We're All Thieves to the RIAA
You buy a CD. You rip a digital copy so you can put it on your Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPod or Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Zune. You're not worried; you paid premium price for the CD. You're not some lawless pirate. You wouldn't dream of sharing your music on a P2P network.
Well, you may be walking a fine line toward thiefdom in the eyes of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the industry trade association that includes heavyweights like Sony (NYSE: SNE) BMG, Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG), Vivendi Universal, and EMI.
Current litigation against Jeffrey Howell of Arizona shows that while the industry's gone after him for file-sharing, not ripping MP3s, it's also taking exception to recordings on his computer that he copied from CDs he purchased, with the outlook that Howell is also liable for the "unauthorized copies" he made and placed on his PC. Although there's a lot of clarification going on over the Internet now -- pointing out that the RIAA can't specifically target ripping CDs for personal use, since that falls within "fair use" -- the RIAA hasn't lent much reason to give it the benefit of the doubt as a reasonable entity here lately.
After all, a lawyer for Sony BMG said during a recent high-profile file-sharing trial that making one measly copy was, "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy'." I joked at the time that maybe they'll come after us for singing tunes in the shower, but at this point, maybe that thought isn't funny so much as scary.
I'd think companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) might start to get uncomfortable, since their participation in the varying channels of the digital music business rely on content that can be used with electronic devices in a way consumers can accept. If the RIAA does start targeting personal use, it certainly could spur a newfound revolution away from legit services (or even to new, more innovative solutions). As it stands, the industry already seems almost hell-bent on creating plenty of disgruntled customers who don't particularly want to do business with it anymore ... and then suing them for it.
As I've said before, a good sign of a dying industry that investors might want to avoid is when it would rather litigate than innovate, signaling a potential destroyer of value. If it starts to pursue paying customers -- which doesn't seem that outlandish at this point -- then I guess we'll all know the extent of the desperation. Investor, beware.
U.S. Album Sales Down, Digital Sales Up
U.S. album sales plunged 9.5 percent last year from 2006, continuing a downward trend for the recording industry, despite a 45 percent surge in the sale of digital tracks, according to figures released Thursday.
A total of 500.5 million albums sold as CDs, cassettes, LPs and other formats were purchased last year, down 15 percent from 2006's unit total, said Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks point-of-purchase sales.
The shortfall in album sales drops to 9.5 percent when sales of digital singles are counted as 10-track equivalent albums. About 844.2 million digital tracks sold in 2007, compared to 588.2 million in 2006, and digital album sales accounting for 10 percent of total album purchases.
Last year, Apple Inc.'s iTunes Music Store became the third-largest music retailer in the U.S.
Nielsen does not provide revenue figures.
Overall music purchases, including albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos, rose to 1.35 billion units, up 14 percent from 2006.
The recording industry has seen CD album sales decline for years, in part due to the rise of online file-sharing, but also as consumers have spent more of their leisure dollars on other entertainment purchases, such as DVDs and video games.
Warner Music Group Corp. artist Josh Groban had the best-selling album with "Noel." The album, a collection of Christmas songs, sold around 3.7 million copies.
A soundtrack for The Walt Disney Co.'s popular "High School Musical" franchise was second with around 2.9 million units sold.
The Eagles' comeback album, "Long Road Out of Eden," scored the third spot, selling around 2.6 million copies, despite being independently released and available for purchase only at Wal-Mart stores.
Three out of the five top-selling albums for the year were released late in the fourth quarter.
Among last year's other top selling albums were a "Hannah Montana" soundtrack and offerings from Alicia Keys, Fergie and "American Idol" alum Doughtry.
The major recording companies' album market share remained ostensibly the same from 2006, with Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group holding a 31.9 percent share, up slightly from the previous year.
Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG, continued to rank second with 24.97 percent, though it dropped 2.4 percent from 2006.
Warner Music remained third-largest, with a 20.2 percent share, an increase of 2.1 percent.
Britain's EMI Group PLC ranked fourth among the majors, with a 9.3 percent share, down nearly 1 percent.
The decision by some major recording artists to push back album releases initially anticipated for the fourth quarter last year may have contributed to the decline in album sales.
One trend that should prove encouraging to record labels: 50 million albums were downloaded last year, a 53 percent uptick.
"That says consumers are embracing both the track format and the digital album format," said Rob Sisco, president of Nielsen Music.
In all, 23 percent of music sales were derived from digital purchases, Sisco said.
A report released in November by Jupiter Research LLC forecast digital music sales will continue to grow to $2.8 billion, comprising 34 percent of U.S. consumer spending on music in 2012.
The recording industry continued to benefit from mobile music, with mobile phone owners buying 220 million ringtones, the firm said.
The holiday season brought an upswell of music purchases, with music sales in the last week of the year totaling 58.4 million units, the biggest sales week ever recorded by Nielsen SoundScan.
David Pakman, chief executive of eMusic.com Inc., attributed strong holiday sales at the online music retailer in part to an apparent pick up in sales of low-cost digital music players.
"That's showing us that digital music adoption is reaching into some price-sensitive areas," Pakman said.
EMusic subscribers downloaded nearly 500,000 tracks and audio books on Christmas Day alone. The company's paid subscriber base exceeded 400,000 at the close of the year.
David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars
Full disclosure: I used to own a record label. That label, Luaka Bop, still exists, though I'm no longer involved in running it. My last record came out through Nonesuch, a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group empire. I have also released music through indie labels like Thrill Jockey, and I have pressed up CDs and sold them on tour. I tour every few years, and I don't see it as simply a loss leader for CD sales. So I have seen this business from both sides. I've made money, and I've been ripped off. I've had creative freedom, and I've been pressured to make hits. I have dealt with diva behavior from crazy musicians, and I have seen genius records by wonderful artists get completely ignored. I love music. I always will. It saved my life, and I bet I'm not the only one who can say that.
What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.
Some see this picture as a dire trend. The fact that Radiohead debuted its latest album online and Madonna defected from Warner Bros. to Live Nation, a concert promoter, is held to signal the end of the music business as we know it. Actually, these are just two examples of how musicians are increasingly able to work outside of the traditional label relationship. There is no one single way of doing business these days. There are, in fact, six viable models by my count. That variety is good for artists; it gives them more ways to get paid and make a living. And it's good for audiences, too, who will have more — and more interesting — music to listen to. Let's step back and get some perspective.
What is music?
First, a definition of terms. What is it we're talking about here? What exactly is being bought and sold? In the past, music was something you heard and experienced — it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs, ceremonial music, military music, dance music — it was pretty much all tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often utilitarian. You couldn't take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that's not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone — a memory.
Technology changed all that in the 20th century. Music — or its recorded artifact, at least — became a product, a thing that could be bought, sold, traded, and replayed endlessly in any context. This upended the economics of music, but our human instincts remained intact. I spend plenty of time with buds in my ears listening to recorded music, but I still get out to stand in a crowd with an audience. I sing to myself, and, yes, I play an instrument (not always well).
We'll always want to use music as part of our social fabric: to congregate at concerts and in bars, even if the sound sucks; to pass music from hand to hand (or via the Internet) as a form of social currency; to build temples where only "our kind of people" can hear music (opera houses and symphony halls); to want to know more about our favorite bards — their love lives, their clothes, their political beliefs. This betrays an eternal urge to have a larger context beyond a piece of plastic. One might say this urge is part of our genetic makeup.
All this is what we talk about when we talk about music.
All of it.
• What do record companies do?
• Or, more precisely, what did they do?
• Fund recording sessions
• Manufacture product
• Distribute product
• Market product
• Loan and advance money for expenses (tours, videos, hair and makeup)
• Advise and guide artists on their careers and recordings
• Handle the accounting
This was the system that evolved over the past century to market the product, which is to say the container — vinyl, tape, or disc — that carried the music. (Calling the product music is like selling a shopping cart and calling it groceries.) But many things have changed in the past decade that reduce the value of these services to artists.
Recording costs have declined to almost zero. Artists used to need the labels to bankroll their recordings. Most simply didn't have the $15,000 (minimum) necessary to rent a professional studio and pay an engineer and a producer. For many artists — maybe even most — this is no longer the case. Now an album can be made on the same laptop you use to check email.
Manufacturing and distribution costs are approaching zero. There used to be a break-even point below which it was impractical to distribute a recording. With LPs and CDs, there were base manufacturing costs, printing costs, shipping, and so on. It paid — in fact, it was essential — to sell in volume, because that's how many of those costs got amortized. No more: Digital distribution is pretty much free. It's no cheaper per unit to distribute a million copies than a hundred.
Touring is not just promotion. Live performances used to be seen as essentially a way to publicize a new release — a means to an end, not an end in itself. Bands would go into debt in order to tour, anticipating that they'd recover their losses later through increased record sales. This, to be blunt, is all wrong. It's backward. Performing is a thing in itself, a distinct skill, different from making recordings. And for those who can do it, it's a way to make a living.
So with all these changes, what happens to the labels? Some will survive. Nonesuch, where I've done several albums, has thrived under Warner Music Group ownership by operating with a lean staff of 12 and staying focused on talent. "Artists like Wilco, Philip Glass, k.d. lang, and others have sold more here than when they were at so-called major labels," Bob Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch, told me, "even during a time of decline."
But some labels will disappear, as the roles they used to play get chopped up and delivered by more thrifty services. In a recent conversation I had with Brian Eno (who is producing the next Coldplay album and writing with U2), he was enthusiastic about I Think Music — an online network of indie bands, fans, and stores — and pessimistic about the future of traditional labels. "Structurally, they're much too large," Eno said. "And they're entirely on the defensive now. The only idea they have is that they can give you a big advance — which is still attractive to a lot of young bands just starting out. But that's all they represent now: capital."
So where do artists fit into this changing landscape? We find new options, new models.
The six possibilities
Where there was one, now there are six: Six possible music distribution models, ranging from one in which the artist is pretty much hands-off to one where the artist does nearly everything. Not surprisingly, the more involved the artist is, the more he or she can often make per unit sold. The totally DIY model is certainly not for everyone — but that's the point. Now there's choice.
1. At one end of the scale is the 360, or equity, deal, where every aspect of the artist's career is handled by producers, promoters, marketing people, and managers. The idea is that you can achieve wide saturation and sales, boosted by a hardworking machine that stands to benefit from everything you do. The artist becomes a brand, owned and operated by the label, and in theory this gives the company a long-term perspective and interest in nurturing that artist's career.
Pussycat Dolls, Korn, and Robbie Williams have made arrangements like this, selling equity in everything they touch. The T-shirts, the records, the concerts, the videos, the BBQ sauce. The artist often gets a lot of money up front. But I doubt that creative decisions will be left in the artist's hands. As a general rule, as the cash comes in, creative control goes out. The equity partner simply has too much at stake.
This is the kind of deal Madonna just made with Live Nation. For a reported $120 million, the company — which until now has mainly produced and promoted concerts — will get a piece of both her concert revenue and her music sales. I, for one, would not want to be beholden to Live Nation — a spinoff of Clear Channel, the radio conglomerate that turned the US airwaves into pabulum. But Madge is a smart cookie; she's always been adept at controlling her own stuff, so we'll see.
2. Next is what I'll call the standard distribution deal. This is more or less what I lived with for many years as a member of the Talking Heads. The record company bankrolls the recording and handles the manufacturing, distribution, press, and promotion. The artist gets a royalty percentage after all those other costs are repaid. The label, in this scenario, owns the copyright to the recording. Forever.
There's another catch with this kind of arrangement: The typical pop star often lives in debt to their record company and a host of other entities, and if they hit a dry spell they can go broke. Michael Jackson, MC Hammer, TLC — the danger of debt and overextension is an old story.
Obviously, the cost of these services, along with the record company's overhead, accounts for a big part of CD prices. You, the buyer, are paying for all those trucks, those CD plants, those warehouses, and all that plastic. Theoretically, as many of these costs go away, they should no longer be charged to the consumer — or the artist.
Sure, many of the services traditionally provided by record labels under the standard deal are now being farmed out. Press and publicity, digital marketing, graphic design — all are often handled by smaller, independent firms. But he who pays the piper calls the tune. If the record company pays the subcontractors, then the record company ultimately decides who or what has priority. If they "don't hear a single," they can tell you your record isn't coming out.
So what happens when online sales eliminate many of these expenses? Look at iTunes: $10 for a "CD" download reflects the cost savings of digital distribution, which seems fair — at first. It's certainly better for consumers. But after Apple takes its 30 percent, the royalty percentage is applied and the artist — surprise! — is no better off.
Not coincidentally, the issues here are similar to those in the recent Hollywood writers' strike. Will recording artists band together and go on strike?
3. The license deal is similar to the standard deal, except in this case the artist retains the copyrights and ownership of the master recording. The right to exploit that property is granted to a label for a limited period of time — usually seven years. After that, the rights to license to TV shows, commercials, and the like revert to the artist. If the members of the Talking Heads held the master rights to our catalog today, we'd earn twice as much in licensing as we do now — and that's where artists like me derive much of our income. If a band has made a record itself and doesn't need creative or financial help, this model is worth looking at. It allows for a little more creative freedom, since you get less interference from the guys in the big suits. The flip side is that because the label doesn't own the master, it may invest less in making the release a success.
But with the right label, the license deal can be a great way to go. This is the relationship Arcade Fire has with Merge Records, an indie label that's done great for its band by avoiding the big-spending, big-label approach. "Part of it is just being realistic and not putting yourself in the hole," Merge cofounder Mac McCaughan says. "The bands we work with, we never recommend that they make videos. I like videos, but they don't sell a lot of records. What really sells records is touring — and artists can actually make money on the tour itself if they keep their budgets down."
4. Then there's the profit-sharing deal. I did something like this with my album Lead Us Not Into Temptation in 2003. I got a minimal advance from the label, Thrill Jockey, since the recording costs were covered by a movie soundtrack budget, and we shared the profits from day one. I retained ownership of the master. Thrill Jockey does some marketing and press. I may or may not have sold as many records as I would have with a larger company, but in the end I took home a greater share of each unit sold.
5. In the manufacturing and distribution deal, the artist does everything except, well, manufacture and distribute the product. Often the companies that do these kinds of deals also offer other services, like marketing. But given the numbers, they don't stand to make as much, so their incentive here is limited. Big record labels traditionally don't make M&D deals.
In this scenario, the artist gets absolute creative control, but it's a bigger gamble. Aimee Mann does this, and it works really well for her. "A lot of artists don't realize how much more money they could make by retaining ownership and licensing directly," Mann's manager, Michael Hausman, told me. "If it's done properly, you get paid quickly, and you get paid again and again. That's a great source of income."
6. Finally, at the far end of the scale, is the self-distribution model, where the music is self-produced, self-written, self-played, and self-marketed. CDs are sold at gigs and through a Web site. Promotion is a MySpace page. The band buys or leases a server to handle download sales. Within the limits of what they can afford, the artists have complete creative control. In practice, especially for emerging artists, that can mean freedom without resources — a pretty abstract sort of independence. For those who plan to take their material on the road and play it live, the financial constraints cut even deeper. Backup orchestras, massive video screens and sets, and weird high tech lights don't come cheap.
Radiohead adopted this DIY model to sell In Rainbows online — and then went a step further by letting fans name their own price for the download. They weren't the first to do this — Issa (formerly known as Jane Siberry) pioneered the pay-what-you-will model a few years ago — but Radiohead's move was much higher profile. It may be less risky for them, but it's a clear sign of real changes afoot. As one of Radiohead's managers, Bryce Edge, told me, "The industry reacted like the end was nigh. They've devalued music, giving it away for nothing.' Which wasn't true: We asked people to value it, which is very different semantics to me."
At this end of the spectrum, the artist stands to receive the largest percentage of income from sales per unit — sales of anything. A larger percentage of fewer sales, most likely, but not always. Artists doing it for themselves can actually make more money than the massive pop star, even though the sales numbers may seem minuscule by comparison. Of course, not everyone is as smart as those nerdy Radiohead boys. Pete Doherty probably should not be handed the steering wheel.
Freedom versus pragmatism
These models are not absolute. They can morph and evolve. Hausman and Mann took the total DIY route at first, getting money orders and sending out CDs in Express Mail envelopes; later on they licensed the records to distributors. And things change over time. In the future, we will see more artists take up these various models or mix and match versions of them. For existing and emerging artists — who read about the music business going down the drain — this is actually a great time, full of options and possibilities. The future of music as a career is wide open.
