|26-10-06, 08:39 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - October 28th, '06
"The CD as it is right now is dead." – Alain Levy
"Spending time on therapeutic and educational web sites can be just as effective as regular visits to the psychotherapist." – Eric Bangeman
"The blind have more access to information than they ever had in history - but that's only true to the extent that Web accessibility is maintained. The technology is out there, and we don't need barriers to be put in our way. Give us a way in." – Chris Danielsen
"In the long term, we would like to improve the products so that people feel safe using them." – Nobuyuki Oneda
"Would you be comfortable wearing your name, your credit card number and your card expiration date on your T-shirt?" – Tom Heydt-Benjamin
"As much as people are griping about the Internet taking sales away from artists, it's been a huge promotional tool for me." – "Weird Al" Yankovic
"No amount of microtargeting is going to save Republicans." – Bob Mulholland
"It's already dead, but it doesn't know it yet." – Jon Paul Belstler
October 28th, '06
'Net Neutrality' Would be Democrats' Pet
A Democratic takeover on Capitol Hill would be good news to those who say the government should prohibit telecommunications giants from playing favorites with Internet content.
The idea, known as "network neutrality," is about preventing those who control traffic on the Internet from allowing well-heeled Web sites to in effect buy their way to the front of the line in a world where data flow can be as congested as Los Angeles traffic. Proponents say it should be a bipartisan issue.
But lobbyists for the big companies that control most of the Internet in the United States are worried that the Democrats might pick up the seats they need to take over one or both chambers of Congress.
The issue pits those companies - including AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. - against a well-organized grass roots campaign that is joined by some of the nation's biggest Internet success stories, such as Google and eBay.
Net neutrality advocates say the "Internet's First Amendment" is at stake. They argue that if those who run the network are allowed to discriminate against Web traffic based on which sites pay them the most, it will strangle the Internet's freewheeling, democratic nature.
Those who provide Internet service call it a simple issue of economics. Since companies like Google are pumping more and more information through their networks, those who provide the data pipelines should be able to charge more to pay to upgrade transmission capacity, they say.
Last year, both the House and Senate worked on bills that would let telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. get into the video delivery business and compete with cable companies, without having to obtain franchise licenses in thousands of individual communities.
House members, under intense lobbying from the former Bell companies, were able to pass the legislation while beating back attempts to attach strong network neutrality provisions.
In the Senate a much more ambitious bill has yet to make it to the floor, and while there is a chance it may see action during an expected lame-duck session in November, its prospects are dim.
At the same time, Verizon and AT&T have persuaded state legislatures to pass relief from franchise rules, making that part of the push for a federal law a much lower priority.
That means network neutrality proponents will have to find a different bill to attach language to, or continue efforts to get something passed independently.
In the House, if the Democrats prevail, neutrality advocates can expect a much warmer reception than when the Republicans were in control.
The current chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from AT&T's home state of Texas. Barton has consistently opposed network neutrality, as has Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the Internet and Technology subcommittee.
By contrast, Rep. John Dingell, also of Michigan and who would assume the chairmanship if Democrats take over, has been sympathetic to network neutrality proponents. And Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who would take over the Internet and Technology subcommittee, wrote an unsuccessful network neutrality amendment in the House and has made the issue a top priority.
Dingell is also expected to live up to his reputation as a tough overseer of the agencies that answer to his committee, such as the Federal Communications Commission.
On the Senate side, while a Democratic takeover is less likely, a Democratic pickup of one or two seats may still be significant.
A network neutrality amendment sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., tied by a vote of 11-11 among members of the Commerce, Science and Communication Committee.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the ranking Democrat who would take over the committee if the Democrats win control, supports network neutrality, while current chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, blames the issue for sinking his broad telecommunications bill.
Regardless of the election's outcome, network neutrality legislation would still have to be signed by President Bush - something that both sides acknowledge is unlikely to happen.
Kremlin Puts Foreign NGO’s on Notice
C. J. Chivers
MOSCOW, Oct. 19 — Scores of foreign private organizations were forced to cease their operations in Russia on Thursday while the government considered whether to register them under a new law that has received sharp international criticism.
Among the suspended organizations are some of those most critical of the Kremlin, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and others, like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, that have been accused by Russian officials of instigating or assisting revolutions against other former Soviet republics.
The Justice Ministry, which is responsible for registering foreign private organizations, insisted that the suspensions were neither retaliatory nor permanent.
It issued a statement saying the suspended organizations had not properly filed new registration materials or had submitted the required materials on the last day before the registration deadline, which was midnight Wednesday. It said it was rushing to review the applications it had received.
“It is important to note that lack of reregistration does not entail the liquidation of the organization,” the statement said. “The talk here is only that these organizations cannot carry out the activity envisaged by their charters before they are brought into the register.”
The number of suspended organizations is not entirely clear. The statement said the ministry had received applications from 185 organizations, approved 108 of them and continued to review the 77 others.
But the suspensions were the latest chapter in Russia’s pressure on foreign organizations that have offices on its soil. They occurred in a climate of deepening worry about the Kremlin’s crackdown on civil society and just days before a planned visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Ms. Rice has expressed concern about the law regulating foreign private organizations, known as nongovernmental organizations, or NGO’s, which was passed earlier this year.
Some Russian officials, including Nikolai P. Patrushev, the chief of the domestic intelligence service, have accused the groups of interfering with state affairs or even harboring spies.
The new law, strongly backed by President Vladimir V. Putin, created extensive new filing requirements, which in some cases the organizations said had been so tedious and lengthy as to be almost impossible to fulfill. The groups have also expressed apprehension over the rules’ vagueness, which could allow any group to be audited, and perhaps closed, on a pretext.
They and their supporters have said that how the law is enforced will be a test of whether Russia will allow foreign organizations that it dislikes to continue to work in the country. The first deadline, and its effects on Thursday, were accompanied by a strong sense of concern, even fear.
“My fear is that their intention is to shut us down,” Josh Rubenstein, a director at Amnesty International, said by telephone. Amnesty International has had an office in Russia since the days of the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, he said.
The Justice Ministry posted a list of 73 organizations that were not yet approved, and thus were suspended. At least 38 of those were listed by the ministry as American or had a clear American affiliation, including the American Bar Association, the American-Russian Business Council, the American Trade Chamber and Johns Hopkins University.
The suspended Western organizations also included the Danish Refugee Council and the French and Belgian offices of Doctors Without Borders.
Other news organizations reported that nearly 100 groups had been suspended, but did not provide a list. The Associated Press quoted one Justice Ministry official as saying that 96 groups had been suspended, while the Itar-Tass news agency later quoted the same official as saying the number was 93.
While the ministry said it had approved 108 organizations for registration, it provided a list of only 80.
Forty-one of those were American, including the Ford Foundation, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Moscow office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Of the 41, 33 appeared to be child adoption agencies.
As the day passed with offices idled, some of the affected groups declined to comment, saying they worried about antagonizing Russia while their registration documents were under review.
Others described a new posture their offices had assumed on Thursday: they abruptly stopped their work and programs but left their lights on and offices staffed.
Carroll Bogert, an associate director at Human Rights Watch, said by telephone from New York that its employees in Russia were still being paid, “but otherwise we are not operating in Russia.” She said she expected that the office would be registered once its documents were reviewed, and that the organization did not feel that it was a specific target.
The cessation of some organizations’ activities was denounced by their partners in the country.
Elena Panfilova, director of the Russian chapter of Transparency International, an anticorruption organization, said her office was registered as a domestic, not foreign, organization and so was not directly affected by the new procedures.
But she said she had work planned with other groups, which now were unable to meet with her. “It is appalling,” she said. “It is a total disgrace.”
The Justice Ministry said it was working to expedite the registrations and blamed the organizations for not providing required documentation.
Danish Court Tells ISP to Block Access to AllofMP3.com
AllofMP3.com suffered yet another setback as a Danish court ruled that an ISP must block access to the Russian music site. The ruling only covers one ISP (Tele2) in one country, but the ruling will certainly set the stage for more lawsuits as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry believes it has developed another successful tool in its fight against AllofMP3.
Unable to shut the site down in Russia after years of trying, the IFPI has recently tried to cut off AllofMP3 from the other end—making it difficult for users to connect to the site and harder for the site to accept international credit cards. As we reported a week ago, the IFPI was responsible for bringing AllofMP3 to the attention of Visa, which stopped processing payments in early September. The recording industry has also been successful at getting its worries heard by politicians; the US Trade Representative, for instance, has publicly called AllofMP3 one of the most significant obstacles to Russia's bid to join the WTO.
Going after ISPs is only the next logical step. IFPI Denmark sued Tele2 in Copenhagen City Court back in July, asking a judge to force the ISP to cut off access to AllofMP3.com. Yesterday, the judge agreed to do so. John Kennedy, head of IFPI, said: "This judgment is one more step along the road to getting this rogue site closed down. Allofmp3.com illegally offers for sale copies of music that it has no right to reproduce or distribute. It provides unfair competition to the nearly 400 legal sites worldwide that respect the rights of composers, artists and record producers."
Ib Tolstrup, who leads a Danish telecommunications industry group, told Computerworld Denmark that the decision could have dire consequences for the entire industry. "We are horrified over this judgment, to say the least. It means that we must now keep an eye on what our users are doing online. And blocking user access to certain websites will never be a perfect solution," he said. "This can spread anywhere. Next time we might be asked to block pages with illegal software or something like that. But we will always demand a court order before acting on these requests."
By making ISPs responsible for controlling their users' access to illicit material, the court has cracked open a massive can of nightcrawlers. The worries here are obvious: how can each ISP be expected to monitor websites around the globe and make legal judgments about whether such sites are legitimate under local and Danish law? In the US and Europe, courts have generally recognized that users—not service providers—are responsible for abiding by the law while using the Internet. This ruling calls that basic principle into question.
If upheld, it could open ISPs in Denmark to a flood of complaints from companies, industry groups, and individuals, asking the ISP to block access to material deemed offensive or illegal, even if no court has yet ruled on legality. The alternatives are not appealing: fight every request in court at great expense or accept every request at face value and become an all-out censor. Hoping to avoid this nightmare scenario, Tele2 has filed an appeal.
Anders Bylund contributed to this report.
BitTorrent Site Admin Sent to Prison
The 23 year old Grant Stanley has been sentenced to five months in prison, followed by five months of home detention, and a $3000 fine for the work he put in the private BitTorrent tracker Elitetorrents.
This ruling is the first BitTorrent related conviction in the US. Stanley pleaded guilty earlier this year to “conspiracy to commit copyright infringement” and “criminal copyright infringement”. He is one of the three defendants in the Elitetorrents operation better known as “Operation D-Elite”.
Operation D-Elite (they love word tricks) was orchestrated by the FBI with a little help from the MPAA in May 2005, and resulted in the shutdown of one of the largest private BitTorrent trackers at that time.
Two months ago we reported that Scott McCausland pleaded guilty to committing the same crimes. Scott is to be sentenced on December 12, 2006, and invited everyone who sympathizes with him to write a letter to the judge on his behalf.
In a response to the present case US Attorney John Brownlee said:
“This is the first criminal enforcement action against copyright infringement on a P2P network using BitTorrent technology. We hope this case sends the message that cyberspace will not provide a shield of anonymity for those who choose to break our copyright laws.”
China Jails Internet Dissident for Three Years
A Chinese court on Wednesday jailed a dissident for three years for inciting subversion with an Internet essay praising pro-rights protests in Hong Kong, a human rights group said.
Li Jianping was sentenced in Zibo, in the eastern province of Shandong, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a faxed statement on the latest example of China's crackdown on Internet dissent.
An assistant to Li's lawyer confirmed the sentence but could give no details. Li was tried in April.
A student participant in China's 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations, Li was found guilty of "inciting subversion of state power" for an essay published on overseas Chinese Web sites in 2003, the center said.
His essay praised protesters in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, who fought the self-governed territory's "Article 23" security legislation that critics said threatened to curb political liberty there.
Li, about 40, took part in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations for democratic change. His jailing adds to a lengthening list of Chinese citizens imprisoned for speaking out on the Internet.
China is the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 32 in custody and another 50 Internet campaigners also in prison, according to media freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders.
Last week, a Chinese court jailed dissident Guo Qizhen for four years for inciting subversion over antigovernment essays he posted on the Internet. Guo denounced the late Chairman Mao Zedong and called the country's government "evil" for its suppression of civil rights.
Last month, the outspoken Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was charged with inciting subversion, but authorities have not released the specific accusations against him.
China Moves Toward 'Real Name System' for Blogs
The Internet Society of China has recommended to the government that bloggers be required to use their real names when they register blogs, state media said on Monday, in the latest attempt to regulate free-wheeling Web content.
The society, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Information Industry, said no decision had been made but that a 'real name system' was inevitable.
"A real name system will be an unavoidable choice if China wants to standardize and develop its blog industry," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the Internet Society's secretary general, Huang Chengqing, as saying.
"We suggest, in a recent report submitted to the ministry, that a real name system be implemented in China's blog industry," Huang said.
China has already imposed some controls on Internet chatter about politically sensitive subjects, which often goes far beyond what is permissible in the country's traditional state-run media.
Last year, the Ministry of Information Industry issued regulations on Internet news content that analysts said was aimed at extending rules governing licensed news outlets to blogs and Internet-only news sites.
Participation in university online discussion groups has also been restricted to students.
Bloggers anonymously disseminating untrue information on the Internet brought about a negative influence on society, the Xinhua report said.
Under the proposed rule, users would be required to register under their real name to open a blog but would still be allowed to write under a pseudonym.
NY Bar to Regulate Attorney Blogs?
Martin Magnusson, Editor-at-Large
In 1977, the Supreme Court handed down a seminal decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. The case involved two lawyers who placed an advertisement in a daily newspaper. At the time, the State Bar of Arizona had a rule that prohibited lawyers from advertising their services. In Bates, the Supreme Court held that this rule violated the First Amendment. Justice Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that commercial speech served the interests of consumers. He noted that
(a)dvertising, though entirely commercial, may often carry information of import to significant issues of the day. And commercial speech serves to inform the public of the availability, nature, and prices of products and services, and thus performs an indispensable role in the allocation of resources in a free enterprise system. In short, such speech serves individual and societal interests in assuring informed and reliable decisionmaking.
Since the Bates decision, legal advertising has proliferated. Indeed, one need only open the yellow pages or turn on the television to find lawyers selling their services. Such advertisements, though, must comport with the strictures of professional responsibility. In their effort to police lawyers' advertisements, state bar associations frequently require lawyers to submit copies of their advertisements to its disciplinary committee for review, often with a filing fee.
Recently, New York's Administrative Board of Courts has proposed a new set of rules that would have a tremendous impact on legal blogs. Touted as bringing the rules of professional responsibility into the Internet age, these rules would construe legal blogs as advertising per se. As such, lawyers would be required to print, store and forward hard copies each and every time that they update their blog.
Greg Beck of the Public Citizen Litigation Group notes that
(i)nstead of protecting consumers . . . the proposed rules will burden completely truthful and non-misleading communication by attorneys, and will serve no purpose other than to deprive consumers of useful information about their legal rights, protect established law firms from competition, and render many aspects of the Internet largely unusable for New York attorneys.
Criticism of the proposed rules, though, is far from universal. New York State Bar Association president Mark Alcott has noted that
[f]or a long time there was a view that nothing could be done because the [U.S.] Supreme Court said lawyers could advertise and it was assumed that was the final word. But while lawyers are free to advertise, there can be reasonable restraints on those advertisements. It is long overdue that such restraints would be imposed, and enforced, in New York. We need to study it in depth, but we are gratified that the presiding justices have proposed the new rules and that a number of recommendations by the association were included.
TVUPlayer: Another Napster?
By streaming video of popular television programs over the Web, a self-described peer-to-peer service called TVUPlayer has begun to draw a loyal worldwide following.
The service, however, could also become an enticing target for Hollywood legal eagles with an eye out for copyright infringement.
Indeed, TVUPlayer, offered by a Chinese company called TVU Networks, looks to some like it could draw legal challenges similar to those faced by the early Napster peer-to-peer service, which became a pinata for litigious lawyers because of what some described as copyright violations on a massive scale.
TVUPlayer transmits TV shows, including pay-for-view broadcasts, from U.S. and international broadcasters such as ABC, HBO, the Disney Channel, The Comedy Channel, Al Jazeera and Telecapri Sports of Italy.
It's easy to see why it's becoming popular: In addition to a big selection, the TVUPlayer's pictures are usually clearer than the choppy and grainy images that often mark streaming video. Viewers can't upload their own videos.
But copyright experts say that unless TVU Networks executives have permission to use the content they transmit, the company can't legally rebroadcast the shows. And representatives of three organizations whose content was found on the TVUPlayer said they don't have any deals with TVU Networks.
Matt Bourne, a spokesman for the National Basketball Association said TVU Networks is transmitting NBA TV without the league's permission.
"We are aware of the site," Bourne said. "We are working to explore our options in order to determine an appropriate course of action, including talking with other content owners."
When asked whether TVU Networks is authorized to stream Disney's content, Karen Hobson, a spokeswoman for the studio, said, "You can only get Disney Channel shows on iTunes (for download) or from our own Web site."
An HBO spokesman also said HBO programs aren't legally available anywhere on the Web.
Not a lot is known about Shanghai-based TVU Networks, which did not respond to interview requests. It's one of many start-ups trying to cash in on Web video, a sector that's bound to grow in the wake of Google's announced $1.65 billion purchase of video-sharing phenomenon YouTube. At the same time, online video, especially in the video-sharing segment, has been dogged by copyright issues. YouTube, Grouper and Bolt.com have been named in recent lawsuits that accuse them of copyright violations.
The TVUPlayer appears to have gained attention in the United States following the 2006 FIFA World Cup tournament in Germany. Thousands of soccer fans downloaded the software in order to watch matches not available on U.S. stations.
More importantly, TVU Networks has made watching online programming as easy watching a TV. After downloading the TVUPlayer, a menu appears with anywhere from 40 to 50 channels. Among the available channels available on Friday were Comedy Central, Animal Planet and the CNBC broadcast in India.
"Consumers will be able to watch free live channels from around the globe, as well as subscribe to pay channels and pay-per-view events," said a statement on TYUNetworks.com, the company's Web site. "TVU Networks brings you programs from around the world that you can't get from your local cable and satellite providers."
Blogs reporting on the TVUPlayer's popularity have noted the questions about the service's legality. Because TVU displays each broadcaster's commercials, some early reports have said TVU Networks is operating in a gray area of the law.
But some lawyers think the law is fairly clear-cut. "What gray area? The courts have already decided that you can't do this," said Mark Litvack, a copyright attorney for the Los Angeles law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
Litvack cited a 2000 U.S. district court decision that Canadian company iCraveTV was in violation of copyright law when it captured broadcast signals from the likes of ABC, NBC and CBS and retransmitted them over the Web. The company was forced to shut down.
According to Litvack, the case demonstrated that the courts don't care whether a service retransmits commercials. The most important factor in whether a site is operating legally is whether it has permission from content owners to be transmitting their material.
That said, if TVU Networks is found to be operating illegally, Hollywood may have a tough time going after the company in China, which has had a mixed record on protecting copyright.
Interestingly, instead of adding to the tension between the better-known video-sharing sites and Hollywood, boundary-pushing companies like TVU Networks may actually push them together, argued Josh Martin, an analyst with the Yankee Group.
"You shut down this site and another one will crop up," Martin said. "This tells entertainment executives that they have to create opportunity for consumers to legally access content. Most people will pay the $1.99 for the download or watch the commercial. They just need an opportunity to do that."
In recent weeks, a number of partnerships between sites and studios have been announced. Earlier this month, YouTube announced partnerships with Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and CBS that let their artists' music and videos be included in original content posted on YouTube's site. Sony acquired Grouper for $65 million, and Warner Bros. cut deals with Guba, a video-sharing site, and BitTorrent, a file-sharing service that allows both to distribute Warner films.
In the meantime, the TVUPlayer's popularity continues to grow on sites such as CNET Network's own Download.com.
"It could be tough to stop these guys," said the Yankee Group's Martin. "(China) isn't known for being tough on copyright law."
Venture Investor Loses Key Ruling in Napster Lawsuit
A partner improperly urged employees to delete e-mail, a judge rules in a copyright case.
Record labels and music publishers won a round in their copyright lawsuit against Napster and its two lead investors when a judge ruled Wednesday that Hummer Winblad Venture Partners improperly urged its employees to delete e-mail about the pioneering song-swapping service.
If the 3-year-old San Francisco lawsuit reaches trial, jurors will be told they can infer that the e-mail would have hurt the venture capital firm's defense, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled.
Record labels and music publishers claim that Hummer and another major investor, German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, helped Napster users violate copyright laws.
The deletion of e-mail came to light earlier this year. Two days after Hummer Winblad partners John Hummer and Hank Barry received subpoenas in a previous Napster-related lawsuit, a third partner, Ann Winblad, sent an e-mail to employees in June 2000 urging them to delete certain e-mail, according to case documents
"As we have all been required to surrender our Napster e-mails, this should reinforce compliance with our long-standing policies," Winblad wrote to employees, according to court documents. "We do not retain e-mails, it is your responsibility to delete your handled e-mails immediately."
Patel concluded that Winblad was directing employees to delete future Napster e-mail when the firm had a legal duty to preserve them.
"Hummer's conduct amounts to gross negligence," if not willful destruction, she wrote. Patel also said she would bar Hummer Winblad from raising some defenses that might have been undercut if it had preserved the e-mail.
An attorney for Hummer Winblad declined to comment.
NYC Starting Crackdown on Film Piracy
Film pirates are about to find the sailing a lot tougher in New York City.
More than 40 percent of the nation's pirated movies that are videotaped in theaters and then illegally sold throughout the world originate here, and the city is fed up and not going to take it any more, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
Bloomberg said the city will begin using public nuisance laws to go after the owners of buildings where film piracy is organized and movies are sold. The city has been pursuing other types of counterfeit goods in a similar way for several years, shutting several buildings and confiscating millions of dollars in clothing and handbags.
The city will push for state legislation to increase penalties for people who sneak video cameras into theaters and record the films. Bloomberg wants to make the act a misdemeanor for first-timers and a felony for repeat offenders.
"Video piracy is not a victimless crime," he said. "It kills jobs for New Yorkers, and, like the counterfeit clothes and other items, it also is carried about by and supports criminal gangs. Now, we're going to start shutting them down."
Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Dan Glickman said that while a huge chunk of piracy takes place in New York, no other city matches its efforts to combat the crime, which he said is the industry's greatest threat. The organization estimated piracy cost major U.S. studios $6 billion last year.
Defendant Doesn't Want RIAA Let Off the Hook
The RIAA has decided it wants to drop another copyright infringement case, but the defendant is fighting back. Warner v. Stubbs began like so many of the file-sharing cases. MediaSentry found shared music on Kazaa and the IP address was traced to Tallie Stubbs of Oklahoma. After settlement talks proved futile, Warner Bros., UMG, Sony Music, and Arista Records filed suit in the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on July 25, 2006.
After "further investigation," according to a plaintiff's court filing, the record labels decided to dismiss the case. However, they requested that the case be dismissed without prejudice and with prejudice. Likely due to a typographical error, the distinction is important. Dismissal without prejudice means that the action can be brought again in the future. If a case is dismissed with prejudice, it cannot be refiled and the defendant may be named the "prevailing party" and be eligible for attorney's fees and court costs from the plaintiffs, which is what happened in the case of Capitol Records v. Foster.
When the RIAA decides to drop a case, it will file for dismissal without prejudice. If the motion is made prior to the defendant filing an answer to the complaint or a counterclaim, that's the end of the case. The RIAA extricates itself from a case it decided was unwinnable and the defendant is left holding the bag for attorney's fees. In Warner v. Stubbs, the defendant filed an answer and counterclaim seeking affirmative relief before the RIAA filed a motion.
One common thread in the Capitol Records v. Foster and the Warner v. Stubbs cases is the defendant's counsel, Marilyn Barringer-Thompson. After reading through the paperwork from the two cases, it's clear that Barringer-Thompson is playing hardball with the record labels. Ray Beckerman, who runs the Recording Industry vs The People blog and is representing other defendants embroiled in litigation with the RIAA, told Ars that it looked to him like the RIAA decided to cut and run when it saw who the opposing counsel was.
If Tallie Stubbs wins her motion for dismissal with prejudice, then she, too, will be considered the prevailing party and will be eligible for attorney's fees and other court costs from the RIAA. More importantly, it would put the RIAA in the position of having lost one of their file-sharing-related copyright infringement case—none of which have yet gone to trial.
Unfortunately, we don't know what transpired behind the scenes and why the RIAA wants to drop the case. What "further investigation" did the RIAA undertake with regard to the Stubbs case? Was it another case of mistaken identity? We contacted the RIAA for answers to these and other questions and were told by a spokesperson earlier today that the RIAA would be unable to provide answers because our questions "go to an element of legal strategy that we'll pass on detailing."
Should one of the file-sharing cases actually make it to trial, we may get definitive answers on a number of elements of the RIAA's legal strategy. Is an IP address and the name and address of an ISP subscriber enough to make a positive identification of who was doing the alleged file sharing and when? (We were reminded earlier this week that relying on ISP data is not foolproof.) Is a list of music files allegedly discovered by MediaSentry enough to prove infringement? Beckerman doesn't think so. The RIAA's actions indicate that they're not anxious to get a definitive answer either.
IBM Sues Amazon for Patent Infringement
IBM Corp. alleged in two lawsuits Monday that important components of Amazon.com Inc.'s massive retailing Web site were developed and patented many years earlier at IBM.
Amazon, which this year will sell $10 billion worth of everything from books and CDs to pet supplies and jewelry, is accused of infringing on five IBM patents. IBM says the technologies covered by the patents govern how the site recommends products to customers, serves up advertising and stores data.
Some of the patents were first filed in the 1980s, when IBM created back-end technology for Prodigy, an early online service that grew out of a joint venture between IBM and Sears, Roebuck & Co. One such patent is titled "Ordering Items Using an Electronic Catalog."
"Given that time frame, these are very fundamental inventions for e-commerce and how to do it on the network," said John E. Kelly III, IBM's senior vice president for intellectual property. "Much, if not all, of Amazon's business is built on top of this property."
Hundreds of other companies have licensed the same patents, and IBM has tried to negotiate licensing deals with Amazon "over a dozen times since 2002," Kelly said. Seattle-based Amazon has refused every time "while pretending to desire resolution," the lawsuits state.
Amazon declined to comment.
Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM is not specifying the damages it seeks. It filed its lawsuits in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas, one in Tyler and one in Lufkin. Texas has become a frequent site for patent cases because districts there move quickly and are perceived as relatively responsive to intellectual-property claims.
IBM shares gained $1.08, 1.2 percent, to close at $91.56 on the New York Stock Exchange. Amazon shares rose 31 cents, 1 percent, to $32.88 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
IBM is the world's leading patent holder, spending $6 billion a year in research and development and earning about $1 billion a year in royalties.
Amazon's relationship with patents has been more heavily contested; the company's patent of the "one-click" checkout method in 1999 was famously derided as overly broad and obvious. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is re-examining that patent.
Marc Kaufman, a Nixon Peabody LLP partner who specializes in patent law, said some of the IBM patents at issue are widely known in technology legal circles to have been frequently licensed. Kaufman said it appears that "Amazon is the first potential licensee to dig in their heels."
IBM's Kelly would not disclose how much other companies have paid to license these patents, though he added: "We are not unreasonable people."
There appears to be no sensitive customer relationship at stake in the IBM-Amazon tussle. Traditionally a big customer of Hewlett-Packard Co., Amazon does little if any business with IBM.
Apple Files iPod Patent: Fear of Competition or Exposure?
Susan J. Campbell
In spite of the massive success that Apple has enjoyed with its iPod line of portable music players, the company must still be feeling the pressure from the competition. Apple has filled a patent application on how future iPods will use wireless for electronic media purchasing online.
This application filing occurs not too soon before the much-anticipated release of the Microsoft Zune. While this could be an effort to fight the software giant and its product directly, it should be noted that Zune’s built-in Wi-Fi will be limited to the file sharing between devices with no direct Internet purchases from the handheld.
The patent attempt could be Apple’s strategy to pre-empt the success of a Zune upgrade or product line expansion. Consider this, not only will the handheld Zune not allow for Internet purchases, it cannot connect to the Internet at all. The Wi-Fi cannot even be used to sync music with files on a PC – this requires a USB cable. The Wi-Fi appears to exist merely for song sharing 3 times per song and only between Zune units.
But, here’s another theory. Jon Lech Johansen, a 22-year-old Norwegian with a history of cracking copyright protection technologies and incensing the companies that build them, has untangled Fairplay, the digital encryption Apple uses to prevent songs purchased on iTunes from being played on non-iPod music players and multiple PCs. This same technology is used to prevent the sharing of music from iPod to iPod.
Johansen has now set up a company in Redwood Shores, California, to show others how to make their content playable on an iPod by wrapping it in Fairplay. The company, DoubleTwist Ventures, will also help companies to make rival devices play iTunes music and video on their own players. Apple, thus far, has not said a word in response to Johansen’s actions.
The events that have led to the filing of a patent application still remain unknown; however it should give an indication that Apple fears its dominance in the market is threatened. This is interesting given the reasons for the iPod’s success in the first place.
Apple and its iPod didn’t earn its throne in the portable music player industry because it had the easiest to use player that offered the best song selection. This success also didn’t come because it offered the most competitive price. Apple has been able to dominate this market because of its marketing campaign, pure and simple.
The company was able to strategically position its product in all the right places so that the iPod was the portable player of choice for the rich and famous. And guess what? This was a luxury that John Q. Public could afford. In our quest to be like the rich and famous, we all had to have one.
Apple did borrow a winning strategy from Microsoft in keeping its technology proprietary. However, this strategy doesn’t seem to be enough to keep the fruity giant on top as consumers are beginning to tire of the iPod and iTunes restrictions. This patent could either protect Apple’s vision or tarnish its appeal in the eyes of the consumer. Either way – watch out for more news from Johansen and DoubleTwist Ventures as we have likely not heard the last from him.
Unlocking the iPod
Jon Johansen became a geek hero by breaking the DVD code. Now he's liberating iTunes - whether Apple likes it or not.
Growing up in a small town in southern Norway, Jon Lech Johansen loved to take things apart to figure out how they worked. Unlike most kids, though, he'd put them back together better than they were before. When he was 14, his father bought a digital camera that came with buggy software, so Jon analyzed the code and wrote a program that worked better.
When Johansen bought an early MP3 player that kept crashing, he studied how it worked, wrote a more reliable program, and posted it on the Internet so other people could download it for free. Later, the company that made the device asked him about writing a new version, but he didn't hear back after he sent in his résumé. "I assume it had something to do with my age," Johansen says dryly. He was 17.
Sometimes, however, the things Johansen tries to improve were made a certain way for a reason. When he was 15, Johansen got frustrated when his DVDs didn't work the way he wanted them to. "I was fed up with not being able to play a movie the way I wanted to play it," that is, on a PC that ran Linux.
To fix the problem, he and two hackers he met online wrote a program called DeCSS, which removed the encryption that limits what devices can play the discs. That meant the movies could be played on any machine, but also that they could be copied. After the program was posted online, Johansen received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - and a visit from Norwegian police.
Johansen, now 22 and widely known as "DVD Jon" for his exploits, has also figured out how Apple's iPod-iTunes system works. And he's using that knowledge to start a business that is going to drive Steve Jobs crazy.
If you want to be specific - and for legal reasons, he does - Johansen has reverse-engineered FairPlay, the encryption technology Apple (Charts) uses to make the iPod a closed system. Right now, thanks to FairPlay, the songs Apple sells at its iTunes store cannot easily be played on other devices, and copy-protected songs purchased from other sites will not play on the iPod. (The iPod will play MP3 files, which do not have any copy protection, but major labels don't sell music in that format.)
Johansen has written programs that get around those restrictions: one that would let other companies sell copy-protected songs that play on the iPod, and another that would let other devices play iTunes songs. Starting this fall, his new company, DoubleTwist, will license them to anyone who wants to get into the digital-music business - and doesn't mind getting hate mail from Cupertino.
So far, DoubleTwist consists of four cubicles in a generic-looking glass-and-steel building in Redwood Shores, Calif., one client, and no full-time employees other than Johansen and co-founder Monique Farantzos.
As he and Farantzos explain DoubleTwist in a conference room they share with several other companies, he points to a sheet of printer paper tacked on the wall that has a typed quote Jobs gave the Wall Street Journal in 2002: "If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own." As Johansen sees it, Jobs didn't follow through on this promise, so it's up to him to fix the system, just as he fixed the software for his father's camera.
"Today's reality is that there's this iTunes-iPod ecosystem that excludes everyone else from the market," says Johansen. "I don't like closed systems."
Companies that rely on closed systems don't much care for him, either. For his role in writing DeCSS, Johansen was charged with breaking the Norwegian law that prohibits gaining unauthorized access to data, then was acquitted twice when courts ruled the data were his own. The movie studios didn't like that decision, which almost certainly would have been different in the U.S., where the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA, for short) prohibits circumventing digital-rights-management technology (or DRM) for any reason. The movie studios used that law to successfully sue a hacker magazine called 2600 that linked to DeCSS on its Web site.