Many who take the cash up front will never know that long-range thinking might have been wiser. Mega pop artists will still need that mighty push and marketing effort for a new release that only traditional record companies can provide. For others, what we now call a record label could be replaced by a small company that funnels income and invoices from the various entities and keeps the accounts in order. A consortium of midlevel artists could make this model work. United Musicians, the company that Hausman founded, is one such example.
I would personally advise artists to hold on to their publishing rights (well, as much of them as they can). Publishing royalties are how you get paid if someone covers, samples, or licenses your song for a movie or commercial. This, for a songwriter, is your pension plan.
Increasingly, it's possible for artists to hold on to the copyrights for their recordings as well. This guarantees them another lucrative piece of the licensing pie and also gives them the right to exploit their work in mediums to be invented in the future — musical brain implants and the like.
No single model will work for everyone. There's room for all of us. Some artists are the Coke and Pepsi of music, while others are the fine wine — or the funky home-brewed moonshine. And that's fine. I like Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man." Sometimes a corporate soft drink is what you want — just not at the expense of the other thing. In the recent past, it often seemed like all or nothing, but maybe now we won't be forced to choose.
Ultimately, all these scenarios have to satisfy the same human urges: What do we need music to do? How do we visit the land in our head and the place in our heart that music takes us to? Can I get a round-trip ticket?
Really, isn't that what we want to buy, sell, trade, or download?
Uncertain Prospects for Radiohead CD
“In Rainbows,” the latest album from the British rock band Radiohead, has been readily available to music fans for almost three months, first as a digital download in an unconventional tip-jar offering in which fans decided for themselves what to pay for it, and then, like most pop music today, as digital files circulating on free, unlicensed file-swapping networks. One matter remains: Will anyone buy the CD?
Starting on Tuesday, the album, in plastic disc form, is on sale in record shops (this time with a list price, $13.98, that is not subject to consumer whims). Though hard-core fans almost surely have acquired the album, one way or another, Radiohead had plans to promote the CD release with a “prerecording” of the band performing songs from “In Rainbows” on the www.radiohead.tv Web site starting on Monday, according to the band’s Web site, radiohead.com. It is also to be shown on satellite and cable systems that carry the Current TV channel.
Though hailed by critics, the album is seen as an uncertain prospect commercially. That is because the band has declined to say how many copies have been distributed since October, when it diverged from industry custom and offered a digital download of “In Rainbows” for however much fans chose to pay — even nothing. Since then the band’s representatives have described the offering as, among other things, a way of testing whether digital downloads eat into sales of CDs.
Radiohead chose to release the CD through the independent label ATO Records and its imprint TBD. (The band’s 2003 album “Hail to the Thief” was the last one under its recording contract with the music giant EMI.) ATO is shipping an estimated 400,000 copies of the album to record shops, said executives briefed on the label’s plans. It is not uncommon for shops to sell half of the shipment of a big album in its first week on sale. But Radiohead’s performance may differ; not only has the album been widely available online, but it is also hitting record shops in the traditionally slow post-holiday sales period.
As a result, it is seen as a long shot that the band could match the performance of “Hail to the Thief,” which sold 300,000 copies in its first week after going on sale in June 2003, and went on to sell a total of roughly 1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.
Will Botwin, the president of ATO, said that in spite of the availability of Radiohead’s music online, many fans might still have reason to pay for the CD version. “You’ve still got hard-core Radiohead fans that are very inclined to own anything they can from the band,” he said.
He added that the critical praise and international headlines generated by the band’s release plan may have drawn new fans. “I think you’re going to find a new buyer that might be more curious, that might’ve gotten turned on by all the attention,” he said. Still, he acknowledged, “it’s faith on our part.”
He continued: “There’s nothing normal here. There are not normal business principles.”
Digital Album Packaging Should Improve in 2008
There is a reason people still buy CDs more than they do digital albums. Actually there are several, but viruses that come along with music via peer-to-peer sites (P2P) and a concern over digital rights management (DRM) aren't the only culprits.
Digital music files just don't provide the same amount of content that a CD package does. That includes liner notes, extended album art and lyrics. Buy a digital album today and all you get are a list of tracks and (maybe) a thumbnail image of the album cover that you can't even read.
It's one of the reasons music fans still turn to P2P networks for their music. In addition to providing music free of charge and free of DRM, P2P sites in many cases also include digital copies of such extras typically found in the CD. According to label sources and pirate network tracking firms, fans downloading full albums from BitTorrent sites almost universally choose files that include scans of the CD booklet over those that don't.
Of course, there is little that can be done with those scans other than view them on a computer. Imagine if the music industry and the digital music services got together and offered an official way to access the same content, but make it available on portable devices as well as make it interactive.
There are two ways to accomplish this. One is working directly with a digital music service and hardware developer to ensure all this new content has an outlet. The other is to go it alone.
For the former, iTunes is the most likely candidate.
Although hardly life-threatening, iTunes is facing new competition from Amazon and a variety of social networking sites. While it has made great advancements with the iPod, iTunes' innovation has been slow. The service looks and operates much like it always has. The only new features are in video.
In 2008, look for Apple to make nice with its label partners by offering a bit more with each download, such as lyrics and more interactive album art.
iTunes is the only music service that has a built-in video download feature. The others offer only streaming video. It's also one of the few services that feature a tightly integrated device -- the iPod. Apple is in a great position to roll out new features across its online store and its devices at the same time.
Microsoft's Zune is another place to watch for this, for the same reasons. It also has the integrated service and device, as well as ownership of the technical building blocks needed (such as Windows Media Player). And since it's still lagging far behind Apple in the digital music game, Microsoft could easily tap digital extras as a battleground for new market share.
The problem is that the four major music companies rarely work together on anything. So another angle would be for each to go it alone. If digital music services can't or won't incorporate better metadata into their downloaded files, look for third-party applications to emerge that will do so after the fact.
Early examples of this are two games developed for the iPod -- "Musicka," created by the developers of the original music rhythm game "PaRappa the Rapper," and "Phase," created by "Rock Band" and original "Guitar Hero" developer Harmonix. Both are rhythm-based games that let users "play" along to the songs on their device by pressing buttons at the right time.
The point is that if these game companies can do it, there is no reason why labels can't offer (or commission) their own iPod plug-in that will import better album art, liner notes and lyrics directly from the label or artist and ported into iTunes and the iPod.
In the year ahead, look for several efforts from both camps as digital music distribution becomes more important to the music industry as well as a point of increasing competition among service providers.
Here are a few areas to watch:
As music formats have changed through the years, album artwork has suffered. It has gone from sprawling center spreads adorning vinyl LPs to stamp-sized thumbnails accompanying MP3 files. But as digital becomes the predominant format, look for album art to evolve.
The early groundwork for this already has been laid. Last spring, Warner Music Group (WMG) added interactive booklets based on Apple's Quicktime software to about 75 albums sold on iTunes, providing photos and links to more multimedia content. The problem was it was also based on Flash technology, which the latest version of Quicktime disabled due to a security flaw.
There is additional activity on the mobile front. All labels are working with phone manufacturers on the "mobile album" concept -- a bundled digital package that includes the full song, ringtone, wallpaper image and other assets for one price.
While a lyrics page is quite commonplace in the pages of a CD booklet, they are nonexistent with digital music files. In fact, most digital music services only let users search for songs by artist, track or album name. None have an integrated lyrics search tool, and you certainly can't download lyrics to your iPod or other device.
Slowly, things are changing. Yahoo Music last year launched the first publisher-authorized online lyrics search page thanks to Gracenote, which has taken on the task of untangling the Gordian knot of music lyrics publishing rights for service providers.
That search page isn't integrated with the Yahoo Music Unlimited service, though. What's lacking is an affordable way to attach those lyrics to the digital file of the song they belong to. Digital music services would have to pay an extra fee per download to offer that capability, and devices would have to add a new "lyrics" tab or some other functionality for users to subsequently access the words while the song plays.
Look for Gracenote and its service provider partners to develop exactly that in the year ahead.
Perhaps the most fundamental changes coming to album extras are in the liner notes. In a CD booklet, it's all well and good to list a bunch of people to thank and leave it at that. In the digital age, liner notes become far more interesting.
Rather than thanking so-and-so producer for doing such a great mixing job or their family for support, digital albums can provide behind-the-scenes footage of the producer and band at work, or perhaps a "making of" featurette, interview Q&A, family photos/video, etc.
One area to look for such innovation is with the CDVU+ and MVI formats created by Walt Disney and WMG, respectively. Technically these are multimedia CD formats, not digital music formats. But both represent a step toward expanding the way all involved view a music product.
Both add what can best be called "digital magazines" to a CD that, when inserted into a computer, allow fans to access videos, link to online features, lyrics and more. These physical products represent the bridge between old-school CDs and the digital future. As labels focus on selling more digital albums instead of individual tracks in the new year, expect them to learn from these experiments and begin creating similar all-digital packages as well.
Sony BMG Plans to Drop DRM
The last major label will throw in the towel on digital rights management and prepare to fight Apple for valuable download revenues
In a move that would mark the end of a digital music era, Sony BMG Music Entertainment is finalizing plans to sell songs without the copyright protection software that has long restricted the use of music downloaded from the Internet, BusinessWeek.com has learned. Sony BMG, a joint venture of Sony and Bertelsmann, will make at least part of its collection available without so-called digital rights management, or DRM, software some time in the first quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sony BMG would become the last of the top four music labels to drop DRM, following Warner Music Group, which in late December said it would sell DRM-free songs through Amazon.com's digital music store. EMI and Vivendi's Universal Music Group announced their plans for DRM-free downloads earlier in 2007.
Getting Hip to the Internet
The impetus to lift copyright protection represents a sea change for the recording industry, which for the better part of a decade has used DRM to guard against what it considers illegal distribution and duplication of songs purchased online. In abandoning DRM on à la carte song purchases, the labels could create a raft of new, less restrictive ways of selling music over the Internet, such as through social networks like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace. Partnerships with retailers such as Amazon could also help the music industry take a swipe at Apple, which has come to dominate the legal download market through a one-size-fits-all pricing scheme record labels find restrictive.
Details of Sony BMG's plans are expected to emerge in the coming weeks. Justin Timberlake, the popular recording artist signed to the Sony-owned Jive label, is participating in a Super Bowl promotion with Pepsi that will kick off Feb. 3 and offer free distribution of 1 billion songs from major labels, including Sony BMG, through Amazon's DRM-free download service, according to a person familiar with the matter. Sony has been experimenting with DRM-free songs for about six months. The company began giving away DRM-free promotional downloads for recording artists that sell less than 100,000 units, and at least one artist gained mainstream exposure through the effort. "A lot of these tests have led people to believe that maybe this works," says a Sony BMG executive who asked not to be identified. A Sony BMG spokesman declined to comment. Amazon also declined to comment on its DRM-free deals, beyond what it has disclosed in press releases.
The move by Sony BMG is especially noteworthy, given the company's checkered DRM past. In 2005, Sony BMG incited a consumer boycott and was the target of lawsuits after it embedded CDs with a form of DRM that was surreptitiously copied to and buried in users' PCs (BusinessWeek.com, 11/29/05), leaving the machines vulnerable to viruses.
Abandoning an Outmoded Idea
Many, including music executives, consider the industry's about-face long overdue. "This agreement is the first of many of these types we'll be announcing in the coming weeks and months," Warner Music Group Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. wrote in a Dec. 27 memo to employees explaining Warner's breakthrough deal with Amazon. "Many have argued that we could and should have done this long ago."
Labels used DRM software in an effort to prevent illegal sharing of songs on peer-to-peer networks, such as Gnutella. Instead, the restrictions served mainly to frustrate paying customers, forcing them to degrade the quality of music by first burning it to a CD before uploading it for play on the device of their choosing. Last year, consumers filed several class actions against the major record labels (BusinessWeek.com, 1/5/07) and, in a couple cases, against Apple, for restricting the devices and thereby controlling prices.
"DRM tends to punish the innocent more than the guilty," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a technology research company. "It was hurting folks who were trying to follow the rules more than the folks who were pirating the music."
Dancing to Apple's Tune
Worse for the labels, the restrictions ultimately resulted in less control over the paid download industry. Because DRM tended to tie consumers to the store most compatible with their music device, the record labels unwittingly gave much of the power over music distribution to Apple, the manufacturer of the most popular digital music player, the iPod. Music industry executives say Apple has not wielded that power lightly. With control of an estimated 80% of the market for legally downloaded music, Apple pushed its preferred price of 99¢ per song over the opposition of several labels (BusinessWeek.com, 9/25/05), which preferred variable pricing that would allow some artists to sell at a premium.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs also refused repeated requests from the recording industry and iPod competitors to license its DRM technology so that iTunes customers could easily put their music on other devices, without first burning it to a CD or otherwise altering the files. In a Feb. 6, 2007, letter titled "Thoughts on Music," Jobs maintained that licensing its DRM technology to many providers would make it too difficult to keep its antipiracy code under wraps: "Licensing a DRM involves disclosing some of its secrets to many people in many companies, and history tells us that inevitably these secrets will leak."
Jobs used the letter to pressure the music labels (BusinessWeek.com, 2/6/07) to abandon their own use of copyright protection technology. "In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players," Jobs wrote. "This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat." The public shaming helped Apple take the moral high ground at a time when it was under pressure from European regulators to open its DRM to let iTunes customers download their music to non-Apple devices. With his letter, Jobs pointed the finger at the labels for supporting DRM, silently suggesting the wrath of consumers and antitrust authorities should lie with them. Within two months, EMI, one of the smaller of the big four labels, offered to sell higher-quality, DRM-free tracks through iTunes for a 30¢ premium. By Oct. 17 the tracks were selling for 99¢.
A Play for an iTunes Competitor
DRM is by no means dead. Music subscription services such as RealNetwork's Rhapsody and ad-supported services like Ruckus (BusinessWeek.com, 1/22/07) will continue to use DRM to ensure music stops playing when a subscription ends. But these services represent only a small segment of the market. "There won't be any DRM of significance by the end of 2008," says David Pakman, president and CEO of DRM-free music download service eMusic, the second-largest service after iTunes. "The only time you will see it used is for rental services."
Rather than following EMI's lead, other labels are hoping to create another Apple competitor in Amazon, which is willing to give the recording industry greater pricing flexibility. "That was a big part of it—countering Apple's control in a positive way by creating more able competitors," says Mike McGuire, a vice-president for research at Gartner.
Narrowing Apple's lead won't be easy. Just ask Microsoft, which has made meager headway with its Zune music player and online music store. Still, no service has yet been able to offer DRM-free music downloads from all four major labels. Amazon could yet become a contender.
With Tom Lowry and Spencer Ante in New York.
EU: One License, DRM Scheme to Rule Them All
Companies that want to sell online content in the European Union know that the common market doesn't apply to everything; selling digital music or offering movie downloads in Europe means negotiating separate licensing agreements in different countries and launching multiple storefronts. Today, the European Commission announced a plan to create a single, European-wide market for online music, films, and video games. It's even pushing for content owners to get their collective act together and produce a truly interoperable, consumer-friendly DRM system.
EU Commissioner Viviane Reding announced the plan today with a statement saying that "Europe's content sector is suffering under its regulatory fragmentation, under its lack of clear, consumer-friendly rules for accessing copyright-protected online content, and serious disagreements between stakeholders about fundamental issues such as levies and private copying." The way forward, she said, is clear. "Do we want to have a strong music, film, and games industry?"
The answer, of course, is a resounding "Yes! Oui! Ja!" The Commission plans to adopt a "Recommendation" by the middle of 2008 that it will use to encourage content owners, ISPs, and consumer groups to make progress in these areas. The Commission already knows that it wants to see more content made available online, and today said that it is "strongly encouraging stakeholders" to streamline negotiations over rights.
The Commission also wants to see rights licensed on a multi-territory basis, rather than country-by-country. Without such multistate licenses, it can be "difficult for online services to be deployed across Europe and to benefit from economies of scale." Negotiating rights to sell digital music, for instance, can be thorny enough in just one country, but when you multiply the problem by five, ten, or twenty countries, the history, laws, and language issues make it truly daunting. Being able to purchase EU-wide licenses for songs would make opening such stores far simpler, and it would be more likely that smaller markets would have access to such stores.
DRM, where it is used, also needs to remain transparent to consumers, a goal which includes interoperability. The Commission notes that "lengthy discussions amongst stakeholders have yet to lead to the deployment of interoperable and user-friendly DRM solutions." This is an early candidate for understatement of the year, and European countries have long shown themselves more interested, at a national level, in the issue of DRM and its problems than the US government ever has. Still, it's hard to see much coming from this; the private sector has had incentives to get this done for years and has so far failed.