Johansen, who had left high school at 16 to become a programmer, testified in the 2600 case and became frustrated that companies could prohibit customers from using a product the way they wanted. "I really became interested in these issues," he says. He also became something of an icon to hard-core geeks: When Johansen announced on his blog that he was selling the old iPod he had used to break FairPlay, a Berkeley researcher bought it to keep as a souvenir.
"We all talk about disruptive forces in business," says Mike McGuire, an analyst at the Gartner Group. "This guy is a disruptive force unto himself."
A thorn in Apple's side
There's an obvious question: Isn't opening the iTunes system illegal? There is no obvious answer. FairPlay is not patented, most likely because the encryption algorithms it uses are in the public domain. (Apple would not comment for this story.) And Johansen says he is abiding by the letter of the law - if not, perhaps, its spirit.
To let other sites sell music that plays on the iPod, his program will "wrap" songs with code that functions much like FairPlay. "So we'll actually add copy protection," he says, whereas the DMCA prohibits removing it. Helping other devices play iTunes songs could be harder to justify legally, but he cites the DMCA clause that permits users, in some circumstances, to reverse-engineer programs to ensure "interoperability."
"The law protects copyrights," he says, "but it doesn't keep you locked into the iPod." Johansen isn't the only one who feels that way - or the only one who has found a way around FairPlay.
In 2004, RealNetworks released a program called Harmony that would allow songs from its RealPlayer Music Store to play on the iPod. Steve Jobs memorably accused the company of using "the ethics and tactics of a hacker" and threatened to sue.
Instead, Apple released a software update that made Harmony ineffective - although Real subsequently fixed that. Another company, Navio Systems, has announced that it has developed a way to play iTunes songs on other devices. Several more programs on the Internet will strip the FairPlay encryption from a file, but none of them has a large following.
And not everyone who wants to open up the iPod is a hacker. There have been demonstrations in the streets of France over Apple's DRM, and lawmakers there have attempted to require Apple to license FairPlay. Apple said that such a move would be "state-sponsored piracy."
In the U.S., courts have traditionally allowed inventors to reverse-engineer products to determine how they function. But the DMCA allows programmers to do that only in certain cases. "What he's working on is clearly in the spirit of the reverse-engineering the courts have been most friendly toward," says Fred von Lohman, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has informally given Johansen advice. "But the law is untested, and the case is complicated."
Since the DMCA was passed, the most relevant legal precedent is a case in which the videogame maker Blizzard sued an ISP that hosted an unapproved server where people could play its games, which the court found to be a DMCA violation.
"On the surface, Apple would have a good case," especially when it comes to making iTunes songs play on other devices, says Robert Becker, an attorney at Manatt Phelps & Phillips who has represented the copy-protection company Macrovision. "Apple would say you're buying music under certain restrictions."
Indeed, how you feel about what Johansen is doing may depend on how you feel about a question that will become more important as the media business gradually embraces digital distribution: What exactly are you buying when you purchase a song on iTunes?
An unscientific survey of friends generated only one answer: a song. An attorney, though, might say that you are buying a license to play a song on a specific set of devices - and that using Johansen's software violates Apple's user agreement (the one you didn't bother to read when you signed up for iTunes).
If the distinction seems minute, suppose you replace your iPod with another digital music player; unless you convert them to MP3s, your songs from iTunes will be as useful as eight-track tapes.
A tense atmosphere
For a man so intent on changing the way music is sold, Johansen isn't a big fan himself. "I've probably bought ten CDs in my whole life," he says. Much of the music he does have - mainly techno - he buys from iTunes. When the store went online, it didn't accept foreign credit cards, so Johansen bought iTunes gift certificates on eBay.
Instead of going to concerts, Johansen bakes. His blog, "So Sue Me," features dessert recipes along with news about technology and arguments about copyright law. When DoubleTwist signed its first client - which Johansen declines to identify - he made an apple pie to celebrate.
Johansen has a soft-spoken modesty that belies his stature as a hacker. He was among the first to crack FairPlay - he did it for fun on a vacation in France - and he has also broken a Microsoft code. "If reverse-engineering were a sport," says Michael Robertson, the Internet entrepreneur for whom Johansen worked before setting up DoubleTwist, "Jon would be on the all-star team."
Johansen realizes that taking on Apple could make figuring out FairPlay look easy. But he seems to regard the fact that he could get sued as one of those complicating factors an engineer must deal with, and he keeps the reverse-engineering clause of the DMCA near his desk for easy reference. "We don't want to go to court, because it's a waste of time and money," he says. "But if it comes to that, we will test these issues in court."
Johansen's legal arguments involve the rights of consumers, but opening the iPod could also be good for the music business. The major labels worry that compatibility concerns will slow the digital-music market, especially when Microsoft comes out with its own closed system this Christmas. Chafing at Apple's one-price-fits-all policy, they would love to see more retailers enter the market. But it says something about the power of Apple that none provided an executive who would speak for the record.
It is anyone's guess how Apple will react - the company hasn't contacted DoubleTwist. (Johansen says he had lunch with Jobs last January, but he hadn't yet started his company.)
So far, Apple hasn't sued anyone who has created or distributed any of the FairPlay hacks. That could be because the company is afraid that losing a case would set a precedent that would encourage imitations of the iPod. Or it could be that Apple doesn't want to give anyone the publicity.
Whatever Apple does, Johansen could have a hard time making DoubleTwist into a viable business. Companies could be reluctant to license Johansen's software for fear of being sued along with DoubleTwist. And they might have a tough time convincing the major labels to let them sell their music, since the labels know how much that would upset Apple.
"There has to be an agreement between the label and the retailer," says Josh Wattles, an attorney at Dreier and a former corporate counsel at Paramount Pictures. "What's the likelihood of a record company granting that?"
Whether or not Johansen makes any money with DoubleTwist, he will almost certainly make his point. "The iTunes music store was getting so popular, and I was kind of fed up that people were accepting that DRM."
On the other hand, if Apple gets fed up with him, he'll end up making his point in a courtroom.
What DVD Jon's iPod Crack Means for You
Analysis As we reported three weeks ago, reverse-engineering specialist "DVD" Jon Johansen has decoded the encryption that locks down iTunes-purchased music - and he's formed a company to license this to all-comers. Now Johansen has reverse-engineered rival DRM formats, permitting encrypted songs purchased from Apple rivals to play on iPods.
The music business is likely to be rejoicing - it blames a market divided into incompatible DRM silos for the less-than-spectacular adoption of digital downloads. Despite all the hype, digital sales won't surpass CD sales until 2014, based on linear growth rates. And despite claims that they're being robbed into penury by "pirates", the music industry finds unexpected ways of profiting from its assets. The ringtone business, for example, grossed $75bn for operators last year - double the global revenue of the music industry.
And just in time for Christmas, Microsoft has added another new major DRM system that's incompatible with all the others, with Zune. The confusion might be minor, but so long as it remains, potential consumers will stay away.
So there's plenty of goodwill from everyone involved: from stores that sell MP3 players, manufacturers who make them (particularly mobile handset vendors), from current and potential retailers, and everyone else in the music value chain. All stand to profit from consumers knowing they can play music acquired anywhere on any device.
Except for one party, perhaps. Isn't Johansen's new outfit DoubleTeam spoiling for a fight with Apple? If ever a company seems to have been created with a lawsuit in mind, it's DoubleTeam.
1998's draconian Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the DMCA, prohibits reverse-engineering except "for the sole purpose of identifying and analysing elements of the program necessary to achieve interoperability with other programs... (which is good for Jon) "... to the extent that such acts are permitted under copyright law." (which isn't so good). It's a grey area in other words.
But Apple has yet to pull the trigger. Real Networks has been making Helix DRM-encoded music from its Rhapsody store playable on iPods, and any other AAC-capable device, for two years now. Despite threatening noises, Cupertino has opted to use technical rather than legal means to block Harmony, Real's compatibility program.
When Johansen reverse-engineered FairPlay DRM three years ago, fanatical Apple supporters wrote to us urging the company prosecute him.
"I hope they jail this bastard as soon as possible," wrote one (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2003/11...ck_up_dvd_jon/).
But Apple stands to gain financially from interoperability as much, if not more than anyone else. Apple's online store is tightly integrated into its music jukebox. It makes far and away the best MP3 music player. A larger market means many more iPod sales for Apple, the really profitable part of its music business.
Of course, this might require Apple to hold its nose - but given the choice between losing the iTunes store and losing the iPod, there's little doubt which it would choose.
There's some irony if Apple fails to learn the lessons of the Macintosh. Jobs has now been at the forefront of creating two markets, and in each case seems terminally resistant to the market becoming horizontal. He just can't let go.
EMI Music CEO Says the CD is 'Dead'
EMI Music Chairman and Chief Executive Alain Levy Friday told an audience at the London Business School that the CD is dead, saying music companies will no longer be able to sell CDs without offering "value-added" material.
"The CD as it is right now is dead," Levy said, adding that 60% of consumers put CDs into home computers in order to transfer material to digital music players.
EMI Music is part of EMI Group PLC.
But there remains a place for physical media, Levy said.
"You're not going to offer your mother-in-law iTunes downloads for Christmas," he said. "But we have to be much more innovative in the way we sell physical content."
Record companies will need to make CDs more attractive to the consumer, he said.
"By the beginning of next year, none of our content will come without any additional material," Levy said.
CD sales accounted for more than 70% of total music sales in the first half of 2006, while digital music sales were around 11% of the total, according to music industry trade body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
CD sales were worth $6.45 billion and digital sales $945 million, the IFPI said.
Levy said EMI is continuing to hold talks with Google Inc. on an advertising-revenue sharing partnership with the community video Web site YouTube, which the Internet search giant acquired in October for $1.6 billion in stock.
EMI's rivals, Warner Music Group Corp., Sony BMG - a joint venture between Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG - and Universal Media have all signed content deals with YouTube.
"The terms they were offering weren't acceptable," Levy said, adding that EMI continues to be concerned about copyright issues.
Amazon Users Tag DRM Products DefectiveByDesign
Amazon customers are using the e-retailers "tagging" and review systems to warn shoppers that products with DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) are "Defective By Design". Over 15 products have been tagged by a few dozen users in the first few hours. The effort was initiated by anti drm group http://www.DefectiveByDesign.org.
BitTorrent Software to be Embedded in Routers and Servers
Asus, Planex, and QNAP all offer BitTorrent download manager
P2P file sharing client BitTorrent has announced that its technology is to be embedded into nine new consumer routers to make file sharing easier.
Asus, Planex, and QNAP are the first three manufacturers to announce their plans to embed the download manager into their wireless routers, media servers and network attached storage devices.
The idea is that users will be able to start a download with their notebook computer, and then take their laptop out of range while the router or device continues to share the torrent. BitTorrent acknowledges its previous veil of illegitimacy in its statement about the new products, pointing out that the growing amount of “legitimate content being made available via BitTorrent” means that there's a growing need for hardware to incorporate the torrent technology.
Three Asus routers, the WL-700gE, WL-500gP, and the WL-500g W, as well as five Planex routers (BRCE-W14VG-BT, 14VG-BT, W14V-BT, HPMM-U, and HPMM-G), and QNAP's TS101 and TS-201 NAS servers all embed the download manager.
'Grand Theft Auto' Maker Loses Round in Lawsuit
A federal judge refused a request from Take-Two Interactive Software to immediately dismiss some claims in a lawsuit accusing it of selling "Grand Theft Auto" video games containing sexually explicit images under the wrong content label.
The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, said Take-Two's alleged misconduct violated consumer protection laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Since the suit was filed in July 2005, a number of cases making the same claim have been consolidated in Manhattan federal court.
Take-Two and its subsidiary, Rockstar Games, had argued in the motion to dismiss parts of the lawsuit that the plaintiffs could only file claims in the states where they resided, not in all 50 states.
But U.S. District Judge Shirley Wohl Kram denied Take-Two's motion and said she would reconsider if class-action status were granted in the case.
"If class certification is granted, the court will have the benefit of a well-defined class and a more fully developed treatment of potential choice of law questions," Kram wrote in an opinion dated Wednesday.
A representative for Take-Two was not immediately available to comment on the judge's order.
The best-selling "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" was found to have hidden sex scenes in 2005. The explicit scenes, known as "Hot Coffee," allowed players to engage in virtual sex acts.
When the scenes were discovered, the video game ratings board slapped a restrictive "adult" rating on the game. Take-Two had to pull the games off store shelves and repackage them with the "adult" rating, which crimped sales and disrupted the company's operations.
Could Jack Thompson Be Jailed Over “Bully” Case?
GamePolitics has confirmed that lawyers representing Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Bully, are seeking to have Jack Thompson declared in contempt of court.
Although we haven’t yet seen the motion, the request would appear to relate to Thompson’s angry comments in the wake of Miami District Court Judge Ronald Friedman’s refusal to block sales of Bully.
In a worst-case scenario for Thompson, the outspoken attorney could be jailed by Judge Friedman if he were ruled in contempt.
However, a knowledgeable legal source has told GamePolitics that options such as fines, judicial admonishment or censure are more likely.
Attorneys for Philadelphia law firm Blank-Rome, long a target of Thompson’s ire, filed what is known as a “Petition for Order to Show Cause.” The motion requests that Judge Friedman order Thompson to appear in court and show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt.
For his part, Thompson has reacted to the motion with typical bluster, directing his comments towards opposing counsel as well as the judge. Here are excerpts from recent e-mails cc’d to GamePolitics:
‘You want to play hardball…? You want to try to throw me in jail? You have no idea what you are unleashing in doing this. You’re at the brink…”
“If this court in any fashion proceeds toward issuing a show cause order, given its utter baselessness and the bad faith goo in which it slithers, then Thompson will add whatever judge should do so as a defendant in the aforementioned federal civil rights action…”
Chris Patten: Politicians Have no Grasp of Technology
Former Hong Kong governor politician Chris Patten has said that a fundamental lack of understanding in government is to blame for a rash of ill-thought-out technology projects and related legislation in recent years.
Lord Patten of Barnes was especially critical of the government's ID card scheme, which is heavily reliant on technology. Speaking at the RSA Conference Europe on Wednesday, Patten said the scheme would not achieve one of its possible objectives of making borders more secure.
"I don't think ID cards make citizens more secure, or frontiers more secure. People would still have been blown up on the Tube last July if they'd had ID cards," he said.
He also criticised the support given to ID cards in 2003 by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, calling the scheme a "populist Pavlovian Blunkett twitch". Blunkett resigned from the cabinet in 2005 over his involvement in political scandals.
Patten, a former EU Commissioner, was speaking at the three-day conference in Nice, France, on European business and technology.
Many politicians don't understand the technology issues that could affect government IT schemes, he said.
"Politicians have no sound grasp of technology issues — but politicians don't necessarily have a profound grasp of any issue. They rely on advisors for information on how to implement their broad intentions," Patten told ZDNet UK after the press conference. "You have to hope they're well advised."
Cisco's head of government affairs, Richard Allan, himself a former Liberal Democrat MP, agreed that politicians do not understand the technology they deal with.
"Most politicians don't understand technology, which is an increasing problem when increasing amounts of public money are being spent [on technology schemes]," he said. "A basic understanding of information systems would be helpful."
Allan said that just as politicians are expected to understand basic balance sheets when making a decision to spend public money, but not the intricacies of accountancy, so politicians should try to grasp the basics of information systems.
Technical advisors should also avoid jargon, he added. "The challenge is to develop a language politicians can understand, as well as politicians taking the time and trouble to understand it. What often happens is you get somebody speaking technical jargon to someone who doesn't understand the basics," said Allan.
Privacy campaigner Simon Davies, chairman of No2ID, agreed politicians aren't in touch with the issues underlying the technology issues they legislate on, and criticised the conditions in government that have allowed the situation to come into effect.
"Prime ministers and home secretaries are notorious for grandstanding on technology issues, while at the same time having difficulty setting their video recorders at home," said Davies.
"The NHS programme for IT and the ID cards scheme both stand as a testament to the government's complete failure at forward planning [in technology schemes], and its inability to understand technology in the real world," Davies added.
According to Davies, the entire ID cards scheme was "dreamed up in a vacuum".
"[In 2003] the sole driver of the ID card scheme was Blunkett's obsession, but Blunkett himself didn't understand the technology," said Davies.
A spokeswoman for David Blunkett declined to comment on the extent of his understanding of the technology necessary to implement the scheme, but said: "The government is pressing ahead with ID cards despite Mr Blunkett not being in government. He's very supportive of the scheme."
However, academics from the London School of Economics (LSE) criticised that ongoing governmental support.
"Tony Blair's ongoing belief in ID cards shows he has no sense of that technology whatsoever," said Dr Edgar Whitley of the information systems group at LSE. "The Home Office is the same. They haven't told anyone about when the technology will come or how it will work, and they haven't fully tested it."
Professor Ian Angell of the LSE said: "The complexity of the ID cards scheme means it's going to fall apart. Basically [the government has] gone beyond the limits of the technology. But you can't blame the politicians — they're just reflecting the zeitgeist."
Simon Davies also said that reliance on advisors could lead to conflicts of interest, if those advisors represented large technology companies who stood to gain on the implementation of IT schemes.
"Conflict of interest is a sleeping giant in technology," said Davies. "The risk of advisors capitalising on the ignorance of politicians becomes greater."
Davies said that government should pay more attention to select committees, such as the Science and Technology Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, before formulating legislation.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt has also added to the criticism around poiliticians' lack of IT knowledge.
"The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff," Schmidt said at a public symposium hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board earlier this month. "There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real."
Trial Challenging Child Online Protection Act Begins
A federal trial that began Monday in Philadelphia will decide whether operators of Web sites can be jailed and fined for not blocking children's access to materials deemed "harmful" to them.
The U.S. Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in 1998, and the law has never been enforced because of court challenges against it. A federal district court in Philadelphia and a federal appeals court have found the law unconstitutional on freedom of speech grounds, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban on enforcement of the law in June 2004.
The Supreme Court, however, asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to decide whether any changes in technology would affect the constitutionality of the law. The high court wanted the district court to look into issues such as whether commercially available blocking software was as effective as the banned law in blocking "harmful" material.
COPA would require Web sites publishing adult material to restrict access to minors by taking steps such as requiring credit-card information for access to that material. Penalties for not restricting access include fines of up to US$50,000 per day and up to six months in prison.
The trial, expected to last four to six weeks, pits the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The DOJ has argued that the law is constitutional and that commercial filters alone aren't effective. "COPA fills the gap that other measures cannot; it targets those entities engaged in the business of disseminating material that is harmful to minors and prevents them from doing so," DOJ lawyers wrote in brief filed Oct. 17. "COPA's affirmative defenses ensure that adults can continue to have access to this material, while furthering the government's compelling interest in keeping this material away from minors."
Commercial speech doesn't enjoy the same constitutional protections as political speech, the DOJ also argued.
But the ACLU argues the law would be ineffective. It would not protect children from Web sites based outside the U.S., and it would not apply to noncommercial sites or to instant messaging, peer-to-peer file sharing, chat rooms or e-mail, the group said in a statement Monday.
The ACLU will argue the law violates the free speech rights of millions of Internet users, the group said. "The right to free speech is one of the core values of this country," ACLU senior staff attorney Chris Hansen said in a statement. "Congress does not have the right to censor information on the Internet. Americans have the right to participate in the global conversation that happens online every moment of every day."
The ACLU plans to call several witnesses including employees of online magazines and an online dictionary, rap artists, painters and video artists, and providers of safer sex information, the group said. On Monday, witnesses from online magazine Salon.com and adult site Nerve.com were scheduled to testify, said ACLU spokeswoman Erica Pelletreau.
Government Defends 1998 Anti-Porn Law
Eight years after Congress passed a law aimed at protecting children from online pornography, free speech advocates and Web site publishers argued in federal court Monday that the never-enforced measure is fatally flawed.
Salon.com, Nerve.com and other plaintiffs warned that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act could be used to criminalize such things as sexual health information, erotic literature and news photographs of naked prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib.
The law, signed by then-President Clinton, says Web site operators must prevent youngsters from seeing material "harmful to children" by demanding proof of age from computer users. It would impose a $50,000 fine and six-month prison term on commercial Web site operators that allow minors to view such content, which is to be defined by "contemporary community standards."
In a trial that opened Monday, the plaintiffs argued that "community standards" is too vague.
"As a parent, I know that what's fine for my daughter may not be appropriate even for some of her friends," testified Joan Walsh, editor in chief of Salon.com.
The law has never been enforced.
The U.S. Supreme Court has twice upheld preliminary injunctions that prevented the government from enforcing the law until a trial to determine the act's constitutionality can be held.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the plaintiffs, argues that filter programs installed in home computers are more effective ways of policing the Internet.
Eric Beane, a government attorney, acknowledged that it is tempting to defer to families on the question of what is appropriate for children, but said the filters used by parents do not work.
"The evidence will show that a shocking amount of pornography slips through to children," Beane said in opening statements.
ACLU attorney Chris Hansen said that the government is essentially arguing that "parents are too stupid to use filters."
In preparing for its defense of the law, the Justice Department sought internal files from search engine companies and Internet service providers on what sorts of things people search the Internet for.
Google Inc. fought one such subpoena, although it primarily cited trade secrets, not privacy issues. A federal judge in California sharply limited the amount of information Google had to surrender.
The nonjury trial in front of Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed Jr. is expected to take about a month.
Shaq Attack on Innocent Family
Anyone who follows the slate of lawsuits against music fans is cognizant of the crucial role that IP addresses play in attempts to cow suspected file sharers. But as we have seen time and time again, IP addresses are not consistently reliable means of identifying users. Law enforcement officials and a family in Gretna, Virginia and learned that lesson the hard way after their home was searched by a law enforcement team that included Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, according to a law enforcement official.
The spectre of an angry, uniform-wearing Shaq, let alone an entire team of deputies and federal marshalls would be enough to turn one's knees to jelly. That's the sight apparently witnessed by farmer A.J. Nuckols, his schoolteacher wife, and three children last month when their home was raided and their computers, DVD, video tapes, and other belongings were confiscated after they were connected to an IP address reportedly used to access child pornography on the Internet.
It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Nine days after the raid, an investigator told Nuckols that "the wrong IP address had been identified" and that he and his family would not be charged in the investigation. It's great that the Nuckols family is off the hook, but they now have to live with the stigma of having been the targets of a raid by law enforcement.
According to Lt. Mike Harmony of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department, the problem lay with Fairpoint Communications, the ISP for the Nuckols family. As part of an ongoing investigation into Internet trafficking of child pornography, investigators identified an IP address via which an undercover investigator was able to download child porn. The IP address was traced to Fairpoint, which was served a subpoena requesting the name and address of the subscriber using the IP address in question. "Fairpoint said that on that date and time, the IP address was assigned to the Nuckols household," Lt. Harmony told Ars Technica. "Some time after the search warrant was executed, we were notified that Fairpoint had misread the court order and done a wrong conversion on the time."
After receiving updated information from the ISP, investigators executed another search warrant on Friday, October 20. This time, they seized a PC with child pornography on the hard drive and obtained a statement from the investigation target that he had in fact downloaded and shared child porn.
The misguided raid, along with numerous other cases of mistaken online identity, raises serious questions about the use of IP addresses as identifying data. Take the music industry's crusade against file sharing as an example. Although the RIAA is reluctant to divulge how they acquire the names and addresses of those that they target, it generally begins with an IP address flagged as sharing music by a program like MediaSentry. From there, a request is made to the ISP owning that block of IP addresses to identify the account using the address at that point in time.
As the Nuckols family and Bedford County Sheriff's Department found out, ISP data is not always accurate, which poses problems for everyone involved. For law enforcement, it makes identifying guilty parties more difficult. And for those mistakenly targeted by police or the RIAA, it can result in very traumatic experiences, not to mention costly legal fees. Although the temptation to pluck an IP address of the Internet and use it as a means of making positive identification is strong, investigators need to dig deeper and use a greater breadth of data to be sure they have the right culprit.
Amazon.com Won't Provide Search Details
As expected, online retailer Amazon.com Inc. has objected to providing details about its book search feature to rival Google Inc., which says it needs them to fight copyright infringement allegations from a group of authors and book publishers.
In a Monday filing, Amazon.com described Google's request, which was made via a subpoena served on Oct. 6, as "overly broad and unduly burdensome" and said it would expose Amazon's trade secrets.
Amazon lawyers also note how Google wants "essentially all documents concerning Amazon's sale of books on its Web sites, and all searching and indexing functions."
"Google can not show any substantial need to obtain Amazon's proprietary information," despite Google's promises to only use the information to defend itself against the lawsuits, Amazon's lawyers wrote.
Google says it needs the details to battle recently consolidated class action lawsuits filed against it by several major book publishers and The Authors Guild, which collectively allege Google didn't get the proper approvals before making their work available to anyone with an Internet connection.
Amazon's objections were apparently the first from the group of companies Google formally asked for book searching details in early October.
It's expected that Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and major book publishers Random House, Holtzbrinck Publishers and HarperCollins will also object.
Feds Start Small on Smart IDs
Several federal agencies said last week that they’re ready to start distributing smart ID cards to workers by Friday, as mandated by a directive issued in 2004 by President Bush. But some of the initial rollouts will be very small and will focus solely on controlling access to buildings — not IT systems.
For instance, the Social Security Administration became at least technically compliant with the directive last week when it issued one of the new ID cards to Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart. SSA spokeswoman Kia Green said the agency expects to hand out more cards in the coming weeks but is “still in the process of finalizing the details.” She added that the SSA hopes to issue cards to all of its employees and contractors by the end of September 2008, which is the deadline for doing so.
Another agency that said it will meet this week’s deadline in a small way is the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA plans to issue the so-called personal identity verification, or PIV, cards to “a small handful” of employees, said spokesman Dale Kemery. But he added that because of budgetary and technical considerations, making the ID cards available throughout the 18,000-worker agency will be “a fairly long rollout.” He declined to provide more details.
Matt Neuman, director of business development at Jacob & Sundstrom Inc., a Baltimore-based systems integrator that is helping the SSA with its smart-card implementation, said that many agencies appear to be ready to meet “the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the law” on issuing the PIV cards. “But it at least shows that everybody is focused on it,” he said.
The use of PIV cards for verifying the identities of all federal workers and contractors was mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. The unfunded HSPD-12 mandate specified that agencies must adopt a common identification credential for access to government facilities and computer systems.
Friday’s deadline and an earlier one calling on agencies to develop procedures for verifying the identities and backgrounds of all workers by last October were both considered exceptionally aggressive because of funding issues and the technology and process changes required.
Robert Langston, director of the office of security and emergency planning at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said last week that HUD hopes to begin producing fully functional PIV cards by Wednesday “and then continue to do so for all new employees and contractors from that point forward.”
Initially, the cards will be issued to HUD’s headquarters staffers via recently procured identity management and card management systems, Langston said. He added that “a small number” of HUD field staffers who work in Washington, New York, Atlanta and Seattle will be sent to shared HSPD-12 enrollment centers that have been set up in those cities by the U.S. General Services Administration.
The enrollment centers include systems that can be used to verify the identities of employees, fingerprint and photograph the workers, and issue PIV cards to them. Eventually, as many of HUD’s 81 field offices as possible will take advantage of the centers as more are deployed across the country, Langston said.
The strategy should help HUD save “a lot of money” on its PIV enrollment and card-distribution costs, according to Langston. Instead of having to set up its own enrollment facilities, he said, “we just pay a fee for service.”
Larry Orluskie, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the DHS this week will start rolling out PIV cards to about 5,500 employees in the Washington area. The agency’s goal is to make the cards available to all of its employees and contractors within a year, he said.
The DHS is using ID One Cosmo smart cards made by Nanterre, France-based Oberthur Card Systems SA. Like all PIV cards, Oberthur’s feature both a contact interface, such as a magnetic stripe, and a contactless radio frequency interface to make it easier to integrate the cards with both building access and IT security systems. At the DHS, though, the cards initially will be used only for physical access, Orluskie said.
Likewise, the SSA at first will use PIV cards only to control access to buildings and other facilities before eventually linking them to its computer systems, said agency spokesman Green.
ActivIdentity Inc. in Fremont, Calif., is supplying smart-card technologies to several government agencies. Robert Brandewie, the company’s senior vice president of public-sector solutions, said meeting the HSPD-12 card-distribution deadline even in a small way “is a tremendous accomplishment,” given the amount of work that was needed and the relatively short amount of time that was available to agencies.
“There has been a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes effort to get the infrastructure ready and to get the technology in place to meet the deadline,” Brandewie said.
At U.S. Borders, Laptops Have No Right to Privacy
A LOT of business travelers are walking around with laptops that contain private corporate information that their employers really do not want outsiders to see.
Until recently, their biggest concern was that someone might steal the laptop. But now there’s a new worry — that the laptop will be seized or its contents scrutinized at United States customs and immigration checkpoints upon entering the United States from abroad.
Although much of the evidence for the confiscations remains anecdotal, it’s a hot topic this week among more than 1,000 corporate travel managers and travel industry officials meeting in Barcelona at a conference of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
Last week, an informal survey by the association, which has about 2,500 members worldwide, indicated that almost 90 percent of its members were not aware that customs officials have the authority to scrutinize the contents of travelers’ laptops and even confiscate laptops for a period of time, without giving a reason.
“One member who responded to our survey said she has been waiting for a year to get her laptop and its contents back,” said Susan Gurley, the group’s executive director. “She said it was randomly seized. And since she hasn’t been arrested, I assume she was just a regular business traveler, not a criminal.”
Appeals are under way in some cases, but the law is clear. “They don’t need probable cause to perform these searches under the current law. They can do it without suspicion or without really revealing their motivations,” said Tim Kane, a Washington lawyer who is researching the matter for corporate clients.
In some cases, random inspections of laptops have yielded evidence of possession of child pornography. Laptops may be scrutinized and subject to a “forensic analysis” under the so-called border search exemption, which allows searches of people entering the United States and their possessions “without probable cause, reasonable suspicion or a warrant,” a federal court ruled in July. In that case, a man’s laptop was found to have child pornography images on its hard drive.
No one is defending criminal possession of child pornography or even suggesting that the government has “nefarious” intent in conducting random searches of a traveler’s laptop, Ms. Gurley said.
“But it appears from information we have that agents have a lot of discretion in doing these searches, and that there’s a whole spectrum of reasons for doing them,” she added.
The association is asking the government for better guidelines so corporate policies on traveling with proprietary information can be re-evaluated. It is also asking whether corporations need to cut back on proprietary data that travelers carry.
“We need to be able to better inform our business travelers what the processes are if their laptops and data are seized — what happens to it, how do you get it back,” Ms. Gurley said.
She added: “The issue is what happens to the proprietary business information that might be on a laptop. Is information copied? Is it returned? We understand that the U.S. government needs to protect its borders. But we want to have transparent information so business travelers know what to do. Should they leave business proprietary information at home?”
Besides the possibility for misuse of proprietary information, travel executives are also concerned that a seized computer, and the information it holds, is unavailable to its owner for a time. One remedy some companies are considering is telling travelers coming back into the country with sensitive information to encrypt it and e-mail it to themselves, which at least protects access to the data, if not its privacy.
In one recent case in California, a federal court went against current trends, ruling that laptop searches were a serious invasion of privacy. “People keep all sorts of personal information on computers,” the court ruling said, citing diaries, personal letters, financial records, lawyers’ confidential client information and reporters’ notes on confidential sources. That court ruled, in that specific case, that “the correct standard requires that any border search of the information stored on a person’s electronic storage device be based, at a minimum, on a reasonable suspicion.”
In its informal survey last week, the association also found that 87 percent of its members said they would be less likely to carry confidential business or personal information on international trips now that they were aware of how easily laptop contents could be searched.
“We are telling our members that they should prepare for the eventuality that this could happen and they have to think more about how they handle proprietary information,” Ms. Gurley said. “Potentially, this is going to have a real effect on how international business is conducted.”
Schwarzenegger Camp Mines Consumer Data to Target Supporters
Michael R. Blood
Gin or vodka? Ford or BMW? Perrier or Fiji water? Does the car you buy or what's in your fridge say anything about how you'll vote?
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign thinks so.
Employing technology honed in President Bush's 2004 victory, the Republican governor's re-election team has created a massive computer storehouse of data on personal buying habits and voter records to scout up likely supporters. Campaign officials say the operation, run in cooperation with the state Republican Party, is the largest of its kind in any state, at any time.
Some strategists believe the consumer information can decode a voter's political genetics even better than party label. The cocktail you have at dinner or the car you drive could provide a clue for the campaign to identify a like-minded voter, even in a heavily Democratic neighborhood.
``It's not where they live, it's how they live,'' said Josh Ginsberg, the Schwarzenegger campaign's deputy political director.
The idea is an outgrowth of techniques that businesses have long used to court new customers. Using publicly available data, the Bush campaign in 2004 knew voters' favorite vacation spots, religious leanings, the music and magazines they liked, the cars they drove.
Few people might realize how much information is publicly available, for a price, about their personal lifestyles. Companies collect and sell consumer information they buy from credit card companies, airlines and retailers of every stripe.
Using microtargeting, as the practice is known, Bush's campaign teased out supporters in Ohio and other swing states. Schwarzenegger -- whose political operation is run by two Bush veterans, campaign manager Steve Schmidt and strategist Matthew Dowd -- is taking a page from that book, adapting it to California and updating it with the latest technology.
The governor appears headed for victory, and campaign officials already credit the system with driving up support, particularly among absentee voters.
Beyond California, Republicans hope microtargeting will drive up turnout in states with tight congressional races, including Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The success of the effort could decide national elections, with GOP candidates struggling to overcome generally sagging poll numbers.
A coalition of unions and other left-leaning groups called America Votes is using consumer records to help find Democratic supporters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and New Hampshire. The Democratic National Committee is using consumer data in turnout efforts in several states.
The California Democratic Party, which heads the statewide turnout operation for Schwarzenegger rival Phil Angelides and other party candidates, has been gathering consumer data as well.
Angelides campaign manager Cathy Calfo said the governor's campaign is ``using it as a system to manipulate people and allow a candidate that has no specific message to tell different people different things.''
This time of year, a muddle of TV ads creates as much confusion as clarity. But behind the scenes, the Schwarzenegger campaign has stockpiled millions of names, phone numbers and addresses and merged them with consumer preferences, voting histories and other demographic markers. A household can be targeted with phone calls, mailings and visits from volunteers, delivering messages tailored to issues the resident is believed to care about.
``For a long time in California, the thesis has been that television advertising by itself drives voter turnout. That, in fact, is not the case,'' Schmidt said. ``What drives voters is person to person contact.''
In simplest terms: A homeowner who drives a Volvo, reads The New Yorker magazine and shops at Whole Foods Market likely leans Democratic. A pickup driver with a hunting or fishing license who reads Time magazine probably leans right.
Schwarzenegger's operation is bankrolled with up to $25 million and staffed by 60 people backed up by volunteers.
Democrats and unions have their own data files to locate and persuade voters. With a few computer mouse clicks, they can isolate voters based on age, median income and gender, and target mailings, home visits or phone calls accordingly.
But some argue that analysis of consumer preferences is overrated when voters are focused on issues such as the Iraq war.
``No amount of microtargeting is going to save Republicans,'' said California Democratic Party adviser Bob Mulholland.
In a behind-the-scenes book he co-authored, Dowd argues that your lifestyle can reveal at least as much about your politics as where you live.
Jaguar owners are those most likely to vote, according to the book, Hyundai drivers among those least likely. Dr. Pepper is the only sugared soft-drink with a GOP-leaning consumer base, and NFL viewers tend to be Republican.
Combining such data, the Bush campaign targeted types including ``Archie in the Bunker,'' ``Mellow Bush Supporters'' and ``Terrorism Moderates.'' Schwarzenegger is doing the same.
Last weekend, several dozen Schwarzenegger volunteers hunkered down in a Los Angeles office to call thousands of potential supporters.
The campaign, working from 48 offices statewide, estimates it has made over 3 million phone calls so far. Each voter is assigned a bar code for tracking purposes, a technique also used by Democrats. With information drawn from the database, the campaign produces a personalized script a volunteer will read over the phone that is based on an issue thought to be of importance to each voter.
This weekend, it ranged from illegal immigration to taxes to abortion regulation. After each conversation, voter responses are recorded and scanned into the computer system, further refining each person's profile. Next could be more mailings, more calls or a visit from a campaign volunteer.
But Schwarzenegger and national Republicans appear to be making more elaborate use of consumer data.
``After 2004, the world changed,'' said Jano Cabrera, a Democratic strategist who advises America Votes. ``Having a bunch of names can only help you so much. Knowing how to target each person on that list helps you a great deal.''
Diebold Quietly Repaired Voting Machines
Diebold Election Systems quietly replaced flawed components in several thousand Maryland voting machines in 2005 to fix a "screen-freeze" problem the company had discovered three years earlier, according to published reports Thursday.
State Board of Elections Chairman Gilles W. Burger said Diebold's failure to fully inform board members of the repairs at the time raises questions about whether the company violated its state contracts.
"This demonstrates the level of contractor oversight that Diebold requires," Burger told The (Baltimore) Sun. "On Monday, I'm going to ask our attorneys to report back to me if there was any violation of the contract and what financial remedies are available to me."
The screen freezes prompted Diebold, a division of ATM maker Diebold Inc., to replace motherboards on 4,700 machines in Allegany, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, The Washington Post reported. Those counties introduced the machines in 2004 in the first phase of Maryland's transition to a uniform electronic voting system.
The unpredictable freezes don't cause votes to be lost, officials said, but they confuse voters and election judges who sometimes wonder whether votes cast on a frozen machine will be counted.
The screen freezes are unrelated to problems in September's primary, when Diebold's electronic voter-registration machines rebooted without warning in every Maryland precinct. The rebooting was caused by a software defect, which Diebold says has been corrected.
Both newspapers based their reports partly on documents obtained by the activist group TrueVoteMD, whose members have sued the state to make the voting system more secure. Documents obtained by the group's attorneys reveal details about who knew about the problem, and when.
According to an internal Diebold e-mail, the company temporarily stopped producing the voting machines on March 11, 2002, after reports that the units - the same kind that were delivered to Maryland that year - were malfunctioning.
Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Diebold in Maryland, told The Sun the company stopped production to fix the problem, then tested every motherboard when assembly was restarted. Maryland wasn't notified at the time, the Sun reported.
In April 2005, responding to questions from Maryland elections chief Linda H. Lamone, Diebold President Tom Swidarski wrote that any unit that had passed the test had been deemed safe. Morrill told The Sun the company eventually found that the test was inadequate.
Morrill told the Post the company didn't finish researching the screen freezes until early 2005, when it agreed to replace all the motherboards - main circuit boards in computers - to guarantee that the problem wouldn't recur.
Burger told The Sun that he and fellow members initially were told that Diebold was performing a "technical refresher" of the voting machines.
However, Morrill told the Post the company had "publicly disclosed" information about the problem and its solution in communications with the State Board of Elections staff, including a six-page letter to Lamone.
Burger told the Post that if Lamone had withheld information about the motherboards, "I think she is not carrying out her duties as a public official." Burger and other appointees of Gov. Robert Ehrlich sought in 2004 to oust Lamone, a move that was blocked in court.
Ross Goldstein, deputy state elections administrator, also said board members could have learned details of the technology refresh if they had asked, and he defended Diebold's handling of the problem. "They have updated all the units, and the problem has been resolved," he said.
Diebold Source Code Leaked Again
Source code to Diebold Election Systems Inc. voting machines has been leaked once again.
On Wednesday, former Maryland state legislator Cheryl C. Kagan was anonymously given disks containing source code to Diebold's BallotStation and GEMS (Global Election Management System) tabulation software used in the 2004 elections. Kagan, a well-known critic of electronic voting, is Executive Director of the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Olney, Maryland.
The disks were created and distributed by two federal voting machine testing labs run by Ciber Inc. and Wyle Laboratories Inc. They had been testing systems on behalf of the state of Maryland, Diebold said in a statement.
This is not the first time that Diebold source code has been leaked. In early 2003, Diebold critic Bev Harris uncovered similar source code while conducting research using Google Inc.'s search engine.
Soon after, researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Rice University published a damning critique of Diebold's products, based on an analysis of the software.
They found, for example, that it would be easy to program a counterfeit voting card to work with the machines and then use it to cast multiple votes inside the voting booth.
Diebold says it has since introduced security enhancements to its products, but the fact that the company's sensitive source code has again leaked out is not a good sign, according to Avi Rubin, a computer science professor with Johns Hopkins and one of the authors of the 2003 report.
The first leak should have taught Diebold a lesson on securing its source code, he said. "You would think that given the amount of embarrassment that caused them, they would do a better job of protecting it."
Rubin, who was shown the latest source code by a reporter at the Washington Post, said that it appeared to be "just another version" of the code that was published in 2003.
The disks came with a letter that was highly critical of Maryland State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone, Rubin said on his blog. "It read like it was from somebody with a very, very serious axe to grind," he said. "It was one of the more outlandish things I've read."
Rubin believes the disks were given to Kagan because of her past criticism of electronic voting machines. "I guess whoever did this knew she would pursue it doggedly, which she did."
Diebold said the source code was for BallotStation 4.3.15C, which is no longer being used in the U.S., and for GEMS 1.18.19, which is being used in a "limited number of jurisdictions."
The FBI is investigating the leak, Diebold said.
The leak comes with just three weeks before elections in the U.S., but Maryland Board of Elections Deputy Administrator Ross Goldstein expressed confidence in the Diebold voting machines. The leaked code was "not software that's in use in this election," he said. "The software now is different and has many more security features."
Diebold echoed Goldstein's comments. "Voters and election officials can be confident that on Election Day, votes and vote totals will be safe, secure and accurate," the company said.
Kagan, however, wasn't so sure, saying that the security of the source code raised concerns. "The idea that it could be that readily available and could be delivered to me and who-knows-who-else around the state [is disturbing]," she said. "Who know what any other people may be doing with it?"
Computer Voting Disks Likely Made For Testers
Md. Assembly Sought Security Check in 2003
Cameron W. Barr
A Maryland election official said yesterday that possibly stolen computer disks believed to be electronic voting software were "apparently produced" for use by a testing firm hired by the Maryland legislature in November 2003.
Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said documents indicate that the disks were sent to Maryland so Raba Technologies Inc. could assess the security of the state's electronic voting system, which is provided by Diebold Election Systems. A receptionist at Raba, based in Columbia, declined to comment yesterday after consulting with her supervisor.
Labels on the disks indicate that they contain the versions of two Diebold programs that powered electronic voting machines in Maryland in 2004, Goldstein said Thursday. Diebold said one version of one program is still in use in some jurisdictions elsewhere in the United States.
Cheryl C. Kagan, a former Maryland delegate who has questioned the security of electronic voting systems, said the disks were delivered anonymously to her office in Olney on Tuesday.
State elections administrator Linda H. Lamone has asked the FBI to investigate the apparent theft and leaking of proprietary voting software.
Critics of electronic voting said the most recent incident in Maryland casts doubt on Lamone's claim that Maryland has the nation's most secure voting system. "There now may be numerous copies of the Diebold software floating around in unauthorized hands," said Linda Schade, co-founder of TrueVoteMD, which has pressed for a system that provides a verifiable paper record of each vote.
Yesterday, Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), said the suspected leak "raises yet another unanswered question about the Diebold technology on which our election system depends." Ehrlich initially supported the Diebold technology but in recent years has said Maryland should switch to a system that provides a paper trail.
Some computer scientists said the incident shows why the makers of voting systems should publicly disclose their software. "It's hard to keep a secret like this for a long time," said Edward Felten, a Princeton University computer scientist who demonstrated in September how Diebold's machines could easily be hacked. The company called Felten's work inaccurate and unrealistic.
The Washington Post, which obtained copies of the disks Wednesday to verify them, agreed yesterday to Diebold's request to return them.
Kagan said that she expects to meet with FBI agents next week and that she was prepared to grant the FBI's request to turn over the disks.
The disks bear logos from two other testing companies, Ciber Inc. and Wyle Laboratories, which Diebold hired to test its voting system. Maryland retained Raba in 2003 to conduct a security assessment after an academic study revealed vulnerabilities in Diebold's system, said Karl S. Aro, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services.
Aro said he believes that Diebold made its own arrangements to transmit the software to Raba. "To my knowledge, [Aro's staff] never touched those disks," Aro said.
Diebold spokesman Mark Radke said: "We contacted Ciber and Wyle and asked them to send the software directly to someone in Maryland." He said he could not confirm if the recipient was Raba or an intermediary.
Felten, the Princeton computer scientist, said public disclosure of the core instructions or "source code" that powers electronic voting machines would enhance security by allowing experts to find flaws that could then be corrected.
David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who advises California's secretary of state on election matters, said the source code should be public precisely because it is part of voting systems. "Our democratic process has to be completely open, and we cannot conduct transparent elections on top of secret software," he said.
Michael I. Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, said the appearance of the disks in Kagan's office is "essentially meaningless." He said electronic voting source code should be disclosed because of the public's strong interest in the credibility of voting systems. "Since the disclosure of source code is a good thing," he asked, "why should we be complaining when some gets disclosed?"
"Anything that happens to convince the makers of voting software to drop the nonsensical claim of 'trade secrets' is a good thing," Shamos said.
Radke said the company was not averse to disclosing its code if the law were changed to require it. But he said disclosure would dampen innovation in the field.
Avi Rubin, a computer scientist at Johns Hopkins University who reviewed the software Wednesday at the request of The Post, said he was all but certain that the material on the disks was Diebold software.
Report Warns of Potential Voting Problems in 10 States
Two weeks before the midterm elections, at least 10 states, including Maryland, remain ripe for voting problems, according to a study released yesterday by a nonpartisan clearinghouse that tracks electoral reforms across the United States.
The report by Electionline.org says those states, and possibly others, could encounter trouble on Election Day because they have a combustible mix of fledgling voting-machine technology, confusion over voting procedures or recent litigation over election rules -- and close races.
The report cautions that the Nov. 7 elections, which will determine which political party controls the House and Senate, promise "to bring more of what voters have come to expect since the 2000 elections -- a divided body politic, an election system in flux and the possibility -- if not certainty -- of problems at polls nationwide."
In a state-by-state canvass, the 75-page report singles out places, such as Indiana and Arizona, where courts have upheld stringent new laws requiring voters to show poll workers specific forms of identification. It cites states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which have switched to electronic voting machines whose accuracy has been challenged. And it points to states such as Colorado and Washington, which have departed from the tradition of polling sites in neighborhood precincts.
The report of the clearinghouse, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is the latest of several warnings in recent weeks and months by organizations and scholars who say that electoral problems persist in spite of six years of efforts by the federal government and states to correct voting flaws. The flaws gripped the public's attention after the close 2000 presidential election, which led to recounts in Florida and the intervention of the Supreme Court.
The election shambles of 2000 prompted Congress to pass in 2002 legislation intended to help states make significant election changes, such as by replacing outdated voting equipment. Some of the changes, including making sure that databases of registered voters are accurate, were required to be in effect by this year.
Doug Chapin, director of Electionline.org, said "things are getting better over time." But he said many of the changes in recent years have led to new problems and disputes. For instance, the decisions by many states to convert to electronic voting machines have yielded new concerns about whether they are secure and accurate, about paper records as backup proof and -- this year -- about whether the electronic or paper record should be considered the official tally if a candidate demands a recount.
The report cites Maryland for what it calls a "dismal primary" in September that "included human and machine failures galore," in part because Montgomery County election officials forgot to distribute to polling places the access cards needed for its electronic machines to work. The study raises questions about whether Montgomery officials are prepared for the bigger crowds in the general election and whether large numbers of mistrustful voters will resort to absentee ballots.
E-voting Critics Claim That Systems Used in Europe Have Security Flaws
A team of Dutch researchers who belong to a group that advocates against the use of e-voting systems said this month that they have found security flaws in machines used in most of the Netherlands and in parts of Germany and France.
The alleged security shortcomings in the ES3B voting systems were detailed in a report that was posted this month on the Web site of an organization called Wij Vertrouwen Stemcomputers Niet (“We Don’t Trust Voting Computers”). The researchers are members of the Amsterdam-based group, which has called for a return to paper ballots.
The ES3B systems were jointly developed by Groenlo-based hardware vendor NV Nederlandsche Apparatenfabriek, which is known as Nedap, and Groenendaal Uitgeverij BV, a software developer in Hilversum, Netherlands.
The report was based on a month-long examination of three ES3B machines that the report said are similar to the ones used by 90% of the voters in the Netherlands. The probe found that hackers “can gain complete and virtually undetectable control over the election results,” the researchers wrote.
Nedap officials couldn’t be reached for comment last week. But in a general note on its Web site, the company said it is far more difficult to manipulate votes recorded on e-voting machines than ones cast via paper ballots.
Evaluation Report of New Methods of Voting - The Chief Electoral Officer Makes a Disturbing Diagnosis of the Problems that Occurred during the Municipal Elections of November 6, 2005
Québec City, October 24, 2006 – Today, the Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, Me Marcel Blanchet, tabled in the National Assembly an evaluation report that makes a troubling diagnosis of the problems that occurred during the municipal elections of November 6, 2005, in some of the 162 Québec municipalities that used new methods of voting. One hundred and forty (140) municipalities used electronic voting while 22 “tested” the postal ballot. “The major problems that were encountered during polling and the release of results have eroded the confidence of many persons regarding the new methods of voting” recalled Me Blanchet. “It was in order to shed light on these events and determine what happened that I created an internal evaluation committee which conducted a review that is unprecedented in Québec.”
An In-depth Review that Used the Expertise of All those Concerned
The evaluation committee that reviewed the November 2005 polls examined:
- the written reports of 144 returning officers, three suppliers of electronic voting services and the supplier of postal ballot services;
- the complaints received by the Chief Electoral Officer following the elections, the motions presented before the courts, as well as judgements rendered by the courts.
The committee also met most of the returning officers as well as several stakeholders in person: services providers, experts, observers and complainants. It also reviewed the rejected ballot papers in seven municipalities, as well as technical audits of electronic ballot boxes and voting terminals used during the municipal elections. For this last stage, the evaluation committee called on the expertise of the Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal (CRIM).
The Problems Encountered in November 2005 are the Result of Many Circumstances
“We all remember the events that marked the municipal elections of November 6, 2005,” recalled the Chief Electoral Officer. “Not only did the systems fail, but the corrective measure proposed were insufficient, poorly adapted and often came too late. The primary objective of our evaluation was not to point fingers since all those involved with the municipal elections of 2005 must share come responsibility for these problems,” explained Me Blanchet. “We are keen to understand certain situations and examine certain problems that arose primarily in order to be able to trace the path toward electronic ballots that, if maintained, should be marked by transparency and integrity that are at the heart of our democratic values,” declared the Chief Electoral Officer.
The root causes of the problems encountered by the various actors of the 2005 municipal elections, include the following:
an imprecise legislative and administrative framework that did not adequately assign roles and responsibilities or address the risks inherent in electronic voting;
absence of technical specifications, norms and standards that would have guaranteed the quality and the security of the voting systems used;
poor management of voting systems (especially lack of security measures) leaving a lot of room for errors, accidents and the absence or insufficiency of solutions in case of problems.
More specifically, it is possible to pinpoint a number of circumstances that increased the risks:
Voting machines, machines used for quality control of components and machines aimed at ensuring the security of the methods of voting and the integrity of the vote were not adequately tested.
In most cases, there was no backup plan covering all potential problems.
Procedures on how to use voting systems were not documented.
Due to the importance of the technical aspects of the vote, some returning officers had difficulty harmonizing their responsibilities with those of service providers, leading, for instance, to loopholes in the training of election staff
One of the suppliers overestimated its ability to simultaneously serve a large number of municipalities, particularly the largest municipalities.
This supplier probably delegated too much responsibility to sub-contractors (especially regarding training).
Imprecise contracts and incomplete specifications blurred the relationships between municipalities and their service providers.
There were no independent experts on electronic voting to whom returning officers could turn.
“Ten years of using electronic voting with no major problem, ten years of increasing satisfaction by municipalities who kept asking for it, had given some credibility to this new approach to holding elections,” surmised Me Blanchet. “What we experienced on November 6, 2005, and what our examination of the situation revealed, should convince us that this approach is more risky than earlier thought,” concluded the Chief Electoral Officer.
It is worth recalling that in Québec, a municipal election involves all democracy partners. Thus, under the Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities, a Québec municipality that would like to hold an election using electronic voting or the postal ballot has to sign a memorandum of understanding with the minister of Municipal Affaires and Regions and the Chief Electoral Officer. The Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities also states that it is a municipal actor, that is, the returning officer, who is in charge of the election and has responsibility for election operations, including honouring and administering the contract signed between his municipality and a supplier, for instance, of electronic voting systems. The Chief Electoral Officer, for his part, provides assistance to returning officers who so request and may, in keeping with his responsibilities and expertise in election matters, examine special situations and make recommendations.
Early and often
How to Steal an Election by Hacking the Vote
Jon "Hannibal" Stokes
One bad apple...
What if I told you that it would take only one person—one highly motivated, but only moderately skilled bad apple, with either authorized or unauthorized access to the right company's internal computer network—to steal a statewide election? You might think I was crazy, or alarmist, or just talking about something that's only a remote, highly theoretical possibility. You also probably would think I was being really over-the-top if I told you that, without sweeping and very costly changes to the American electoral process, this scenario is almost certain to play out at some point in the future in some county or state in America, and that after it happens not only will we not have a clue as to what has taken place, but if we do get suspicious there will be no way to prove anything. You certainly wouldn't want to believe me, and I don't blame you.
So what if I told you that one highly motivated and moderately skilled bad apple could cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to America's private sector by unleashing a Windows virus from the safety of his parents' basement, and that many of the victims in the attack would never know that they'd been compromised? Before the rise of the Internet, this scenario also might've been considered alarmist folly by most, but now we know that it's all too real.
Thanks the recent and rapid adoption of direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in states and counties across America, the two scenarios that I just outlined have now become siblings (perhaps even fraternal twins) in the same large, unhappy family of information security (infosec) challenges. Our national election infrastructure is now largely an information technology infrastructure, so the problem of keeping our elections free of vote fraud is now an information security problem. If you've been keeping track of the news in the past few years, with its weekly litany of high-profile breeches in public- and private-sector networks, then you know how well we're (not) doing on the infosec front.
Over the course of almost eight years of reporting for Ars Technica, I've followed the merging of the areas of election security and information security, a merging that was accelerated much too rapidly in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. In all this time, I've yet to find a good way to convey to the non-technical public how well and truly screwed up we presently are, six years after the Florida recount. So now it's time to hit the panic button: In this article, I'm going to show you how to steal an election.
Now, I won't be giving you the kind of "push this, pull here" instructions for cracking specific machines that you can find scattered all over the Internet, in alarmingly lengthy PDF reports that detail vulnerability after vulnerability and exploit after exploit. (See the bibliography at the end of this article for that kind of information.) And I certainly won't be linking to any of the leaked Diebold source code, which is available in various corners of the online world. What I'll show you instead is a road map to the brave new world of electronic election manipulation, with just enough nuts-and-bolts detail to help you understand why things work the way they do.
Along the way, I'll also show you just how many different hands touch these electronic voting machines before and after a vote is cast, and I'll lay out just how vulnerable a DRE-based elections system is to what e-voting researchers have dubbed "wholesale fraud," i.e., the ability of an individual or a very small group to steal an entire election by making subtle changes in the right places.
So let's get right down to business and meet the tools that we're going to use to flip a race in favor of our preferred candidate.
Note: I'm not in any way encouraging anyone to actually go out and steal an election. This article is intended solely as a guide to the kinds of information and techniques that election thieves already have available, and not as an incitement to or an aid for committing crimes.
E-voting 101: touch-screen machines and optical scanners
There are many different types of electronic voting machines available from a whole host of large and small vendors, but this article will focus primarily on one type: the direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine. Nonetheless, optical scanners are vulnerable to many of the same exploits that I'll describe for the DRE; the only difference is that optical scanners leave a reliable paper audit trail that could be used to tell if an election has been tampered with, but such audits must actually be carried out to have any impact.
DREs and optical scanners are far and away the two most popular types of voting machine in use today. The following statistics break down by popularity the types of voting machines used in 2006:
Voting equipment reported for the 2006 electionsType of voting equipment Counties Registered voters*
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Punch card 124 3.98 5,166,247 3.03
Lever 119 3.82 17,356,729 10.18
Paper ballots 176 5.65 653,704 0.38
Optical scan 1,502 48.23 69,517,991 40.79
Electronic 1,050 33.72 66,573,736 39.06
Mixed 143 4.59 11,154,765 6.55
Total 6,114 100 170,423,172 100
* Registered voter counts are from the November 2004 general elections
Source: Election Data Systems
Just to orient ourselves to the basics of electronic voting, let's take a brief look at how votes are cast and counted using each type of machine.
Optical scan machines
In order to cast a vote using an optical scan machine, a voter follows the three steps shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Electronic voting using an optical scanner
The three steps depicted in Figure 1 are as follows:
1. After receiving a paper ballot from poll workers, the voter marks her choices on the ballot by filling in bubbles with a pen. (An optical scan ballot looks and functions much like the multiple choice bubble sheets used in standardized tests.)
2. The marked ballot is then fed into the optical scan voting machine, where the voter's choices are translated in the 1s and 0s of computer language and stored, along with the rest of the votes cast on that machine, in the machine's internal memory. (I've depicted the internal storage as a SanDisk Flash PCMCIA card of the type commonly used in the Diebold DRE described below, but other storage formats are possible.)
3. At the end of the election, when all of the votes have been cast and are stored in the optical scan machines, the contents of the machines' internal storage devices are then transmitted to the county Board of Elections (BOE) for tallying and archiving. The marked paper ballots are also archived, in case a manual audit is demanded.
There are some variations in the process listed above (e.g., all of the votes in a single precinct can be tallied before being sent off to the BOE), but in general it describes overall movement of votes in the voting process.
Direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines
The steps involved in voting with DREs are similar to those described for optical scan machines, but there are some critical differences. Figure 2 illustrates what we might call the "life-cycle of a vote" in the DRE-based voting process.
Figure 2: Electronic voting using a DRE
The steps depicted in Figure 2 are as follows:
1. The voter loads his ballot onto the DRE's screen by inserting into the machine the special smart card that he was issued by a poll worker. When the ballot screen appears, the voter marks his selections by touching the appropriate boxes on the screen.
2. The votes are read from the screen by the machine's vote recording software and recorded directly onto the DRE's internal storage, where they're stored along with the other votes that were cast on that machine.
3. At the end of the election, when all of the votes have been cast and are stored in the DREs, the contents of the machines' internal storage devices are then transmitted to the county Board of Elections (BOE) for tallying and archiving.
Note that the voter's choices are only recorded in one place: the internal storage of the DRE. Unlike the optical scan machines, the DRE system provides no permanent, nonelectronic paper record of the voter's intended choices that can be verified by the voter and then archived for possible use in an audit.
Now, the three-step process described above is vulnerable at multiple points in each stage. Here are just a few examples to illustrate what I'm talking about:
• Step 1: The machine could be tainted with vote-stealing software, or the voter could taint the machine with vote-stealing software by gaining access to it.
• Step 2: If the machine is tainted, then it can incorrectly record the vote. Or, if the voter has managed to make a supervisor card for himself, he can vote multiple times, delete votes, or disable the machine entirely.
• Step 3: If the centralized machine that does the vote tallying is tainted, then not only can it skew the election results, but it can also infect any DRE that connects directly to it, or it can taint any storage card that's plugged into it.
You might think that the supervisor smartcard cloning, viruses, and unauthorized accesses that I've described above are purely hypothetical. If the DRE in question is the popular Diebold AccuVote TS, then they're not at all hypothetical. All of the attacks that I just summarized, and many more, have been implemented by multiple teams of security researchers. Just for kicks, take a break from reading and go watch this little demonstration video.
But before we talk in more detail about the AccuVote, let's take a step back and get a big-picture look at the kinds of new opportunities that the would-be election thief has at her disposal, thanks to DREs.
Bad apples and barrel sizes, or how to do a lot with a little
If we want to steal an election, then ideally we want as few warm bodies in on the scam as possible. All of the old-school election manipulation tricks, like voter intimidation, vote-buying, turn-out suppression, and so on, require legions of volunteers who know exactly what's going on; but in the new era of electronic vote tampering, an election thief can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less.
Election security experts break down voting fraud types into two main categories, based on how many bad apples it takes to swing an election: retail fraud and wholesale fraud. Retail fraud is the kind of election fraud that's most familiar to us, because it has been around for the longest time. In general, retail fraud involves multiple bad apples at the precinct level, carrying out any number of bad acts involving multiple voters and voting machines. Some examples of retail fraud are ballot stuffing, restricting polling place access by means of intimidation, vandalizing individual machines to make them unusable, counterfeiting ballots, and so on.
Wholesale fraud is relatively new, and it involves a single bad apple who can affect an election's outcome at the precinct, county, and state levels. (Actually, by this definition, wholesale fraud is as old as the poll tax. But let's stick to wholesale fraud involving electronic voting machines for now.) So with wholesale fraud, one bad apple can affect different barrels of various sizes, depending where in the election process she's placed.
The table below breaks down the newer types of fraud that electronic voting machines have made available to election thieves:
Wholesale and retail fraud Wholesale Retail
Detectable • Altering the vote tabulation process
• Altering the record of tabulated results • Multiple voting
• Deleting votes
• Disabling a machine
• Invalidating all the votes on a machine
Undetectable • Altering the vote tabulation process
• Altering the vote recording process
• Altering the record of votes • Altering the vote recording process
• Altering the record of votes
In this table, "detectable" denotes instances of tampering and fraud where we could potentially know that something went wrong with the vote, even if we're not sure what has happened or how. Undetectable fraud denotes fraud that's absolutely impossible to detect after the fact (short of a whistleblower coming forth), and that's functionally impossible to detect before the fact due to time and resource constraints on pre-election machine testing.
The scariest part of Table 2's list of e-voting fraud types is the box where the "Undetectable" row and the "Wholesale" column intersect. Undetectable wholesale fraud is the ultimate apocalyptic scenario for security analysts, and for democracy—it's the briefcase nuke in downtown Manhattan, or the human-transmissible bird flu strain in the international terminal of LAX.
Because undetectable wholesale election fraud is the holy grail of anyone who wants to steal an election, I'll spend the rest of this article discussing it in some detail. Along the way, you'll also see that most of the attacks I'll cover can also be carried out on the retail level, as well.
Narrowing the focus: the Diebold AccuVote TS
Even after the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, national election standards at all levels of the electoral process—site security, machine security, election procedures, auditability requirements, dispute resolution, etc.—are either extremely weak or, in many cases, simply ignored by states and counties. Because of the extraordinary variability of voting technologies and procedures from state to state, the entire country presents a morass of special cases to the writer who would lay out a generally applicable scenario of electronic election theft.
Because the technologies, techniques, and procedures at issue vary so widely, it's necessary for me to narrow the focus of the present discussion to one particular DRE voting machine: the Diebold AccuVote TS.
The Diebold AccuVote TS is one of the most popular DRE voting machines currently in use. Georgia and Maryland have both standardized on this model across the state, and Diebold claims that over 130,000 of its AccuVote TS and TSx (an updated model) machines are now in use across America.
Diebold AccuVote TS specsProcessor 118 MHz Hitachi SH3
Storage 16MB RAM, 32MB on-board Flash, 128K EPROM, Removable Flash PCMCIA card
I/O Keyboard, modem (PCMCIA), IrDA, headphone jack
Firmware Custom Diebold firmware
Operating system Windows CE 3.0
Application software Custom Diebold system software
Display Touchscreen, thermal roll printer (for printing a zero tape and final vote tallies)
The AccuVote TS is also the DRE that has been subjected to the most scrutiny by the infosec community, mainly because its source code has been widely available on the Internet. Much of what I'll say about the AccuVote will apply to other DRE systems as well. Some specific vulnerabilities, like the unencrypted ballot definition file described later, are probably peculiar to the AccuVote, but many of the overall types of attacks enumerated here apply to other DREs. (It's hard to say which other other DREs are vulnerable to which attacks, because we don't have source code for the others so it's harder to know how secure they are.)
Casting (and cracking) a vote on the Diebold AccuVote TS
In a previous section, we went over the basics of voting on a DRE. Now let's step back a bit and look at a picture of the entire voting process using an AccuVote.
Figure 3: Electronic voting using a Diebold AccuVote TS
Here are the steps described in detail:
1. After showing proper identification, the voter is issued an activated smart card. This card enables the voter to vote one ballot and one ballot only.
2. The voter inserts the smart card into the machine. Once inserted, the smart card tells the AccuVote which races the voter is authorized to vote in. The AccuVote then loads the ballot definition file (BDF) that's appropriate for that voter. The AccuVote's internal software uses the BDF to display the ballot on the touchscreen.
3. The voter votes by touching his selections on the screen. Once the electronic ballot is complete, the machine asks the voter to verify his selections before recording them directly onto an internal storage device. The AccuVote's internal storage device is a PCMCIA Flash memory card.
4. The voter removes the smartcard, which is now deactivated and cannot be used again until it is reactivated.
5. The voter returns the smartcard to the poll worker, who then reactivates it for issuing to another voter.
The voting process described here is vulnerable to multiple types of retail fraud at almost every point. Because the focus of this article is on wholesale fraud, I'm only going to briefly a few of the retail fraud mechanisms, just to give you a taste for Diebold's overall approach to security:
• The Ohio Compuware report describes how to turn a voter card into a supervisor card, which can then be used to cast multiple votes, delete votes, or shut down the machine, using a PDA with a smartcard attachment.
• In order to use a supervisor card to access the AccuVote, you must first enter a four-digit PIN. In version of the machine that was in use as late as 2003, the exact same supervisor PIN was hard-coded into every single AccuVote TS shipped nationwide. That PIN was 1111. (I am not making this up.) This is still the default PIN for these machines, although the county can change it on a machine-by-machine basis if they have the workers and the time.
• All of the AccuVotes have the same lock securing the PCMCIA slot that contains the Flash card with all the votes on it. When I say the "same" lock, I mean the exact same key opens all of the machines. But even if you don't have one of the tens of thousands of copies of this key that are floating around, the lock can be picked by an amateur in under 10 seconds. The Princeton video has a nice demo of this. Once you have access to the PCMCIA slot, you can do all kinds of great stuff, like upload vote-stealing software (a simple reboot will cause the machine to load software from whatever you've put in the PCMCIA slot), crash the system, delete all the votes on the machine, etc.