Finally, the Commission plans to lay out "cooperation procedures" between ISPs, content owners, and consumers. The goal is to create "codes of conduct" for each party that will curtail piracy but also make available more "attractive content online."
The language of the announcement talks repeatedly about "encouragement" and "recommendations," but the Commission seems to be making an implicit promise to regulate in these areas if more is not done over the next few years by the private sector. Serious money is at stake as online content sales blossom in Europe; according to the Commission's own projections, revenues from online content sales will surge from €1.8 billion in 2005 to €8.3 billion in 2010.
Lone Holdout in DRMed Music Recommends DRM Circumvention
With three of the big four music labels abandoning DRM, that leaves Sony as the big holdout. That's right, the same company that brought you the Sony rootkit scandal is also the last of the major labels to repent and abandon their DRMed ways.
Hence you can imagine our delight when a reader alerted us to the fact that Sony tacitly recognizes the inconvenience caused by its DRM usage and even recommends that iPod users circumvent some of its own DRM. On the Sony Rewards site, we learn that we can cash in Sony Rewards points for music from artists like Avril Lavigne, The Fray, Clint Black, Kelly Clarkson, Elvis Presley and more. Then there's this curious bit, which I quote in full:
Attention iPod users:
Our download service provides files in the WMA music format or the WMV video format, which is not supported by Apple Macintosh computers. To use your music with an iPod, simply follow the steps below:
1. Save each downloaded song to your PC
2. Burn a music CD (in CDA file format)
3. Import the music from the CD into iTunes
4. Update your iPod
The instructions are what one might call the caveman's circumvention technique: burning CD-audio compliant CDs from DRMed source material and re-ripping them to get rid of DRM works, but it does cause a generational loss in audio quality.
The best way to get rid of DRM is to strip it, of course, but Sony won't recommend that because it is illegal in the United States, and it might just make Microsoft (the DRM vendor in this instance) a little bit unhappy.
Will Sony wake up and realize that it is creating difficulties for itself by continuing to use DRM? We think it's inevitable. Barring Universal finding something unsavory in its watermarking test, it's a total numbers game: Sony won't want to be the odd man out. That doesn't mean we should expect an announcement soon. Sony is about as stubborn as they come.
Consider Sony Connect. The offering was nothing other than Sony's attempt to ape Apple's iTunes-iPod play, complete with lock-in and proprietary formats that don't play on other devices. The service failed miserably, and the company shuttered Sony Connect this past summer. Sony is still reportedly hoping to pull of this kind of play in the video scene, however, with the PS3 and PSP.
BusinessWeek.com is reporting that Sony is close to throwing in the DRM towel. Sources close to the company tell BusinessWeek that part of its catalog will be made available without DRM during the first quarter of 2008. First up will be a promotion in partnership with Pepsi that will involve the distribution of 1 billion tracks via the Amazon Music Store, which sells non-DRMed music. This may indicate a long-awaited change of heart towards DRM on Sony's part—and make it trivially simple for music fans to get Sony music on to any digital media player.
In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm
I’d like to wish you a happy New Year, but I’m afraid I have a different sort of prediction.
You’re in for very bad weather. In 2008, your television will bring you image after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming. You will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what’s in store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.
Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific. I don’t know if disaster will come by flood or drought, hurricane or blizzard, fire or ice. Nor do I have any idea how much the planet will warm this year or what that means for your local forecast. Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term weather.
But there’s bound to be some weird weather somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah. When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness) and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).
Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.
A year ago, British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record. At year’s end, even though the British scientists reported the global temperature average was not a new record — it was actually lower than any year since 2001 — the BBC confidently proclaimed, “2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend.”
When the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole planet was warming. When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored. A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.
When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, it was supposed to be a harbinger of the stormier world predicted by some climate modelers. When the next two hurricane seasons were fairly calm — by some measures, last season in the Northern Hemisphere was the calmest in three decades — the availability entrepreneurs changed the subject. Droughts in California and Australia became the new harbingers of climate change (never mind that a warmer planet is projected to have more, not less, precipitation over all).
The most charitable excuse for this bias in weather divination is that the entrepreneurs are trying to offset another bias. The planet has indeed gotten warmer, and it is projected to keep warming because of greenhouse emissions, but this process is too slow to make much impact on the public.
When judging risks, we often go wrong by using what’s called the availability heuristic: we gauge a danger according to how many examples of it are readily available in our minds. Thus we overestimate the odds of dying in a terrorist attack or a plane crash because we’ve seen such dramatic deaths so often on television; we underestimate the risks of dying from a stroke because we don’t have so many vivid images readily available.
Slow warming doesn’t make for memorable images on television or in people’s minds, so activists, journalists and scientists have looked to hurricanes, wild fires and starving polar bears instead. They have used these images to start an “availability cascade,” a term coined by Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and law at the University of Southern California, and Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago.
The availability cascade is a self-perpetuating process: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and more fear. Once the images of Sept. 11 made terrorism seem a major threat, the press and the police lavished attention on potential new attacks and supposed plots. After Three Mile Island and “The China Syndrome,” minor malfunctions at nuclear power plants suddenly became newsworthy.
“Many people concerned about climate change,” Dr. Sunstein says, “want to create an availability cascade by fixing an incident in people’s minds. Hurricane Katrina is just an early example; there will be others. I don’t doubt that climate change is real and that it presents a serious threat, but there’s a danger that any ‘consensus’ on particular events or specific findings is, in part, a cascade.”
Once a cascade is under way, it becomes tough to sort out risks because experts become reluctant to dispute the popular wisdom, and are ignored if they do. Now that the melting Arctic has become the symbol of global warming, there’s not much interest in hearing other explanations of why the ice is melting — or why the globe’s other pole isn’t melting, too.
Global warming has an impact on both polar regions, but they’re also strongly influenced by regional weather patterns and ocean currents. Two studies by NASA and university scientists last year concluded that much of the recent melting of Arctic sea ice was related to a cyclical change in ocean currents and winds, but those studies got relatively little attention — and were certainly no match for the images of struggling polar bears so popular with availability entrepreneurs.
Roger A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, recently noted the very different reception received last year by two conflicting papers on the link between hurricanes and global warming. He counted 79 news articles about a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and only 3 news articles about one in a far more prestigious journal, Nature.
Guess which paper jibed with the theory — and image of Katrina — presented by Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”?
It was, of course, the paper in the more obscure journal, which suggested that global warming is creating more hurricanes. The paper in Nature concluded that global warming has a minimal effect on hurricanes. It was published in December — by coincidence, the same week that Mr. Gore received his Nobel Peace Prize.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Gore didn’t dwell on the complexities of the hurricane debate. Nor, in his roundup of the 2007 weather, did he mention how calm the hurricane season had been. Instead, he alluded somewhat mysteriously to “stronger storms in the Atlantic and Pacific,” and focused on other kinds of disasters, like “massive droughts” and “massive flooding.”
“In the last few months,” Mr. Gore said, “it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter.” But he was being too modest. Thanks to availability entrepreneurs like him, misinterpreting the weather is getting easier and easier.
2007: The Miserable Year in Review
John C. Dvorak
I was not a fan of 2007. It was another crappy tech year—just the latest in a string of bad years dating back to 2000. Let's see some of the highlights and lowlights in no particular order.
Facebook. First of all, if anything was hot, it was the social-networking scene. Facebook got all the attention. The boy genius running the place got a reputation as a hotshot when he refused to consider walking away from the whole thing with a billion dollars in pocket. This was a complete eye-roller, but apparently, he thinks that he could become the next Bill Gates if he plays his cards right. By the end of the year, the company was said to be worth $15 billion. In fact, Facebook is essentially a giant interactive mailing list and is scheduled to deteriorate into a spammer's paradise for self-promoters. Huzzah.
w00t. The top news story of the year is Merriam-Webster choosing w00t as the word of the year. Officially, it is spelled with two zeroes instead of o's, although it is commonly thrown into a conversation as woot! There is a debate over its derivation. Some say it comes from gamers finding dropped items and is a contraction of the words wow and loot. Others say it stems from hacker speak and is a contraction of wow and root, referring to hacking into the root level of a computer. My thinking? Who really gives a crap? It's dumb.
Windows Vista. One of the year's top news stories, which came out of the gate running and took it to the wire, was the ho-hum and often derisive reception of Microsoft Vista by the computing public. It was, eventually, named a dog of the year by various publications. More interesting is that for the first time in history, people demanded an old product (Windows XP) and even reinstalled it. The word of the year should have been revert. Capping off the Vista fiasco was my own column ("The Vista Death Watch)," which became the most-read online column on PCMag.com.
Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage. Put bluntly, this was a ridiculous fiasco. Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage was nothing more than a spy program that was supposed to detect whether your software was legit (it aimed to prevent software copying and pirating). One day—and out of the blue—Genuine Advantage hiccupped and a slew of users were misdiagnosed, causing a user furor.
Wii. The dominance of the Nintendo Wii was a whopping big story, even as the Xbox 360 made gains. The pricey and advanced PS3 fizzled, hurting Sony, which seems to have stumbled through the year on all fronts.—next: Blu-ray >
Blu-ray. Sony's never-ending bumbling was commented upon by more than a few people and may have been highlighted by the PS3's poor performance, but it was also reflected in the HD-DVD versus Blu-ray battle royale. This fight never should have taken place, since Blu-ray was in the works for what seems like a decade or more and HD-DVD was a Johnny-come-lately. The battle between these two formats continued unabated throughout the year.
802.11n. A muddy situation evolved when Wi-Fi folks found that the infighting over 802.11n allowed the phone companies to get their various EV-DO, EDGE, and other overpriced mobile Internet computing solutions into laptops all over the country. A lot of this had to do with Intel and its attempt to dominate all things wireless.
Intel's Viiv. The whopper for Intel, though, was its Viiv initiative, which was a dog from the get-go and was dropped—finally. Somewhere along the way, Intel bought into the Silicon Valley crock that CPUs were not important any more. What a laugh. Luckily for the company, it refocused on processor chips and found itself in the driver's seat once again. Of course, Intel will fall off the path again, of that you can be sure.
A series of tubes. Politics got into the tech act, with all sorts of attempts at crummy legislation to benefit the phone companies. The rant from Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaskan Republican, about the Internet and it being "a series of tubes" provided some much-needed levity to the scene.
Apple. And I suppose I cannot lament the year without mentioning the hyper-success of Apple, which was based, for the most part, on new iPods and the iPhone. In a "tail wagging the dog" manner, these devices boosted the fortunes of the Macintosh computer. Of course, this was all helped along by the stumbling of Microsoft Vista.
Google. And finally, I cannot bid adieu to 2007 without mentioning Google. The company began making money hand over fist and seemed unable to slow its own growth no matter what it did. The situation got so bad, rumors persisted throughout the year that Microsoft and Yahoo! would merge in a feeble attempt to compete with Google. Instead, Microsoft threw money at everything it could find, including Facebook.
And that brings us full circle—sadly.
Check back next week when I look at what's in store—or not in store—for 2008.
Ten Things That Will Change Your Future
Think back to the days before the network we call the internet existed. Think back to a world before "google" became a verb, before a user-generated encyclopedia called Wikipedia replaced Britannica and before eBay turned the planet into one big garage sale.
It's easy to forget that as little as a decade ago all these innovations that are part of daily life had yet to be dreamed of. The effect can scarcely be overstated and there appears to be no slowing in the number of new ways that are being invented to use this new connectedness.
"The internet and the web have changed the way we keep in touch with family and friends, do business, form new relationships, leaving little of our lives untouched in some way or other," says John Allsopp, a software engineer, author and founder of the influential Web Directions conference series.
"A decade from now, I've no doubt we'll be similarly astounded with the way these technologies will have reached even further into our lives."
But predicting exactly what will be the next thing or which ideas will bomb and which will fly is fraught with difficulty. (Besides, if I knew for certain, do you really think I'd still be writing for a living?)
What follows is a smorgasbord of websites, services, concepts and gadgets that at first glance seem to have little to do with each other but which taken together give a picture of where our brave new networked world may be heading.
THE CHUMBY The creators of this bizarre little device have generated a huge buzz over the past few months - and it's not even due to be launched until early in the year. The Chumby is a wireless internet device about the size of a rugby ball. It has no keyboard or mouse but instead uses software called widgets to display pretty much anything you want it to - all the time. For instance, it will act as an alarm clock, play your music, show you constantly updated news or track an eBay auction.
And the really interesting thing is that it is designed to be hacked - everything from the software code to the specifications for the case are freely available. No one, including the manufacturers, knows what owners will make Chumbys do once they are released. http://www.chumby.com
MICROBLOGGING This involves sharing short messages among a group. Messages are typically posted from mobile phones via SMS or instant messaging. True microblogging obsessives will dispatch messages to the group dozens of times daily, updating their peers on even the most inconsequential details of their lives.
The best-known microblogging service is called Twitter and its best-known user is US presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Twitter has also spawned a host of imitators such as Pownce and Jaiku. Microblogging fans claim that, at their best, the mini-messages are almost haiku-like, while detractors question the usefulness of being bombarded with messages such as "Just made cup of tea". http://www.pownce.com; http://www.jaiku.com.
EVERYBLOCK This is still in development but EveryBlock is definitely worth keeping an eye on, if only because it is the work of young Chicago journalist and programmer Adrian Holovaty. He was the brains behind a celebrated project called chicagocrime.org, which overlays crime statistics from the Chicago Police Department on maps, thus providing a powerful graphic overview of crime in the city.
EveryBlock will use some of the same techniques to create "hyperlocal" news. The kinds of information Holovaty wants to provide include the results of house sales, scores from youngsters' sports events, local crime figures and stories written by local people. http://www.chicagocrime.org; http://www.everyblock.com.
23ANDME With the tagline "genetics just got personal", 23AndMe allows anyone to unlock their own genetic history - and likely future. For $US1000 ($1145) the service (named after the 23 pairs of human chromosomes) will reveal whether you have a predisposition to arthritis or Alzheimer's or, more frivolously, why you can't stand tomatoes.
23AndMe customers provide a sample of saliva from which technicians extract the DNA for analysis. When the results are in, customers are given a secure login that allows them to explore their own genome at their leisure, revealing their genetic "family" around the world as well as their likely future health. http://www.23andme.com.
PEER-TO-PEER LENDING Whether you're distributing music or books, auctioning off unwanted household items, wanting to bet on a horse race or looking for a soulmate, the internet can put you in touch with someone who is interested in what you have or are.
Kiva takes that idea and applies it to the established concept of microfinance - making small loans to the working poor to help them establish or expand businesses.
So, instead of giving a donation to an organisation such as Oxfam to distribute, peer-to-peer lending lets you invest small amounts directly in a particular entrepreneur - such as Mohamad Marah in Kabala, Sierra Leone. With his $US200 loan, Marah has been able to expand his garment business, buying three extra sewing machines. So far he has repaid half the loan. More than $US15 million has already been lent through Kiva - and the default rate is claimed to be just .23 per cent. http://www.kiva.org
MOB RULES The concept of a "mob" of networked citizens forming an irresistible force has been proposed and developed by, among others, futurist Harold Rheingold and Sydney web theorist and author Mark Pesce. Pesce has pointed out that in about the middle of this year every second person on Earth will have a mobile phone.
"In just a decade, we'll have gone from half the world never having made a telephone call to half the world owning a phone," he said recently. In effect, he reckons, the people are the network and when that mob of people get together and decide to go in a particular direction they are virtually unstoppable. Just ask the record companies that have battled in vain for years to stop people sharing music or former Philippines president Joseph Estrada, who was forced from office in 2001 by mass protests co-ordinated by waves of SMS messages.
According to Pesce, the mob is "faster, smarter and stronger than you are". Just as importantly, the mob is quite unpredictable - so expect a wild ride in coming years. blog.futurestreetconsulting.com; http://www.rheingold.com.
GUERILLA WI-FI Having a wireless internet system set up at home is becoming increasingly common. However, tapping into the internet while out and about is still very hit and miss - and where it is available is often nose-bleedingly expensive (Telstra "hot spots" cost $14 an hour while Optus slugs users about $12 an hour).
Meraki is an internet start-up that aims to change all that by providing cheap - or free - wireless networks. Meraki sells a remarkable device call the Meraki Mini for $US49. Plug it in to your internet connection and it will instantly provide shared access to other users up to 50 metres away.
Put several Merakis together in a neighbourhood (and perhaps include a few of the more powerful versions that cover up to 350 metres) and they will instantly form a "mesh" network, giving internet access to anyone in the area. These "guerilla" networks are beginning to spring up in cities around the world, driven by people for whom internet access is a social-equity issue. Do internet service providers like this Robin Hood-style behaviour? Not at all. Can they do much about it? Er, no. http://www.meraki.com.
WORLD COMMUNITY GRID The World Community Grid project is one of the latest examples of a concept called distributed computing. The idea, though not new, involves harnessing the computing power of many thousands of idle PCs around the world to try to crack complex scientific challenges.
Distributed computing first came to prominence with the Seti@home project, which uses participants' computers to analyse radio telescope data in the search for extra-terrestrial life. World Community Grid takes the concept one stage further and aims to establish "the world's largest public computing grid to tackle projects that benefit humanity".
So far 343,000 members have donated a total of 128,000 years of computing time. Projects include one aimed at giving scientists a better understanding of cancer and another that is modelling the effects of climate change in Africa. http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org.
LOOPT One of many social networking services that capitalise on the global positioning software now standard on many mobile phones.
Loopt members register with the site and then, when one of their friends is nearby, their location is shown on a map plus a note about what they are doing at that time.
You might not want your location to be always visible - so, thankfully, users can turn off the service. http://www.loopt.com.
ONE LAPTOP PER CHILD When marvelling at the potential of the networked world it's easy to forget the 2 billion youngsters in the developing world who don't have the tools to connect.
The One Laptop per Child program is a bid to help bridge this digital divide with a machine called the XO Laptop that sells for just $US200. OLPC is a non-profit group established by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte and supported by companies including News Corp, Intel and Google.
Under a "Give One Get One" scheme, donors give $US399 and they receive a child-sized XO machine and another will be sent on their behalf to a youngster in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Mongolia or Rwanda. http://www.laptop.org.
Top Ten Reasons Why the WGA's Deal With Letterman Is Great
The deal included the entire MBA. Everything the the WGA had on the table--where the AMPTP left it when they walked out 25 days ago.
Go Letterman Go!
The WGA made a full deal with World Wide Pants, Dave Letterman's company.
The deal INCLUDED the entire MBA. Everything the the WGA had on the table -- where the AMPTP left it when they walked out 25 days ago -- has now been negotiated fully, closed and signed with 'Pants.
Done. Game over. (For WWP. Their writers -- and only their writers -- are returning to work.)
What great, amazing news.
United Hollywood (Howard A. Rodman, member of the WGA Board and founder of the Guild's independent film writers committee)
Top 10 Reasons Why The Worldwide Pants Deal is a Good Idea
10. The AMPTP says that we're too crazy, too ideological, too amateurish to make a deal, and this lets us say, oh yeah?
9. The Networks That Are Not CBS will be hard put to justify to their advertisers and stockholders why they're letting the competition have a real late-night show while they go forth with writerless efforts. (As The Canadian Press put it yesterday, "Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart all plan returns to late-night television over the next two weeks, but aside from their familiar faces, viewers may not recognize much.")
8. And despite what some will say, that's genuine pressure. Yes, the conglomerates have deep pockets. But they do have to answer to the folks who pay the bills.
7. Because it's not just a plain vanilla interim deal: this is a deal we can use as a model, with cherries on top.
6. Cherries, in this case, meaning that the Letterman deal is the full MBA, complete with the New Media proposals we couldn't get the other side to move on at the Big Table. This shows our proposals are affordable. And, perhaps best of all, Worldwide Pants is taking on the liability of our contract provisions, including not only the payment terms, but also the backstop of the fair market valuation test under the MBA.
5. Although this will be very hard on Leno, Conan, Kimmel and other late-night Guild writers, the wedge that it drives between the networks is deeper and sharper than the wedge it drives between writers. While the companies understand ROI, only we understand solidarity.
4. Go re-read number 10.
3. Like the waiver for the SAG awards, it lets people know that, when we are able to, we honor those who honor us.
2. Because in 1988, Letterman called management "money-grubbing scum." Out loud. In public.
1. Worldwide Pants has a better logo than the AMPTP.
On a more serious note, though: we should all remember what writers gave up in 1960 so that all writers who came after them -- meaning us -- could have residuals. In order to make that deal, they gave up the rights to residuals for everything they had written prior to 1960. The sacrifice they made for the future is inspiring, and humbling in the best possible sense.
Today is the first day of 2008.
Today it has been twenty-five days since the AMPTP walked out of negotiations.
Welcome to the most important labor action of the new century.
This fight is dog-shit simple.
Will the bullies (studios) get away with stealing lunch money from the geeks (writers, actors, and directors) forever and ever, amen... or not?
At stake is control of the internet.
Whom do you want in charge?
Six big studios run by bullies?
Or middle-class folks with kids in schools and bills to pay?
Folks like you and I who genuinely give a damn about families, the war, and taking care of people. Not to mention the occasional fart joke, musical, or a musical with a fart joke. (Blazing Saddles, anyone?)
How long is our own Lower Manhattanite -- a Guild Writer -- really willing to wait? (see video to your right)
Let's ask writers on the picket line...
• What are you striking for?
• What's the hardest part of striking?
• How long are you willing to wait?
Leno Dominates Late-Night, and Strikers Complain
Bill Carter and Brian Stelter
Jay Leno made a triumphant return to late-night television Wednesday night, easily dominating the ratings competition over his chief rival, David Letterman, and delivering a traditional full-length monologue — even though he was performing without his team of 19 writers.
But how Mr. Leno was able to accomplish that feat has become the subject of an increasingly fractious dispute between the NBC star and the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike against the movie studios and television networks for the past two months.
The Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East moved Thursday to prevent Mr. Leno from performing any more monologues, while NBC executives said Mr. Leno would ignore the strike rules set up by the writers and would tell his scripted jokes as planned on Thursday’s broadcast of “The Tonight Show.”
The dispute could affect the other late-night shows that are without writers because of the strike. Both “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” on NBC and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on ABC returned to the air this week, and their hosts did not perform scripted monologues. Comedy Central’s two shows, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert, are scheduled to return Monday. If Mr. Leno is able to continue to perform material he writes for himself, it might open the door for the other hosts to do the same thing.
The clash over Mr. Leno’s monologue comes at a critical time in the two-month strike for the networks and the guilds. Ratings for the highly lucrative late-night talk shows rose sharply on Wednesday, bringing smiles to the faces of network and advertising executives whose shows had steep viewership drops when the guild began to strike in early November, halting production on shows starring Mr. Leno, Mr. Letterman, Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Kimmel and Craig Ferguson.
“Everybody’s happy that the late-night shows are back,” said Steve Lanzano, the chief operating officer of MPG, the American division of Havas. “It’s going to mean more ratings points in the marketplace, which has taken a real hit in the past year.”
Late-night talk shows are also an important beachhead for the striking writers, who see the hosts, particularly Mr. Letterman, as sympathetic to their cause. In a telephone interview Thursday night, Patric M. Verrone, the president of the Writers Guild of America West, said that with the strike talks at a standstill, there had been some hope that the deal that allowed Mr. Letterman to return with writers would help move the situation toward a settlement. But, he said, “instead the companies are choosing to pit these guys against us.”
The conflict seems about to play out on late-night television’s biggest show, “The Tonight Show.” Mr. Leno said on the air Wednesday night that he was following the rules set down by the writers before the strike and writing his own jokes for the monologue. In their outline of what could and could not be permitted during the strike, the writers expressly excluded guild members from writing any material for use by any of the companies affected by the strike, even material written for their own use.
NBC executives said Thursday that Mr. Leno and his writers held a meeting on Monday with Mr. Verrone and that Mr. Leno told Mr. Verrone he was going to write his monologue material himself. According to the NBC executives, Mr. Verrone gave Mr. Leno his approval to write the monologue.
But Thursday the guild challenged that interpretation of what happened in the meeting. Mr. Verrone said, “The sense of it was, Jay was going to play by the book.” He said that Mr. Leno brought up his work as a guest host in a previous strike in 1988, and “I can understand that there may have been some confusion for Jay about that.”
He said that he had a telephone conversation with Mr. Leno on Thursday and “I made it absolutely clear that he cannot write for the show.”
One of Mr. Leno’s writers who attended the meeting with Mr. Verrone supported Mr. Leno’s version that he had been given some assurance that he could write his monologue.
“Jay said, ‘Let me get this clear: I’m allowed to write my monologue,’” said the writer, who asked not to be identified because he was a strike supporter and did not want publicly to challenge the guild’s version of the events. “Verrone said, ‘Well, since you are taking one for the team, we won’t hassle you about that.’”
The writer added, “There was no way Jay could have misinterpreted what was being said.”
Neal Sacharow, a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America West, said that after Mr. Verrone clarified the strike rules, it would be “a clear violation” if Mr. Leno wrote and performed a monologue on Thursday night’s show.
Asked what the guild would do if Mr. Leno performed a monologue anyway, Mr. Verrone said any violation of the strike rules would be brought before a Strike Rules Compliance Committee for some kind of action.
NBC executives said Thursday evening that Mr. Leno, who was scheduled to tape his show at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, would continue to write and perform his monologue based on the contractual agreement between the guild and all production companies that was in effect when the strike began. That contract cannot be superseded by the strike rules imposed by the guild, said Andrea Hartman, the executive vice president and deputy legal counsel for NBC.
“The strike rules cannot contradict the scope and express terms of the overall agreement,” Ms. Hartman said.
According to an appendix in the contract between the guild and production entities, the terms of which NBC said remain in effect during the strike, the definition of “literary material” covered by the agreement specifically excludes “material written by the person who delivers it on the air.”
Mr. Verrone said the guild interpreted that rule differently, saying that it covered only performers who were not also hired as writers for a production and that Mr. Leno is listed as a writer on his own show. He also said that because of the strike, the contract is not in effect anyway.
Media buyers and network representatives said movie studios and other advertising clients are enthusiastic about the resumption of original programming. Among the studios, Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Brothers, Lions Gate Entertainment and The Weinstein Company all advertised new movies Wednesday on “The Late Show.”
The late-night shows enjoyed significant viewership increases on Wednesday, presumably thanks to viewers who were curious about how Mr. Leno would perform without writers and what Mr. Letterman would say about the strike. “The Tonight Show” averaged 7.2 million viewers, almost three million more than its season-to-date average, and “The Late Show” averaged 5.5 million viewers, nearly two million more than its average.
The strong ratings for the hosts’ returns belie the sagging advertising market for late-night television. Before the strike began the late-night shows had shed approximately 10 percent of
their viewers. Two months of forced repeats — at one point NBC showed an episode of “The Tonight Show” from 1992 — exacerbated the declines. The ratings had placed both NBC and CBS in several make-good situations, when the networks did not meet their guarantees to advertisers for certain ratings levels.
The income from late-night TV is significant. A 30-second commercial on Mr. Leno’s show costs roughly $50,000, according to media buyers. Both “The Tonight Show” and “The Late Show” were expected to earn more than $200 million in advertising revenue in 2007, according to estimates by TNS Media Intelligence.
Mr. Leno has led Mr. Letterman in the competitive 11:35 p.m. time slot since 1995. Some observers expect Mr. Letterman’s access to writers and ability to book A-list entertainers to increase his viewership. Mediabuyers said the greater test for both hosts would come later this month.
“In the coming weeks, if Leno is unable to secure guests, I think there could be a narrowing of the gap between the two shows,” said Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president at the media agency Carat USA.
Other late-night shows also showed ratings gains on Wednesday. “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” averaged 2.8 million viewers, up 55 percent from season-to-date averages. “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” averaged 2.2 million viewers, up 31 percent. The ABC show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” with 1.8 million viewers, was down slightly fromits season average.
Awkward Encounters in the Hollywood Trenches
A dozen striking screenwriters gathered in the bar at the Hotel Bel Air not long ago to decompress after another day on the picket line. Less than 10 feet away sat another strike-weary pair: Peter Chernin, president of the News Corporation, and Barry Meyer, chief executive of Warner Brothers.
Neither group acknowledged the other, although a couple of writers quipped under their breath that the moguls should pick up everyone’s bar tab. Others fretted about being seen hanging out at a five-star hotel, an awfully gilded setting for a bunch of guild members complaining about unfair compensation.
“My stomach did a flip-flop,” said one writer who was in the room. “Part of me wanted to go yell at these guys for treating us so poorly, and part of me wanted to go hide.” (The moguls did not notice the gathering of writers, according to their respective spokeswomen).
Similar scenes play out daily in the giant high school cafeteria that is Hollywood, contributing awkwardness to a labor strike unlike any other. The captains of most industries do not mix socially with the rank and file, but the people on opposite sides of this bargaining table often send their children to the same elite schools, dine at the same fashionable restaurants and attend the same holiday parties.
Only a rarefied circle of writers, of course, has the ability to truly mingle with Hollywood’s corporate royalty. The vast majority of writers are average folks who manage a middle-class existence or are unemployed in their chosen profession at any given moment. The union says the average income for a member is $60,000.
But the union also counts as members dozens of creators of hit television shows, who can take home upwards of $5 million a year, and writers who command fees of $1 million for a screenplay or more.
As the strike enters its ninth week, some of the people from both sides are sunbathing elbow to elbow at the Four Seasons Hualalai pool in Hawaii, one of several luxury resorts where Hollywood’s upper echelons jet for winter vacations.
Even attending synagogue is tricky, said Rabbi John L. Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood.
“We have writers and studio people in the congregation who are friends,” he said. “It puts everyone in an awkward position, including me.”
Hot tempers dominate the picket lines, and tension among friends is rising as more people in ancillary businesses lose their jobs and weeks without work stretch into months. The 12,000 members of the Writers Guild of America walked off the job on Nov. 5 over payments for the use of programs and movies on the Internet.
But once the strike captains call it a day at the end of the picketing shifts and both sides dispatch their last press releases, the conflict settles into a quiet discomfort.
“When I see writer friends at the supermarket or at the movies, we know that those places are not forums to get into a debate on the strike,” said Nina Tassler, president of entertainment at CBS. “I’ve been friends with some of these people for 20 years.”
Not everyone is forcing a smile.
In November, John August, the writer of movies like “Charlie’s Angeles” and “Corpse Bride,” spied Peter Roth, president of Warner Brothers Television, at Osteria Mozza, a Los Angeles restaurant. “When you see someone you kind of know at a restaurant, it’s always a process to figure out whether or not to say hi,” Mr. August wrote on his blog. “But the strike makes that decision process much more complicated.”
Instead of confronting the studio executive, Mr. August returned home and wrote a vulgar blog entry about what he would have liked to say. One part of it that is printable here said: “Everyone knows the C.E.O.’s are talking out of two sides of their mouths.”
Some on each side of the fence conceded they avoid one another, ducking out of the school concert early or looking the other way at the Grove, a popular shopping mall next door to the soundstages for “American Idol.” Even some restaurant managers are trying to help, taking care to seat rival camps a safe distance from each other.
“Of course we pay attention to that kind of thing,” said Jay Perrin, manager of Campanile. “I don’t think a fistfight would break out,” he added. “It is more like people cracking jokes about each other with more bite than normal.”
But steering clear of the enemy in Hollywood is not easy. In a one-degree-of-separation town, a lot of Hatfields and McCoys are married, dating or related.
The executive who helped create the so-called doomsday clock, a producers’ alliance Web site that adds up the wages striking writers are losing, is married to a striking writer. The lead writer for “The Office” is married to the president of entertainment at Lifetime.
And then there is J. Nicholas Counter III, the president of the producers’ alliance and lead negotiator. His son-in-law is Alex Kurtzman, one of the most successful writers in Hollywood, whose credits include “Mission: Impossible III,” “Transformers” and the coming “Star Trek.” Mr. Counter’s daughter is a Writers Guild of America member, too.
Holiday parties and other festivities have been sparse in Hollywood, with studios and networks wondering about what kind of message such celebrations would send to the thousands of people out of work because of the strike.
Still, some have soldiered on, leading to awkward interruptions in cocktail chatter. Tom Kaipinos, the writer behind the television drama “Californication,” was one of the few guild members who attended Showtime’s holiday party.
“This doesn’t count as crossing the picket line, does it?” Mr. Kaipinos asked with a nervous laugh.
The Viewer's Strike of 2008
As the Writer's Strike of 2007 enters the new year, Americans could be subjected to a wide assortment of alternatives from the network broadcasters. TIME magazine recommended BBC America replacements such as the British version of the Office, along with an alternate reality version of Desperate Housewives. Whatever the country is ultimately faced with, the television we once knew is bound to be affected as it was during the previous Writer's Strike of 1988.