• Some localities have taken to securing the PCMCIA slot with security tape or plastic ties. The idea here is that a cut tie or torn tape will invalidate the results of that machine, because poll workers can't guarantee that it wasn't compromised. There are two things wrong with this scheme:
1. If you want to invalidate all the results stored in machines in a precinct that favors your opponent, just cut the tape or the ties on those machines. If the election supervisor sticks to the rules, then he or she will be forced to throw out all of those votes.
2. According to author, security researcher, and Maryland election judge Avi Rubin, one would almost have to have a CIA background to be able to tell if the security tape applied to the AccuVotes in the Maryland primary had been removed and reapplied.
I won't rehearse the rest of the long list of retail fraud opportunities made available by the AccuVote TS. Some searching will turn up dozens of reports and thousands of web pages with as much detail as you can stand on how to create mischief with these machines in a polling booth. Now it's time to move on to the good stuff: undetectable wholesale fraud.
Wholesale fraud on the AccuVote TS
In order to understand how we can commit wholesale fraud on the AccuVote TS, we first need to know a bit more about how the system is structured. In particular, we have to take a closer look at the unit's software, and how it records votes.
Computer scientists often speak of the multiple levels of software that make up a system as a "software stack." Each layer in the stack supports the layer above it, and malicious code in a low-level layer can affect all of the layers above.
Figure 4: The Diebold AccuVote TS software stack
As you can see from Figure 4, the AccuVote's software stack consists of three primary layers. At the lowest level, closest to the hardware, sits the firmware layer. The AccuVote's firmware is the first program to be loaded into memory when the machine boots, and it takes care of loading the next layer of the stack, which is the operating system.
Note: Because all of a DRE's software loads from a pool of internal Flash memory, DRE vendors tend to refer to every piece of software in the system as "firmware." In this article, I'll stick to the standard firmware/OS/application distinction, just to avoid confusion.
The AccuVote's operating system is a custom version of Windows CE. Diebold licenses Windows CE from Microsoft and modifies it to fit the AccuVote. (For the uninitiated, the operating system is really a collection of different software libraries that handles all of the low-level tasks in the system, like reading and writing to the internal storage device, displaying things like windows and checkboxes on the touchscreen, managing files and applications, and so on.)
When Windows CE boots on the AccuVote, it loads the main system software application that actually handles the ballot display and voting process. The system software selects the proper ballot definition file to present to the voter, and it then uses that file to record the voter's selections on the Flash memory card.
So with this concept of a software stack in mind, let's expand step 3 from Figure 2 to see exactly how the AccuVote records the voter's touch-screen selections.
Figure 5: Casting a vote on the Diebold AccuVote TS
As you can see in Figure 5, the voter's selections are read from the touch screen by the AccuVote's internal system software. The system software uses the BDF to translate the selections into a format that can be written to the internal storage card, where they're stored along with all of the other votes cast on that machine.
If you were going to steal an election with an AccuVote, one of the best and easiest methods is to manipulate the ballot definition file. On the AccuVote, the BDF is completely unencrypted, so it just sits there in the machine's memory open to all comers. Malicious software embedded in any layer of the software stack can easily get at the BDF and alter it so that selections made for one candidate are recorded on the machine's memory card for another candidate. If the software is programmed to remove itself after the election, then there would be absolutely no way for anyone to know that the results are fraudulent.
Of course, an attacker with access to any or all of the layers of the software stack can do more than just manipulate the BDF so that votes are misrecorded in real-time. He could conceivably ignore the BDF entirely and just change the machine's vote totals directly on the memory card, so that they produce a desired outcome. Indeed, just as is the case with a regular personal computer, the possibilities for a malicious Trojan to make mischief on the DRE is limited only by the skill and imagination of the attacker.
Ed Felten's team at Princeton was able to quickly upload a vote-stealing Trojan to the AccuVote via the PCMCIA slot in less time than it would take many people to complete an electronic ballot. Furthermore, they also created a viral version of the Trojan that could infect any card inserted into the PCMCIA slot with vote-stealing software that would then infect any machine into which the tainted card was inserted. The newly infected machines would in turn infect other cards, which would infect other machines, and so on. In this way, the vote stealing "Princeton virus" could travel across an entire precinct or county, given enough time.
The viral nature of the Princeton attack is one way to commit wholesale undetectable vote fraud, but there are others that are even more efficient and require no physical access to a machine at any point. Specifically, if any one of the institutions responsible for loading software onto the AccuVote (or any other DRE for that matter) has been compromised, either by an internal mole or an outside cracker who has hacked into the company's internal network, then something like the Princeton virus could be planted in the firmware, operating system, or system software build that goes on machines across an entire county or state.
In other words, you know how Apple just accidentally shipped a few thousand iPods with a Windows virus embedded in them? If you replace "Apple" with "Diebold" and "iPod" with "AccuVote," then you've got a recipe for wholesale election theft.
Think about that for a moment, and let it sink in. To have confidence in the results of an election using DREs, you no longer have to put your trust solely in the security practices at the Board of Elections. Now, you have to have confidence in the security of the DRE vendor's corporate networks, and in their human resources departments, and in the security practices and personnel of anyone else who touches the software that goes into a DRE (i.e. a third-party software vendor).
To give you some perspective on the level of security at voting machine companies, there have been actual incidents that involve intruders breaking into the internal networks of three DRE vendors and gaining access to sensitive information:
1. A hacker penetrated VoteHere's intranet in 2003.
2. Diebold was also the victim of a hacker in 2003, in a highly publicized intrustion in which thousands of internal company emails were stolen and made public.
3. ES&S was burglarized in 2003, and sensitive information, including voting software, was stolen. The company didn't notify the public until three years later.
Figure 6 gives you a visual breakdown of the three main institutions that contribute layers to the AccuVote's software stack: the county Board of Elections, Diebold, and Microsoft. Again, one well-placed bad apple in any one of those institutions, or an unauthorized intruder with access to the right network, could steal a state-wide election in George, Maryland, or any other county or precinct that relies on the AccuVote TS.
Figure 6: The Diebold AccuVote TS software stack
In some cases, the BOE isn't actually involved in creating the ballot definition file. The county's election workforce is so understaffed and starved for volunteers, and the rollout of DREs before an election is so rushed, that some counties and just let Diebold come in and handle the entire election—BDF creation, certification, logic and accuracy testing, set-up, tear-down, the works. The whole election is just handed over the private sector to run, with the county providing practically no oversight because they don't even really know how to use the systems without hand-holding.
Logic and accuracy testing
One of the last lines of defense against the kinds of intrusions described here is the logic and accuracy (L&A) test. The idea behind the L&A is that voting machines are put through a mock election by county officials, and their outputs are compared to their inputs to confirm that the machines are faithfully recording the totals.
There are a few problems with the L&A as a barrier against election fraud. First, the Princeton virus can tell when the machine is doing a self-run L&A test, and it will produce correct results under those conditions. Second, it's not at all difficult to imagine how a Trojan programmer would detect that an L&A test is being carried out: check the system clock to see if the voting is taking place on election day, or on some other day; see if the number of votes cast is less than the expected number; see if the polling lasts for a shorter period of time than expected; and so on.
Finally, each L&A test takes time, which is why it's impossible to fully test every single DRE before an election. If you could ensure that all of the software on a pool of DREs is exactly the same, then you could fully test one DRE in a realistic mock election and be done with it. Such a testing protocol would catch any Trojan embedded in the software stack that was written by an author who's not creative enough to fool a really thorough L&A test. But even the most rigorous and realistic L&A test couldn't thwart a "knock attack."
Briefly, a "knock attack" is where the Trojan doesn't wake up and do its business until it receives a signal of some sort from the attacker. For networked machines, this could be something as simple as a scan on a certain port range. For nonnetworked touchscreen machines, Avi Rubin has suggested that an attacker could touch the screen in certain place, or make a sequence of specific touches (e.g., top left, top right, top left). Or, an attacker could send a signal to the AccuVote's built-in IrDA port with a handheld remote (if there's an IR sensor actually installed and accessible). There are a number of possibilities here, but you get the idea.
Realistically, the L&A is just one of a series of tests that should take place at every step of the voting machine procurement, deployment, and election process. The machines should be audited independently and tested by the government before they're purchased by the state or county; they should be tested on delivery; they should be tested prior to polling; and a random sample should be tested during polling.
Fundamentally, however, it doesn't matter how thoroughly you test a paperless direct-recording electronic voting machine before, during, or after an election. A determined cracker can always find a way to compromise the system in an undetectable way. The only real protection against wholesale election fraud is genuine auditability, and that's a feature that paperless DREs lack by design.
So far in this article, I've covered two of the three bullet points that I listed for undetectable wholesale fraud methods: altering the vote recording process, and altering the record of votes. Now let's look at the remaining fraud method: altering the tabulation process.
(Mis)counting the vote
You might have a hard time imagining that a company like Diebold could ever be compromised from within or without by someone who would want to steal an election by embedding a Trojan in the AccuVote's software stack. Or, alternately, you might have faith that the testing and voting machine certification process in your state is thorough enough to catch even the most cleverly hidden Trojan. Even so, you still shouldn't be complacent about DREs, because there are other moments in the lifecycle of an electronic vote where that vote can be altered.
Figure 7 below shows the process by which votes are collected and tabulated. The steps in the process are as follows:
1. First, the memory cards are removed from all of the machines in a precinct.
2. One of the machines is designated as an accumulator, which means that it's that machine's job to read all of the memory cards, one by one, and compile all of their votes into one master list. So all of the removed memory cards are inserted in the accumulator, one at a time, to have their contents uploaded.
3. All of the accumulator machines in all of the precincts dial into one or more PC servers running Microsoft Windows and Diebold's General Election Management Software (GEMS). Once the accumulators connect to the GEMS server, their vote totals are downloaded and compiled, and an official tally is made.
Figure 7: Tabulating the vote with Diebold hardware and software
Note that DREs from some vendors are made to be networked together throughout a precinct via Ethernet or wireless. In such a configuration the accumulator machine can download all of the votes from the other machines over the network, so no memory cards need to be removed from one machine and reinserted into another.
Those of you who've followed the article thus far and who have any knowledge of information security will immediately spot the vulnerabilities in the process outlined above. Let me run through a few of the opportunities for wholesale fraud that this scheme provides.
First, if the accumulator DRE happens to be running something like the Princeton virus, then it's game over. That one machine can flip the totals on every card that's inserted into it, and there will be no way to detect that any fraud has occurred. If this were happen, all of the results from an entire precinct would be tainted because of one compromised DRE.
If all of the machines in the precinct are networked (God forbid!), then stealing an entire precinct's votes gets even easier. A single compromised machine could infect the accumulator and every other machine on the network, tainting all of the results for that precinct. And if those machines are networked wirelessly(!!), then a fraudster with a laptop and a wireless card in a car outside the precinct building could conceivably have his way with all of the votes in the building.
Cracking the central tabulation (GEMS) server
The GEMS server deserves special attention as a weak point in the design of the overall system. This server is a typical PC with a typical PC software stack. In fact, I could conceivably reuse my depiction of the AccuVote TS software stack in Figure 6 by replacing "Windows CE" with "Windows XP," "System Software" with "GEMS," and "BDF" with "GEMS database."
The GEMS database stores all of the votes collected from precinct accumulators, and it's used to do the vote tabulation for a county. Because it's so sensitive, you might think it would be tightly secured. But you'd be wrong.
The GEMS database is a vanilla, unencrypted Microsoft Access database that anyone with a copy of Access can edit. So if you have physical access to the GEMS server's filesystem (either locally or remotely), then it's not too hard to just go in and have your way with the vote totals. If Access isn't installed on a particular GEMS server, just install it from a CD-ROM, or connect remotely from a laptop and edit the database that way.
Or, if you want to filch the database, upload vote-stealing software, or do something else evil, you could always carry along a USB drive in your pocket.
Many GEMS servers are connected to a modem bank, so that the accumulators can dial in over the phone lines and upload votes. One team of security consultants hired by the state of Maryland found the GEMS bank by wardialing, discovered that it was running an unpatched version of Windows, cracked the server, and stole the mock election. This great Daily Show segment, in which one of the team members describes the attack, states that they did this in under five minutes.
If the GEMS server is somehow connected to the Internet, and some of them are (in spite of Diebold's strong recommendation that they not be), then any one of a million script kiddies who can crack a Windows box can have a field day with the election...
I could go on here with the hypotheticals, but let's take a look at how this is alleged to have played out in the real world, this past August in Shelby County, Tennessee:
Evidence from election official declarations and discovery documents obtained in litigation over a recent election using Diebold machines reveals that:
• Illegal and uncertified Lexar Jump Drive software was loaded onto the Diebold GEMS central tabulator, enabling secretive data transfer on small USB "key chain" memory devices. This blocked election transparency and raises questions as to whether hidden vote manipulation may have taken place.
• Other uncertified software of various kinds was loaded onto the system and, according to the event logs examined, was used. This opened the door for hand-editing of both vote totals and the reporting of election results.
• Evidence of actual attempts to manipulate election reporting results exists. The evidence available wouldn't record successful manipulation, only attempted manipulation, due to software failure. The logs show repeated failed attempts to use an HTML editor.
• According to Shelby County elections officials, they opened the central vote totals repository to widespread network connections. The dispersed nature of access to the central tabulator would prevent finding the perpetrators, even if documentation of manipulation could be achieved—a difficult feat, since the type of hacking enabled by the GEMS program tends to erase evidence.
• In an on-site inspection of the network connections conducted by Jim March, elections department lead computer operator Dennis Boyce pointed to a location on a network interconnection plug panel where the Diebold-supplied GEMS central tabulator is plugged in. No extra security such as a router or firewall was present at the interconnection. This appears to open up access by anybody in county government to the central tabulator.
• At the same on-site inspection, the Diebold-supplied GEMS backup central tabulator had more uncertified software than could be quickly documented—but observers did spot Symantec's PC Anywhere utility. This program would allow opening the machine to outside remote control—the PC Anywhere program allows a remote computer across a dial-up or networked connection to see the screen of the "zombied" computer and operate its keyboard and mouse. To call this a security breach is an understatement.
• At the primary GEMS central tabulator station, all of Microsoft Office 2000 Professional application suite was loaded and working. According to Windows, MS-Access was a frequently used program, the only component of the overall MS-Office suite that was so identified.
Note that I haven't done any journalistic due diligence on this particular report, so I'm obliged not to vouch for its absolute veracity. But my point in reproducing it is that every one of these items is 100 percent plausible, so this incident report paints an extremely realistic portrait of how the GEMS server could be compromised to steal an election.
Finally, before I leave this topic, I want to raise the possibility that a DRE manufacturer could include an undocumented back door in the GEMS server that would leave the machine open to manipulation and fraud. Of course, it may be more than just a possibility. Such a back door has allegedly already been found, as referenced in this CERT bulletin. However, the details here are sketchy, and one researcher that I've talked to says the credibility of this report is suspect. Also, I'm going to give Diebold the benefit of the doubt and assume that this back door (if it exists) was put there for maintenance and/or testing reasons, and that it was never intended to be enabled on a production build of the software.
Spoofing the GEMS server
Physical or remote access to the GEMS server gets you the keys to the electoral kingdom, but those aren't the only ways to exploit the GEMS server to rig an election. To understand another good way to manipulate this system, we have to return to our friend the ballot definition file (BDF).
One of the most shocking revelations that the Johns Hopkins team uncovered in their security analysis of the AccuVote is that the BDF contains all of the information necessary to connect to and upload votes to the GEMS server. From p.22 of Avi Rubin's new book, Brave New Ballot:
We found that in addition to this basic data, the ballot definition file contained more sensitive, security-critical information, including the voting terminal's voting center identification number, the dial-in numbers for the end-of-the-day tally reporting, the network address of the back-end processing server, and a username and password. It was like finding somebody's wallet: in this file you'd have everything needed to impersonate the voting machine to the board of elections servers. Since there was no cryptographic authentication between the voting machines and the tallying servers, someone with a laptop and the information from the ballot definition file could dial into the board of elections computers from anywhere and send in fake vote tallies.
Rubin goes on to allege that after the release of the Hopkins report, Diebold claimed that they fixed this problem. Then a subsequent report showed that, no, they hadn't fixed it. So in response to the new report Diebold claimed to have fixed it again. Who knows if it ever truly got fixed—the Diebold source is closed and proprietary, so we have to continue taking their word for it.
The bad apple chart
The term "black box voting" is commonly used by e-voting activists to describe the nontransparent way in which elections are carried out using direct-recording electronic voting machines, with the idea being that the DRE is a "black box" that tallies votes in an invisible, proprietary, and potentially suspect manner. For my part I think the term "black box" best describes not the DRE, but the DRE manufacturer. The entire voting machine company—its corporate network, its management, its staff, its internal policies and procedures—is a giant black box that we, the voters, must trust is free of malicious influences from within and without.
So if you learn one thing from this article, I hope it's this: DREs multiply tremendously the sheer number of institutions and people that you have to trust in order to have confidence in an election's results. In this last part of the article, I'd like to give you a feel for who you're relying on when you walk into a polling booth this November and make a touchscreen selection for your candidate of choice.
Take a look at Figure 8, which is diagram of inputs and outputs from a generic DRE. This is my own version of a diagram that appears in the Ohio Compuware report.
Figure 8: Who interacts with a DRE
Throughout the course of this article, I've outlined some ways in which a single bad apple in any of these groups could compromise election results. Now I'll sum up that analysis in what I'll call a bad apple chart (really more of a diagram than a chart), shown in Figure 9:
Figure 8: The Bad Apple Chart
The basic idea behind the chart is that you can place a bad apple in any one of the boxes, and any number of the voting machines within that region could be compromised. The "third party system software" referenced in the outermost box could be any third party software used by multiple vendors (here Diebold and ES&S, for example) on either the DREs or the central tabulator PCs. Finally, note that the counties and precincts are sized differently, just to show some variation.
If you wanted to steal an election, the best place to drop a bad apple would be at the operating system vendor. E-voting expert Douglas Jones has proposed the following such scenario, merely as an example to show what's possible:
In the next version of their window manager, a major vendor includes a little bit of code as part of the "open new window on screen" mechanism. If today is the first Tuesday in November of an even numbered year, this code checks the contents of the window. If the window contains the strings "Straight Party," "Democrat," "Republican," "Socialist," and "Reform," and if the window contains a "radio button" widget, allowing the selection of one out of n alternatives, the software would, one time out of ten, exchange the words "Republican" and "Reform."
What does this little bit of code do? On election day, and on no other day, it throws 10 percent of the straight party Republican vote to a large third party that is known to attract many Republican-leaning voters. In closely contested Democratic-Republican contests, this could easily swing the outcome to favor the Democrats, and on a national scale, it could easily provide the winning margin for control of Congress or the White House...
This kind of attack does not require either massive conspiracy or corporate approval or cooperation! So long as a single programmer can covertly incorporate a few lines of simple code into a component that he or she knows will end up in a large fraction of all voting machines, and so long as that code is not subject to exhaustive inspection, the system is vulnerable! Someone intent on fixing an election does not need to buy the support of the company, they only need to buy the support of one programmer with access to a key component!
If you don't think that it's possible someone to buy off, say, an individual programmer with access to the right window manager libraries, or you think that the OS vendor would eventually catch the crack with a source code review (even in spite of clever obfuscation on the part of the mole), then you'll be heartened to know that Jones has confirmed my suspicion that a virus could easily make the modification described above... or, it could make some other, equally clever modification that no one has thought of yet. All that's needed is to get the virus onto a machine at a DRE vendor that houses builds of one or more layers of their DRE's software stack, and you have the capability to do undetectable wholesale fraud.
This last point brings me to next region into which a bad apple could be profitably inserted: the DRE vendor (or the vendor's network). There's no need to say much more about this, though, because most of the article has been taken up with this type of scenario. Bad apples in this area can commit undetectable wholesale fraud.
At the county level, a worker at the BOE has many, many opportunities to commit wholesale fraud by exploiting her regular access to the "machinery of democracy" at all points in the election process to upload vote-stealing software onto a DRE, an accumulator, a central tabulation server, or all three.
Finally, at the precinct level, it's possible for a single bad apple (a poll worker, or even a voter) to commit any number of bad acts: disenfranchisement of a precinct by means of vandalism, multiple voting, deleting votes, uploading vote-stealing software, etc.
Wholesale fraud at the precinct level
You might think that you'd have to commit an infeasibly large number of acts of precinct-level fraud to steal an entire election, but you'd be wrong. Gerrymandered voting districts, in which whole precincts lean heavily in one direction or another, make disenfranchisement attacks on precincts a highly effective form of election fraud.
For attacks like this, urban voters are especially vulnerable, because they have a higher number of populous precincts clustered together in a smaller geographic area. It's much easier to use vandalism (disguised as machine malfunction) to disenfranchise multiple urban precincts on election day than it is go all over the countryside and suburbs in a state like, say, Ohio to break voting machines that are scattered in isolated elementary schools.
Finally, it's extremely important to note that, in the absence of a meaningful audit trail, like that provided by voter-verified paper receipts, it is virtually impossible to tell machine malfunction from deliberate vandalism. Pioneering election security researcher Rebecca Mercuri has told me that she's actually much more concerned about "disenfranchisement of voters due to the strategic denial-of-service that currently masquerades as malfunctions," than she is about "manipulation of election equipment and data files in order to alter election outcomes, although both remain problematic."
When you have a rash of voting machines that have their memories wiped, their votes erased, or their number of votes mysteriously inflated; when you have reports of machines that crash or refuse to respond; when many machines record a vote for the wrong candidate—all of this could just as plausibly be construed as evidence of fraud as it could be of spontaneous malfunction, because there's simply no way to tell the difference in most cases.
Conclusions: take-home points and parting thoughts
The picture that I've painted here about the state of the American electoral system is bleak and depressing. Even more depressing is the fact that absolutely nothing can be done to address these vulnerabilities in any substantial way before the November midterm elections. Really, the only thing that citizens can do for the midterms is get involved by volunteering at their local precinct and keeping their eyes and ears open. Watch everything, and record everything where possible.
Right now, the only thing standing in the way of the kind of wholesale undetectable election theft that this article has outlined is the possibility that DREs were forced onto the public too rapidly for election thieves to really learn to exploit them in this cycle. There's always a gap between when a security vulnerability is exposed and when it's exploited, so let's all hope and pray that November 7 falls within that time window.
In the medium- and long-term, it is just as much of a certainty that many of these vulnerabilities will be exploited as it is that, say, major new Windows security vulnerabilities will be exploited. Indeed, the stakes in stealing an election are much, much higher than they are in the kind of petty hacking that produces today's thriving ecosystem of PC viruses and trojans. I've outlined the way (already widely known) in this article, and I don't doubt that someone, somewhere, has the will to match that way. Unless security practices and electoral procedures are upgraded and standardized across the country, and unless meaningful auditability is mandated (preferably a voter-verified paper trail) nationwide, then the probability of a large-scale election theft taking place approaches certainty the longer we remain vulnerable.
In conclusion, let me summarize what I hope you'll take home with you after reading this article and thinking about its contents:
• Bits and bytes are made to be manipulated; by turning votes into bits and bytes, we've made them orders of magnitude easier to manipulate during and after an election.
• By rushing to merge our nation's election infrastructure with our computing infrastructure, we have prematurely brought the fairly old and well-understood field of election security under the rubric of the new, rapidly evolving field of information security.
• In order to have confidence in the results of a paperless DRE-based election, you must first have confidence in the personnel and security practices at these institutions: the board of elections, the DRE vendor, and third-party software vendor whose product is used on the DRE.
• In the absence of the ability to conduct a meaningful audit, there is no discernable difference between DRE malfunction and deliberate tampering (either for the purpose of disenfranchisement or altering the vote record).
Finally, it's worth reiterating that optical scan machines are vulnerable to many of the same exploits as the DREs on which this article focuses. Optical scan machines do leave a paper audit trail, but that trail is worthless in a state (like Florida) where manual audits of optical scan ballots are not undertaken to clear up questions about the unexpected returns from certain precincts. I've been told that such audits are now prohibited in Florida by law in the wake of the 2000 voting scandal.
In researching this article, I talked on- and off-the-record with a number of prominent experts in the electronic voting field. The following e-mail response from computer scientist Peter Neumann sums up the present state of chaos heading into the November midterm election, and it also communicates some of the frustration (and fear) that I heard echoed in the responses of the other researchers whom I questioned.
The problem is much deeper than most people realize. The standards are extremely weak (1990 and 2002 both), and VOLUNTARY. The systems are built to minimum standards rather than attempting to be meaningfully secure. The evaluations are commissioned and paid for by the vendors, and are proprietary. The entire voting process consists of weak links—registration, voter disenfranchisement, voter authentication, vote casting, vote recording, vote processing, resolution of disputes (which is essentially nonexistent in the unauditable paperless DREs), lack of audit trails, and so on. You cannot begin to enumerate the badness of the present situation.
Paradoxically, the media blizzard of disparate facts, figures, vulnerabilities, acronyms, and bad news from a huge list of states, counties, and precincts, is in large measure responsible for the current lack of an all-out panic among the public and political classes as we head into the November mid-terms. This steadily roiling storm of e-voting negativity has resulted in a general uneasiness with DREs among the public and the media, but the threat feels diffuse and vague precisely because there are just so many things that could go wrong in so many places.
To get a sense of the problems that security researchers have in boiling all this bad news down into a single threat scenario that's vivid enough to spur the public to action, just imagine yourself travelling back in time to 1989 to testify before Congress about "the coming plague of identity theft." Or how about, "the rising terrorist threat from Islamic fundamentalism."
My own personal fear is that, by the time a whistleblower comes forth with an indisputable smoking gun—hard evidence that a large election has been stolen electronically—we will have lost control of our electoral process to the point where we will be powerless to enact meaningful change. The clock is ticking on this issue, because a party that can use these techniques to gain control of the government can also use them to maintain control in perpetuity.
Lawmakers Pushing for Paper Trail As Backup
A computer glitch that alters the names of some candidates on electronic ballots in three Virginia cities helps prove the need to create a paper record of each vote cast, two state lawmakers said yesterday.
Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) and Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax) said at a news conference in Fairfax County that the computer errors in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville show that legislation is necessary to ensure the accuracy of electronic voting throughout Virginia.
Alexandria officials said earlier this week that a change to a larger type size on the summary page of the electronic ballot distorts candidates' names. U.S. Senate candidate James Webb (D), for example, appears as "James H. 'Jim' " on the summary page.
Officials stressed that the page on which voters actually make their selections contains the full names; the summary page shows voters all their selections before they cast their ballot. State election officials say the glitch will not affect the outcome of races and have pledged to correct the problem by the 2007 statewide elections.
"Those events erode voter confidence," Devolites Davis said. "Accuracy and confidence in that accuracy is of the utmost importance to both the voters and candidates."
Lawmakers introduced a bill in the last General Assembly session that would require the Virginia State Board of Elections to design a pilot program to test electronic voting equipment and paper records. The bill was not approved. With the Nov. 7 election less than two weeks away, Hugo and Devolites Davis are renewing their call for paper records.
A paper record "gives voters an opportunity to double-check their votes and make sure they have been recorded as intended," Devolites Davis said.
Hugo said the need for safeguards has never been more obvious, citing recent troubles during Maryland's primary election that prompted Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to suggest the state revert to a paper ballot system for the Nov. 7 election.
"You get a [paper] receipt at the ATM and Safeway," said Hugo, who along with Devolites Davis led a two-year study of Virginia's voting system. "That way there's a backup if you need it."
Virginia localities have largely turned to touch-screen machines that don't generate a paper record of individual votes. But there are technologies available that do. One is a box, similar to a printer, that can be attached to the touch-screen machines. The boxes display printed paper slips that show voters how their choices will be recorded. The records are stored within the machines and then, depending on the state, filed by election officials.
A few jurisdictions, including Loudoun and Stafford counties, use a hybrid system in which voters fill out paper ballots, indicating their choices by marking bubbles resembling those on the SAT, and then insert them into optical scanning machines. If necessary, the paper ballots can be used to verify the machine results.
Devolites Davis said that confidence in the voting system comes with a cost. Although the numbers are still be tabulated, she said, buying printers or switching to optical scanning equipment could be expensive. Devolites Davis said she would like Congress to give the states money to make the changes. If Congress won't, it will be up to the states, she said.
"About 95 percent of the computer scientists out there . . . believe that [electronic] voting machines are not trustworthy as they are built," said Jeremy Epstein, a computer security architect who was on the legislative subcommittee that studied Virginia's voting system. "It's important to recognize they aren't foolproof. Adding paper is a way to solve the problem."
A New Campaign Tactic: Manipulating Google Data
Tom Zeller Jr.
If things go as planned for liberal bloggers in the next few weeks, searching Google for “Jon Kyl,” the Republican senator from Arizona now running for re-election, will produce high among the returns a link to an April 13 article from The Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly.
Mr. Kyl “has spent his time in Washington kowtowing to the Bush administration and the radical right,” the article suggests, “very often to the detriment of Arizonans.”
Searching Google for “Peter King,” the Republican congressman from Long Island, would bring up a link to a Newsday article headlined “King Endorses Ethnic Profiling.”
Fifty or so other Republican candidates have also been made targets in a sophisticated “Google bombing” campaign intended to game the search engine’s ranking algorithms. By flooding the Web with references to the candidates and repeatedly cross-linking to specific articles and sites on the Web, it is possible to take advantage of Google’s formula and force those articles to the top of the list of search results.
The project was originally aimed at 70 Republican candidates but was scaled back to roughly 50 because Chris Bowers, who conceived it, thought some of the negative articles too partisan.
The articles to be used “had to come from news sources that would be widely trusted in the given district,” said Mr. Bowers, a contributor at MyDD.com (Direct Democracy), a liberal group blog. “We wanted actual news reports so it would be clear that we weren’t making anything up.”
Each name is associated with one article. Those articles are embedded in hyperlinks that are now being distributed widely among the left-leaning blogosphere. In an entry at MyDD.com this week, Mr. Bowers said: “When you discuss any of these races in the future, please, use the same embedded hyperlink when reprinting the Republican’s name. Then, I suppose, we will see what happens.”
An accompanying part of the project is intended to buy up Google Adwords, so that searches for the candidates’ names will bring up advertisements that point to the articles as well. But Mr. Bowers said his hopes for this were fading, because he was very busy.
The ability to manipulate the search engine’s results has been demonstrated in the past. Searching for “miserable failure,” for example, produces the official Web site of President Bush.
But it is far from clear whether this particular campaign will be successful. Much depends on the extent of political discussion already tied to a particular candidate’s name.
It will be harder to manipulate results for searches of the name of a candidate who has already been widely covered in the news and widely discussed in the blogosphere, because so many links and so many pages already refer to that particular name. Search results on lesser-known candidates, with a smaller body of references and links, may be easier to change.
“We don’t condone the practice of Google bombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results,” said Ricardo Reyes, a Google spokesman. “A site’s ranking in Google’s search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.”
The company’s faith in its system has produced a hands-off policy when it comes to correcting for the effects of Google bombs in the past. Over all, Google says, the integrity of the search product remains intact.
Writing in the company’s blog last year, Marissa Mayer, Google’s director of consumer Web products, suggested that pranks might be “distracting to some, but they don’t affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.”
Still, some conservative blogs have condemned Mr. Bowers’s tactic. These include Outside the Beltway, which has called him “unscrupulous,” and Hot Air, which declared the effort “fascinatingly evil.”
But Mr. Bowers suggested that he was acting with complete transparency and said he hoped political campaigns would take up the tactic, which he called “search engine optimization,” as a standard part of their arsenal.
“I did this out in the open using my real name, using my own Web site,” he said. “There’s no hidden agenda. One of the reasons for this is to show that campaigns should be doing this on their own.”
Indeed, if all campaigns were doing it, the playing field might well be leveled.
Mr. Bowers said he did not believe the practice would actually deceive most Internet users.
“I think Internet users are very smart and most are aware of what a Google bomb is,” he said, “and they will be aware that results can be massaged a bit.”
Gov't Issues Recall for Sony Batteries
A voluntary recall of 340,000 laptop batteries made by Sony Corp., part of a voluntary global replacement program, was officially announced Monday in the United States.
Last week, Tokyo-based Sony said the record recall involved nearly 10 million batteries worldwide. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government's consumer-watchdog agency, issued the formal recall notice for U.S. consumers.
The batteries, some of them in the Vaio brand laptop computers manufactured by Sony, could catch fire, the CPSC said. Sony will replace the affected batteries free of charge.
The CPSC said that computers made by Gateway Inc. were also affected but would not specify a number. Dell Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and Lenovo Group have all recalled laptops in the past few months because of the faulty batteries.
Sony makes the batteries, but until recently the company had said its Vaio line of laptops was unaffected.
The U.S. recall was part of a voluntary global replacement program aimed at alleviating consumer concern, Sony spokesman Takashi Uehara said in Tokyo.
The recalled batteries were sold with, or sold separately to be used with, the following computers:
- Fujitsu LifeBook: P1510, P1510D, P7120, P7120D, S7020, S7020D, C1320D, Q2010 and T4210 with battery models CP229720-01, CP229725-01, CP234003-01, CP234019-01, CP255100-01, CP255108-01, CP267910-01, CP267915-01, CP283030-01 and CP293420-01.
- Gateway CS200, CX210, E100M, M250, M255, M280, M285, M465, M685, MP8708, NX260, NX510, NX560, NX860, NX100, MX1025, MX6918b, and MX1020j with battery models 916C4610F, 916C4720F, 916C4730F, 916C5010F and W230.
- Sony VAIO: VGN-FE550G, VGN-FE570G, VGN-T240P, VGN-T250, VGN-T250P, VGN-T260P, VGN-T270P, VGN-T340P, VGN-T350, VGN-T350P, VGN-T360P and VGN-T370P with battery models VGP-BPS3A and VGP-BPS2B.
- Toshiba Portege: M300, M400/M405, S100/S105; Toshiba Qosmio: G35; Toshiba Satellite: R10/R15; and Toshiba Tecra: A2, M3, M4, M5, M6, and S3; with battery models PA3191U-4BRS, PA3356U-2BRS, PA3475U-1BRS, PA3191U-5BRS, PA3356U-3BRS and PA3476U-1BRS.
The Fujitsu computers were sold from June 2005 until October 2006, the Gateway models from September 2005 until October 2006, the Sony laptops from December 2004 until October 2006 and the Toshiba computers from September 2004 until October 2006.
Consumers are advised to stop using the batteries immediately and contact the manufacturer of their laptop to receive their free replacement. For more information, they can contact the company:
- Fujitsu, 800-838-5487.
- Gateway, 800-292-6813.
- Sony, 888-476-6972.
- Toshiba, 800-457-7777.
Consumers should use only batteries from their computer manufacturer or an authorized reseller.
Sony Laptop Battery Injures User
A Sony-made battery in a Fujitsu laptop overheated and gave off sparks, injuring the user, as a Fujitsu worker was visiting to retrieve the laptop as part of the company's recall of Sony batteries, a Fujitsu spokesman said Friday.
The sparks hit the user's hand and caused minor burns, said Fujitsu spokesman Toshiaki Koike. The incident is under investigation.
Fujitsu is recalling more than 280,000 lithium-ion laptop batteries made by Sony Corp., part of a global recall of Sony batteries officials say could overheat and burst into flames.
Microscopic metal particles left inside the battery during production can cause a short circuit, according to Sony.
Almost every major laptop maker in the world, including Dell Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd., has announced a recall of Sony batteries.
Battery Recall Exacts Steep Toll on Sony
Michael J. de la Merced
Sony reported a 94 percent drop in earnings for the three months that ended in September, as it continued to cope with a huge battery recall and manufacturing problems in its PlayStation 3 game console.
The company reported a net profit of 1.7 billion yen ($14 million) for its second fiscal quarter, a sharp drop from the 28.5 billion yen ($240 million) it earned in the period last year.
The steep decline in earnings — after a return to profitability last quarter — is the harshest blow yet to the company as it tries to regain its footing under its first foreign chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer.
Sony has already taken a 51 billion yen charge for the quarter, an amount far higher than initial estimates, much of it because of its battery problems. So, while the company reported sales of 1.9 billion yen for the quarter, an 8.3 percent increase over the period last year, its problems weighed heavily on the bottom line.
Sony also lowered its forecasts for the 2006 fiscal year, anticipating a net income of 80 billion yen, a 35 percent drop from last year.
The chief financial officer, Nobuyuki Oneda, said at a news conference yesterday that the financial problems were only temporary, owing to one-time events like the battery recall and struggles to introduce the PlayStation 3.
“Without those factors, we would have been on track with the midterm plan, or more than that,” Mr. Oneda said. “But the game segment is weak and is the major challenge for us now.”
Once known as a premier brand in electronics, with the Walkman and PlayStation brands as its crown jewels, the company has faltered in recent years. It has fallen behind in sectors it once dominated, as rivals have outpaced it in advances in video game consoles, high-end televisions and portable music players.
Much of Sony’s latest woes stem from the recall of 9.6 million batteries worldwide, after the company acknowledged in August that some batteries posed a potential fire hazard. Since then, nearly every major computer manufacturer, including Dell, Apple Computer, Lenovo and Sony itself, has issued a recall of the batteries. The company initially estimated that the recall would cost as much as 30 billion yen.
Since then, Sony has taken steps to prevent future problems, Mr. Oneda said at the news conference.
The recall of batteries “gives a short-term impact,” he said, “though in the long term, we would like to improve the products so that people feel safe using them.”
Sony’s gaming division reported a loss of 43.5 billion yen in operating income and a 21 percent decline in sales, to 170.3 billion yen, as it prepared to roll out the delayed PlayStation 3. Once scheduled for release in the spring, the machine will hit stores in Japan on Nov. 11 and in the United States on Nov. 17. Still, the company has said it can deliver only 400,000 units to North America, all but ensuring that it will be unavailable for the gaming masses this holiday season. And Sony has delayed the console’s European debut to March. The company still expects to ship six million units by March.
Sony’s movie division reported an operating loss of 15.3 billion yen ($129.2 million). It attributed that to marketing costs and the poor performance of films like “Zoom” and “All the King’s Men.” The company said, however, that the release of more movies in the quarter along with successful runs by “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Monster House” and “Click” resulted in a 12 percent increase in sales.
The company said it expected the movie division to show a net profit for the fiscal year, owing to DVD releases of those successful films.
Operating income from Sony’s core electronics group fell 71.4 percent, to 8 billion yen, from 28.1 billion yen in the period last year. The company said, however, that sales rose 12.1 percent, to 1.4 billion yen, owing to success with its Bravia liquid-crystal-display televisions, Vaio computers and Cybershot digital cameras, even as sales of traditional cathode-ray-tube TVs dropped.
Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo.
Pass it on…
Dream a little...
Jimmy Wales jwales at wikia.com
I would like to gather from the community some examples of works you
would like to see made free, works that we are not doing a good job of
generating free replacements for, works that could in theory be
purchased and freed.
Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase
copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you
like to see purchased and released under a free license?
Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific,
be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.
I was recently asked this question by someone who is potentially in a
position to make this happen, and he wanted to know what we need, what
we dream of, that we can't accomplish on our own, or that we would
expect to take a long time to accomplish on our own.
Skype Founders Plan to Launch Web TV Service: Paper
The founders of file-swapping service KaZaA and Internet calling program Skype plan to launch advertising-supported Internet television shortly, Skype co-founder Janus Friis told a Danish newspaper.
The project, code-named Venice, will bring quality TV programmes for free to consumers who have a broadband Internet connection, he told Boersen financial newspaper.
"We will simply present it to the public when we feel that it works well enough and there is enough content. And it will not be much longer before it is out. It is a question of a month or two," Friis was quoted as saying when he attended Boersen's Executive Club on Wednesday night in Copenhagen.
"This is a system where people with professional content can put it out (on the Internet). And that can be anybody," said Friis, who currently has "a lot of people" negotiating with TV production companies around the world.
"We don't want any more lawsuits," Friis said, referring to the days when he was running KaZaA, which was used by people to freely share copyrighted songs.
The success of the new venture depends on perfect timing, but Internet users appear to be ready for video services given the popularity of YouTube as well as delayed viewing of news bulletins and other public TV programmes in many countries.
YouTube, which shows mainly short clips, was bought by Google for $1.65 billion in Google stock earlier this month.
Internet calling and messaging service Skype, which Friis set up with his partner Niklas Zennstrom, was sold to eBay for up to $4.1 billion last year.
"The timing has to be right. Otherwise it will not work. We have been lucky with KazaA and Skype, where it was absolutely right. Now we hope that will also be the case with our next project," Friis was quoted as saying.
CBS Show Moves from Online to On-Air
The Hollywood Reporter
"Inturn," the online series that ran on CBS' Innertube broadband channel, is getting promoted to a one-hour broadcast slot.
On Nov. 24, the network will air a compilation episode featuring highlights from the show's 24 episodes streamed on Innertube, which can be accessed through the CBS Web site.
The move marks the first time CBS will air a show created exclusively for the Web.
"Inturn" followed the struggles of eight wannabe actors competing for the chance to be cast as a character on CBS' daytime drama "As the World Turns." Alex Charak, 18, of Roslyn Heights, N.Y., was crowned the winner.
As further demonstration of the opposite trend by networks to blend online distribution with television, Fox said Tuesday that it will debut the fourth-season premiere of "The O.C." online before its broadcast premiere.
Beginning Thursday and one week before its broadcast airing Nov. 2, "The O.C." premiere episode will be available on its corporate siblings' MySpace and MyFoxLocal Web sites. The show's second episode also will debut through the sites before its network airdate, with both episodes available through Fox on Demand for nearly a week following their broadcast premiere.
"The O.C." joins previously announced Fox programming streaming on MySpace.com and MyFoxLocal Web sites, including "Prison Break," "Justice," "Vanished," " 'Til Death," "Bones," "Happy Hour," "The Loop" and "Talkshow With Spike Feresten."
AOL to Offer Downloads for Movie, TV Shows
Movies and television shows from Paramount Pictures will be available for sale through AOL's new video portal under a deal announced Monday.
Classics such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Chinatown" and newer releases like "Mission: Impossible III" will be sold for $9.99 to $19.99 each, comparable to fees at online services CinemaNow, MovieLink and Guba as well as sites operated by MySpace-owner News Corp.
Consumers will own the movies and can transfer them to as many as three other computers or portable devices that support Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player technology.
As more Americans get high-speed broadband connections at home, studios and television networks have been experimenting with ways to distribute their programs over the Internet. Some show programs for free on their Web sites or at AOL with ads, while others sell them outright through Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, Amazon.com Inc.'s Unbox and others.
The Paramount offerings, which include television specials, are for sale only.
The deal with Viacom Inc.'s Paramount follows similar agreements announced in August with News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, NBC Universal's Universal Pictures, and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. AOL LLC is a unit of Time Warner. NBC Universal is a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal.
AOL saw users defect to rivals' free e-mail and other offerings as it kept trying to charge subscription fees of as much as $26 a month. Although AOL has recently made those services free as well to better compete for online advertising dollars, analysts believe the company may have a better chance in emerging fields like online video.
In early August, the company launched a video portal that tries to aggregate clips and full-length programs from around the Internet - some free, some for sale. The company wants to be a one-stop site for video, although it faces intense competition from veterans like Yahoo Inc. and startups like YouTube Inc., which Google Inc. is buying for $1.65 billion.
AOL Chief Says Time Warner Demerger 'Becomes Interesting'
Time Warner, the giant US media group, is considering the sale or demerger of AOL, the internet business it merged with in 2000, at the height of the last stockmarket boom.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Jonathan Miller, chief executive of AOL, admitted that the Time Warner board is already mulling over a break-up of the giant conglomerate. Asked about the possibility of AOL separating from Time Warner, Miller confirmed that the issue is now on the agenda following the sale of the group's broadband businesses in Europe.
He said: "It's possible, going forward. It's not a discussion that Time Warner has a problem with understanding or engaging in. Until we were on this present course, it wasn't even the right discussion. Now it becomes more interesting."
However, Miller stressed the probability that AOL would be snapped up quickly by a rival if Time Warner decided to sell the business.
"I don't believe there is a scenario whereby we could have an independent AOL. I think we would be bought as fast as we could draw up the papers," he said.
Time Warner this month sold its internet access division in the UK to Carphone Warehouse for £370m. It has also concluded sales of its sister operations in Germany and France in order to focus on becoming a purely online company offering services such as email, web search and instant messaging.
Miller said: "The market has to be convinced that AOL has the ability to continue to get traction and scale. The signs are positive and momentum is strong. Then we get into the question about the best way to recognise that value and the best way for the company to compete."
AOL has 200m visitors a month to its websites, including 113m in the US. Its revenue last year was $8.3bn (£4.4bn). However analysts are concerned that the company is losing out to rivals such as Google with faster growing advertising revenue.
Last week Google reported third-quarter revenues of $2.69bn, up 70 per cent on the same period for the -previous year. The figure beat Wall Street expectations of $2.62bn.
Almost all of Google's -revenue comes from search-based advertising.
The iconic internet company earlier this month paid $1.65bn in shares to acquire YouTube, the website that allows individuals to post video content onto the web.
10 Pros & Cons of Switching from Windows to Mac OS X
Am I yet another Mac fan-boi? Have I jumped on the Mac band-wagon just because I think my iPod is cool?
I have been using Microsoft software since the days when MS DOS 3.3 seemed like a pretty damn good upgrade. MS DOS 4.0 sucked but version 5 rocked! It took me a long time to be convinced that Windows 3.1 was a better program launcher than X-Tree Gold, but it happened eventually. Since then, I have been a sucker for every upgrade - 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2000, XP. (Notice I didn't mention ME. I'm not that much of a MS fan-boy.)
I've played with Macs over the years, but always considered them a bit of a toy. An expensive toy that was overpriced compared to a reliable old beige box. But about 3 months I had to buy a Mac to test a web-site that I had been working on in Safari. (Well, I didn't have to. I could have borrowed a friend's. But I got away with billing the client for it, so why not?)
I bought the cheapest Mac available - a Mac Mini with a single-core Intel chip and the minimum of RAM - 512 MB. It cost me AU$949. Since plugging it in, I have barely used my $3000 Windows desktop. Fixing the web-site in Safari took 2 minutes. However all this time later, I have almost exclusively switched to the Mac. Here is why:
The Pros & Cons of Mac OS X, for a Windows user
Pro - The GUI: It didn't take me long to get used to it. It is super smooth, even on the cheap Mac Mini. On a 19", the available screen space is used more efficiently - the shared menu bar and the dock being the main reasons. Everything looks nicer too, from the fonts, the icons to the built-in controls (scroll-bars, drop-downs, etc). It makes Windows XP look very late-nineties.
Con - Home and End keys: They don't work the same as Windows. They don't work the same as Linux. They don't work the same as a freakin' terminal connected to a main-frame. The official keys are Command-Left and Command-Right. I'm starting to get used to them. But now I try to use them when I work on a Windows machine!
Pro - Front Row: The Mini came with an Apple Remote. I can active Front Row using the remote or using Command-Esc. It is not a 100% perfect media centre, but it is so much closer than using Windows Media Player (or The Core Media Player or VLC for that matter.) I haven't tried Windows Media Centre Edition, but I can't imagine that it could be this slick.
Pro - It's Unix!: You've got a very, very nice GUI but under the hood is good ole' Unix. It's nice to get to a decent shell for once, rather than being stuck with the Windows command prompt. Compiling open-source applications is far easier than on Windows. (Tip: if you use Microsoft's Remote Desktop to talk to your old Windows PC from your Mac, like I do, take the time to compile rdesktop. It is so much faster! (Microsoft's tool is PowerPC and single-session only as well.)
If you can't get rdesktop to compile, then give the CoRD project by Craig Dooley a go. It is not as fast as rdesktop, and presently doesn't support full-screen. But it does support multiple simultaneous sessions, which is one over Microsoft's tool
Con - It's Unix!: If you are familiar with it, Unix is great. But if you aren't, then I can imagine that may be a bit daunting. Luckily, for most users Apple has shielded most of the scary Unix details. In the Finder you can't even see directories like /bin, /dev, /usr, etc.
It is only when you open the Terminal and get to a shell that you see all the ancient Unix directory structures, combined with Apple's more hip and happening directory names like Applications, System, etc. (The folks at Apple aren't afraid of using upper-case letters once in a while!) I can hear you *nix fan-boys seething, but you have got to admit that *nix has been around a long time and not everyone can agree where everything belongs. "Does it belong in /usr/bin or /usr/local/bin? I don't know, Boss, let's let the user decide when they run configure!"
Pro - Graphic Designers will talk to you: The company where I work has developers and designers working closely together. Designers using Macs, wearing $300 dollar jeans. Developers using Windows PCs, wearing $20 jeans (but earning much higher salaries).
When you can talk about the Mac with a designer they will suddenly like you 50% more. It may sound stupid, but the results are there.
Con - Games: Go into your closest computer games store and flick through the titles in the 'Mac Games' section? Sorry, can't you find the Mac section? Ask the sales assistant - maybe they have something out the back...
Pro - Lots of other nice little things: You can drag text off of a web-page and onto the desktop. A text file is automatically created with the stuff you dragged. That is nice.
In the tree view in the Finder you can multiple-select any file you see, even if they are in different folders. This means that you can copy three different files from three different folders to one spot in one action. That is nice.
Right-click on a word and you can look it up in the Dictionary, search your machine using Spotlight, search Google, or do many other things. This works nearly everywhere. That is nice, but it would be even nicer if it worked everywhere.
Con - Can't change the default global search: The Right-click that I just mentioned searches using Google. The search in Safari, my new favourite browser, also uses Google. I don't want it to use Google, I want it to search using Google Australia because it gives me results that are more relevant to where I live. In Firefox and even Internet Explorer it is fairly simple to switch default search engines. But where is the preference for this on the Mac or in Safari? Has Google already bought Apple? (Yes you can change it, if you play with some binary files - but you shouldn't have to play with binary files to change a simple setting like that.)
Pro - It is Apple: Apple makes quality stuff. 99% of what they make is good. I have a couple of Apple IIe computers from the 80s and they still work nicely, even after being left out in the rain. The iPod is not wildly successful just because of brilliant marketing. It is successful because it is an awesome little machine. It was not the first or the last to market, but it is still the best.
Notice I didn't say anything about viruses, trojans, spy-ware? I haven't been infected in three months on the Apple, but I haven't been infected for 8 years since installing NT 4, Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Why? I don't run as an administrator. This simple action protects you from about 99% of malicious software. It is a simple fact.
Overall I couldn't be happier with my Mac Mini purchase. I'm not misty-eyed enough to think that it is completely angelic and perfect, but it is a major step above using Windows XP. And unless you are a rabid freedom-fighter it is a step above any Linux distribution out there. KDE and GNOME are still a long way away from achieving the polish that Apple has delivered with Mac OS X. And the next release, with lots of nice improvements, is only a couple of months away...
I count on the contents of my thumb drive being easily readable to ensure its safe return if I lose it. I put everything in a directory tree that looks like this:
That way, if I accidentally drop it somewhere, odds are that it will be returned to me by those nice boys at the FBI.
New 4Gbit/sec. Tape Encryption Arrives
NeoScale Systems Inc. announced 4Gbit/sec. versions of its encryption appliance that can encrypt data on as many as five tape drives simultaneously.
The Milpitas, Calif.-based company will be releasing two new versions of its CryptoStor Tape family of products: a Fibre Channel device -- the CrypoStor Tape FC712 -- and a SCSI device -- the CryptoStor Tape SC702, said Dore Rosenblum, vice president of marketing.
The devices support native 4Gbit/sec. interfaces, compared to the current 2Gbit/sec. throughput, but because tape drives can't receive data at that speed, the enhancement has the effect of allowing the appliance to support twice as many tape drives, Rosenblum said.
Both appliances work with the company's existing CryptoStor KeyVault key management appliance for centralized backup and sharing of encryption keys. Keys can be either 128-bit or 256-bit AES.
Greg Schulz, an analyst at StorageIO in Stillwater, Minn., said an advantage of 4Gbit/sec. support is that the same number of tape drives can be supported using fewer ports on the storage system. In addition, consolidating several drives on one channel means that a slow tape drive doesn't effect throughput to other drives, he said.
The SCSI version is due to ship in November for $16,900, while the Fibre Channel version is due early next year for $45,000.
Look Who Has Access to Your Email
At a time when external hacks are grabbing headlines, frequently unreported internal security breaches involving low-level administrators accessing high-level executive e-mail and other systems are driving efforts to limit access to only the most highly trusted personnel.
Although the internal access problem is well known, strategies for resolving it are being formulated by a surprisingly small number of companies, which are largely seeking out encryption technology from a handful of IT vendors. And while those products are helpful, they do not reveal how many systems administrators, database administrators, storage administrators and upper-echelon "super users" are accessing sensitive executive information.
Asked how many employees typically have access to sensitive data, such as executive e-mail or personal customer information, veteran data storage professional Warren Avery facetiously replies, "How many system administrators do you have in the company?
"I'm a firm believer that all these companies are spending their money to keep the foxes out of the henhouse, but a lot of times, the foxes are already there," says Avery, president of Promethean Data Solutions Inc., a Phoenix-based firm that compiles articles for its "IT Weekly Newsletter."
Despite the insider security threat, Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., says only "a very small percentage" of companies rely on anything in addition to internal access control lists when it comes to limiting entry to not only high-level e-mail, but network-attached storage (NAS) and Fibre Channel networks. He further maintains that in a company of 1,500 employees, there might typically be five to 10 administrators with executive-level access to information.
Passing on encryption
Encrypting internal data on disk systems is viewed as one viable way of protecting sensitive data, but both Avery and Oltsik say very few companies use this solution.
According to Ralf Saykiewicz, managing partner at XaHertz Consulting in Orlando, only very large companies, such as Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Accenture Ltd. and IBM Global Services practice this strategy. Saykiewicz says that in a multinational company of 15,000 employees, 20 to 30 people at headquarters alone would have high-level data access.
Hanging a price tag on the development of a secure internal IT infrastructure is an inexact science at best, but price tags would likely range from $100,000 to $1 million, according to analysts. "I'd probably say you're looking at a million bucks or so," Avery says, pointing to the costs of hardware, software and salaries. Adds Saykiewicz, "I would give you a very ballpark figure of between $100,000 and a quarter million dollars. You need to put in the consulting time, and you need to put in the software."
Is Internet Explorer 7 Spying on Me?
Like many other people in the world today, I decided to install IE7 on my computer. Now, I am a diehard fan of Firefox but I need to keep abreast of all different types of technology. This is why I was interested in installing Internet Explorer 7.
Now, imagine my surprise when I was asked to validate my copy of Windows before I continued to install Internet Explorer!
With the Windows Genuaine Advantage scandal still fresh in my mind, I was curious as to what the installer was doing when it was “validating” my copy of Windows.
I fired up filemon and regmon from Sysinternals to see what it was exactly doing.
File and Registry Access
I put all of the results into an Excel file. Please note that I have changed some of the information to protect my anonymity.
Most of the access was pretty routine but it did look at some stuff that I thought was pretty strange. And some of which I thought was really none of their business!
There were some very odd things happening as far as file access is concerned. The first one that caught my attention was that it read information from C:\WINDOWS\system32\OEMInfo.Ini. This file contains all of the information about the manufacturer. In my case, I had a Dell system and it included my make, model, service tag, and express service code for my computer.
The other file that I thought was interesting was C:\WINDOWS\system32\legitcheckcontrol.dll. There were a lot of different file reads and queries to this file. When I looked at the file with a hex editor, I was able to find a huge list of hardware manufacturers along with a website address http://stats.update.microsoft.com/re...ebservice.asmx. I can’t be certain but it looks like this file may be used to report hardware usage information back to Microsoft.
There were other web addresses embedded into this file. Most were links to certificate authorites but two others that looked rather suspicious were:
A file that got a lot of attention during validation was one that was installed by the IE installer; ligitlibm.dll. Under a hex editor, it revealed different code, much of which would probably mean more to a real programmer. But, what did catch my eye was a reference to a webpage: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?Link...gitCheckError=. Again, not being a programmer, I do not know the purpose of this link but it could definitely be used to report back to Microsoft.
The file system is not the only thing that was checked and modified during validation. The registry had a good workout with 4216 registry events! Again, like the file system access, most of it was pretty benign but some of the information that it was checking for was, in my opinion, inappropriate.
Here is a list of some of this items the validation accessed in my registry:
Machine Unique IDs
Processor Type and Model
Internal Domain Name
I don’t know about you, but I think that this may be a bit more than is required for validating my version of Windows, especially when it has been established that there are links in the software that it used for this validation that point back to the Microsoft website.
While performing the validation, I ran Wireshark, an ethernet sniffer. It allowed me to see the data over the network in raw format as determine if there were any attempts to “call home”. I am happy to report that there did nto appear to be any such attempts. But, that does not mean that Microsoft is off the hook.
There are other scenarious that I can think of where Microsoft would have called home:
It found a pirated copy of Microsoft
During the actual install to add to its count
At a later time so as not to attract attention or during a Windows update
There are definitely some disturbing things happening behind the scenes on your computer when you need to validate Windows during the installation of IE7. This entire issue deserves some media attention and further research.
Fighting Spam with Gmail
Remember a few weeks ago when I lamented the dramatic uptick in the amount of spam I was getting. Well I got rid of it. All of it. Here’s how.
First, I modified the procmail settings on our mail server to redirect all of my incoming email to my Gmail account, except email coming back from Gmail itself:
* !^X-Gmail-Received: .*
Next, I modified my Gmail account so that under the “Forwarding and POP” section it’s set to “Forward a copy of incoming mail to…” my actual address, and “archive Gmail’s copy.”
The effect of these two changes is that all incoming email gets redirected to Gmail where spam is stripped out (very, very effectively) and non-spam is forwarded back to me where, because of the procmail rule, it’s not forwarded to Gmail and I pick it up from my IMAP server, using my regular old mail client.
In addition to the spam that Gmail’s filtering out, I’m also running Spamassassin locally, and using Apple’s Mail.app anti-junk mail features.
In addition to the spam-fighting properties of this solution, I also get a searchable backup of all my incoming email at Gmail.
This has all been in place for 3 days now, and I haven’t seen a single spam message in my inbox yet.
Surveillance System Spots Violent Behaviour
Smart surveillance systems capable of automatically detecting violent crimes could soon be available.
A computer vision system developed in the University of Texas in Austin, US, can already tell the difference between friendly behaviour, such as shaking hands, and aggressive actions like punching or pushing.
The hope is that such systems will simplify the task of monitoring huge quantities of CCTV security footage, says Sangho Park, who worked on the project with colleague Jake Aggarwal.
In the past, surveillance systems have been developed that can detect statistically "unusual" behaviour and have been put to test at subway stations, for example (see Smart statistics keep eye on CCTV).
However, these systems are limited to spotting unusual visual patterns and cannot pick out specific types of activity, says Park, now based at the University of California in San Diego, US. He reckons his new system could change all that.
He and Aggarwal developed software that analyses each frame of footage and identifies clusters of pixels matching a primitive model of the human body. It then examines the interplay of different clusters, in order to classify interactions between individuals. Two videos show the system classifying a hug, and then classifying a push (both .avi format).
Many interactions can be visually ambiguous, however. A person offering someone a stick of gum or a cigarette can look similar to someone being threatened with a knife, for example. To cope with this, Park and Aggarwal chose to build up a profile for each type of behaviour.
Park calls it a "semantic analysis" of the interaction. This means several different factors are considered. For example, when identifying two people shaking hands, their hands must not only be close, but must also move in synchrony.
They meticulously coded a description of these key characteristics, which the software searches for when analysing a scene. This allows it to assign a probability that a particular activity is being observed. At the moment, the system has to capture the interaction from side-on to make its evaluation.
Hugging and punching
"The system works quite accurately," says Park. Tests were carried out on six different pairs of people performing a total of 54 different staged interactions including hugging, punching, kicking and shaking hands. On average, the system was 80% accurate at identifying these activities correctly.
According to Park, a commercial version of his system could be implemented within the next few years.
Mark Everingham, a computer vision researcher at the University of Leeds, UK, says the system needs some refinement: "The vision end of their work is very constrained."
Park accepts this is a limitation, but says he is refining the system to take advantage of multiple cameras – and different angles.
Everingham notes that automatically identifying human behaviour correctly is a major challenge, and says applications need not be limited to CCTV. If loaded onto a smart TV it could, for example, make it possible to search for "fight scenes" and other types of activity in a movie.
After Weak ‘Flags’ Debut, Studio May Face Costly Oscar Battle
David M. Halbfinger and Allison Hope Weiner
Clint Eastwood’s World War II movie “Flags of Our Fathers” lumbered ashore this weekend weighted with the expectations of a studio needing to win big. Looking for Oscars and a payoff on the film’s $90 million budget, Paramount, its distributor, put the film in nearly 1,900 theaters, and still plans to add hundreds more as early as this week.
By Monday morning, however, the studio and its partners found themselves facing a costly fight to save their showcase awards entry, as “Flags” took in just $10.2 million at the box office — a relatively tiny beachhead that did not match expectations or its mostly strong reviews. The picture had failed to excite enough older viewers who could remember, readily identify or relate to its subject, the bloody battle for Iwo Jima, to make up for its lack of appeal to younger audiences and paucity of recognizable stars.
For Paramount, which inherited the movie when it bought DreamWorks last year, the combination of a weak opening and good reviews made for a problem that has become all too familiar to major studios offering big dramas at awards time: it now will have to mount a costly Oscar campaign, but it hasn’t yet made the money to pay for it.
The fate of “Flags” in the moviegoing marketplace could also provide the clearest test yet of the DreamWorks-Paramount marriage. The movie’s marketing is being run by Terry Press of DreamWorks, overseeing a Paramount team, and its distribution is being overseen by Rob Moore, a top colonel to Brad Grey, Paramount’s chairman, relying on a staff of former DreamWorks employees. To complicate things further, Warner Brothers, which helped finance the film, holds international distribution rights, and is expected to release a companion movie depicting the battle from the Japanese point of view early next year.
Still, even as they vowed to battle into the winter for “Flags,” hoping for awards nominations to rally its box-office performance, studio executives left broad hints that they were not willing to shoulder the blame alone if their efforts were for naught. Mr. Eastwood, they noted, held contractual rights to approve both the marketing and distribution plans for his movie. “Every step of the way, we are working with Clint or being directed by Clint,” Mr. Moore said.
“Flags” seemed like a sure bet on Paramount’s schedule when the studio and DreamWorks combined forces last December: Mr. Eastwood was coming off best-picture and best-director nominations for “Mystic River” in 2004, and wins in both categories for “Million Dollar Baby” last year. Paul Haggis, the screenwriter of “Flags,” won the Oscar (along with Bobby Moresco) for the screenplay for “Crash,” named best picture this March, and also wrote “Million Dollar Baby.” And Steven Spielberg, who had originally wanted to film “Flags” as a bookend to his own “Saving Private Ryan,” had decided to take a rare producer’s credit for a movie he did not direct.
Mr. Spielberg did the same with “Memoirs of a Geisha,” another Oscar aspirant that disappointed at the box office and came up short in the awards race for Sony Pictures last year. Following a different path, “Munich,” which was directed by Mr. Spielberg, was not a major audience hit, but did end up with a best-picture nomination.
True to form, the pedigree of “Flags” produced some blurb-worthy raves: Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it “a film of awesome power”; David Ansen of Newsweek called it “tough, smart, raw and contemplative”; and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote that it said “something new and urgent about the uses of war and of the men who fight.”
But the movie posed several marketing challenges that Mr. Eastwood’s last two films did not face. Unlike Mr. Spielberg, who cast Tom Hanks in “Private Ryan,” Mr. Eastwood wanted to give a sense of the youth and ordinariness of the marines who fought at Iwo Jima, so he deliberately avoided casting major stars. Ryan Phillippe is the biggest name in “Flags,” though hardly a household one. Some critics even wrote that the movie’s characters were almost indistinguishable in the mayhem of battle.
As Mr. Moore summed up: “The biggest draw of the movie is its director, who’s not in the movie.”
Some industry insiders also questioned the timing of the film’s release in late October — a time when audiences are mainly young and mainly interested in Halloween fare like next weekend’s release of “Saw III” — rather than closer to Thanksgiving, when audiences have been conditioned to expect more adult-themed movies with awards potential.
But Mr. Moore said the timing was nearly identical to that of “Mystic River,” which opened in mid-October 2003 in a platform release of 13 theaters before expanding to 1,467 theaters a week later. Any thought of a similar platform release a week or two ago was dropped, lest “Flags” go up against Martin Scorsese’s “Departed,” Mr. Moore said. But he and other executives said the calendar ahead looked forgiving, with youth-oriented movies like the “Saw” sequel and “Borat,” and family fare like DreamWorks’ and Paramount’s own “Flushed Away” on Nov. 3.
Counting on that window of opportunity, Mr. Moore said Monday morning that Paramount, DreamWorks and Mr. Eastwood had agreed to expand by 300 screens nationwide this week. He cited the movie’s reviews, as well as exit polls of audience members that were 50 percent better than average — a sure gauge of word of mouth, he said.
Robert Lorenz, Mr. Eastwood’s longtime producer, said the opening weekend box office, while lower than some projections, was not disappointing at all. “It’s on track with what Clint’s movies have done in the past,” he said.
Executives like Mr. Moore said they were counting on the many fans of Mr. Eastwood’s dramatic and darker recent movies to show up as they always seem to — in their own good time. “They come out slower,” he said. “Therefore, we roll out slower.”
And Ms. Press, of DreamWorks, said that the film’s reviews held out hopes that, once the movie made it to December, it could wind up on the year’s-best lists and start piling up the kind of accolades that might prompt moviegoers to give it another look.
“When you have that level of respect, you have to go the distance here,” Ms. Press of DreamWorks said, referring to Mr. Eastwood. “There is no other choice for a movie like this but to go the distance.”
Wanna Direct? Get Out Your Cell Phone
PARIS (AP) -- "Silence on the set," ordered movie director Xavier Mussel as he grabbed his cell phone - not to make a call but to film another scene for his short film.
Cheap, easy and accessible, mobiles-as-movie cameras are breaking the motion picture mold, putting a touch of Hollywood into amateur filmmakers' hands. How-to workshops have sprung up from Boston to Abu Dhabi to Rio de Janeiro, and Paris just held its second film festival devoted exclusively to movies shot with cells.