Regardless of the fact that underdog shows such as Seinfeld received national attention, the reigns of "Entertainment Power" remained largely unaffected. Even with new formats of governmental criticism from the likes of the Daily Show, the same studios received even more money from the same "two party" system, resulting in the same Presidential Candidates from the previous elections. And the same people got rich while the same people got ignored, leading the same country down the same path it has been on for over half a century.
But the writers have realized something important in the Capitalistic experiments of Radiohead and the Talking Heads: that profits from Internet sales managed to rival those of the traditional system of selling their rights to the networks. Should the writer's decide to take their entertainment directly to the people through "Internet Channels," "webcasts" such as I am Ninja could become the norm (given that the latest season has managed to earn advertising dollars from Dorritos). The only missing component is the hardware.
This is where you and I come into play.
Consider for a moment that the Writer's Guild of America represents a 'mere' 12,000 writers. This means that 12,000 people could potentially affect the way you and I view our entertainment. Most of us realize that mainstream media (or 'MSM' for short) controls more than our entertainment; they control which products we choose from, and which candidates we elect to vote for at the poll booths. In simple terms, MSM limits our options to those who give them the most money. 12,000 people could turn our heads towards an entirely Democratic system of news and entertainment.
The problem is that a majority of Americans receive their edutainment through controlled set-top boxes that elect to broadcast a limited range of channels. Receiving the "new" Internet "channels" is only available to a limited number of broadband subscribers who actually take the time to watch their favorite shows online. Popular alternatives such as Apple TV elect to control the entertainment through their own privately held revenue system, while Open Source alternatives such as Democracy TV (now called Miro) lack a popular television component to satisfy the average viewer.
The next 12,000 of us need to find the simple solution which enables our grandparents setup and use a "set top device" that allows them to access shows of their own choosing. Once the hardware is in place, the ultimate increase in Writer's pay -- along with the inevitable affects to broadcast television -- will become irrelevant. Those who employ the new hardware will be able to receive their standard network broadcasts through websites such as Hulu (as well as from the dedicated YouTube rippers). In practical terms, the owners of the new devices will be able to explore a whole new world of news and entertainment.
But we must dedicate ourselves to this task, and spread this message so that the next 12,000 hardware and software developers might unite in a follow-up to the Writer's Strike of 2007. Let us call it the Viewer's Strike of 2008. Let us unify our skills to produce an Open Source product which will give the viewer's the final decision, and may the rest of us commit ourselves to their efforts by recommending or outright buying these devices and setting them up in the homes of our loved ones. Let them know that the Viewer's Strike is not about revenues, but the conscious act to restore Democracy to the United States of America.
(One final note to the underdogs of the upcoming elections: Consider the Viewer's Strike of 2008 to be a valuable part in your bid for the presidency. Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel have tasted the bitter rejection of mainstream media, and their supporters have given them millions of dollars to spread their message through traditional formats. Consider the alternative, and give those dollars back to the people by supporting the Viewer's Strike of 2008. Help us ensure that every American will have access to a "Fair and Balanced" news source that they can truly trust.)
More Americans Rolling Their Own Wired Content: Survey
About 38% of U.S. consumers are watching TV shows online, 36% use their cell phones as entertainment devices and 45% are creating online content like Web sites, music, videos and blogs for others, according to a new-media survey from Deloitte & Touche.
The findings of the online survey of 2,081 Americans, conducted October 25 to October 31, were provided to The Hollywood Reporter before their official release next month.
The "State of the Media Democracy" notes that in Deloitte's first edition of the survey just eight months earlier, 24% of consumers used their cell phones as entertainment devices, meaning that usage has soared 50%.
About 62% of "millennials" (consumers 13 to 24 years-old) are using their cell phones as entertainment devices, up from 46% in the previous study conducted February 23 to March 6, 2007. And among Generation X consumers (25- to 41-year-olds), the number grew to 47% from 29% in the earlier survey.
About 20% of consumers said they are viewing video content on their cell phones daily or almost daily.
The percentage of consumers watching TV online jumped from the 23% figure reported in the previous study. Roughly 54% of those surveyed said they are making their own entertainment content through editing photos, videos or music, 45% said they are producing that content for others to see, and 32% said they consider themselves to be "broadcasters" of their own media.
"I think for advertisers one of the conclusions is you don't make decisions to advertise either on television or the Internet when you want to hit all the demographics, but rather you need to have a multiplatform strategy," said Ken August, vice chairman and national sector leader for Deloitte & Touche's media and entertainment practice, which commissioned the study. "It shouldn't be an either or proposition."
Among the study's other findings:
-- 54% of consumers said they socialize via social networking sites, chat rooms or message boards, and 45% said they maintain a profile on a social networking site.
-- 85% of consumers still find TV advertising to have the most impact on their buying habits, but online ads are second best, with 65% of consumers saying they have the most impact, beating out magazines at 63%.
Mapmaking For The Masses: User-Generated Content Can Profoundly Impact Geographic Information Systems
Websites such as Wikimapia and OpenStreetMap are empowering citizens to create a global patchwork of geographic information while Google Earth is encouraging individuals to develop appplications using their own data.
According to Michael Goodchild from the University of California in Santa Barbara, ‘volunteered geographic information’ has the potential to be a significant source of geographers’ understanding of the surface of the Earth. Its most interesting, lasting and compelling value to geographers lies in what it can tell them about local activities in various geographic locations that go unnoticed by the world’s media, he says. His review has just been published online in Springer’s GeoJournal.
Goodchild’s paper looks at volunteered geographic information as a special case of the more general Web phenomenon of user-generated content. It covers what motivates large numbers of individuals (often with little formal qualifications) to take part, what technology allows them to do so, how accurate the results are and what volunteered geographic information can add to more conventional sources of such information.
Goodchild identifies Web 2.0, georeferencing, geotags, Global Positioning System and broadband communication as the enabling technologies. In his opinion, self-promotion and personal satisfaction from seeing their contributions appear online are the primary motivators for individuals to take part in volunteered geographic information. However, Goodchild also identifies the potential for individuals to attempt to undermine its accuracy.
He concludes that “collectively volunteered geographic information represents a dramatic innovation that will certainly have profound impacts on geographic information systems and more generally on the discipline of geography and its relationship to the general public.”
Got a Manuscript? Publishing Now a Snap
Getting a book published isn't the rarefied literary feat it once was.
New printing technologies are making published authors of legions of aspiring writers, a population that once toiled for years on tomes that might not see the light of day.
The vast majority of today's instant authors may sell only a few dozen copies of their books, but on-demand publishing is letting thousands realize the ambitions of generations of would-be writers.
On-demand publisher Lulu.com has churned out 236,000 paperbacks since it opened in 2002, and its volume of new paperbacks has risen each month this year, hitting 14,745 in November. Retail giant Amazon.com got into the game this summer, offering on-demand publishing through its CreateSpace, which was already letting filmmakers and musicians burn DVDs and CDs.
The programs are easy for just about anyone to use: Authors select basic options, including the book's size, binding style and paperback or hardcover. After the manuscript is uploaded, users go to a page where they select a font and design the book's cover. Even after a book has been printed they can fix typos for later printings.
Unlike vanity publishing, in which aspiring authors pay to have their books run on traditional presses, on-demand publishing doesn't have to cost writers a cent.
Publishers produce books only after they're ordered and paid for, which eliminates overruns and the need for warehousing. They charge for printing, or take a cut of sales, and they set up payment systems, online bookstores and Web marketing tools.
Some authors publish on-demand books in hopes of catching the eye of a major publisher. But not all writers who use on-demand publishers aspire to write the great American novel.
The system also allows small businesses to print high-end brochures, screenwriters to shop their scripts around and others to assemble wedding and other special-event books for friends and family.
"I'm just amazed I have the book in my hand," said Catherine Dyer, a 49-year-old Atlanta resident who co-authored a cookbook with her four sisters through Lulu.com. "I knew trying to get a traditional publisher would take ages. With this, I knew at the onset I could have a book in my hand."
"You Want Me To Bring a Dish?" -- the sisters' 104-page cookbook -- sells for $22.76. They've ordered about 100 copies to stock stores around Atlanta and are promoting the book through local signings and radio appearances.
Dyer's already brainstorming ideas for a spinoff.
"Cause I know I can get it published," she said.
The challenge for authors now is getting the word out about their work.
"It's all about the marketing and distribution. We realized early on that that was the bigger challenge," said Eileen Gittins, founder and CEO of Blurb.com, an on-demand publisher with 11,000 available self-published titles.
To help authors, Blurb automatically creates widgets that can be dragged and dropped onto other Web sites.
What makes self-publishing viable is the Internet, which gives writers instant access to audiences that share their same interests, no matter how obscure. Authors also use online communities such as blogs, MySpace.com and others to market their works.
"It used to be, if you created a book about an obscure topic, your audience was limited. Now maybe you're part of an online gardening community, and you already have an audience of 5,000 who care deeply about roses," Gittins said.
For most aspiring authors, a book deal with a major publishing house remains the ultimate dream, however.
Big companies like Random House Inc. or HarperCollins Publishers can promote authors on a national scale and get titles in major bookstores. Professional editors also polish copy in the traditional publishing world, a step that can transform a manuscript into a best-seller or perhaps a masterpiece.
"The value and cachet of being with a larger house is still something authors value," said Tina Jordan, vice president of the Association of American Publishers.
Users of Amazon.com's CreateSpace are listed the same way as literary giants online. Keyword searches will pull up self-published books along with those of Grisham, Shakespeare, Hemingway or Rowling.
The writers are willing to live with drawbacks that would drive a purist crazy. Printing quality can vary, with images possibly emerging denser or brighter in some copies. Some in the industry say the quality of on-demand publishing has improved greatly and few would be able to distinguish the difference from those printed on traditional presses. And on-demand books are priced according to their length, making them pricier than books printed en masse.
But Gittins said shoppers are willing to pay a little more for a book tailored to a specific audience.
"It's really an opportunity for people to get their creative content out there to millions of people," said Stacey Hurwitz, spokeswoman for CreateSpace.
Generation Y Biggest User of U.S. Libraries, Survey Finds
Sixty-two percent of Gen Y respondents said they visited a public library in the past year
More than half of Americans visited a library in the past year, with many of them drawn in by the computers rather than the books, according to a survey released on Sunday.
Of the 53% of U.S. adults who said they visited libraries in 2007, the biggest users were young adults aged 18 to 30 in the tech-loving group known as Generation Y, the survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project said.
"These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down," said Leigh Estabrook, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois and co-author of a report on the survey results.
"Internet use seems to create an information hunger, and it is information-savvy young people who are most likely to visit libraries," she said.
Internet users were more than twice as likely to patronize libraries as non-Internet users, according to the survey.
More than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups said they used computers while at the library.
Sixty-five percent of them looked up information on the Internet, while 62% used computers to check into the library's resources.
Public libraries now offer virtual homework help and special gaming software programs, and some librarians even have created characters in the Second Life virtual world, Estabrook said. Libraries also remain a community hub or gathering place in many neighborhoods, she said.
The survey showed 62% of Generation Y respondents said they visited a public library in the past year, with a steady decline in usage according to age. Some 57% of adults aged 43 to 52 said they visited a library in 2007, followed by 46% of adults aged 53 to 61, 42% of adults aged 62 to 71, and just 32% of adults over 72.
"We were surprised by these findings, particularly in relation to Generation Y," said Lee Rainie, co-author of the study and director of the Pew project. In 1996 a survey by the Benton Foundation found that young adults saw libraries becoming less relevant in the future.
"Scroll forward 10 years, and their younger brothers and sisters are now the most avid library users," Rainie said.
The survey of 2,796 Americans was conducted by telephone from late June through early September and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. It was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that offers support for U.S. libraries.
Top of the Swaps: P2P's Most-Traded Movies, TV and Songs of 2007
If you want a true snapshot of what people are watching and whom they're listening to online, look no further than the file-sharing underground.
With Hollywood sweating over piracy and record labels crying over losses, activity on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks has emerged as the most reliable barometer for determining what's hot and what's not among the most tech-savvy media consumers.
To find the most-traded files in the world of P2P, Wired News turned to BigChampagne Online Media Measurement, a Los Angeles-based firm which tracks media-consumption trends across all digital channels -- legal and otherwise.
For this study, we asked BigChampagne to concentrate solely on P2P traffic. The firm then compiled a set of top 10 lists using data from all the major file-trading protocols and networks -- BitTorrent, Gnutella and eDonkey included. Private BitTorrent trackers and invite-only trading communities were excluded from the study, as were private LAN-based sharing networks. But what remains, we feel, is an accurate picture of what the file-trading world at large got excited about over the past 12 months.
Each list shows data from the beginning of the year up to Dec. 10, 2007.
Here are 2007's superstars of P2P:
Top Songs of 2007
1. Shop Boyz, "Party Like A Rock Star"
2. Akon, "I Wanna Luv U"
3. Sean Kingston, "Beautiful Girls"
4. Mims, "This Is Why I'm Hot"
5. Akon, "Don't Matter"
6. T-Pain, "Bartender"
7. Soulja Boy, "Crank Dat Soulja Boy"
8. Justin Timberlake, "My Love"
9. DJ Unk, "Walk It Out"
10. Jim Jones, "We Fly High"
All of 2007's biggest names in cross-over pop and hip-hop are represented on the list of most-traded songs. But there's almost no correlation to sales of full-length CDs.
The Shop Boyz and Mims both had hugely successful breakout singles in 2007, seven of which were widely pirated. But sales of their respective albums disappointed by failing to go gold. Sean Kingston, whose song "Beautiful Girls" ranked No. 3, hasn't even released an album yet. The only top-fiver with a successful long-player is Akon, whose Konvicted CD is certified triple-platinum.
BigChampagne co-founder and CEO Eric Garland sees this as a reflection of the sea of change currently afoot in the music business. In days past, an artist's success was determined largely by album sales. The world of digital downloads, however, is centered solely on singles.
"If Soulja Boy and Shop Boyz would have sold as many CDs as they did singles, they'd be household names," says Garland. "They'd be superstars on par with 50 Cent and Kanye West."
Further evidence is the fact that the biggest ring tones of 2007 dominate our most-traded list. According to recent data from AT&T, Shop Boyz' "Party Like a Rockstar," Mims' "This Is Why I'm Hot," Akon's "Don't Matter" and Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat Soulja Boy" were some of the best-selling ring tones among Telco's wireless customers.
Top Movies of 2007
1. Resident Evil: Extinction
2. Pirates of The Caribbean: At World's End
3. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
8. American Gangster
9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
It's no surprise that a film based on a videogame franchise and starring fetching actress Milla Jovovich did well among the P2P crowd, which is made up largely of younger males. What is surprising is that 2007's top-two box-office draws in the United States -- Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third, respectively -- didn't even crack the top 10. Also, 2007's No. 3 movie in the United States, Transformers, only placed in the No. 7 slot.
BigChampagne's Garland points to the fact that while Hollywood films and content produced in the West dominate the lists, the file-sharing community is truly global.
The myth that higher-quality DVD rips of movies are in higher demand than "cams" -- copies captured by camcorder-toting pirates in theaters -- is also dispelled by the list of top trades.
Beowulf, for example, is No. 6 on the list despite having been released in theaters only in November. The No. 5 movie, Superbad, had only been available on DVD for a week when this list was compiled, meaning most of the traded copies were likely cams.
"You get two release windows intermingling at once," says Garland, "the most popular movies in theaters and the most popular new releases on DVD. They're all competing equally online."
Garland also points out that the art of taping a movie from the audience has come a long way of late.
"Cams can be remarkably good and perfectly watchable," he says. "It's nothing like the days of buying VHS copies off the sidewalk in Manhattan."
Top TV Shows of 2007
2. "Prison Break"
3. "Top Gear"
5. "Desperate Housewives"
6. "House, M.D."
8. "Grey's Anatomy"
NBC's sci-fi drama "Heroes" was a runaway hit on prime-time television in 2007, and the story was the same online. The show was a smash on P2P networks -- almost twice as popular as runner-up "Prison Break."
"Top Gear," the BBC's weekly show about cars, is a surprise hit -- but the average P2P trader likely drools over cars online and off, and responds positively to the show's irreverent, danger-loving hosts.
Most of the shows on the list are produced by major networks and broadcast over the air. But filling the No. 10 slot is "Dexter," a moody drama about a serial killer produced for Showtime. The show is only available on pay TV, giving it the added allure of scarcity and feeding its popularity among P2P traders.
The possibility that some of these highly traded shows were originally purchased at an online store as DRM-locked files has little effect on their popularity, says Garland.
"Copy protection doesn't make any difference," he says. "Once one copy is unlocked and made available in the public domain, it's a short order."
Top Music Artists of 2007
4. 50 Cent
5. R. Kelly
6. Lil Wayne
7. Justin Timberlake
10. Snoop Dogg
For the list of top artists, BigChampagne tracked P2P downloads of both singles and full albums. The names here are better known -- 50 Cent, R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg, for instance -- but the list is still primarily made up of singles artists.
Garland says his firm tracks downloads of full CDs, but you'll never see them at the top of the charts.
"Songs are the new currency online," he says. "The volume of downloads for individual songs dwarfs the downloading of albums."
Indeed, anyone following the online music business this year would expect to see Radiohead on the list of most-traded artists. The British rock band generated a huge amount of buzz with the early October release of its album In Rainbows, which it sold as a pay-what-you-like digital download. Even though around one third of the album's downloaders grabbed it for free off of BitTorrent rather than pay a cent, the activity wasn't enough to make a much of a dent in the world of P2P.
"The only area where the Radiohead was possibly the story of the year was complete album downloads," Garland says. "They aren't a singles band. Consequently, Radiohead has never done the kind of volume that these big video-driven stars du jour command."
OLPC CTO Mary Lou Jepsen Quits Nonprofit Effort
She's off to commercialize tech she invented in the OLPC development process
The One Laptop Per Child project suffered a blow this week, with Chief Technology Officer Mary Lou Jepsen quitting the nonprofit to start a for-profit company to commercialize technology she invented with OLPC.
Jepsen, who joined OLPC as its first employee in 2005 after Nicholas Negroponte started the effort, will pursue an opportunity to chase after "her next miracle in display technology," OLPC said in an e-mail sent on Sunday.
Jepsen was responsible for hardware and display development for the rugged and power-saving XO laptop, designed for use by children in developing countries. Though the laptop has struggled to find buyers, it has been praised for its innovative hardware features and environmentally friendly design.
Her last day with the organization is Dec. 31, though she will continue consulting with OLPC, according to the e-mail. Dec. 31 is also the end of OLPC's Give One Get One program, in which two XO laptops can be purchased for about US$400, with a user getting one laptop and the other being donated.
Satisfied that XO laptops were shipping in volume, Jepsen noted in an e-mail that she was starting a for-profit company to commercialize some of the technologies she invented at OLPC.
"I will continue to give OLPC product at cost, while providing commercial entities products they would like at a profit," Jepsen wrote in an e-mail.
"I believe that the work I led in the design of the XO laptop is just the first step in changing computing," she wrote.
Powered by solar power, foot pedal or pull-string, the laptop doesn't rely on an electrical outlet to run, making it useful for situations where power is unreliable or unavailable. The laptop's specially designed lithium-ferro phosphate battery consumes between 2 watts to 8 watts depending on usage, compared to 40 watts on commercial laptops depending on usage.
The laptop's battery lasts up to 21 hours because of custom-designed, efficient power-saving features implemented at the hardware and software level. Batteries in commercial laptops may explode at high temperatures, while XO's batteries can run and recharge in temperatures around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), Jepsen said in earlier interview.
OLPC is also designing a cow-powered generator that works by hooking cattle up to a system of belts and pulleys.
For connectivity, the laptop has mesh-networking features for Internet access.
Intel Leaves Group Backing Education PCs
Intel said Thursday that it had chosen to withdraw from the One Laptop Per Child educational computer organization, which it joined in July after years of public squabbling between Intel’s chairman, Craig R. Barrett, and the group’s founder, Nicholas P. Negroponte.
The low-cost laptop, originally priced at $100, has captured the public imagination but also created intense controversy because it was viewed as a potential competitor for both Intel and Microsoft in the developing world.
The machine, which is based on the freely available Linux operating system and comes with educational software, is now built with a microprocessor made by Intel’s archrival, Advanced Micro Devices. The PC, called the XO, is being sold for about $200 apiece to governments and institutions.
On Thursday an Intel spokesman said the company shared with O.L.P.C. the vision of putting computers into the hands of children, but the two were not able to work out what he described as “philosophical” differences.
Intel did not attend a recent board meeting of the group in Florida, according to a person familiar with the events, who asked not to be named because he had not been given authority to describe the events. That set off a bitter private dispute, which led to the Thursday announcement.
“We’ve reached a philosophical impasse,” said Chuck Mulloy, the Intel spokesman. “Negroponte had asked us to exclusively support O.L.P.C.-based platforms.”
For emerging markets, Intel has been backing its own, more expensive Classmate PC, which sells for about $300. Mr. Mulloy said Intel was unwilling to walk away from support agreements that the company had made for that machine and other systems.
Intel also said it was able to develop a prototype of an XO computer with an Intel chip.
An O.L.P.C. executive, Walter Bender, accused Intel of failing to deliver on its promises of cooperation with the group and said that Intel had continued to try to undermine the group’s initiatives.
“I think that as an organization, Intel is about competition; they are not about learning,” said Mr. Bender, the group’s president for software and content.
There were reports in recent months that though an Intel executive joined the group’s board and the company contributed an undisclosed amount to the organization, Intel has continued to compete actively with O.L.P.C. in trying to make educational computing sales to governments.
In November, after the promised high-volume sales to governments failed to materialize, the organization began a $399 “Give 1, Get 1” promotion, in which people could buy XO machines and subsidize gifts to educational programs. O.L.P.C. said it distributed about 50,000 computers in the United States during the promotion.
News about LANCOR v. OLPC
I know. You thought I was goofing off partying and drinking in the new year. Not really. I was reading some cynical documents just filed in the LANCOR v. OLPC litigation. Yes, it's begun in a Nigerian court. LANCOR has actually done it. Heaven only knows it makes me want to drink. Guess what the Nigerian keyboard makers want from the One Laptop Per Child charitable organization trying to make the world a better place?
$20 million dollars.
I kid you not. $20 million dollars in "damages". And an injunction blocking OLPC from distribution in Nigeria. They have the latter at the moment from an interim injunction, as they call it there, from an ex parte motion LANCOR filed, meaning OLPC wasn't there, didn't get a chance to tell its story in court, and based entirely on an attorney affidavit and some papers filed. The interim can last many, many months, and I think that may be the plan. OLPC, as I understand it, hasn't even been served yet. But I've learned that OLPC will aggressively respond shortly. Others listed as co-defendants, like the Growing Business Foundation, have been served and their offices searched for "evidence", which is the process there. No contraband patented materials were found, however, I'm told. I know. It's ridiculous. But any violation of the order can result in jail time. Nigeria is a hoot. Is this another email scam, I hear you ask? No. It's playing out in real life.
I've already explained why I think LANCOR's case is hopeless. So why do it? Maybe this doomed litigation effort will last just long enough for a Nigerian knockoff of the OLPC, or the OLPC on Intel, to become ready for release. Maybe it's just about money a couple of guys want. Who knows why people do things like this? I have the filings for you, so you can draw your own conclusions. So, here we go. Your first binary moment of 2008. It's laugh or cry.
Now, in SCOland we already have learned that frivolous litigation can last quite a while even in the US -- especially in the US, some of you will sing out -- and we've discerned that sometimes litigation has no legal purpose, but the courts are misused for competitive purposes, to slow down uptake of something better, or just to shake down the opponent in hopes of a settlement. It's sad that there are situations like this that lawyers have to slog through and set right. Which OLPC lawyers will. But there you are.
I'm not versed in Nigerian law, so who knows what can happen there. Here is a hint of what conditions are reported to be like, from the International Herald Tribune:
Nigeria's anti-corruption chief, whose investigations have ensnared some of the country's wealthiest politicians and officials, will be sent to a year-long training course in a remote police academy, according to senior law enforcement officials in Nigeria, in what many analysts and anti-corruption activists say is an attempt to sideline him....
Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigeria has been struggling to remake its image, which has been seriously dented by corruption. That reputation was cemented for many outsiders by the notorious, fraudulent advance-fee e-mail messages that flood in-boxes across the globe, asking for bank account details in exchange for a cut of loot filched from government coffers.
But to most Nigerians, the most serious form of corruption is the kind that has left Africa's most populous nation one of the poorest countries on earth, even though it exports billions of dollars worth of oil each year: malfeasance by government officials.
Um... you mean... like judges? Government officials? Does that mean they can be bribed? Well. Shiver me timbers. I'm not saying that is what is happening. I don't know. But I do see one can't rule it out as a possibility out of hand.
Anyway, let me show you the documents. Then we can laugh or cry together. Basically, to bring you up to date, what has happened is this, and I must preface my explanation by saying again that I'm not up on Nigerian law, so it's very possible I might not capture every detail, but at least I can give you an overview:
1. August 6, 2007: LANCOR's lawyer, Ade Adedeji, sent a letter [page 1 and page 2] to OLPC's "CEO" (with ccs to the Growing Business Foundation, LeapSoft Ltd. Nigeria, and Alteq) asking for $20 million dollars. The letter reads in part like this:
Our Clients, for a period of 9 years conducted series of research work, engaged in extensive software design work, compiled data and consequently applied for and obtained patented rights for the protection and marketing of their novel Multilingual Keyboard and keyboard Layouts which was commissioned and marketed both in Nigeria and the U.S.
Our Clients have in the circumstances suffered huge economic and financial loss.
We are informed by our Clients and we believe same to be true that following your purchase of their products on or about August 06, 2006, you took information, albeit surreptitiously, and applied their work product for your use and benefit without permission thereby violating the end user license agreement and infringing on their intellectual property rights.
OUR CLIENTS' DEMAND:
In consequence of your breach/continuous infringement of our Clients' rights we have our Clients instruction to demand and WE HEREBY DEMAND payment in damages in the sum of $20 million (Twenty Million USD).
In addition, we demand an immediate restrain from further infringement and/or breach of said rights.
2. August 31, 2007: OLPC's lawyer politely declined the offer to hand over $20 million ("Twenty Million USD") and instead asked for more information as to exactly how LANCOR's rights were infringed. It's both a serious and a very funny letter [page 1 and page 2]. Here's part of it:
In your letter you allege that OLPC has infringed certain intellectual property rights of your client lagos Analysis Corporation ("LANCOR"). Your letter lacks any detail as to the purported intellectual property rights that have allegedly been infringed and therefore we have no means of evaluating your claims.
You state that LANCOR has obtained certain "patented rights." Please identify by registration number the patents that you allege to have been infringed.
You state that OLPC has violated an end user license agreement that it entered into with LANCOR. Please provide a copy of such end user license and proof that such end user agreement was in fact executed by OLPC.
I assume that you are not claiming that LANCOR has a monopoly on the creation of multilingual keyboards. Please specify what aspects of LANCOR's multilingual keyboard design you believe to have been infringed.
Finally, although it is premature to engage in discussion of your client's alleged damages, I feel obliged to note that, given the fact that OLPC has to date sold no multilingual keyboards and that, according to LANCOR's website, its multilingual keyboard sells for $19.95, your demand of $20 million is not well founded.
In short, they apparently jumped the gun, sending the dunning letter before OLPC had even shipped anything, not to mention that OLPC is a charity, not a business, and asking for money in a sum that doesn't match reality.
There was no further communication. LANCOR did not send a letter with any further specifics to OLPC or any of the others. Notice that the original letter was also sent to three other entities, Growing Business Foundation, LeapSoft, and Alteq. Who are they and how did they get dragged into this? Because they certainly have been dragged into it. I gather LANCOR had it in mind that they were manufacturing or distributing the laptops. Alteq has since been dropped.
3. Instead of sending proof of infringement to OLPC as had been requested, instead LANCOR went to court and filed a Motion on Notice on November 22, and it has an affidavit attached from the plaintiffs' attorney on behalf of the plaintiffs, Ade Oyegbola and Walter Oluwole, in support of the motion which describes how they invented a keyboard with extra keys: page 1, page 2, page 3. On November 22nd, there was also a Motion for an Ex Parte Order: page 1, page 2, and page 3.
Significantly, the affidavit attached to the Motion on Notice, I note, does *not* say that OLPC at any time signed any EULA and there is no EULA attached as proof. Instead it just says that this is the "usual practice" for LANCOR. That's what lawyers in the US say when they haven't got a EULA to attach.
Here's the "evidence" that reverse engineering occurred: They saw a website about OLPC's keyboard and development tickets "clearly established" that it happened. The website is dev.laptop.org/query if you are curious. Speaking of curious, reverse engineering is something that normally comes up in copyright cases, not patents. So this must be related to the EULA that they have no evidence was ever signed.
Also, on page 3, note that LANCOR's attorney tells the court that LANCOR will pay damages, should the court ultimately find for the defendants instead. So this is an *interim* solution, one that I gather Nigerian law makes it very easy to obtain, to stop any further "damage" until the court can investigate.
The motion asked for an order of interlocutory injunction, essentially blocking any manufacture, selling, distribution or offering for sale in Nigeria any keyboard like LANCOR's KONYIN Nigeria Multilingual Keyboard (or US version) pending a hearing, but if you notice the motion sets no such hearing date. The lines are left blank.
4. On December 3, 2007, LANCOR got the ex parte order, what they call there an Anton Piller Order and Interim Injunction against OLPC, Alteq, and Nicholas Negroponte -- who, if he ever has another brilliant idea to make the world a better place will surely keep it entirely to himself after this repulsive experience. The court order is for an injunction against any sales or distribution on pain of jail time. The Order gives LANCOR authority to serve the Motion on Notice on everybody.
5. On December 14, 2007, LANCOR went to search the premises of Growing Business Foundation and LeapSoft, looking for whatever one searches for on such missions, evidence of someone illegally using their keyboards, I suppose.
6. To date, so far as I know, OLPC has not been served, so they are under no legal obligation to obey a court order they never got served with, but my understanding is that they will not wait to be served but will be taking action to get the matter turned around. If the lower court is not amenable to dismissing the matter, it will be appealed, naturally. I find it significant that OLPC was not served. Why?
The Writ, which is like what we in the US call a summons, can be served any time within 12 months, unless it's been renewed within six months of issuance. I think that means that LANCOR, should it be desirous of stretching out the process, will be able to do so. As we have learned from SCO, sometimes just getting the process to drag out long enough can reap certain results, even if you know you can't win in the end. That might explain why OLPC has not yet been served but others were. It's conceivable also that it is just because OLPC is in the US, not Nigeria.
7. On December 17, LANCOR returned to court to report the results of the searches -- the December 3 Order had set the 17th as the date for further proceedings -- and they withdrew their case against Alteq. Alteq, by the way, is Intel's partner in Nigeria through a sister company, I have been told, and they market the Classmate, according to all I can find out. Here are the proceedings from the December 3rd hearing: page 1, page 2, page 3, and page 4.
Remember I pointed out that the "patent" had expired because there was no extension? Lo and behold, there was one presented to the court, allegedly applied for on August 15, 2007 and dated November 21, 2007. But it certainly was not in the file when I wrote about it. And that doesn't even matter, since at the time of the alleged violation of the plaintiffs' holy IP, there was no such issued extension, from all I can determine. I don't know Nigeria, but in the US, that would matter. Here's the document purporting to extend the patent: Certificate of Extension. I note that it says copyright, not patent:
... the copyright is hereby extended for a second period of five years until the 15th day of August, 2012
But did you notice something? It doesn't seem to be the paper that one would have thought the plaintiffs would have earlier received. It's a "Certificate of Extension of Copyright in Design for the Second Period of Five Years" certifying, on November 21, 2007, that on August 15th, 2007, the two plaintiffs paid for an extension of Design No. 8489. Pardon my cynicism. We showed you the original registration in our first article on this mess of pottage, but here it is again: Registration of Design.
Not to be too cynical or anything, but if by any chance the roadblock of this case miraculously clears up in a few months, around the time the OLPC's with Intel chips are ready to roll into Nigeria, or some Nigerian ripoff of the OLPC is suddenly available for purchase, let's just say my FUD/bogo-litigation meter is going to start to ring off the hook.
Now, Groklaw tries to be fair, and so I will show you now some bits from an article that appeared in The Guardian on December 18th, an article that one of the plaintiffs, Ade Oyegbola, sent me. The article is no longer at the url he sent [http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/sunda...ine/article05], but it gives his side of the story. The article was titled, "Why We Are Suing One Laptop Per Child Group, By Nigerian Keyboard Inventor":
Oyegbola told The Guardian in an email that in spite of a C and D (Cease and Desist) letter earlier sent to the OLPC to stop distributing its laptop along with a keyboard configured with LANCOR "function technique knowledge", the OLPC ignored the warning.
Reacting to criticisms of his action to the effect that LANCOR's lawsuit was unnecessary since the OLPC had changed its keyboard layout following the C and D letter, Oyegbola said: "The answer is that they changed their keyboard layout but continued to use the keyboard layout and function technique knowledge (our intellectual property and trade secret) illegally obtained by reverse-engineering our driver."