Some 8,500 visitors attended screenings at the recent three-day Pocket Films Festival at Paris' Pompidou modern-art museum. In addition to nearly 100 shorts, the fare included three feature-length films - all shot on cells.
"What we're seeing is the democratization of filmmaking," said festival director Laurence Herszberg. "Now, you don't need expensive equipment and years of training to make a movie. All you need is your phone, that little object you carry around in your pocket all day."
Purists complain that poor image quality makes such films virtually unwatchable, but cell filmmakers insist the advantages of shooting on mobiles far outweigh the drawbacks.
"First and foremost, it's a matter of cost," said Leonard Bourgois-Beaulieu, whose short, "Busy," won Pocket Films' audience-choice award for best film.
"You save on the camera, which can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of euros and you also save on all the trappings that go with an expensive camera, from operators to lighting designers to makeup artists," said the 23-year-old director, who wrote, shot and acted in his lighthearted comedy about harried twentysomethings.
"Busy" took less than a week to shoot, Bourgois-Beaulieu said, for the cost of a Metro ticket and two coffees (one scene takes place in a cafe).
He acknowledged that cell cameras can't match their conventional digital counterparts for image quality - particularly when blown up to fill a full-size movie screen. While close-ups and still shots in "Busy" were remarkably sharp, sudden movement and traveling shots reduced the image to a pixelated fog.
Still, Bourgois-Beaulieu said, there is an upside to the graininess. It allowed him to play multiple roles in the movie.
"With the pixels distorting my face, you can't tell it's me," he said with an impish grin.
Brazilian-born director Louise Botkay-Courcier, whose poetic silent film "Mammah" is set in a Turkish bath, also said she liked cell cameras' low definition.
"Just like in painting, in film there are different styles," said Botkay-Courcier, 28, who added that she was inspired by the fluid, blotchy style of the Impressionists. "Not everything is about hyper-realism."
Festival-goer Stephanie Woldenberg agreed.
"I was expecting the grainy images to drive me crazy," said the lawyer from Switzerland. "But in a lot of the films, it added something mysterious, almost beautiful."
Cell-phone cameras have been around for nearly five years. Nokia, the world's No. 1 cell-phone maker, was first to integrate a camera in 2001, said Nokia France spokesman Xavier des Horts. That initial model took only stills, but built-in video soon followed and is now near-standard.
Though cell films are easier to shoot than conventional movies, they can be harder to edit, said Pocket Films' artistic director, Benoit Labourdette.
Uploading footage from phone to computer can be tedious, as editing programs often have to convert the format. The process can take hours, even days, depending on the amount of footage.
"Once you upload the footage, you go through exactly the same editing process as with any other digital movie," Labourdette said.
Films screened at the festival were edited on Vegas, a video and audio production program by Sony or on I-Movie, software that is standard on new Apple computers.
Most free Internet-based editing software is still not equipped to recognize cell phone footage, Labourdette said.
Because built-in microphones in cell phones pick up background noise, most dialogue must be added in post-production.
"It's a real pain in the neck," said director Bourgois-Beaulieu, who spent weeks re-recording and re-synching all the dialogue in his chatty, 10-minute-long film.
While cell-phone cameras have radically simplified shooting movies, the crux of filmmaking - finding the right story - remains as complicated as ever, he said.
"Just because everyone has a cell phone in our pockets doesn't make us all Spielbergs," said Bourgois-Beaulieu, who is hard at work on his second cell movie. "You've still got to have an artistic vision, or else it's just so much dumb footage."
Attackers Pillage Moscow Art Gallery and Beat Activist Owner
A group of men burst into a contemporary art gallery here Saturday, destroying work by an ethnic Georgian artist and beating up the owner, Marat Guelman. Mr. Guelman is well known both for his display of politically inspired and irreverent art and, most recently, his public attacks on neofascists for their dislike of non-Russians and of Western influence on Russian society.
Mr. Guelman said the attack was carried out by 10 men who looked like skinheads. The attack was the latest incident to raise troubling questions about xenophobia and freedom of expression in Russia.
On Friday, Russian officials seized 11 pieces of art that Mr. Guelman had exhibited. The art was on consignment to a London gallery owner, Matthew Bown, who was taking the pieces out of the country when he was detained at Sheremetyevo-2 airport on Friday.
The photo collages that were seized included one depicting President Vladimir Putin, President Bush and Osama bin Laden lounging in boxer shorts and another of a veiled suicide bomber with her skirt held up to reveal racy lingerie.
Mr. Bown was allowed to leave for London, but the artwork was not released.
It is unclear whether the seizure of the artwork on Friday and the attack on the gallery were related, coincidence or driven by news about the airport seizure on the radio and the Internet. Mr. Guelman has made a fair number of enemies this year because of his public criticism of neofascists and nationalists.
He is now on a list of “enemies of Russia” that is being circulated on the Internet by Russian neofascists.
Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist who was gunned down in her apartment building on Oct. 7, was also on the list, as are many prominent human rights advocates. Ms. Politkovskaya made her name as a searing critic of the Kremlin and its policies in Chechnya.
Mr. Guelman has also angered Russian Orthodox fundamentalists with his criticism of their influence on politics and for displaying artwork they consider antireligious. Although he has long cultivated connections with the Kremlin, he has been increasingly critical of Mr. Putin.
It was also unclear whether the attack on the gallery and the Georgian art was related to anti-Georgian sentiment that has surged this fall.
Tensions between the Kremlin and President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia led to a crackdown on Georgians in Russia this month. The government has accused some Georgian-owned businesses of violating health or other regulatory standards and has deported hundreds of ethnic Georgians deemed to be in Russia illegally.
In a telephone interview on Saturday evening after he was released from the hospital, Mr. Guelman said he had been treated for a broken nose and other injuries.
He said 10 men dressed in dark blue and wearing hats and heavy boots charged into the gallery at around noon, forced the employees against a wall, seized their phones and then proceeded to vandalize the artwork and attack him.
“They started to beat me with their shoes, with chairs,” he said. “Then they threw a computer at me. It was awful.”
He said pieces of graphic art by Alexander Djikia, a Moscow-based ethnic Georgian artist who has lived in the United States, were destroyed and paintings by him were damaged. Mr. Djikia could not be reached for comment.
The official RIA Novosti news agency said Saturday that the Moscow prosecutor’s office had opened a criminal investigation into the gallery attack.
Aleksandr Brod, the director of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, which tracks xenophobia and hate crimes in Russia, said the attack on Saturday highlighted troubling currents. Mr. Brod is also on the list of “enemies of Russia.”
“Such demonstrative attacks on famous people are becoming the norm,” he said. “This is a big misfortune and serious grounds for the authorities to stop and think,” he said.
News From The North
The TankGirl Diaries
Expressen: "Legalize Filesharing!"
The election is over, a new government has been formed, and while Piratpartiet did not make it to the parliament, the Swedish filesharing debate continues in the media.
Newspaper Expressen demands in its editorial today in no uncertain terms the legalization of private filesharing. The editorial refers to the two recent court cases that resulted in rather large fines for two filesharers. The newspaper considers it totally wrong that sharing a few songs or a movie on Internet is treated as serious a crime as sexual harassment or acts of violence in terms of punishment. Expressen notes that while harassment and violence cause real suffering to the victims, it is not clear at all whether there are any victims or negative effects following from filesharing.
Expressen goes through some history of previous legal battles where the copyright holders have tried to fight new emerging technologies, and how their doomsday scenarios have never happened despite the wide adoption of these new technologies - like audio cassette and video recorders - by the consumers. The newspaper is deeply worried about the impact that a strong copyright owner control over Internet would have on culture and many fields of new businesses. The editors consider the legalization of private filesharing a much better alternative and demand that movie and music industries should adapt into the digital era without any help from the state.
Swedish Pirate Collector Releases a Historical Pop Archive
At the end of June this year a Swedish music collector known by name swetrot released on Pirate Bay a collection of historical proportions. It took almost 10 years and a lot of hard work from him to get it all together but there it was: a complete archive of each and every song that had ever made it to the Swedish Pop Charts during the 22 years that the charts had existed. Some other pirates had earlier released Top 50 or Top 100 style collections of more limited scope but this was the complete thing. Most of the material swetrot found from Internet, starting his downloading with a painfully slow 33.6 kbps modem around the time when mp3 files first became available on the Net. Some of the rarer songs he managed to hunt down from friends and strangers, scanning through heaps of old vinyls at various attics and cellars.
The collection has enjoyed great popularity at Pirate Bay since its release but today it found its way also into mainstream media when Lars Lindström, the news chronicler of newspaper Expressen, introduced swetrot's work to his readers. He praised the efforts of swetrot and seriously suggested a cultural prize for him for the achievement. And indeed the collection is a major body of pop culture history - 17.34 GB in size, with 3990 songs, i.e. over 270 hours of music in it. Lindström noted that an archive like this should be available in libraries. While that may take time to happen, at least it is available for the international audience of BitTorrent users on Pirate Bay. Lindström concludes his story by emphasizing how the 'heavy league' filesharers - perhaps 10 % of all p2p users - are really serious collectors of music for whom getting their content from retailers is not even an option.
Beer Fingerprints To Go UK-Wide
The government is is funding the roll out of fingerprint security at the doors of pubs and clubs in major English cities.
Funding is being offered to councils that want to have their pubs keep a regional black list of known trouble makers. The fingerprint network installed in February by South Somerset District Council in Yeovil drinking holesy is being used as the show case.
"The Home Office have looked at our system and are looking at trials in other towns including Coventry, Hull & Sheffield," said Julia Bradburn, principal licensing manager at South Somerset District Council.
Gwent and Nottingham police have also shown an interest, while Taunton, a town neighbouring Yeovil, is discussing the installation of fingerprint systems in 10 pubs and clubs with the systems supplier CreativeCode.
Bradburn could not say if fingerprint security in Yeovil had displaced crime to neighbouring towns, but she noted that domestic violence had risen in Yeovil. She could not give more details until the publication of national crime statistics to coincide with the anniversary of lax pub licensing laws on 24 November.
She was, however, able to say that alcohol-related crime had reduced by 48 per cent Yeovil between February and September 2006.
The council had assumed it was its duty under the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) to reduce drunken disorder by fingerprinting drinkers in the town centre.
Some licensees were not happy to have their punters fingerprinted, but are all now apparently behind the idea. Not only does the council let them open later if they join the scheme, but the system costs them only £1.50 a day to run.
Oh, and they are also coerced into taking the fingerprint system. New licences stipulate that a landlord who doesn't install fingerprint security and fails to show a "considerable" reduction in alcohol-related violence, will be put on report by the police and have their licences revoked.
Offenders can be banned from one pub or all of them for a specified time - usually a period of months - by a committee of landlords and police called Pub Watch. Their offences are recorded against their names in the fingerprint system. Bradburn noted the system had a "psychological effect" on offenders.
She said there had been only been two "major" instances of alcohol-related crime reported in Yeovil pubs and clubs since February. One was a sexual assault in a club toilet.
The other occurred last Friday when an under-18 Disco at Dukes nightclub got out of hand after the youngsters had obtained some alcohol from elsewhere. A fight between two youngsters escalated into a brawl involving 435 12-16 year olds
A major incident is when 15 police attend the scene, said Bradburn. She was unable to say how many minor incidents there had been but acknowledged that fights were still occurring in the streets of Yeovil.
The Home Office paid for Yeovil's system in full, with £6,000 of Safer, Stronger Communities funding.
Bradburn said the Home Office had paid her scheme a visit and subsequently decided to fund similar systems in Coventry, Hull and Sheffield.
The Home Office distanced itself from the plans. It said it provided funding to Safer, Stronger Communities through the Department for Communities and Local Government's Local Area Agreements. How they spent the money was a local decision, said a HO spokeswoman.
German States Agree On Phone/Internet Licence Fee
Germany's 16 states agreed on Thursday to introduce from January 1 a licence fee of 5.52 euros (3.70 pounds) a month on computers and mobile phones that can access television and radio programmes via the Internet.
Any household or company that does not already have a licence will have to pay the new levy, which is the same as the one currently charged for radio access, state premiers agreed at a meeting in the town of Bad Pyrmont.
German households pay just over 17 euros a month to watch TV, but since more radio programmes are available over the Internet than TV, state broadcaster ARD wanted the fee for computers and phones to match that of radios.
The plan has attracted sharp criticism from industry groups that argue it would harm German firms, especially small and medium-sized businesses.
Germany's TV licence fee is among the highest in Europe, with only Switzerland and the Nordic countries paying more. It funds four national public broadcasters, several local broadcasters and all the country's public radio stations.
Researchers See Privacy Pitfalls in No-Swipe Credit Cards
They call it the “Johnny Carson attack,” for his comic pose as a psychic divining the contents of an envelope.
Tom Heydt-Benjamin tapped an envelope against a black plastic box connected to his computer. Within moments, the screen showed a garbled string of characters that included this: fu/kevine, along with some numbers.
Mr. Heydt-Benjamin then ripped open the envelope. Inside was a credit card, fresh from the issuing bank. The card bore the name of Kevin E. Fu, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was standing nearby. The card number and expiration date matched those numbers on the screen.
The demonstration revealed potential security and privacy holes in a new generation of credit cards — cards whose data is relayed by radio waves without need of a signature or physical swiping through a machine. Tens of millions of the cards have been issued, and equipment for their use is showing up at a growing number of locations, including CVS pharmacies, McDonald’s restaurants and many movie theaters.
The card companies have implied through their marketing that the data is encrypted to make sure that a digital eavesdropper cannot get any intelligible information. American Express has said its cards incorporate “128-bit encryption,” and J. P. Morgan Chase has said that its cards, which it calls Blink, use “the highest level of encryption allowed by the U.S. government.”
But in tests on 20 cards from Visa, MasterCard and American Express, the researchers here found that the cardholder’s name and other data was being transmitted without encryption and in plain text. They could skim and store the information from a card with a device the size of a couple of paperback books, which they cobbled together from readily available computer and radio components for $150.
They say they could probably make another one even smaller and cheaper: about the size of a pack of gum for less than $50.
And because the cards can be read even through a wallet or an item of clothing, the security of the information, the researchers say, is startlingly weak. “Would you be comfortable wearing your name, your credit card number and your card expiration date on your T-shirt?” Mr. Heydt-Benjamin, a graduate student, asked.
Companies that make and issue the cards argue that what looks shocking in the lab could not lead to widespread abuse in the real world, and that additional data protection and antifraud measures in the payment system protect consumers from end to end.
“This is an interesting technical exercise,” said Brian Triplett, senior vice president for emerging-product development for Visa, “but as a real threat to a consumer — that threat really doesn’t exist.”
The finding comes at a time of strong suspicion among privacy advocates and consumer groups about the security of the underlying technology, called radio frequency identification, or RFID. Though the systems are designed to allow a card to be read only in close proximity, researchers have found that they can extend the distance.
The actual distance is still a matter of debate, but the claims range from several inches to many feet. And even the shortest distance could allow a would-be card skimmer to mill about in a crowded place and pull data from the wallets of passersby, or to collect data from envelopes sitting in mailboxes.
“No one’s going to look at me funny if I walk down the street and put a flier in everybody’s mailbox,” Mr. Heydt-Benjamin said.
The experiment was conducted by researchers here working with RSA Labs, a part of EMC, an information management and storage company. The resulting paper, which has been submitted to a computer security conference, is the first fruit of a new consortium of industry and academic researchers financed by the National Science Foundation to study RFID.
Security experts who were not involved in the research have praised the paper, and said that they were startled by the findings. Aviel D. Rubin, a professor of computer security at Johns Hopkins University, said, “There is a certain amount of privacy that consumers expect, and I believe that credit card companies have crossed the line.”
The companies, however, argue that testing just 20 cards does not provide an accurate picture of the card market, which generally uses higher security standards than the cards that were tested. “It’s a small sample,” said Art Kranzley, an executive with MasterCard. “This is almost akin to somebody standing up in the theater and yelling, ‘Fire!’ because somebody lit a cigarette.”
Chips like those used by the credit card companies can encrypt the data they send, but that can slow down transactions and make building and maintaining the payment networks more expensive. Other systems, including the Speedpass keychain device offered by Exxon Mobil, encrypt the transmission — though Exxon came under fire for using encryption that experts said was weak.
Though information on the cards may be transmitted in plain text, the company representatives argued, the process of making purchases with the cards involves verification procedures based on powerful encryption that make each transaction unique. Most cards, they said, actually transmit a dummy number that does not match the number embossed on the card, and that number can be used only in connection with the verification “token,” or a small bit of code, that is encrypted before being sent.
“It’s basically useless information,” said David Bonalle, vice president and general manager for advanced payments at American Express. “You can’t steal that data and just play it back and expect that transaction to work.”
While the researchers found that these claims were true for some of the cards they tested, other cards gave up the actual credit card number and did not use a token or change data from one transaction to another. They also took data in from some cards and transmitted it to a card-reader in the lab and tricked it into accepting the transaction. Mr. Heydt-Benjamin, in fact, was able to purchase electronic equipment online using a number skimmed from a card he ordered for himself and which was sealed in an envelope.
(None of the cards transmits the additional number on the front or back, known as the card validation code, that some businesses require for online purchases; Mr. Heydt-Benjamin chose a store that does not require the code.)
Mr. Kranzley said the MasterCard-issuing banks decided how much security they wanted to implement, but said that with 10 million of the company’s chip-bearing cards on the market, some 98 percent of them used the highest standards.
“Today, there’s an extremely small percentage of cards that have the characteristics that RSA has looked at in this report,” he said. Visa and American Express representatives said all their cards conformed to the highest security standard.
Beyond the security on the cards themselves, the companies said, they have deployed fraud detection and prevention measures that block suspect purchases. And each company stressed that cardholders were not liable for fraud.
Dr. Fu acknowledged that the research involved a small sample, and added, “We would be happy to examine cards that have better security so that we can verify these claims.” He added, however, that all of the cards they tested were issued this year, and all were felled by at least one of the attacks that they attempted.
Tom O’Donnell, a senior vice president at Chase, the largest issuer of the new cards, said that the attacks described in the paper would be too cumbersome in the real world. And the researchers said that other kinds of fraud, like so-called phishing scams in which criminals trick people into revealing credit card information through misleading e-mail messages and Web sites, were currently more effective.
Still, John Pescatore, vice president for Internet security at Gartner, a technology market research firm, said he was surprised by the lack of security in transmitting personal data. He said it was a mistake that companies often made in rolling out early versions of a technology.
“It’s the classic ‘Let’s depend on security through obscurity — who’s going to look?’ ” he said. “Then, whoops! As soon as somebody does look, you roll out the security.”
All of the card companies said that they were in the process of deleting names from the stream of data transmitted to the card readers. “As a best practice, issuers are not including the cardholder name,” Mr. Triplett of Visa said.
The Starbucks Aesthetic
WHEN Bette Gottfried, a 48-year-old regular at a Starbucks in Ardsley, N.Y., saw that her favorite coffeehouse was promoting a film, she wasn’t immediately interested. “At first I was leery,” said Ms. Gottfried, dressed in workout clothes, wearing her hair in a ponytail and sitting near the window with her daily decaf mocha (“low-fat milk, no foam, no whipped”). “I thought, ‘Who are they to get involved in the movies?’ ”
Ultimately, however, she decided to take her 9-year-old daughter to see the film, “Akeelah and the Bee,” precisely because of the involvement of Starbucks. “I trusted seeing the movie, because it was promoted here,” she said. After all, she liked the company’s coffee; she had already bought and liked several CD’s it produced and sold, compilations of music by Carole King, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. Why wouldn’t she like a Starbucks movie? She did, and now she’s considering picking up its latest cultural sales item: “For One More Day,” a book by Mitch Albom.
But Ms. Gottfried’s question is a valid one. Starbucks is clearly very good at selling coffee, but why should it become involved in the movies — and books and CD’s, for that matter? And why would consumers trust its taste in books and films any more than they’d trust, say, Simon & Schuster’s taste in Ethiopia Gemadro Estate decaf?
Yet the chain is increasingly positioning itself as a purveyor of premium-blend culture. “We’re very excited, because despite how much we’ve grown, these are the early stages for development,” said Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks. “At our core, we’re a coffee company, but the opportunity we have to extend the brand is beyond coffee; it’s entertainment.”
In an early misstep, Starbucks started offering Joe, a literary magazine that appeared in 1999 and lasted all of six months before Mr. Schultz decided, on the basis of slow sales, that the product “didn’t add any value.” But since then Starbucks has successfully promoted a slew of hits, from the Ray Charles CD “Genius Loves Company,” a joint venture with Concord Records that won several Grammy Awards and sold 800,000 copies at Starbucks alone, to a recent CD of Meryl Streep reading “The Velveteen Rabbit.” In some cases, as with the Ray Charles album, Starbucks partners with an existing label; but even when it merely stocks another label’s titles, said Ronn Werre, president of EMI Music Marketing, it is typically responsible for at least 10 percent of overall sales; when it recently started selling the Frank Sinatra classic “In the Wee Small Hours,” sales of that CD went up twentyfold. This month, Starbucks landed a coveted and very prominent retail section on the iTunes home page, one of only two brands to enjoy that privilege.
Mr. Albom’s book, published by Hyperion, marks the next piece of the expanding Starbucks cultural portfolio. The chain’s creative team has already been looking for additional original films to present and is thinking about producing movies down the road. And Mr. Schultz said it was “not out of the question that we would self-publish” new authors. Some of the chain’s projects have been relatively intimate and artsy — for example, two several-day-long salons, one at the Sundance Film Festival, one in New York, where the doors were open to free spoken-word performances, musical collaborations and one-act plays. But the company clearly wants to have a national impact as well.
On Thursday, in hopes of sparking communitywide dialogue about “For One More Day,” 25 Starbucks stores around the country will feature discussion groups. (To ease the flow of conversation, free coffee will be provided.)
Sounding a bit caffeinated himself, Mr. Schultz explained, “With the assets Starbucks has in terms of number of stores, and the trust we have with the brand, and the profile of our customers, we’re in a unique position to partner with creators of unique content to create an entertainment platform and an audience that’s unparalleled.”
The heart of that audience is a group the company refers to as its “core customers” — educated, with an average age of 42 and an average income of $90,000. About 15 years ago, Mr. Schultz said, Starbucks began “to observe the fracturing of the retail music industry and the consumer experience becoming something that our core customers were no longer enjoying.” So they started selling CD’s of the music they’d already been playing in the stores.
It still works. “If I hear a CD they’re playing, I generally like it,” Bette Gottfried, back in the Ardsley store, said. “It’s who I am — baby boomer, upper middle class, a little hippyish, rockish. ...”
As Mr. Schultz sees it, customers get a new cultural experience and Starbucks gets a “halo” — the associations people have with beloved music, with “quality, good will, trust, intelligence.”
To cultivate that halo, he built an entertainment division, with an office in Seattle and another in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Nikkole Denson, 36, who ran the entertainment and film departments of Magic Johnson’s entertainment company, is the chain’s director of business management, in charge of fielding and negotiating film and book selections. (Starbucks works closely with the William Morris Agency as well.) She says “Akeelah and the Bee,” a movie about a young black girl from South Los Angeles with a talent for spelling, is a perfect example of her company’s cultural profile.
“Starbucks is all about community and inspiration, and everything in that movie seemed aligned with that — it has that human connection,” Ms. Denson said. “It doesn’t have to be a family film, but it does have to be socially relevant.” As for the books she’s selecting — they won’t all be by name brands like Mr. Albom — she says she wants books that provide “almost an education without being preachy.” Yes, they should be inspiring, but also, she hopes, challenging: “not racy or dark, but thought-provoking.”
A major player in the company’s music business is Timothy Jones, manager of compilations and music programming. Mr. Jones, 58, ran a small independent record shop in Seattle until 1987, when his business folded and he started managing the Starbucks across the street. Customers there asked if they could buy the mixes of Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis he was playing, and that’s how it all got started. What he looks for now, he says, is “a believable sound that isn’t too harsh.”
Mr. Jones championed Madeleine Peyroux when she was a critically acclaimed singer who had never quite hit it big; since her album “Careless Love” started selling at Starbucks, its sales have CD tripled.
“We do our best with a new artist when there’s sort of an NPR buzz going on around him, the stars-in-the-making,” Mr. Jones said. “Then we take a Decemberists or a Madeleine Peyroux and put it out there in the spotlight of the coffeehouse, and people standing in line say, ‘I’ve heard about this person.’ ”
Balancing out the newer artists are the classics Starbucks sells packaged in coffee hues of sepia: Tony Bennett, Etta James, Marvin Gaye. “It’s like European-style roasted coffee,” Mr. Jones said. “It’s reaching back, it’s timeless.”
THE more cultural products with which Starbucks affiliates itself, the more clearly a Starbucks aesthetic comes into view: the image the chain is trying to cultivate and the way it thinks it’s reflecting its consumer.
There’s the faintest whiff of discriminating good taste around everything Starbucks sells, a range of products designed, on some level, to flatter the buyer’s self-regard. Starbucks stores don’t carry “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Beatles album everyone’s mother could name; they carry “Revolver,” a critical darling without the same overplayed name recognition.
Might DVD sales be the next frontier? And if so, which DVD’s? Ms. Denson wouldn’t say, but it’s an entertaining exercise for a reporter to try to guess: For the holiday season, perhaps a movie like “White Christmas” — it’s retro-chic, it’s got the classy crooner Bing Crosby going for it, yet it’s not quite as overplayed as, say, “Miracle on 34th Street.” Throw in some never-before-seen outtakes, package it in a beautiful silver and black box. ...
“You’re pretty close there,” Ms. Denson said. “Very, very close.” So close, in fact, that later that day she sent over a press release: Starting next month, in conjunction with Turner Classics, the “White Christmas” DVD will be available exclusively at Starbucks, packaged for the first time with a Decca recording of the film’s soundtrack and an informative 12-page booklet that includes a list of other must-see Christmas movies. Inspirational but not hokey, familiar but not ubiquitous, gently educational — it’s tailor- made for the NPR-listening type Mr. Jones imagines as the typical Starbucks consumer.
Mr. Schultz said the company was eager to offer customers products that are “out of the mainstream.” Starbucks itself used to be out of the mainstream, back when it started in Seattle. But that was before it took over the world (well, almost). Championing the little guy — Ms. Peyroux, some new bossa nova artist — can be a relatively easy way to offset the sense of alienation that overreplicated chains inspire.
“It adds to the emotional connection with the customer,” said Mr. Schultz, and keeps the Starbucks experience from feeling, as he put it, “antiseptic.”
Of course, the moment Starbucks chooses to promote an artist — prominent space on the company’s Web page, access to its 5,400 stores throughout the country, possible discussion groups and so on — that artist almost by definition becomes mainstream.
But that may not matter to consumers. “You know, it’s not that different from feeling cool because you’ve got an Apple computer,” said the novelist Jonathan Lethem. Mr. Lethem was one of the well-regarded, not-quite-mainstream artists who were featured at the New York Starbucks salon, which he experienced as a supportive environment for creative work. As for the Starbucks sensibility itself, he said, “It’s the faint affect of a counterculture shackled to the most ordinary, slightly upscale product” — just more of what he describes as the “faux-alternative” aesthetic that’s been around for decades.
These days the so-called long tail model of cultural consumption — the 1.5 million songs on iTunes, the 55,000 films on Netflix — is getting a lot of attention among business theorists, and teenage boys are getting a lot of attention from the entertainment complex. But Starbucks relies on a previous model: a narrow range of blockbuster hits geared toward an older, educated audience.
The book publishing industry could benefit from such a tastemaking force, said Laurence Kirshbaum, founder of the LJK Literary Management agency. “One of the big problems in the book industry is that outside e of Oprah, there’s no really widely accepted authority to recommend books,” Mr. Kirshbaum said.
At the same time, he expressed concern on behalf of the traditional bookstore. “The concern is that, in a business that’s essentially flat, can Starbucks provide additional buyers? Or is it going to be pilfering buyers from existing accounts?”
Thomas Hay, a 48-year-old contractor from Hartsdale, N.Y., said Starbucks helped him by editing down his cultural choices. Looking over the selections the company makes, he said, he has the impression that “some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world.”
Karen Golden, 43, and Kirk Sipe, 53, also customers at that Ardsley Starbucks, said that they were unlikely to buy a CD there — at $15, they could get it cheaper from Amazon — but that the company’s choices solidified their respect for the brand. “They could go with what’s ultramarketable, but good for them for promoting people who don’t get airplay,” said Ms. Golden, a psychotherapist from nearby Dobbs Ferry. Asked to describe the kind of music and movies they expected to find there, they rattled off language that could have come straight from a Starbucks marketing plan: “quality,” “what will endure,” “people who have something to say.”
When Starbucks executives describe the goal of the company’s cultural extensions, they invariably lean on the word discovery. “Customers say one of the reasons they come is because they can discover new things — a new coffee from Rwanda, a new food item. So extending that sense of discovery into entertainment is very natural for us. That’s all part of the Starbucks experience,” said Anne Saunders , senior vice president of global brand strategy and communications.
Even the keyboardist Herbie Hancock, whose recent album “Possibilities” has been a strong seller at Starbucks, buys the idea. “Going to Starbucks,” he said, “you feel kind of hip. I feel kind of hip when I go to Starbucks; that’s how I know!” He said people of every age had told him they weren’t familiar with his work until it appeared there, then he called back to say he’d never gotten better promotion in his life.
Mr. Schultz said one the most valuable assets in the Starbucks culture project was the chain’s wireless Web-access network. “What’s coming is an opportunity to leverage WiFi as a channel,” he said, “and that channel is going to have the ability to expose our customers digitally to unique content.” He added: “It’s not a stretch to think of Starbucks in a new way as a network. A new channel with 12,500 points of distribution,” with every point representing a Starbucks store around the world.
And that channel, no doubt, will be geared toward the European-coffee-drinking, CD-liner-notes-reading, singer-songwriter-loving Starbucks customers, who now not only relax at the same coffee shops but also go home and listen to the same jazz release while possibly reading the same reliably entertaining, even inspirational, book. At the Starbucks in Ardsley, prominently displayed on the wall is a poster of an elephant lumbering comfortably along in the burnt-sienna rays of the sun. Below the image is printed, in typewriterlike letters, a message from Starbucks that the company has made, through its good taste, increasingly tempting: “Move with the herd.”
|26-10-06, 08:48 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Where the Beat Goes On
CBGB may be gone, but the music isn’t.
When the doors closed 12 days ago at that cavelike, flier-encrusted Bowery temple to rock ’n’ roll, which opened in 1973 and served as the launching pad for countless New York bands — from the Ramones and Talking Heads to Sonic Youth and Living Colour — critics were quick to call it the end of an era. Its demise, brought about by a dispute with its landlord over unpaid rent, seemed to fit a sad and familiar pattern: a scrappy but vibrant rock club was yielding to economic pressure in a heated real estate market.
But CB’s is leaving a rock scene that, despite some high-profile departures, is as healthy as it has been in decades, with new clubs dotting the map from Midtown Manhattan to Greenpoint and Park Slope in Brooklyn. For every Bottom Line or Fez or Continental that has shut down or quit live music in the last couple of years, a Rockwood Music Hall, Union Hall or Studio B has opened up — and maybe a Fontana’s or Club Midway as well. And in the next few months, at least five major spaces are set to open, giving the city’s rock infrastructure its most substantial expansion in years.
“Right now there’s a renaissance of venues in New York,” said Adam Shore, the manager of Vice Records in Brooklyn and a veteran club trawler. “This is a great time. It’s going to be pretty cutthroat for promoters, but it’s great for bands and agents and fans.”
The best, if most exhausting, overview of the city’s rock clubs is the CMJ Music Marathon, the annual conference of hungry young bands and credential-toting music industry people that begins on Tuesday and runs through Nov. 4. In addition to daytime panels and workshops, the marathon this year includes some 1,000 bands playing at more than 50 performance spaces. And those are only the official gigs: to maximize exposure and schmoozing opportunities, ambitious bands often book another three or four shows at late-night parties and afternoon barbecues. (They’re not as exclusive as they sound: wait outside a band’s sold-out show and you’re likely to hear where it’s playing next.)
Though the names of a few clubs disappear from the CMJ calendar each year, new ones always pop up, more often than not in a cleverly reconfigured space — a basement, a backroom, a warehouse — that was never intended for live music. Typical of this is Cake Shop, a narrow storefront that opened 18 months ago on Ludlow Street, the center of the Lower East Side bar zone. Upstairs is a quaint counter where cookies, cupcakes and coffee are sold, and in the back is a small record store. But downstairs is a sweaty, noisy boîte, with a full bar and indie-rock shows almost every night of the week.
“Just when you think there’s nowhere else to do anything,” said Matt McDonald, CMJ’s showcase director, who has booked four nights of music at Cake Shop, “there’s some new place on the Lower East Side.”
They’re not all tiny basements, either. Some of the clubs new to CMJ this year include Fontana’s, a surprisingly cavernous room on Eldridge Street that opened last December with a full roster of — what else? — indie rock; Studio B, a disco-ball-and-smoke-machines former Polish nightclub in Greenpoint that opened in July and quickly established itself as one of the city’s premier dance and D.J. spaces; Union Hall, a Park Slope bar with a tweedy library décor and, somewhat incongruously, bocce ball courts upstairs, as well as a comfortable band area in the basement; and Rebel, a new 325-capacity club on West 30th Street in Manhattan with bare stone walls and a powerful sound system that will make it a home for big, bad rock.