According to him, it has become necessary to make this clarification because of the several hate emails sent to executive officers of the company; and the accusation of deliberately wanting to circumvent the noble objective of the OLPC initiative, which is aimed at putting a laptop in the hands of every poor child in the nation's public schools.
LANCOR's Chief Technology Officer, Walter Oluwole said in an interview: "We're not looking to handicap One Laptop; we're not looking to tarnish them in any way. We don't want to do anything to harm his (Negroponte's) dream, but he went out of his way to kill our dream."
Well, I don't condone hate mail, of course, or worse, but let me ask you something. Does what was said to the Guardian match what you just read in the court filings? Or how about this part?
Asked about the feasibility [of] exploring an out-of-court settlement, Adedeji said: "Usually, before we sue we give the other party opportunity to approach us and try to reach some kind of settlement; it's the best way to go. And we did that. The response we got was such that left us with no other option than to go to court."
In the suit, number FHC/L/CS/ 1102/07, filed on November 22 at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi Lagos, before Justice I. N. Auta, LANCOR is seeking certain unspecified - but substantial, according to the company - damages, but mainly to stop OLPC from further infringement on LANCOR's patent by "continuing to unlawfully manufacture, sell, distribute or offer for sale, the XO Laptop, and other products infringing in the RD8489 and using the illegally acquired keyboard driver source codes."
No other option? Unspecified damages? Which is true? What they told the newspaper or what they told the court? And why is there the divergence? What might that tell you? The OLPC letter in response asked for further information, so as to provide some specificity, which was never provided. Specificity always seems to be the problem, doesn't it? The demand for $20 million was specific enough.
So, there you have it. LANCOR doesn't want OLPC in Nigeria. Or only if they get paid. Of course, OLPC will respond. Even if they are not served, I've learned they will be going to court to turn this around. But isn't it sad that they have to? I have my doubts about this design patent, by the way, as I explained, but even if it were totally valid, think about what patents can do, will you? Here we have an entire nation's children being kept from a laptop that they could be benefiting from, and yet it's out of reach for them, because of one company (and maybe some others too) who would like to make some money, honey. Patents have gotten out of hand, I think, when a result like that is even possible.
Storage Projects Rise in Importance
In 2008, almost every sector will continue the battle with data overload. Entertainment powerhouses - from television stations to big-name amusement parks - will struggle to house huge media files or to manage the data necessary to track customer spending trends. Universities will need extra capacity to spur e-learning and to hold more detailed data on students. Hospitals will cling to enhanced storage projects to avoid buckling under onerous regulations and the prospect of storing massive image files.
These are just a smattering of scenarios that point to a now-staggering need for space. In fact, respondents to Computerworld's most recent Vital Signs survey ranked storage-related initiatives as their No. 2 project priority this year, up from No. 4 last year.
According to Milford, Mass.-based analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., private-sector archive capacity will hit an eye-popping 27,000 petabytes by 2010. Skyrocketing rates of e-mail growth account for much of this figure.
For instance, the University of Pittsburgh now pegs monthly e-mail traffic at more than 30 million messages, vs. 17 million just one year ago.
Other new factors driving the need for capacity include the pervasiveness of large files, be they media-rich elements or specialized program data such as the computer-aided design drawings now used in building everything from cars to furniture. Cloned copies of the same information are also bogging down many corporate networks.
Ironically, the adoption of virtualization technology - billed as a way to centralize and simplify storage strategies - can also trigger an initial spike in data capacity demands.
Trim the Fat
To combat spiraling data overload, corporate IT leaders will scour the market for ways to centralize storage and they will pursue options such as clustered architectures and unified storage-area networks (SAN). Data-pruning techniques, including the use of thin provisioning and data de-duplication tools, will also be high on 2008 corporate storage wish lists, according to Forrester Research Inc. analyst Andrew Reichman.
Mounting interest in these approaches highlights a pronounced shift away from "big-iron storage" - traditional storage arrays typically composed of custom application-specific integrated circuits, RAID controllers, and fixed-disk and cache-scalability ceilings.
"The alternative is software-focused solutions that make more use of general-purpose hardware and advanced software," Reichman says.
In terms of specifics, he points to redoubled interest in software from vendors such as Network Appliance Inc., which threads a common operating system across product lines to facilitate storage at the software level. He also predicts that vendors offering building-block clustered software - such as Compellent Technologies Inc., LeftHand Networks Inc., Isilon Systems Inc. and EqualLogic Inc. - will enjoy more success in 2008 as they rush to accommodate the shift in storage challenges facing many companies.
"What is interesting now is the fact that there are so many different types of data files and that they vary so much in size," Reichman says. "Many of these files are associated with less mission-critical applications and are therefore not structured in the way that database files are. They are also scattered across departments. Many companies are now using tools to begin saving files centrally rather than having them floating around."
Get It Together
Indeed, IT executives from a variety of sectors agree that there's a need for storage centralization. Before pushing in that direction, the University of Pittsburgh had little control over capacity gobbled up by course management applications and scattered data warehouses.
"A decision was made to implement a new, centralized storage management solution and to move away from discrete storage for specific initiatives," says Jinx Walton, the school's director of computing services and systems development.
The university settled on an IBM storage infrastructure that will afford the institution 350TB of capacity and more flexibility through life-cycle management. "The centralized storage solution provides the ability to effectively allocate and remove storage to meet the needs of specific projects," Walton says.
Amusement park giant Six Flags Inc. also had no interest in maintaining a decentralized storage infrastructure. "We have re-engineered our environment over the past year and a half and have moved to a central storage farm at each facility, as opposed to having DAS [direct-attached storage] in each server," says Michael Israel, Six Flags' senior vice president of information services.
Israel also highlights his organization's rollout of a centralized e-mail platform, which doubles as a way to improve data replication and disaster recovery capabilities.
Six Flags had to examine storage issues surrounding a major new business intelligence push as well. "Providing internal users with marketing data related to sales trends, season pass holder information and inventory analysis are just three areas where we have required an increase in online storage," Israel says.
Each of the company's 26 theme parks now maintains independent systems composed of HP ProLiant DL360 servers outfitted with NetApp FAS3030 storage systems. Data protection is centralized, since Six Flags' corporate data center houses NetApp SnapMirror software.
Centralization also makes sense on a security level, according to Robert Gray, founder of market research and consulting firm RobertGrayDirect LLC in Newton, Mass. "2008 will see an expanding market as fear and security concerns converge, solution-level products abound and wire-speed performance come together," he notes.
In the health care industry, security concerns are naturally paramount.
"Information must have high availability and remain safe from evil-doers," says Mark Boggs, IT director at Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.Va. To address these concerns, the facility is continuing to build out its SAN and will soon add a peer storage architecture, which packs thin-provisioning capabilities to help accommodate huge imaging files. For its storage architecture, Thomas Memorial tapped EqualLogic, which is being acquired by Dell Inc.
Other industries are also swimming in storage-hungry data. Capitol Broadcasting Co. (CBC), a Raleigh, N.C.-based operator of five TV stations and several radio assets, is grappling with a 120% growth in e-mail volume and a wealth of media-rich graphics, audio and video files that reside on its networks.
"While e-mail archiving was the catalyst to move beyond DAS, other looming IT challenges were also driving the need for more robust storage," explains Chris Welty, a CBC systems engineer. The company is moving to IBM's BladeCenter architecture and has purchased an IP SAN from StoneFly Inc. in Hayward, Calif., in a further effort to provide single-instance storage on file servers, Welty says.
Virtual Storage Realities
Because virtualization vendors, including VMware Inc., position virtualization as a way to jump-start centralization, in 2008 the technology will become more affordable and more pervasive. Virtualization often involves moving physical data to a central site and providing pointers or maps to the application in which the data is used. "We expect virtualization technologies - including but not limited to VMware - to be hot in 2008," said Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Heidi Biggar.
However, virtualization does have its issues, especially in the early stages of adoption, says Brian Matthews, computer user service specialist at the University of Texas. "Our storage demands initially increased because of virtualization," he says. "It becomes a matter of rethinking storage when virtualization is involved. Unified storage has always been the goal, and virtualization helps dramatically in this goal, but it does so at a very fast pace."
Naturally, virtualization offers short-term benefits as well. One of those relates to the technology's role in the new push for "green," or environmentally friendly, computing strategies. "Technologies such as server virtualization reduce the power and cooling footprint of the server infrastructure," says Nik Simpson, an analyst at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah.
Overall, it will be practical, incremental moves, such as cutting power consumption and emphasizing centralization, that will emerge as the biggest storage trends in 2008. More than anything, in the new year IT executives will show fortitude in the face of storage challenges and a willingness to try out the products that vendors have been hawking for a while.
Groups: Record Data Breaches in 2007
The loss or theft of personal data such as credit card and Social Security numbers soared to unprecedented levels in 2007, and the trend isn't expected to turn around anytime soon as hackers stay a step ahead of security and laptops disappear with sensitive information.
And while companies, government agencies, schools and other institutions are spending more to protect ever-increasing volumes of data with more sophisticated firewalls and encryption, the investment often is too little too late.
"More of them are experiencing data breaches, and they're responding to them in a reactive way, rather than proactively looking at the company's security and seeing where the holes might be," said Linda Foley, who founded the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center after becoming an identity theft victim herself.
Foley's group lists more than 79 million records reported compromised in the United States through Dec. 18. That's a nearly fourfold increase from the nearly 20 million records reported in all of 2006.
Another group, Attrition.org, estimates more than 162 million records compromised through Dec. 21 - both in the U.S. and overseas, unlike the other group's U.S.-only list. Attrition reported 49 million last year.
"It's just the nature of business, that moving forward, more companies are going to have more records, so there will be more records compromised each year," said Attrition's Brian Martin. "I imagine the total records compromised will steadily climb."
But the biggest difference between the groups' record-loss counts is Attrition.org's estimate that 94 million records were exposed in a theft of credit card data at TJX Cos., the owner of discount stores including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. The TJX breach accounts for more than half the total records reported lost this year on both groups' lists.
The Identity Theft Resource Center counts about 46 million - the number of records TJX acknowledged in March were potentially compromised. Attrition's figure is based on estimates from Visa and MasterCard officials who were deposed in a lawsuit banks filed against TJX.
The breach is believed to have started when hackers intercepted wireless transfers of customer information at two Marshalls stores in Miami - an entry point that led the hackers to eventually break into TJX's central databases.
TJX has said that before the breach, which was revealed in January, it invested "millions of dollars on computer security, and believes our security was comparable to many major retailers."
With wireless data transmission more common, hackers increasingly are expected to target what many experts see as a major vulnerability. Eavesdroppers appear to be learning how to bypass security safeguards faster than ever, said Jay Tumas, the head of Harvard University's network operations, at a recent conference for information security professionals.
"Within a year or two, these folks are catching up," Tumas said.
The two nonprofit groups' 2007 data also show rising numbers of incidents in which employees lose sensitive data, as opposed to cases of hacking.
Besides TJX's problem, major 2007 breaches include lost data disks with bank account numbers in Britain, a hacker attack of a U.S.-based online broker's database and a con that spilled resume contact information from a U.S. online jobs site.
"A lot of breaches are due to inadequate information handling, such as laptop computers with Social Security numbers on them that are lost," Foley said. "This is human error, and something that's completely avoidable, as opposed to a hacker breaking into your computer system."
Attrition.org and the Identity Theft Resource Center are the only groups, government included, maintaining databases on breaches and trends each year. They've been keeping track for only a handful of years, with varied and still-evolving methods of learning about breaches and estimating how many people were affected.
Despite those challenges, the two nonprofits say it's clear 2007 will end up a record year for the amount of information compromised, because of greater data loss and increased reporting of breaches.
Both groups acknowledge many breaches may be missing from their lists, because they largely count incidents reported in news media that they consider credible. Media coverage has risen in part because of the growing number of states requiring businesses and institutions to publicly disclose data losses. Thirty-seven states, plus Washington D.C., now have such requirements.
Because of proliferation of such laws, "it may take a year or two before things stabilize and we can see what's really happening," Foley said. "If that's the case, then we'll know whether businesses are practicing better information-handling techniques."
Sears.com: Join the Community – Get Spyware
While Christmas shopping online this season, be careful what you are signing up for.
Visiting Sears.com (and Kmart.com) a few weeks ago, I was offered a chance to join My SHC Community, for free, but what I received was, from a privacy perspective, very costly. Sears.com is distributing spyware that tracks all your Internet usage - including banking logins, email, and all other forms of Internet usage - all in the name of "community participation." Every website visitor that joins the Sears community installs software that acts as a proxy to every web transaction made on the compromised computer. In other words, if you have installed Sears software ("the proxy") on your system, all data transmitted to and from your system will be intercepted. This extreme level of user tracking is done with little and inconspicuous notice about the true nature of the software. In fact, while registering to join the "community," very little mention is made of software or tracking. Furthermore, after the software is installed, there is no indication on the desktop that the proxy exists on the system, so users are tracked silently. An interesting note, the spyware Sears distributes is "genetically" related to software CA Anti-Spyware has detected for a few years by the name of MarketScore (and other aliases) and distributed by other websites.
A Significant Threat to Privacy
Here is a summary of what the software does and how it is used. The proxy:
1. Monitors and transmits a copy of all Internet traffic going from and coming to the compromised system.
2. Monitors secure sessions (websites beginning with ‘https'), which may include shopping or banking sites.
3. Records and transmits "the pace and style with which you enter information online..."
4. Parses the header section of personal emails.
5. May combine any data intercepted with additional information like "select credit bureau information" and other sources like "consumer preference reporting companies or credit reporting agencies".
In addition, My SHC Community requires a variety of personal information during registration - like name, email, address, city, state, and age. All of this information can be correlated with intercepted data to create a comprehensive profile.
A Look at Network Traffic
When I analyzed my network traffic, knowing my machine was compromised, I expected to see data being sent to a domain registered by Sears. Not the case. All of my data was actually transmitted to the domain oss-content.securestudies.com (IP address: 126.96.36.199). If you look at the figure below of data captured using Wireshark, you will see a simple web transaction I made via Google. After the Google page was requested and loaded, a duplicate copy was sent to oss-content.securestudies.com.
A Blatant Lie or Misinformed?Sears makes the following statement: “The personal information that you give myshccommunity.com when you register as well as any personal information that you give during the completion of a communication is stored in a confidential database owned by myshccommunity.com and is never delivered to a client. myshccommunity.com never sells your personal information to any company for any reason.” When I registered I looked over my network traffic, and all form data (name, address, etc), is sent to 188.8.131.52. This IP address is registered to comScore. This is almost laughable (in a scary privacy violation sort of way). I enter data on a page branded Sears, saying my data is stored on a secure database owned by Sears, but when I submit the data it is sent to comScore, a third party market research company.
Lack of Prominent Notice and Informed ConsentThe problem with the installation process is that it does not prominently emphasize that by completing the registration process, the user’s computer will be intensely tracked. Here are the basic steps of the registration (installation):
1) I visited Sears.com (a repeat test of Kmart test produced a similar popup) and was presented with a sliding toast popup (see image, below). The popup covered the Sears.com homepage and required that I find the hidden (in this case, the micro X in the upper right) exit button. The popup asked me to join the Sears community and enter my email address. On this page, there is no mention of tracking software, only the “community”.
2) I received an email and clicked ‘join today’. In the 7 or 8 paragraphs describing the “community” on this page, Sears buries its mention of ‘tracking’ in the third sentence of the fourth paragraph.
3) I was taken to a Sears landing page. I clicked ‘join today’. There was absolutely no mention of “software” or “tracking” on this page, but plenty of bullet points telling me about the joys of being a member and how my ‘voice counts’.
5) After filling out the forms, the software download started. After the proxy software installed, there was nothing to indicate that it was actually installed. Since installation, I have not received any follow-up emails from the “community” or any other form of communication reminding me of my “membership.” All data continues to be logged – luckily the research is being conducted on a test machine. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. Today I went to Sears.com and did not receive the sliding popup mentioned above, but clicked a link titled ‘join My SHC Community’. Following this link, I was never presented with the minimal notice listed in step 3 above. Furthermore, because the proxy tracks silently, anyone else who uses a compromised system will have their web usage tracked. There are no technological controls in place to control inadvertent tracking.
• ‘Once you install our application, it monitors all of the Internet behavior that occurs on the computer’
• ‘software application also tracks the pace and style with which you enter information online’
• ‘Our application may collect certain basic hardware, software, computer configuration and application usage information about the computer’
• ‘myshccommunity.com gathers information about its members to provide superior service, communicate offers on merchandise and services’
• ‘We use this information to customize your experience on our website and to provide you with the most relevant products and services.