Rebel, which opened three weeks ago with a show by the avant-metal band Isis, is also one move in a developing chess game between the city’s two competing club empires: the giant promoter Live Nation and the owners of the Mercury Lounge on Houston Street and the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey.
Two years ago the Mercury-Bowery group created a new company, The Bowery Presents, to present concerts at bigger spaces, including Webster Hall in the East Village, one of the biggest clubs in the city, and established a vertical-integration booking model: bands can be sent up the chain, from the 250-capacity Mercury to the 575-person Bowery to Webster Hall, at 1,400. To match this system and compete for acts, Live Nation — which operates Irving Plaza and Roseland in Manhattan — plans to book shows at Rebel and two other new, smallish clubs.
Besides Rebel, which is at the site formerly occupied by a musky dive called Downtime but greatly enlarged and reconfigured, Live Nation also plans to start presenting concerts in January at the former Gramercy Theater on East 23rd Street, which will hold about 600. It will also have a hand in booking the new Luna Lounge, reopening by the end of the year in Williamsburg at 300 to 350 capacity, more than double its former size on Ludlow Street, where it closed last year.
“We also want to say that we want to develop artists at that size,” said Sam Kinken, who books shows throughout New York for Live Nation.
To develop the Gramercy into a rock hall, Live Nation is removing the seats on the floor, redesigning the downstairs to accommodate three dressing rooms and a large bar area and converting the projection room into a studio for audio and video recording, Mr. Kinken said on a tour of the theater this week.
The Mercury-Bowery organization is also expanding. Its owners have acquired the lease for Northsix, a sizable club in Williamsburg that was a pioneer in the area when it opened in 2001. It will be renovated, with upstairs balconies added, and is to open in the spring as the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
“We want to treat it as a special little gem, as we do the Bowery Ballroom,” said Michael Swier, one of the owners.
Another new Lower East Side club on the horizon is the Box, a 5,000-square-foot room on Christie Street whose owner, Simon Hammerstein — a grandson of Oscar — said he intended to open in the next two months with theater and music performances. Booking agents say it will be a likely competitor to Joe’s Pub, the stylish cabaret at the Public Theater.
There are no reliable statistics about the flux of the quantity of clubs over the years, but in general the ashes-to-ashes principle applies: when one closes, another opens. The biggest growth area is Brooklyn, which had few major clubs before Northsix planted its stake. Since then it has developed into a world that almost rivals Manhattan, with enough spaces — from tiny rooms like Pete’s Candy Store and Barbès to roomier places like Southpaw and Galapagos Art Space — to accommodate a range of acts and audiences.
One promoter, Todd Patrick, a k a Todd P., has built a devoted underground following by mostly avoiding the clubs and putting on must-see shows in galleries, warehouses and vacant lots.
“People always move to New York and say, ‘I wish I had been there for something like CB’s was in 1976, or the Factory in ’66, or whatever,’ ” he said. “I hope that what I do is a part of something like that as well — that the people and the places I work with now make a scene that people will look back on in 20 years and wish they had been part of.”
Location counts. When Rob Sacher, an owner of the Luna Lounge, was considering where to move, he read the surveys his customers had filled out at his old Lower East Side club.
“Seventy percent of them lived in Williamsburg,” he said. “And I just thought, ‘Why am I swimming upstream?’ Seventy percent of the market is already in a neighborhood that I can afford.”
E-Mail Time Capsule
David M. Ewalt
Greetings from your past.
Last year, Forbes.com collected thousands of letters and set out to deliver them up to two decades in the future.
Now, the first batch of more than 140,000 e-mails from the past have been successfully delivered. But we've got 19 years left before we're done.
The project, which we called an "E-mail Time Capsule," was part of our special report on Communicating and was designed as an experiment to allow readers to communicate with their future selves.
Nearly a third (32%) of the messages submitted were scheduled to be delivered in just one year. On Oct. 24, 2006, we opened the time capsule, and over the course of the next month, we will deliver those messages.
But many of our readers hope to communicate with themselves over much longer time frames: 15% chose three years, 18% chose five years, 16% chose ten years and 19% will wait two decades to get their message.
Preserving a physical time capsule is simple: Just shove it in the dirt and forget about it. But the process gets a lot more complicated when you're trying to store something digitally.
Simply scheduling an e-mail for future delivery is pretty easy--it's just a matter of writing it and setting a send date in the future. Some e-mail programs will do it for you, and Web sites like Futureme.org will take over the task as well. But once your message is written and waiting to be sent, all kinds of things can happen to prevent delivery, particularly if you're going to be waiting for decades.
You could protect the data on some physical medium, like a CD or magnetic tape. But we're not just storing messages in a box. Not only are we storing the e-mails, we need a mechanism to actually send them.
So how did we do it? By using the same strategy that helps keep the Internet up and running: redundancy. Obviously, we can't guarantee 100% that our system will work, but the built-in redundancy vastly increases our odds.
Even though Forbes magazine has been around for 90 years, and Forbes.com for a decade, we can't simply assume that the company will be around in another 20 years (although we certainly hope so!)--or even that a database and application will be safe sitting on our servers for that long. But we can be fairly certain that if several different entities are charged with storing and potentially sending our e-mails, at least one of them will come through. So we decided to recruit two very different kinds of partners to help with this effort.
The first, Codefix Consulting, is a small technology consultancy based in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Its president, Garrison Hoffman, wrote the e-mail time capsule application and designed the database that stores the messages, so we know he has the expertise to keep it running. He can also adapt the software to work on any new networks and computers that might come online in the future. By asking him to contribute, we're vesting our hopes in the entrepreneurial model of getting things done--in other words, by making the time capsule one individual's personal project, they'll be less likely to forget about it or abandon it.
For our second partner, we decided to go the opposite route and choose a multibillion-dollar international corporation. The hope here is that a huge business can provide the support and expertise needed to keep our project going, and that it will survive in institutional memory--even if the individual employee in charge of it today drops the ball, someone else will pick it up.
We chose Internet giant Yahoo! as our "big" partner. Yahoo! has the savvy to shepherd our time capsule through whatever technological changes occur over the next 20 years. And its business is large enough and strong enough that we feel it will probably be around for a long time to come.
On Nov. 30, 2005, we sealed the time capsule, and copies of the data are now saved at Yahoo! and at Codefix Consulting.
At the time of the 2006 capsule opening, nearly everyone involved with the project's creation still worked at the same job. Coordinating the one-year deliveries was a relatively simple matter.
But decades from now, that’s unlikely to be the case. So we've designed software to autonomously keep the partners in touch with each other over the Internet. Once a year, a few days before that year's messages are set to go out, the application running on Codefix's servers will send a message to Yahoo!, to say that it's up and running, and that it's ready to send the e-mails. Once Yahoo! gets that message, it will stand down and won't send duplicates.
But if something happens to the Codefix server and that message doesn't get sent, Forbes.com and Yahoo! will know something is wrong. Yahoo! will then take over the year's mailings. All this happens automatically, so--in theory, at least--human intervention isn't needed.
There's still one weak link in the equation: What if you're using a different e-mail address in five, ten or 20 years? Well, if that happens, you're not going to get your message. But we encouraged submitters to use e-mail addresses that they thought they'd keep for a while, and from a provider that isn't likely to disappear, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) or Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ). We believe that enough people are maintaining permanent personal e-mail addresses that many of our long-term messages will get delivered with no problems.
The first year was a cake walk. But will the entrepreneur, the media company and the Internet giant be able to keep the project going? You'll find out ... in 19 years.
Police Blotter: Web Cookies Become Defendant's Alibi
What: A Texas man says the timestamp of cookies on his Web browser proves he was actually online and not where prosecutors claim he was.
When: The Texas Court of Appeals rules on Oct. 12.
Outcome: The appeals court upheld the conviction of Everett Eugene Russell.
What happened, according to court documents:
After a stormy divorce between Erin McRae and Everett Eugene Russell, a judge granted McRae a protective order requiring her ex-husband to stay away from her residence.
McRae moved to her stepfather's home in Shady Shores, Texas. Around 10 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2005, she noticed a white truck parked on the road. She and her friend Heather both claim they then spotted Russell walking down the fence line along the stepfather's house.
The two women called 911. Sgt. David Allen with the Corinth Police Department testified that he showed up at 10:47 a.m. and found nobody matching the ex-husband's description.
Russell's alibi after he was charged consisted of three portions. First, his mother said that he was at home at 9:45 a.m. that day--which, if true, wouldn't have given him enough time to drive some 45 minutes to Shady Shores. Second, his brother said that he spoke to Russell on the house phone between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.
The third component of the alibi is what makes this case relevant to Police blotter. Russell claimed he was surfing the Web that morning, checking on an IRS income tax return and shopping online at Home Depot's and Lowe's Web sites.
He made a disk showing the Web sites that he had visited on Feb. 26, 2005, and the cookies on the disk indicated that he was on the IRS Web site at 10:29 a.m. CST. The disk also indicated that Russell was online from 10:29 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again at 1:04 p.m. (Cookies are, of course, small chunks of data saved in text files that let a Web site recognize you upon future visits.)
But prosecutors argued that the cookie file could have been altered, and a jury agreed. There's no explanation in the opinion as to why Russell's attorney didn't subpoena logs from those Web sites or his Internet service provider that--if available--could have provided a much stronger alibi. It's also unclear if Russell was relying on information in individual cookies, which would be set by each Web site, or the file system's timestamp on the entire file.
On appeal, Russell's attorney argued there was insufficient evidence to establish that his client violated a protective order. The Texas appeals court disagreed, and upheld Russell's original sentence of 365 days of confinement and a $2,000 fine.
Excerpts from the opinion by Justice Sue Walker of the Texas Court of Appeals:
Russell's mother, Charlene, testified in his defense. She explained that she left her house at 9:45 a.m. on the date in question to attend a funeral. She said that when she left, Russell was awake. Charlene testified that Russell planned to get on the Internet to obtain some prices for products from Lowe's and Home Depot for remodeling her bathroom. She testified that Russell was at home when she returned from the funeral at 4 p.m. and that his car was in the same spot as when she had left. Charlene testified that she thought Russell was at home the previous night, but she did not get off work until 11:30 p.m. or 11:45 p.m.
Russell's older brother, Travis Todd Russell, also testified on Russell's behalf. He explained that he had called his mother's house between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2005, and had asked Russell to check on the status of his income tax refund. Russell took the stand and testified that he was at his mother's house at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005. Russell said that his brother Travis called at 10:15 a.m. and that they talked for about 24 minutes.
Russell said he checked on his brother's income tax refund on the IRS Web site that morning and also checked prices on Home Depot's and Lowe's sites. Russell had made a disk showing the Web sites that he had visited on Feb. 26, 2005, and the "cookies" on the disk showed that he was on the IRS site at 10:29 a.m. CST. The disk also shows that Russell was online from 10:29 to 11 a.m., and again at 1:04 p.m. Russell testified that he did not leave his mother's house at all that morning and that he was there when his mother returned from the funeral.
With regard to the house in Shady Shores, Russell testified that he had been there once a few years ago. Russell said that the house was 27.4 miles from his mother's house and that it would have taken him 45 minutes to drive there. Russell denied knowing where McRae lived; he said that he knew only that the house on Pueblo Drive had been foreclosed on, so he knew she was not living at that location. Russell also denied owning or driving a white Suburban.
James Willingham, a felony investigator for the district attorney's office working in computer forensics, testified as a rebuttal witness. He explained that a "cookie," like the ones that Russell had copied to the disk, gets its date and time from the computer and that the computer's date and time are set by the user. Thus, he concluded that the dates and times on the disk purporting to show when Russell allegedly visited the Web sites are "valueless, absent any other context, to say when they were actually done."
We’re Google. So Sue Us.
Google attracts millions of Web users every day. And, increasingly, it’s attracting the attention of plenty of lawyers, too.
As Google has grown into the world’s most popular search engine and, arguably, the most powerful Internet company, it has become entangled in scores of lawsuits touching on a wide range of legal questions, including copyright violation, trademark infringement and its method of ranking Web sites.
Any company that is large and successful is going to attract lawsuits, and Google’s deep pockets make it an especially big target. But as it rushes to create innovative new services, Google sometimes operates in a way that almost seems to invite legal scrutiny.
A group of authors and publishers is challenging the company’s right to scan books that are still under copyright. A small Web site in California is suing Google because it was removed from the company’s search results. And European news agencies have sued over Google’s use of their headlines and photos in Google News.
In these cases and others, potential legal problems seem to give the company little pause before it plunges into new ventures.
“I think Google is wanting to push the boundaries,” said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University.
“The Internet ethos of the 90’s, the expansionist ethos, was, ‘Just do it, make it cool, make it great and we’ll cut the rough edges off later,’ ” Professor Zittrain said. “They’re really trying to preserve a culture that says, ‘Just do it, and consult with the lawyers as you go so you don’t do anything flagrantly ill-advised.’ ”
Now, with its planned $1.65 billion acquisition of the video site YouTube, which contains not just homemade videos but also copyrighted clips that users upload without permission, some observers say Google is exposing itself to a new spate of lawsuits.
Along with YouTube’s 34 million viewers, Google will inherit a lawsuit filed last summer against the company. Robert Tur, who owns a video from the 1992 riots in Los Angeles that shows a trucker being beaten by rioters, is suing YouTube, accusing it of copyright infringement.
“Clearly, we investigated that whole issue,” said David C. Drummond, Google’s general counsel and senior vice president of corporate development. Mr. Drummond pointed to the “safe harbor” provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A number of courts have held that under this provision, Web sites are not liable for copyrighted content posted by users, as long as they promptly remove it when it is pointed out to them.
“We rely on the same safe harbor that YouTube relies on, so we’re fairly familiar with the issues,” Mr. Drummond said. “If you look at it, it’s somewhat illustrative of the kinds of lawsuits we face.”
Google has been known to settle, but for the most part it aggressively fights litigation — so far with a good deal of success.
Over the last few years, the company has spent millions in legal fees and hired a small army of bright young lawyers, many of them technically proficient and experts in the field of intellectual property.
The company’s legal department has grown from one lawyer in 2001 to nearly 100 lawyers now, not just at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., but also overseas. The company has also retained counsel at many outside law firms.
Many of the lawsuits Google is facing carry little weight. Yet it has a vested interest in fighting all of them, even those of questionable merit, and seeing that they are resolved quickly. In part, this is because any lawsuit that reaches the discovery, the pretrial fact-finding phase, poses the danger of revealing too much about Google’s proprietary technology. Google also has an interest in establishing a solid body of legal interpretation in its favor.
Many of the plaintiffs are asking for damages, but money is not always the issue. There are several cases, focusing on questions of intellectual property and trademark protection, that challenge Google’s whole way of doing business. These plaintiffs are suing Google to protect their well-established practices; their interest is not so much in remuneration as it is in getting Google to change its approach.
Peter S. Menell, a professor at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, said that although Google’s well-established core search functions are not at risk, “there are a number of areas now in which new and exciting business models are being threatened.”
Cases addressing trademark protection in Google’s ad system could hurt its bottom line, as the company’s revenue comes mainly from advertising sales, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law in California.
In one of the most important such cases to date, last year a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., dismissed a claim by Geico, the auto insurance company. Geico said that a Google policy of permitting Geico’s competitors to buy advertisements tied to searches for the keywords “Geico” and “Geico Direct” confused Web surfers looking for the company’s site. The two companies settled the case before the judge reached a full decision on the other issues involved.
“This is Google’s cash cow,” Professor Goldman said. “If they can’t sell keywords freely, they’re not worth their market valuation.”
Michael Kwun, a senior litigation counsel at Google, agreed that “the Geico case was very important.” Mr. Kwun said that establishing a body of precedent was a priority for Google, especially as legal interpretations continued to evolve. “If we don’t at least litigate to the point where we get rulings on the issues that matter to us, we’re left with less clarity in the law,” he said.
Yet in the course of a long run of legal triumphs there have been a few bumps, and Google is facing some uncertain outcomes in the coming months.
Copyright challenges are at the center of the uncertainty. In one case that could have large ramifications, Perfect 10, a publisher of pornographic magazines and Web sites, sued Google for using thumbnail-sized reproductions of photos in its image search results, among other things.
Earlier this year, a Federal District Court judge in California said Google had violated copyright because it had undermined Perfect 10’s ability to license those images for sale to mobile phone users, and he issued a preliminary injunction. Google appealed the decision, and oral arguments before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit are scheduled for next month.
Google’s use of snippets of copyrighted works has also raised the ire of news outlets.
Last month, a Belgian court ordered Google to stop publishing headlines from Belgian newspapers without permission or payment of fees. And in a case pending in a Federal District Court in Washington, Agence France-Presse is suing Google, accusing it of violating its copyright by using its headlines, photographs and story fragments in Google News.
Google is arguing that news headlines and short phrases are not copyrightable.
“From our perspective, these are simple issues that were decided a long time ago,” said Alex Macgillivray, 34, whose title at Google is senior product counsel.
The company is making the same argument in cases pending against its book search service. Representatives of publishers and authors are challenging the company’s practice of scanning books that are still under copyright. They argue that because Google must copy an entire book to make it searchable, it is violating the copyright of the author or publisher if it does so without permission.
Google has offered to let publishers opt out of the book search program but has refused to ask permission to make the copies in advance.
Google has been known to settle cases. But in general it mounts a vigorous defense, Mr. Goldman said. “If they get sued, they turn the tables on the plaintiff and file motions to get the upper hand in the case,” he said.
Last spring, KinderStart, a small search engine in Southern California that focuses on information for parents of young children, sued Google after it noticed that its site had been removed from Google’s search results — leading to a loss of traffic and revenue for the company.
Google said in court filings that an area of the site that permitted visitors to add links had been full of pointers to low-quality or pornographic sites, indicating that it was poorly maintained or was an effort to manipulate Google’s search results. KinderStart said the removal was unfair and unjustified and that Google’s guidelines on ways to avoid such punishment were too vague.
A federal judge in San Jose dismissed the first version of the complaint, in essence agreeing with Google that the company is free to shape its search results in any way it chooses. KinderStart has filed a second, amended complaint, which is scheduled to be heard by the same judge on Friday.
“We’re not against innovation at all,” said Gregory J. Yu, a lawyer for KinderStart. “But Google should not dictate what we should or should not see and find on the Web. They can knock off these small Web sites and there’s nothing the small Web sites can do.”
In the KinderStart case, Google was quick to take the offensive. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed last spring, Google responded with a motion that, if granted, would throw out several of KinderStart’s claims and require KinderStart to cover Google’s legal fees. The judge deferred consideration of the motion.
Professor Zittrain of Oxford said Google’s corporate mantra — “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible” — gives some insight into its approach.
“They actually see that as Promethean,” Mr. Zittrain said. “They think of it as bringing fire to humankind. And it may even cause them to be bolder than other companies.”
Google’s legal muscle and shrewdness are not lost on those on the other side of the fights.
“We’ve got a formidable legal team, but obviously it’s nowhere near the unlimited resources of Google,” said David A. Milman, the chief executive of Rescuecom, a nationwide computer repair company that sued Google on trademark infringement grounds similar to Geico’s — and quickly lost. The company said that it would appeal the decision.
“People say you can’t fight the government,” Mr. Milman said. “Google, in this case, is very similar to the government. They’re the government of the Internet.”
Does YouTube Really Have Legal Problems?
How the Bell Lobby Helped Midwife YouTube.
When Google bought YouTube, the conventional wisdom—expressed in op-eds, newspaper articles, and scary editorial cartoons—was that they'd also bought themselves a whole heap of copyright trouble. The New York Times used the phrase "litigation-laden landmine." Part-time copyright theorist Mark Cuban warned that YouTube would face the same copyright fate as Napster.
There's only one problem with these theories: the copyright law itself. Under the copyright code, YouTube is in much better legal shape than anyone seems to want to accept. The site enjoys a strong legal "safe harbor," a law largely respected by the television and film industries for the choices it gives them.
But the most interesting thing is where all this legal armor protecting YouTube—and most of the Web 2.0 (user-generated content) industry—comes from. It's the product of the Bell lobby—Google's bitter opponent in the ongoing Net Neutrality debates. So, while YouTube may be the creative child of Silicon Valley, it is also, as much, the offspring of Bell lobbying power.
Back in the early 1990s, when the "information highway" was the talk of the town, Hollywood and the recording industry worked hard to make Internet companies responsible for any and all copyright infringement that happened via the Internet. Jack Valenti, Hollywood's chief lobbyist, warned that without congressional action, "the information superhighway … will collapse the great wonder of intellectual property." The recording industry, for its part, dispatched Johnny Cash to rhetorically link Internet piracy and, yes, a "ring of fire."
This summer, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, earned the bemused contempt of geeks everywhere when he described the Internet as "a series of tubes." But back in 1995, Hollywood was insisting that the Internet be characterized as "a bookstore." And a bookstore, unlike a series of tubes, breaks the law if it "carries" pirated novels. So too, Hollywood urged, Internet companies should be liable if they carry any illegal materials, whether the companies know it or not.
Had that view prevailed, there would probably be no YouTube today, and also no free blog sites, and maybe not even Google or Web 2.0. What venture capitalist would invest in a company already on the hook for everything its users might do? But, in one of the lesser-known turning points in Internet history, Hollywood never got its law. Its unstoppable lobbyists ran into an unmovable object: the Bell companies, who own those "tubes" over which the Internet runs. In the mid-1990s, fearing a future of liability, the Bells ordered their lobbyists to fight Hollywood's reforms, leading to one of the greatest political struggles in copyright history. (This paper provides a history of this and other struggles.)
Hollywood employs legendary lobbyists, like Jack Valenti, but when they ran into the Bells, it was like Frazier meeting Foreman. The Bells quickly put holds on all the legislation the content industries wanted. Telecom lobbyists like Roy Neel, a close friend of Al Gore (and later Howard Dean's campaign manager), went to Congress and began saying things like, the "copyright law threatens to put a damper on the expression of ideas on the Internet."
Facing stalemate, in 1997 the industries settled on a compromise: something called the Online Copyright Liability Limitation Act, which became Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (§512 of the Copyright Code). It is this law that makes YouTube worth paying more than what you pay for its videos. And its long-term effects have been enormous—you might call §512 the Magna Carta for Web 2.0.
Why? Section 512(c) of the law applies to "Information Residing on Systems or Networks At Direction of Users." In 1998, that meant Geocities and AOL user pages. But in 2006, that means Blogger, Wikipedia, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, and, yes, YouTube—all the companies whose shtick is "user-generated content."
Thanks to the Bells, all these companies are now protected by a "notice and take down" system when they host user content. That means that if Jon Stewart notices an infringing copy of The Daily Show on YouTube, Comedy Central can write a letter to YouTube and demand it be taken down. Then, so long as YouTube acts "expeditiously" and so long as YouTube wasn't already aware that the material was there, YouTube is in the clear. In legal jargon, YouTube is in a "safe harbor." Earlier this week, when YouTube took down 30,000 files after requests from a Japanese authors' group, that was §512(c) in action.
Of course, as with any law, YouTube's legal status might not be 100-percent airtight. The law suggests (in §512(c)(1)(A)(ii)) that YouTube might be liable if, in the absence of notice, it is "aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent." Also, YouTube provides a search, and maybe it could be liable for that. There might be enough to make trouble in the hands of a judge who really hates "that whole Web 2.0 thing."
But we may never find out. What's really interesting is that the content industry actually likes §512 more than anyone will admit. The notice-and-takedown system gives content owners the twin advantages of exposure and control. When stuff is on YouTube, the owners have an option. They can leave it posted there, if they want people to see it, and build buzz. But they can also snap their fingers and bring it all down. And for someone who is juggling her desire for publicity against her need for control, that's ultimately a nice arrangement.
Stated otherwise, much of the copyrighted material on YouTube is in a legal category that is new to our age. It's not "fair use," the famous right to use works despite technical infringement, for reasons of public policy. Instead, it's in the growing category of "tolerated use"—use that is technically illegal, but tolerated by the owner because he wants the publicity. If that sounds as weird as "don't ask, don't tell," you're getting the idea. The industry is deeply conflicted about mild forms of piracy—trapped somewhere between its pathological hatred of "pirates" and its lust for the buzz piracy can build.
But what about Mark Cuban's copyright argument? Why isn't YouTube is trouble in the same way Napster and Grokster were? The first difference, as indicated, is that Napster simply wasn't covered by the §512 safe-harbor law, and YouTube is. Napster wasn't "hosting" information at the direction of its users, but rather providing a tool for users to find and download predominantly infringing content. It may sound odd that Napster gets in more trouble for helping you find illegal stuff than YouTube does for actually hosting it. But that's the law and why YouTube should really, really thank its friends at Bell.
There may also be deeper differences. If the Internet were not a bookstore, or tubes, but rather a red-light district, YouTube would best be imagined as the hotel, and Napster, well, the pimp. YouTube, like a hotel, provides space for people to do things, legal or not. It's not doing anything illegal itself, but its visitors may be. But Napster, everyone more or less now admits, was cast as the pimp: It was mainly a means of getting illegal stuff. Right or wrong, we seem to accept the benign vision of YouTube as an entity which, unlike Napster, was basically born as a place to showcase stupid human tricks.
The upshot is, as YouTube goes mainstream, copyright's etiquette rules are becoming clearer. Yes, these sites can make it easier to infringe copyright. But so long as that's not the principle aim of your company, you have more breathing room today than you once did. And under the emerging regime, if you do cause infringement, you have to be nice about it and make determined efforts to stop it. Apple has learned that dance well, even as its iPods make swapping music all the more part of being American. And YouTube has, in turn, learned from Apple the early lessons of Napster: You can act out in cyberspace. Just don't be a copyright pimp.
The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea
Tom Zeller Jr.
THE tragically backward, sometimes absurdist hallmarks of North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, are well known. There is Mr. Kim’s Elton John eyeglasses and strangely whipped, cotton-candy hairdo. And there is the North Korean “No! Yeeesssss ... No! O.K. Fear the tiger!” school of diplomacy.
A newer, more dangerous sort of North Korean eccentricity registered around 4.0 on the Richter scale earlier this month — a nuclear weapon test that has had the world’s major powers scrambling, right up through last week, to develop a policy script that would account for Mr. Kim’s new toy.
But whatever the threat — and however lush the celebrations broadcast on state-controlled television from the streets of Pyongyang in the days afterward — the stark realities of life in North Korea were perhaps most evident in a simple satellite image over the shoulder of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an Oct. 11 briefing. The image showed the two Koreas — North and South — photographed at night.
The South was illuminated from coast to coast, suggesting that not just lights, but that other, arguably more bedrock utility of the modern age — information — was pulsating through the population.
The North was black.
This is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cellphones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York ranked North Korea No. 1 — over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan — on its list of the “10 Most Censored Countries.”
That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot.
At a time when much of the world takes for granted a fat and growing network of digitized human knowledge, art, history, thought and debate, it is easy to forget just how much is being denied the people who live under the veil of darkness revealed in that satellite photograph.
While other restrictive regimes have sought to find ways to limit the Internet — through filters and blocks and threats — North Korea has chosen to stay wholly off the grid.
Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. “It is by far the worst Internet black hole,” he said.
That is not to say that North Korean officials are not aware of the Internet.
As far back as 2000, at the conclusion of a visit to Pyongyang, Madeleine K. Albright, then secretary of state, bid Mr. Kim to “pick up the telephone any time,” to which the North Korean leader replied, “Please give me your e-mail address.” That signaled to everyone that at least he, if not the average North Korean, was cybersavvy. (It is unclear if Ms. Albright obliged.)
These days, the designated North Korean domain suffix, “.kp” remains dormant, but several “official” North Korean sites can be found delivering sweet nothings about the country and its leader to the global conversation (an example: www.kcckp.net/en/) — although these are typically hosted on servers in China or Japan.
Mr. Kim, embracing the concept of “distance learning,” has established the Kim Il-sung Open University Web site, www.ournation-school.com — aimed at educating the world on North Korea’s philosophy of “juche” or self-reliance. And the official North Korean news agency, at www.kcna.co.jp, provides tea leaves that are required reading for anyone following the great Quixote in the current nuclear crisis.
But to the extent that students and researchers at universities and a few other lucky souls have access to computers, these are linked only to each other — that is, to a nationwide, closely-monitored Intranet — according to the OpenNet Initiative, a human rights project linking researchers from the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Britain.
A handful of elites have access to the wider Web — via a pipeline through China — but this is almost certainly filtered, monitored and logged.
Some small “information technology stores” — crude cybercafes — have also cropped up. But these, too, connect only to the country’s closed network. According to The Daily NK, a pro-democracy news site based in South Korea, computer classes at one such store cost more than six months wages for the average North Korean (snipurl.com/DailyNK). The store, located in Chungjin, North Korea, has its own generator to keep the computers running if the power is cut, The Daily NK site said.
“It’s one thing for authoritarian regimes like China to try to blend the economic catalyst of access to the Internet with controls designed to sand off the rough edges, forcing citizens to make a little extra effort to see or create sensitive content,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford.
The problem is much more vexing for North Korea, Professor Zittrain said, because its “comprehensive official fantasy worldview” must remain inviolate. “In such a situation, any information leakage from the outside world could be devastating,” he said, “and Internet access for the citizenry would have to be so controlled as to be useless. It couldn’t even resemble the Internet as we know it.”
But how long can North Korea’s leadership keep the country in the dark?
Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.
Of course, there are no polls indicating whether the average North Korean would prefer nuclear arms or Internet access (or food, or reliable power), but given Mr. Kim’s interest in weapons, it is a safe bet it would not matter.
“No doubt it’s harder to make nuclear warheads than to set up an Internet network,” Mr. Pain said. “It’s all a question of priority.”
North Korea, Turkmenistan, Eritrea the Worst Violators of Press Freedom
France, the United States and Japan slip further Mauritania and Haiti gain much ground
New countries have moved ahead of some Western democracies in the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index, issued today, while the most repressive countries are still the same ones.
“Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom,” the organisation said, “and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.
"Each year new countries in less-developed parts of the world move up the Index to positions above some European countries or the United States. This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression. Meanwhile the steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The three worst violators of free expression - North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) - have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticise him. Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.
Northern European countries once again come top of the Index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals in Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands, which all share first place.
Deterioration in the United States and Japan, with France also slipping
The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.
Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.
France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists’ homes is very worrying for media organisations and trade unions. Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatisation of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.
Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists phsyically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).
Fallout from the row over the "Mohammed cartoons”
Denmark (19th) dropped from joint first place because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published there in autumn 2005. For the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.
Yemen (149th) slipped four places, mainly because of the arrest of several journalists and closure of newspapers that reprinted the cartoons. Journalists were harassed for the same reason in Algeria (126th), Jordan (109th), Indonesia (103rd) and India (105th).
But except for Yemen and Saudi Arabia (161st), all the Arab peninsula countries considerably improved their rank. Kuwait (73rd) kept its place at the top of the group, just ahead of the United Arab Emirates (77th) and Qatar (80th).
Newcomers to the top ranks
Two countries moved into the Index’s top 20 for the first time. Bolivia (16th) was best-placed among less-developed countries and during the year its journalists enjoyed the same level of freedom as colleagues in Canada or Austria. Bosnia-Herzegovina (19th) continued its gradual rise up the Index since the end of the war in ex-Yugoslavia and is now placed above its European Union member-state neighbours Greece (32nd) and Italy (40th).
Ghana (34th) rose 32 places to become fourth in Africa behind the continent’s three traditional leaders - Benin (23rd), Namibia (26th) and Mauritius (32nd). Economic conditions are still difficult for the Ghanaian media but it is no longer threatened by the authorities.
Panama (39th) is enjoying political peace which has helped the growth of a free and vigorous media and the country moved up 27 places over the year.
War, the destroyer of press freedom
Lebanon has fallen from 56th to 107th place in five years, as the country’s media continues to suffer from the region’s poisonous political atmosphere, with a series of bomb attacks in 2005 and Israeli military attacks this year. The Lebanese media - some of the freest and most experienced in the Arab world - desperately need peace and guarantees of security. The inability of the Palestinian Authority (134th) to maintain stability in its territories and the behaviour of Israel (135th) outside its borders seriously threaten freedom of expression in the Middle East.
Things are much the same in Sri Lanka, which ranked 51st in 2002, when there was peace, but has now sunk to 141st because fighting between government and rebel forces has resumed in earnest. Dozens of Tamil journalists have been physically attacked after being accused by one side or the other of being biased against them.
Press freedom in Nepal (159th) has shifted according to the state of the fighting that has disrupted the country for several years. The “democatic revolution” and the revolt against the monarchy in April this year led immediately to more basic freedoms and the country should gain a lot of ground in next year’s Index.
Welcome changes of regime
Changes of ruler are sometimes good for press freeedom, as in the case of Haiti, which has risen from 125th to 87th place in two years after the flight into exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Several murders of journalists remain unpunished but violence against the media has abated.
Togo (66th) has risen 29 places since the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema in February 2005, the accession to power of his son and internationally-backed efforts to make peace with the opposition.
A coup in Mauritania in August 2005 ended the heavy censorship of the local media and the country has risen to 77th position after being 138th in 2004, one of the biggest improvements in the Index.