• ‘we make commercially viable efforts to automatically filter confidential personally identifiable information such as UserID, password, credit card numbers, and account numbers’
• Why didn’t Sears disclose that my data, that related to registration and data sent by the proxy, is actually sent to comScore?
• Why won’t comScore answer my questions about how they use my data?
• Why isn’t the registration process clear that the user is actually signing up to install tracking software?
Sears.com is pushing software with extensive user tracking capabilities and doing a very poor job of obtaining informed consent – if at all. After the proxy software is installed on the user’s system there is nothing on the user’s desktop to indicate their every move on the Internet is being collected and sent to a third party market research company, comScore.
Australian Government Equates Freedom Of Speech To Liking Kiddie Porn
A follow up to our story December 30 on the Australian Government joining China is broadly censoring the internet. Now apparently if you believe in Free Speech you believe in Kiddie Porn, via the SMH:
“Labor makes no apologies to those who argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road,” [Telecommunications Minister Stephen] Conroy said yesterday. “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree.”
No one equates freedom of speech with watching kiddie porn, only the Australian Government does.
Whilst no one would disagree with the notion that kidde porn is abhorrent, it should be noted that the Australian Government’s censorship regime is going to be much broader than sites that show activities that are already illegal to distribute and watch across the world. Further still, as local civil libertarians have pointed out, it will not only take all of two minutes to bypass the great firewall of Australia, and worse still it will actually provide a false sense of security to parents who will wrongly believe that the internet is now a safe place for their children, when it still isn’t.
At least they’ve now admitted to taking lessons from China, not that this is something to be proud of, although the Australian Government seems to think that it is.
Anarchy Rules: The Dishes Stay Dirty
THERE are certain things you can count on in a punk house. A killer name: Anarchtica, Scribble Squat, Collective A Go-Go, Firebreathing Kangaroo. Lots of bikes and skateboards. Homemade tattoos. A tattered photocopy of “Soy, Not ‘Oi!’,” the vegan anarchist’s “Joy of Cooking.” Guests are always welcome in a punk house, if they follow the rules: “Don’t be a jerk!” reads a guest policy sign in one.
The punk house might be a trailer, a van, a warehouse or a bus. There are lots of treehouses, and more than a few squats. The old anarchist’s dictum — all property is theft — is part and parcel of the punk-house mindset, which is lovingly chronicled in a new book of photographs by Abby Banks, a 29-year-old artist. Ms. Banks found all 42 of the houses collected in “Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy,” out last month from Abrams Image, the art and pop culture imprint of Harry N. Abrams, in the same way: by phoning a few friends.
The punk house is a curious and sometimes beautiful habitat, the expression of a music scene and do-it-yourself culture that went underground decades ago, in an attempt to opt out of just about everything that smacked of the mainstream: cities, clubs, bars, alcohol, processed foods, agribusiness and the record companies, for example, not to mention all media larger than a photocopied zine. With its roots in old-fashioned counterculture communes (like Findhorn in Scotland, but really messy, and with a thrash-hardcore beat), the punk house is a multifunctional dwelling: typically a place for like-minded males in their 20’s to live and to make and hear music. This is not to say that there aren’t all-female punk houses (there are) or ones with girls living among the boys. As with punk itself, the punk house eludes a tidy definition. “Punk Is (Whatever We Made It To Be)” is the title of a song from the Minutemen, a punk band in the early ’80s.
As Thurston Moore, a member of the art-house alt-punk bank Sonic Youth, who helped Ms. Banks find a publisher for her work and contributed an essay to the book, said recently: “It’s just a completely liberated aesthetic.”
You won’t find many punk houses in major urban areas because, as Mr. Moore explained, “you don’t go to the media eye of New York or Los Angeles to achieve success.” Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to live a punk life in areas with costly real estate.
Bands on tour don’t play gigs at the Meadowlands or even the Knitting Factory; they’re more likely to appear in basements and living rooms. There’s a preponderance of acoustic guitars: big amps might spook the neighbors.
Mr. Moore’s own successes are more commercial. In his essay for Ms. Banks’s book, he writes of his experience walking into a legendary punk house in Minneapolis wearing a nice winter parka and sneakers, whereupon he was promptly sneered at. “I didn’t know they let subversives in here,” sniped one resident wearing a leather jacket stamped with the Dead Kennedys logo.
Though she was once in a thrash-punk band called Vomit Dichotomy Ms. Banks has never lived in a punk house, but she has an enormous appetite for the aesthetic. “It’s self-expression in the living space, not just on their bodies,” she said, noting that punk-house interiors are logo-centric. As with T-shirts or tattoos, they contain lots of writing — hortatory, descriptive, diaristic — on walls, door jambs, stoves and toilets.
“I’m so goth I’m dead,” is inscribed on a wall of a punk house in Minneapolis. “Dead witnesses tell no tales,” is on the back of a toilet in another.
Ms. Banks grew up in a tidy 1920s bungalow in Claremont, Calif. Her mother is a city planner; her father a psychology professor and an aerobics instructor who was seriously into all kinds of music, including punk. “It was more than acceptable in our house to blast the Ramones,” she said. Ms. Banks’s own room was embellished with layers of stickers, fliers for shows, and blue paint. When she sent her mother a copy of the book, Ms. Banks reported, “she said, ‘Every room looks like your room!’”
She’d always made art but never a photograph, until one day after art school, when she had an epiphany. She’d been drifting, she said, working as a maid and dog walker for David Foster Wallace, who lived two blocks away from her mother’s house in California. She had friends at The Fourth Street House, a punk house in San Pedro. There was a show there one day; dueling bands were playing the kitchen and the living room and passing the mike back and forth.
The house was about to be sold, and its distinctive flourishes — the casket outside, the skate ramp out back — dismantled.
“I wanted to document it before it went away,” said Ms. Banks, explaining that despite their hoary history, many punk houses are ephemeral. “I just think they’re really important and beautiful. For some people it will be their lifestyle forever, but for others it’s just a phase.”
She called upon an old band mate, Timothy Findlen, and they embarked in Ms. Banks’s maroon Ford Ranger on a three-and-a-half month road trip.
The Ranger is an art project in itself, layered with stenciled images of figures impish, historical and arcane, like Herman Munster, Anne Frank, and one Mr. Findlen made of Harry Smith, the music ethnographer, mystic and Bohemian who died of natural causes at the Chelsea Hotel. As they toured cross-country, Mr. Findlen would play shows, and Ms. Banks would take pictures. They brought house presents — a case of wine, Two-Buck Chuck, from Trader Joe’s, and a box of silk-screen T-shirts with the slogan “I’d Rather Be Dumpster-Diving,” made by a friend of Ms. Banks.
When those offerings ran out, Ms. Banks said, “all we had was to be nice” — and the offer of Mr. Findlen’s dish-washing services.
The ephemeral quality of punk houses became clear a year after the photographs were taken, when Ms. Banks returned to her subjects with photographic release permission forms from her publisher. Many of the houses were gone, she said, resulting in a scramble to find the former residents.
Last week, Andee Grrr, a 28-year-old zine writer now living in Brattleboro, Vt., described her three years at one of the oldest punk houses in Ms. Banks’s book, the 309 House in Pensacola, Fla. (It was so old, Ms. Banks said, “there were fliers on the wall for shows the year I was born,” 1978.) The house was a clapboard five-bedroom bungalow with a fluctuating number of residents and one “filthy, filthy bathroom.” The rent for each member was $25.
Ms. Grrr, like most of 309ers, volunteered at the End of the Line vegan-punk cafe across the street, living on her tips. Food was mostly free: bread from a bakery Dumpster and vegetables from the supermarket’s Dumpster. “The good part was there was always someone to talk to if you were feeling bad,” she said. “I developed some really strong friendships. And the rent was so low we didn’t have to work much. I could write a lot. The bad part was no clear boundaries.” And the aged scurf of the house, which she said was dirty to the core. “It was kind of a hopeless situation.” Generations of punks, she said, had lived in that house.
“I thought of calling the book, ‘No Lease,’” said Ms. Banks, who herself lives without a lease in Brattleboro, part of an art collective called the Tinderbox that’s nestled into a cavernous old dance studio. The difference between an art collective and a punk house, she explained, is that in the former you’re pretending you don’t live there, and in the latter you’re pretending you don’t make music there. The rent is $1,000, which Ms. Banks collects from her studio mates (there are about 20, living and working in rooms called Shantytown and Vegetable Street). When the rent collection comes up short, they have a show, Ms. Banks said, or sell T-shirts.
“When rent is cheap or free,” she said, “it leaves time to make art or travel.” Ms. Banks, who has a wide-open face and a keen eye for the life-force inherent in the making of art, takes inspiration from the photographs of a train-hopping friend, Mike Brodie, who goes by the name the Polaroid Kidd and is a kind of Nan Goldin to his train-hopping, punk house set. Ms. Banks’s eye is intimate, to be sure, but her pictures are sly and funny. And despite the profound grunge of the punk-house milieu, her photos are never tragic: they reveal a focused, almost manic energy, like a straight-edge song.
That the idea of the punk house endured for so many years is heart-warming to one 40-year-old former punk house resident. Joel Olson is now an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University. Back in the day, as he put it recently — which is to say from the late 1980s to the mid-90s — he was a zine editor and the author, with Jack Kahn, of the “Soy, Not ‘Oi!’” cookbook, copies of which Ms. Banks spotted in every house she visited. His Hippycore Krew House in Tempe, Ariz., had Green Day perform in its living room, as well as a “lot of malnourished vegan punks,” he said.
Being a vegan, as he pointed out, was nearly a punk given, a political act against industrialized agriculture and pro-animal rights, “but it was hard work.” In those pre-Internet days, he collected recipes from punk pen pals. They printed 2,000 copies, and sold them all. (A few years ago, AK Press, a radical publishing house, approached Mr. Olson for the rights to reprint his book, and it is now available at Amazon.) “I’m glad the punk house is still thriving,” he said. “It makes perfect sense for young people who don’t have much money and want to make music. The downside is that it seems to me punk culture hasn’t really evolved or developed.”
Certain icons, however, have endured, like the punk bathroom. Perhaps the greatest, said Mr. Moore, was the be-stickered, be-fliered and graffiti-emblazoned black hole in the basement of CBGB, the legendary (and now defunct) punk rock club in the Bowery.
“That’s the one thing that sears itself into your memory,” said Mr. Moore, breaking his reverie. “It’s that toilet.”
For Celebrity Magazine, Pregnancy Is a Bonus
OK!, the celebrity magazine, could not possibly have purchased all the attention it enjoyed in late December after it got the scoop that Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger and until then less sensational sister of the troubled pop queen Britney Spears, was three months pregnant.
Or could it? It is widely assumed within the publishing industry that OK! paid the Spears family for the exclusive rights to the pregnancy news. US Weekly, another celebrity magazine, cited sources who said that Jamie Lynn’s mother, Lynne Spears, had sold the pregnancy story for $1 million, printing the assertion on the cover of last week’s issue.
Checkbook journalism is hardly a secret within the star-struck world of glossy magazines. The publications often pay for photos of weddings and babies, perhaps most famously in June 2006 when People won a fierce bidding war for the first photos of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter, Shiloh.
Although People said that the widely reported $4.1 million price tag was not accurate, it did not offer an alternative figure; editors say that disclosing prices would work against efforts to keep costs down.
Purchasing news of a pregnancy, however, is unusual. The two-year-old American edition of OK!, like its 14-year-old British counterpart, has freely acknowledged paying for “relationships” with some celebrities, but Sarah Ivens, editor of the American edition, declined to discuss specific deals or dollar figures.
“If there’s something out there, there will be a bidding war,” Ms. Ivens said. “We’re not bidding against ourselves.”
When asked why she was less hesitant than some competitors to acknowledge the purchase of photos, Ms. Ivens said: “I’m not very good at lying.”
The interview with Jamie Lynn, 16, and her mother certainly drew copious attention to OK!, which sells far fewer copies than competitors like People and US Weekly, and provoked speculation about the relationship between OK! and the Spears family, which had been strained by a disastrous photo shoot with Britney six months ago.
But Ms. Ivens kept in touch with the Spears family — she said that she spoke regularly to its members — and said that when the family decided to announce Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy, it contacted OK! first. The six-page interview barely mentioned Britney.
Word of the 16-year-old star’s pregnancy — and of OK!’s exclusive on the story — seeped out on the Internet on Dec. 18. By the next day, when the magazine reached newsstands, the news was splashed across the cover of The New York Post, treated as the lead story on NBC’s “Today” show and publicized on the home page of People.com. In each case OK! was cited as breaking the story.
Tom Morrissy, publisher of the American version of OK!, promptly sent an e-mail message to prospective advertisers extolling all the coverage the story had received. The Jamie Lynn issue of OK! sold a record number of copies — nearly two million, roughly twice the usual number.
“What advertisers care about are buzz-worthy stories and volume,” Mr. Morrissy said. He said that OK!’s financial arrangements with celebrities had not factored into its conversations with advertisers.
Securing such scoops, whatever their cost, seems to be part of OK!’s growth strategy, as each exclusive article raises awareness of the brand. In 2007 the OK! publications, which are owned by Northern & Shell, a British media company, secured the first photos of Eva Longoria’s wedding and of Larry Birkhead and Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn.
The magazine’s latest photo exclusive of the wedding of Katherine Heigl, a star of “Grey’s Anatomy,” was published this week.
Some celebrity-watchers have speculated that the Spears family would be paid not for the pregnancy news, but for the first photos of the mother and baby sometime next year. The spokeswoman for Jamie Lynn Spears and representatives for the Spears family did not return phone calls or e-mail messages, and Ms. Ivens would not clarify the matter.
To the outside world, OK! did not look like the logical choice for the Spears family to take the story. Back in July Britney Spears had agreed to sit for an OK! interview and cover shoot — pitched as a friendly “comeback” profile of the increasingly ridiculed entertainer — but had acted erratically, destroyed expensive dresses and abruptly walked out.
After news of the photo shoot leaked to gossip Web sites, the magazine decided to publish a three-page depiction of the day. The issue, headlined “Britney’s Meltdown,” sold 1.2 million copies, the magazine’s best performance at the time.
The text was still relatively delicate, concluding: “At OK! we’d love to have our old Britney back. But what we experienced was a young girl who is desperately in need of help.” Still, the article suggested that Ms. Ivens would start taking a harder line toward the celebrities it typically fawned over.
“We got tougher,” Ms. Ivens said. “But the truth is, everyone in the family came back to OK! We have a really good, trusting relationship with the Spears family, and the story didn’t change that.”
Jamie Lynn Spears, the star of the Nickelodeon series “Zoey 101,” had been largely off the radar of paparazzi and entertainment journalists. Celebrity watchers characterized the arrangement with OK! as the confluence of a magazine willing to pay and a family that needed the money.
“This is a family whose trajectory appears to be moving in the wrong direction, and they might actually not know where their next paycheck is coming from,” said Janice Min, the editor of US Weekly. “Money is money.”
The Spears family could also face a loss of income from a book that Lynne Spears was going to write about motherhood, which was postponed by its publisher after the pregnancy news came out.
Ms. Min called the Jamie Lynn Spears story the “ultimate example of one of these celebrities deciding ‘I’m tired of somebody else making money off of me, I’m going to make money off my own news.’”
Competitors say that OK! has shoveled tens of millions of dollars into its American debut and has been selling advertising at deeply discounted rates. But the company says that advertising revenue has more than doubled in the last year, to $51 million in fiscal 2007 from $21 million in fiscal 2006. Mr. Morrissy said he expected the magazine to turn a profit in 2008.
Furthermore, he said, the costs of relationships with celebrities can be spread across international editions of the magazine.
“It’s not just America where these exclusives matter for our brand,” Mr. Morrissy said. “We’re going to be in 22 countries by the end of 2008.”
Thirty pages of the American version of OK! are now reprinted in the magazine’s editions in Britain and Australia. Although Jamie Lynn Spears is not well known in many countries, her pregnancy news was placed on the cover of the end-of-year Australian OK!
Early last year OK! raised its cover price from $1.99 to $2.99, but still managed to increase newsstand sales, said John Harrington, the publisher of an magazine industry newsletter.
“It’s certainly not People or US Weekly, but I think the Bauer people” — the publishers of Life & Style and In Touch — “are pretty concerned about it. And it’s probably serious competition for Star at this point,” he said.
Until next week,
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