Reporters Without Borders compiled the Index by asking the 14 freedom of expression organisations that are its partners worldwide, its network of 130 correspondents, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The Index covers 168 nations. Others were not included for lack of data about them.
On TV as in Hollywood, Little Breathing Room for the Modest Success
Few new television shows had as much going for them this fall as “Smith,” a CBS series about a career thief out for one last big score before he retires.
In most seasons, “Smith” would be considered a hit. Even after drawing mixed reviews from critics, its debut attracted 11 million viewers, and the first three episodes attracted an average audience of more than 9 million.
Then, like a thief in the night, “Smith” suddenly disappeared, pulled from the schedule by CBS after just three weeks — despite the fact that the producers had already shot or were well on their way to completing four more episodes.
The quick cancellation of “Smith” elucidates how television, like the movie industry, has become a business where there is little room for the modest success. Network executives might talk endlessly about how, in an era where the attention of audiences is ever more scattered, new shows need time to find themselves. But those same executives are often quick to pull the plug on an expensive production that does not immediately perform to expectations.
Combined with NBC’s announcement last week of plans to cut back on expensive programming, the experience of “Smith” demonstrates how the recent trend in television — costly serializations with large casts and complex plots — changes the basic rules of engagement for networks. Viewers cannot easily dip in and out of these kinds of shows, as they can with a half-hour situation comedy or game show. So networks have to make decisions on more expensive, more complex series based on very small samples — a few episodes, typically — to predict whether viewers will commit to an entire season, as they have for similar shows like “Lost” or “24.”
The calculation is perilous as well for the television studios, like Warner Brothers, which is experiencing a tough season. In addition to canceling “Smith,” CBS pulled out of another planned Warner Brothers series, “Waterfront.” Several other Warner series are also on the ropes, including “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” which is broadcast on NBC; “The Nine” on ABC and “The Class” on CBS.
Among the new fall shows, “Smith” had one of the best pedigrees. The series starred two accomplished actors, Ray Liotta, an Emmy winner, and Virginia Madsen, an Oscar nominee, as the thief and his unsuspecting wife. The show was the product of John Wells, one of the most prolific and successful television producers of current times, who had a hand in the building of the hit shows “ER,” “Third Watch” and, along with Aaron Sorkin, “The West Wing.”
The first episode of “Smith” cost $7 million, roughly double the usual cost of a television premiere. CBS executives were so enthusiastic about the results that they agreed to let the first episode run nearly a third longer than most hour-long dramas; to accommodate the extra length, they recruited a single sponsor — the Warner Brothers film “The Departed” — and ran the show with limited commercials.
Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment, said that “Smith” was not the victim of networks looking for quicker results. At a panel discussion here last week that featured the heads of all the major television networks, she said that at CBS the emphasis is on giving new shows the time and attention they need.
“One of the things we do very well is continue to work and develop a show well into its first year and second year,” Ms. Tassler said. She cited the network’s experience with “Criminal Minds,” which grew from a modest opening last year to last week attracting more viewers than ABC’s “Lost.”
When asked in an interview how those comments meshed with the network’s quick retreat on “Smith,” Ms. Tassler said the problems came from the show’s confusing story line. In addition, she said, “Smith” was keeping a shrinking portion of the audience of the two hit shows that preceded it on Tuesday nights, “The Unit” and “NCIS.”
“When you launch a new show, you certainly want it to retain a certain percentage of its lead-in,” she said. “You also want it to build in the second half hour, and we really weren’t doing that with ‘Smith.’ ”
In its first week, 11 million, or 93 percent, of the 11.8 million viewers of “The Unit” stuck around for the first episode of “Smith.” In the second week, that percentage fell to 81 percent, then plummeted to 63 percent in the third week.
Not only was “Smith” keeping less of its lead-in audience, but a shrinking portion of the previous week’s viewers returned each week to see the next installment of “Smith.” And the number of viewers also fell consistently from the first half hour to the second.
Still, those results were not so different from the experience of several other new shows this fall — most of which are still on the air. “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” has seen its ratings and viewers fall each week, from 13.4 million viewers for its first episode to 8.6 million for its fourth. “Vanished,” on Fox, “Kidnapped,” on NBC, “Brothers & Sisters,” on ABC, and “Jericho,” on CBS have all seen their audiences fall from week to week. But they are still on the air.
The problem with “Smith,” Ms. Tassler said, is that CBS executives did not believe it was going to get any better.
“We have a unique vantage point at the network,” she said. “I’ve seen cuts and read scripts for the next four to five episodes, so I could see where we’re headed creatively. And we weren’t 100 percent happy with what we were looking at.”
Specifically, she said, the show’s scripts were becoming harder to follow. “You have to have clarity in the story-telling,” she said. “Confusion kills. I think it was particularly challenged in that area.”
Neither Mr. Wells nor executives at Warner Brothers Television would agree to be interviewed for this story.
Despite cutting the series from its schedule after three weeks, CBS had a commitment to buy several more episodes, which Warner Brothers had spent handily to produce — well over $2.5 million a show, according to people close to the production.
Unlike most television series, which are filmed on studio lots in Los Angeles to help contain costs, “Smith” shot large segments of its debut episode on location — in Hawaii and Pittsburgh, for example — and made ample use of collisions, explosions and other special effects. “It was a gorgeous show,” Ms. Tassler said. “It looked beautiful. But an audience sits at home and they don’t watch a show influenced by how much it costs. It’s not a factor in why they become a fan of the show.”
Ms. Tassler said CBS was planning to put the already filmed episodes of “Smith” on its Internet site for viewing and to post synopses of the plans for the full season of shows.
From a financial standpoint, however, it might be hard to argue with CBS’s decision to can “Smith.” The week after the show was cancelled, the “CSI” re-run that replaced it drew more than 10 million viewers, 20 percent more viewers than the last episode of “Smith” and a far higher percentage of the lead-in audience from “The Unit.”
But with an average of nine million fans having tuned in, inevitably there were many disappointed viewers who went looking for the fourth episode of “Smith,” only to find yet another episode of “CSI.” Some of them took to Internet bulletin boards to express their outrage, like a viewer named Matthew on the Web site www.TVSeriesFinale.com.
“I just want to say how much of a relief it was to sit down and watch a show like ‘Smith’ without having to hear any medical mumble jumbo,” he wrote.
A New System Is Now a Waiting Game
I never thought Ludacris would get in the way of my video game habit.
But there I was Thursday evening on the second floor of the warehouse Sony rented here to show off its soon-to-be-released PlayStation 3 game console, checking out the acrobatic skateboard moves in Tony Hawk’s Project 8, when the floor started shaking.
It was only then that I looked up and realized that the dozen other PS3 stations around the room had been shut down. Almost all of the journalists Sony had invited to test drive the new machine, and almost all of the Sony employees there to handle them, had decamped downstairs to watch Ludacris, in full blinged-out mode, perform a few yards away from the sushi bar.
I like Dirty South hip-hop, and I really like Ludacris. But the emotions that surged through me in that instant were not excitement and anticipation. Rather, they were anger and frustration: anger that I had to put down the controller and frustration that I had to go see Ludacris rather than keep playing.
That’s the kind of effect the PlayStation 3 can have on a person.
The PS3 will not be available to North American consumers until Nov. 17, but last week’s brief demonstration made clear that Sony has produced a powerful entertainment machine. As Japan’s digital champion, Sony has created an elegant paragon of domestic technology that seems set to hold its own against Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Wii console due next month from Nintendo.
It’s about time. The PS3 was originally scheduled to be released in the spring, but problems with Sony’s fancy new Blu-Ray disc system forced a delay. The machine was also originally supposed to be released in the world’s major markets at the same time, but the production problems have forced Sony to delay the European launch until next year.
And then there’s the fact that it will be all but impossible for normal, everyday consumers to actually find a PlayStation 3 for sale this holiday season. Sony will be able to deliver only 400,000 copies of the machine to North America at first, and those will almost certainly sell out within hours, even though the top version of the PS3 will cost a mighty $600 before you even buy any games. (There are going to be a lot of angst-ridden parents and frustrated kids out there this year.)
But for all of those caveats, just a few hours actually playing the thing last week made clear that for most gamers the wait will be worth it.
Start with the basics. Nongamers often think that video games are experienced mostly through the eyes and ears, but any player will tell you that the real interfaces for a video game are the hands.
So when you first pick it up, the PS3 controller feels exactly like the classic PlayStation 2 controller that has become familiar to millions of people around the world. That’s a good thing. Of course, the first big difference is that there aren’t any wires connecting the controller to the slick black base station. (In this next generation of game systems, wireless controllers have become de rigeur.)
The second thing one notices is what Sony is calling the controller’s Sixaxis feature: you can simply tilt, turn and twist the entire controller left and right, up and down, without pushing any buttons, to produce action on the screen. So in a game like Ubisoft’s Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII, I could fly my Spitfire fighter over the Dunkirk evacuation in a dogfight against the Nazis in an entirely intuitive fashion as if I were holding an actual airplane control stick. Likewise, I can easily direct my dragon in the game Lair in swooping turns and dives.
In fairness, it has to be pointed out that Sony’s tilt-and-turn feature does not seem quite as robust or quite as integral to the system as the similar (but more powerful) functionality in Nintendo’s Wii. If it works as promised, the Nintendo system will let a player use the two hands separately, so one hand could hold a virtual sword and the other a virtual shield, for example, while the Sony system forces the user to hold the controller with two hands together. And it looks as if it will take some time before game developers learn to use the Sixaxis technology as more than a glorified gimmick in anything outside of flying games. But that said, the technology does seem to work properly and is one clear advantage the PlayStation 3 has over the Xbox 360, which does not include anything like it.
But what about the PS3’s graphics? They are simply gorgeous. Whether it was the almost photo-realistic rain spray coming off Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari in Formula 1, the ferocious aliens (or are they mutants?) in Resistance: Fall of Man, or the mist-shrouded links in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, at times I found myself almost mesmerized, just wanting to watch the screen rather than actually play the games. At some level it seems a shame that many of the people who get a PlayStation 3 will not have the high-definition television required to get the most out of the system.
Are the PlayStation 3 graphics leaps and bounds beyond those delivered by the Xbox 360? No, or more accurately, not yet. Out of the gate, the PS3 graphics and the Xbox 360 graphics will be almost indistinguishable. But I did come away with an impression that a year or two from now, once developers figure out how to harness more of the PS3’s prodigious silicon horsepower, the Sony machine may be able to deliver a level of overall graphical immersion beyond what is possible on the Microsoft unit.
All in all, Sony can consider its presentation on Thursday a success. The PS3 unquestionably delivers a next-generation digital entertainment experience. It is impossible to make any sweeping judgments based on only a few hours of play time (especially about the system’s online component). In just a few weeks players in North America and Japan will have the opportunity to truly put the machine through its paces. But for now it looks as if the PlayStation 3 just might live up to Sony’s hype.
Maybe even Ludacris will get one.
Columnist Settles Education Dept. Case
Columnist Armstrong Williams has reached a settlement with prosecutors regarding payments he received by the Education Department to promote President Bush's agenda.
Under the settlement, Williams admits no wrongdoing but will have to pay $34,000 that prosecutors determined he had been overpaid. The deal was reached last week by Williams, the Education Department and its subcontractor, Ketchum Communications.
"The department is happy to see this matter come to a close," Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said Sunday. "One of the first steps Secretary Spellings took when she came to office is to establish guidelines to prevent future occurrences of this type of situation."
A message left at Williams' office was not immediately returned Sunday.
The settlement brings to a close a yearlong investigation into the case after reports emerged that the Education Department contracted with several radio, television and print commentators to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.
Lawmakers criticized the contracts as an improper use of taxpayer dollars. Congressional auditors concluded the department engaged in illegal "covert propaganda" by hiring Williams without requiring him to disclose he was paid.
In the settlement, the Justice Department examined whether Williams actually performed the work that was promised in his $240,000 contract signed in late 2003 and cited in his monthly reports to the Education Department.
Ultimately, prosecutors determined he was overpaid $34,000. Their review did not examine whether he improperly promoted the Bush administration's agenda.
The settlement had been reported by The Washington Times and by USA Today on its Web site.
Flat Panels Drive Old TVs From Market
The lone conventional television set at Anderson's TV store sat along a side wall like a castoff. Its screen was dark as dozens of other gleaming flat-panel and big-screen models flashed nearby with vivid color images.
The staff at the Redwood City store hadn't even bothered to turn on the cathode-ray tube TV until a reporter asked to see it on a recent afternoon.
The obvious neglect reflected the wallflower status of today's CRT TVs, as well as the mature technology's doomed future. Experts say the old-fashioned boob tube that catered to generations of Americans will soon be all but extinct.
"It's already dead, but it doesn't know it yet," said Jon Paul Belstler, an audio/video consultant at Anderson's. "It's just trying to hang on."
Across stores and in homes, sleek LCD and plasma televisions are taking over.
In North America, sales of the bulky traditional TVs are in steep decline.
By next year, the tube TV will cede its crown of dominance to LCD sets for the first time, according to the market research firm iSuppli Corp. Sales of CRTs will fall from an estimated 14.4 million units this year to 10.4 million in 2007, while sales of LCD TVs are predicted to rise from 10.9 million units to 17.8 million.
By 2010, iSuppli predicts CRTs will account for only 2.1 million of the 44 million televisions sold.
The decline comes despite the venerable CRT's bargain prices: $223, on average, compared with $1,007 for LCD or $2,335 for plasma, according to research firm DisplaySearch.
But consumers are increasingly enamored with the thin designs and stunningly sharp pictures available with newer sets.
And high-end, large-sized CRT TVs are already running close in price to similarly sized LCDs. The solitary tube TV at Anderson's was a 34-inch Sony WEGA HDTV model going for $999. At Amazon.com, you could find special deals for a 32-inch LCD HDTV for the same price.
"CRTs are just losing their buzz when you have competing TVs that have technology that's similar to the CRT for almost the same price," iSuppli analyst Riddhi Patel said.
LCD prices have fallen precipitously - about 30 percent annually since 2003, according to DisplaySearch - narrowing the price gap to CRT TVs. David Barnes, an analyst at DisplaySearch, expects a consumer will be able to find a 32-inch LCD TV for $500 by Christmas 2007.
"Sure you could buy a CRT at that point, but why?" Barnes said.
Besides, Americans love big TVs if they can handle it in budget and space.
The main draw of flat-panel displays is that they can be the size of an oven door or bigger without hogging the depth of, well, an oven. Even models in the 60-inch range are only a few inches thick and can be mounted like paintings.
By contrast, the largest CRTs left on the market are 36-inch models that rival washing machines in heft. Anything bigger proved too bulky for consumers' tastes, said Ali Atash, a senior marketing manager at Samsung Electronics Co., which introduced a short-lived 40-inch tube TV years ago.
Samsung has since developed slimmer CRT TVs, trying to capitalize on the lingering albeit dwindling demand for conventional sets. With the company's "SlimFit" technology, a 20-inch TV that previously stretched back 24 inches is now only 13 inches deep.
Retailers expect little to no demand for CRTs by 2009, partly because of a government-imposed deadline requiring television broadcasts nationwide to switch to all-digital by February of that year.
Industry observers predict many consumers will have purchased a digital TV by then.
Digital CRT sets sold today are capable of handling high-definition TV, and video experts say CRT technology still represents the gold standard in picture quality with the deepest blacks and best color accuracy.
But the performance of LCD and plasma displays have improved dramatically in just the past two years, making the differences in picture quality insignificant to all but discerning videophiles.
Major TV makers like Sony Corp. and LG Electronics Co. have been steadily reducing their CRT shipments to focus on what will soon be the larger flat-panel TV market.
LG, in fact, had followed Samsung in creating slimmer versions of CRTs two years ago but is no longer pushing the technology. Only two CRT models remain in LG's lineup of 50 televisions this year, spokesman John Taylor said.
"We saw the writing on the wall years ago, and flat panels have taken off much faster than a lot of people have expected," Taylor said.
At a Video Only store in San Francisco, only about three in 20 TVs currently sold are CRTs, store manager William Arias said.
Unlike Anderson's, which now devotes most of its showroom to the CRT's modern-day counterparts, Video Only still keeps about two dozen conventional sets on display.
"There are people who aren't ready to spend $1,000 on a TV yet," Arias said. "And lots of people still have big built-in TV cabinets. We tell them, that since saving space isn't an issue, they could still go with a CRT."
Circuit City Stores Inc., the nation's second-largest electronics retailer, plans to have very few CRT models in its stores by the end of 2007.
No. 1 electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc. hasn't declared a blackout on CRTs but is steadily devoting less retail space because more consumers are looking for flat panels.
"The CRT has served us well for many many years - since the early 1930s into the golden age of television and the advent of color in the 60s," said LG's Taylor. "The longevity of that technology is probably second to none in our industry, but time marches on, and flat panels have really captured the enthusiasm of the American public."
Headgear Shows Images in 360-Degree View
It's about as glamorous as wearing an old-style TV set on your head, but the dome- shaped headgear from Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp. isn't meant to be fashionable. It's designed to show images in a 360-degree view - synched with the motion of the wearer's head to deliver the illusion of being someplace else: a cityscape at night, for example, or outer space.
The still experimental 6- pound bubble-headed helmet has infrared sensors on top that detect which way the wearer's head is moving. A projector in the back of the helmet displays corresponding images on a 16-inch screen right before the user's eyes.
Although the headgear looks bulky, it's actually smaller than older versions of the same technology, Toshiba spokeswoman Kaori Hiraki said.
But Toshiba has no plans yet to turn the helmet into a commercial virtual-reality product. Eventually, Toshiba believes, it will come in handy for computer games or enhancing the impact of movies.
Cisco Launches 'Telepresence' Tool
Video conferencing has long been plagued by the detached feel of talking to a television set, often with awkward audio delays and jerky video. But Cisco Systems Inc. on Monday launched a tool for orchestrating corporate meetings between far-flung parties that it claims will deliver a vastly more intimate experience.
The San Jose-based networking gear maker is releasing Cisco TelePresence, the company's first foray into the fledgling "telepresence" market.
The term is industry jargon for attempting to simulate real-time interactions between people in different locations using high-definition monitors, highly sensitive audio equipment and integrated networking gear.
The technology aims to be so realistic as to make conference-call participants believe the person talking on the monitor is actually in the same room.
Several companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co., already offer telepresence products. The market is projected to grow to $300 million by 2008, according to technology research firm Gartner Inc.
Cisco, which makes the routers and switches used to link networks, is banking that large corporate clients will flock to the technology and propel it into a billion-dollar business.
One of Cisco's newest products is a high-end room that can accommodate up to 12 people around the virtual table and comes with three 65-inch plasma displays, three high-definition cameras, and the table and lighting. Price: $299,000.
The other is a single-screen version that costs $79,000 and can accommodate four people.
Both products are designed to run across a company's existing network, said Marthin De Beer, vice president of Cisco's Emerging Markets Technology Group.
Corporate clients must have robust bandwidth; the high-end room uses about 10 megabits of bandwidth per second.
De Beer said the technology marks a dramatic improvement in reliability, ease of use and overall realism over video conferencing products and solves a lingering business dilemma.
"This has been an elusive dream for many years," he said. "With all the technologies of the past, people were never comfortable to use it for real business, to close that deal or sign that contract."
David Willis, chief of research for Gartner, said the steep price and network requirements make Cisco's products irrelevant for all but the largest of customers. But he was impressed with the technology.
"It's an amazing illusion," he said. "It really pulls off the experience of a real meeting. And I hate video conferencing ... But this is like David Copperfield. This is like magic."
Cisco said the systems are already available and should begin shipping to customers in about four weeks.
Spam Overwhelms Coffee Shop Wi-Fi
The Green Bean has been roasted by a rogue spammer who shut down the popular coffee shop's wireless Internet connection until early next week.
Somebody sabotaged the Green Bean's network connection Monday by sending out millions of unwanted e-mail messages, or spam, from the caf?.
"It seems like there's always someone willing to mess things up for other people," said Green Bean owner Pete Schroth.
The South Elm Street shop caters not just to people who like to sip a cup of Joe, but also to people who access the Web through the shop's wireless, or Wi-Fi, network.
It costs a dollar a day, and some customers use the Green Bean as their Internet connection rather than having service through a home computer.
Wi-Fi enables computer users to tap the Internet without wires. Data is sent via short-range radio signals, using a single router for numerous laptop connections. There are a fair number of wireless "hot spots" such as the Green Bean in the Triad.
Schroth said the agency that monitors the Internet for spam violations temporarily closed off the Green Bean's wireless access early this week after the spammer's mass mailing. The mailings included a variety of junk e-mails, such as advertisements for Viagra. Many people consider such messages annoying, and they clog Internet pathways, making them less efficient.
Schroth said it is virtually impossible to track down who did it because Wi-Fi users are anonymous, identified on computer networks only by the wireless locations from which they tap into the Web.
The Green Bean's wireless outage is shared by four or five other Wi-Fi locations in the Greensboro area, but Schroth said he does not know what those other businesses are or why they also were shut down.
His coffee shop should be able to reactivate wireless service Monday or Tuesday after he has developed a system to help prevent a recurrence of the mass spamming, Schroth said.
He is thinking about requiring laptop users to get a daily password to tap the Green Bean's wireless network so customers could be identified if necessary.
He also is considering a cap on the number of addresses to which Wi-Fi users can e-mail a single message, Schroth said.
Schroth said he does not think the spammer was targeting the Green Bean, just stirring up random mischief.
But it's mischief, he said, that has needlessly inconvenienced a lot of people.
Free Downloads Shoot 'Weird Al'-bum Into Sales Stratosphere
Revenge of the "Nerdy" for spoof artist Yankovic
Now this is weird. "Weird Al" Yankovic's new album, "Straight Outta Lynwood," has scored the enduring song parodist his biggest chart successes in a career that spans nearly three decades.
"Lynwood," Yankovic's 12th album, debuted this month at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, his first top 10 album ever. Meanwhile, the Chamillionaire parody "White and Nerdy," reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, besting his previous high of No. 12 with "Eat It" in 1984.
"I literally danced a little jig (when I found out)," Yankovic says. "It's just a number, but I've been obsessing over it for a long part of my career. Even with, you know, millions of records sold, I've never been in the top 10, and it's always been a goal of mine."
More distinctions: "Nerdy" made the biggest second-week jump of the year on the October 21 Hot 100, rising 28-9. And there may be more to come: "Canadian Idiot," a parody of Green Day's "American Idiot," debuted at No. 82 on the Hot 100 the same week.
So what's going on here? It could be the widespread appeal of comedy or that Yankovic's legacy and fame have expanded throughout his career (his first single, "My Bologna," was released in 1979). It could even be providential numerology associated with this being his 27th year of recording (Yankovic has a running joke with the number 27; witness the license plate on the cover of "Lynwood").
For his part, Yankovic tends to credit the Internet. "The ("Nerdy") video has gotten a lot of attention, and the proliferation of places like YouTube (has) been a big help," he says. Yankovic also has accumulated 155,000 MySpace friends since he joined the site in July -- all of which he says he personally added. "I used to be a little pickier. Now I just kind of click as fast as I can."
Once "Nerdy" hit outlets like YouTube, there was no stopping it. "We knew with 'Nerdy' that he'd hit on something incredibly relevant to different generations," Dan Mackta, senior director of marketing for Zomba Label Group, says. "Kids were discovering him like a new artist."
Plus, with the advent of download services, Mackta says, suddenly Yankovic can be a singles artist again, and indeed, "Nerdy" has been safely tucked into iTunes' top five for the past few weeks.
"I'd kind of written off the chance of ever having another hit single, since record labels weren't really releasing commercial ones," Yankovic says. "As much as people are griping about the Internet taking sales away from artists, it's been a huge promotional tool for me."
"Lynwood" has also benefited from positive reviews and glowing responses from his targets -- even though Yankovic had to pull the song he originally slated for the first single, the James Blunt riff "You're Pitiful," after issues arose with Atlantic. (Yankovic released the track for free on his Web site.)
Chamillionaire, whose song "Ridin' " is spoofed as "Nerdy," even posted Yankovic's track on his own MySpace site.
"It seems like he's come full circle," Mackta says. "A lot of the artists he's parodied have come and gone, but Al is kind of a pop culture icon at this point."
Yankovic takes such props in stride. "It's a little dreamlike," he says. "I can't believe I'm getting this at this point in my life."
Runaways Drummer Sandy West Dies at 47
Sandy West, whose ferocious drumming fueled the influential all-female `70s rock band the Runaways, which she co-founded with Joan Jett, has died of lung cancer. She was 47.
West died Saturday night at a hospice in San Dimas, east of Los Angeles, her manager Mara Fox said. She was diagnosed a year ago.
West was only 16 when she started the Runaways in 1975 with Jett, a singer and guitarist.
Along with band members Lita Ford and Cherie Currie, they had such hits as "Cherry Bomb" and "Born to Be Bad."
"We shared the dream of girls playing rock and roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer," Jett said in a statement. "I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world."
Born in 1959 and raised in Huntington Beach, West was a bona fide California girl, splitting her time between surfing and skiing, Currie said.
After West's grandfather bought her a drum kit, she channeled her athleticism into music.
The Runaways headlined shows with such performers as Cheap Trick and
Tom Petty as opening acts.
Following the band's breakup in 1979, West continued to perform as a singer, guitarist and drummer with the Sandy West Band. She also released a solo CD.
"Sandy West loved her fans, her friends and family almost to a fault," Currie said in a statement. "It will never be the same for me again to step on a stage, because Sandy West was the best and I will miss her forever."
West completed her memoirs before she died, and Fox said she hoped to get the book published.
West is survived by her mother, Jeri Williams, stepfather Dick Williams, and six sisters.
A public memorial in Southern California for friends and family is pending, Fox said.
White, Nerdy, and Here to Stay
IT IS TIME to congratulate the man who once rewrote Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" as "Chicken Pot Pie." (McCartney, a vegetarian, denied him permission to record the song, on the grounds that it promoted the slaughter of animals.) "Weird Al" Yankovic, satirical pop-goblin and parody merchant, has not simply endured but triumphed: His new album, "Straight Outta Lynwood" (Volcano), shot into the Billboard Top 10 upon its release last month--his highest chart placing since he opened his one-man spoof-factory in the early '80s.
Back then, it was the platinum gods of pop on whom he was practicing his trade. Michael Jackson's "Bad," in Al's hands, became "Fat": "The pavement cracks when I fall down/ I've got more chins than Chinatown." Madonna's "Like a Virgin" emerged as "Like a Surgeon," the stone-faced luxury rock of Robert Plant's "Addicted to Love" as "Addicted to Spuds," and so on. The satire was fairly toothless (perhaps if Jacko had been overweight) but that wasn't the point: The point was to perturb the inhuman gloss of these artists with his homemade brand of wriggling idiocy.
Eighties pop had a merciless, airtight quality to it--the music seemed to have sealed itself off from outside influences or the possibility of change--and Al, in his wacky way, was an antidote. He also proved himself equal to the MTV age, taking to the new medium of video with great flair: in the case of "Fat," he made (with Jacko's blessing) a video on the set of the original "Bad" video. It won a Grammy.
Al's comedy is of a familiar kind--the kind in which it is taken as axiomatic that certain words connected to the human body (e.g. hernia, pancreas) and certain types of food (especially Italian food: bologna, lasagna) are always, always funny. Beyond that, there is also the perennial pleasure of deliberately mishearing something ("deck the halls with Buddy Holly," etc.): It seems to massage some rogue node of gibberish in the cerebral cortex. My father still fondly retails an episode from his school days, when subversive choristers delighted themselves by singing the phrase "deeply wailing"--from Charles Wesley's hymn "Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending"--as "deep-sea whaling."
Al's songbook is a litany of these genial distortions. He comes out of the tradition of mildly absurdist Jewish-American musical comedy that produced Allan Sherman and Tom Lehrer and, in an efflorescence of '70s freak-power, Shel Silverstein. Like Silverstein, Al was a regular on the weekly syndicated radio shows of Los Angeles DJ Barret Eugene Hansen, a.k.a. Dr. Demento. It was Demento who gave Al his first exposure, back in the days when he was accompanying himself on the accordion, by airing numbers like the Queen takeoff "Another One Rides the Bus."
His career hit the skids briefly with the 1986 album "Polka Party!" (not actually an all-polka record, although the cover shot of Al grinning in lederhosen may have frightened a few people off), but since his rebound two years later with "Even Worse" he has shown remarkable staying power--becoming, in effect, the music industry's satirist laureate. It is considered a sanctification of sorts to have one's material burlesqued by Al: Kurt Cobain was said to have been particularly gratified when the Yankovic version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" ("Smells Like Nirvana") was released in 1992.
The question remains, though: Why is Al at the peak of his popularity in 2006? Why now? Mainstream pop is considerably more various and multi-hued than it was in his '80s heyday, and his targets--one would imagine--harder to locate.
But Al's aim is true: His new hit single "White and Nerdy" is a bull's-eye strike on Chamillionaire's rap anthem "Ridin'," turning the original's refrain of "tryin' to catch me ridin' dirty" into "I'm just too white and nerdy," and its ghetto prowess into the pale lament of a suburban hip-hop fan. "I wanna roll with the gangstas/ But oh well it's obvious I'm white and nerdy." The infatuation of whites with images of black outlawry has long been hip-hop's cash cow--why shouldn't it be Al's too? (And his fake rapping isn't bad either.)
"I'll Sue Ya," meanwhile, translates the indignant hyperbolics of activist punk-funkers Rage Against the Machine into a fit of consumer pique: "I sued Taco Bell, cuz I ate too many chalupas/ And I got fat!" Then there is the maniacal facility of "Polkarama," the album's by-now-traditional polka medley, in which the lyrics of various hits are spliced into a stream of accordion-aerated high velocity nonsense.
Novelty artists--and he is one--have a notoriously short lifespan. They age badly, they run out of gags. But Al, by simply refusing to stop, has turned himself into a sort of cultural Geiger counter, ticking and squawking around the hot zones. The oddity of a humorist titling himself like a pro wrestler (there's no "Funny Jerry" Seinfeld) has long since worn off--he's the champ, and he's earned it.
How Dare You Make My Content More Valuable!
Perhaps it's not that surprising, but it's a bit upsetting to still see so many people having difficulty with the idea that having others increase the value of your content is a good thing. There are the obvious cases, such as the entertainment industry lawsuits against sites and services that help promote their content. Or, publishers and authors suing Google over their book scanning project that basically will create a tremendous card catalog for books that is already helping to drive more sales. Earlier this year, in looking at some of these cases, it seemed that the only way to make sense of them was to chalk it up to jealousy. These other services were generally making some money themselves, but they were doing so by making others' content more valuable. That should be a win-win for everyone. After all, they weren't charging the original content owner to make his or her content more valuable, but just doing so on their own -- and therefore there should be nothing at all wrong with them monetizing that value for themselves. The payout to the content owner is increased anyway.
However, something started to become clear last week, when we wrote about the similar misunderstanding from News.com editor Charles Cooper, in that he claimed that Google was making money and giving nothing back. Specifically, Cooper was upset about the lack of a monetary payout, even though the content he produced is available for anyone to read free online. The problem was that Cooper had difficulty realizing that Google was paying. It was paying by driving additional traffic to News.com (and plenty of other sites) by providing a service that people enjoy using to find news. This weekend, a very similar situation played itself out. Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs Inc., which is now owned by AOL, threatened to sue any RSS aggregator that placed ads next to any Weblogs Inc. RSS feed, and reiterated his claim that their full content (with ads, mind you) RSS feeds are for "individual and non-commercial use only." Almost two years ago, we had a discussion about how exactly this issue concerning RSS feeds was destined to be a messy situation.
How do you define individual and non-commercial use in this context? As we wrote at the time, if an investor reads something and makes a trade on it, is that non-commercial use, or does the trader owe Calacanis or AOL some money? What if someone views the feed in their Gmail account that has ads down the side? Is that a violation? How about the old Opera browser that had ads showing across the top? Someone in the comments to Calacanis' post notes that he paid for his RSS aggregator software and now uses it to read Weblogs Inc. feeds. Does Calacanis deserve some of the money that was used to pay for the aggregator? With Techdirt's InfoAdvisor product, we build information portfolios for customers that include (among other things) RSS feeds that they should read, where we manage the feeds (setting it up so when they login they see what they're subscribed to without having to bother figuring out how to subscribe and how to unsubscribe from stuff). Companies pay us for this. If we recommend a Weblogs Inc. feed, is that against their terms? Just to be safe, I've instructed our analyst staff to no longer include any Weblogs Inc. feeds for our customers. This is a shame, because sites like Engadget provide excellent content. Instead, we'll need to replace them with other gadget blogs to remain on the safe side.
Again, it's a situation where it appears that one side is oblivious to the value provided by the other. Calacanis complains in the comments to his post that it's a case of "let us make money off your backs and do nothing for you in return." Except, that's not true at all. We provide value by helping get people at various companies reading the content on his blogs. Newsgator and any other RSS aggregator does a ton in return for Weblogs Inc., in getting a lot more people regularly reading their content, pointing to it, commenting on it, writing about it on their own blogs and much, much more. In all of these cases, from Cooper to Calacanis to book publishers to the entertainment industry, they ignore the value these services provide back to them in increasing their traffic, giving them lots more attention and generally helping them get more viewers/buyers/customers... and they're doing it all for free. As with Cooper, where I suggested Google send him a bill, Newsgator should consider sending Calacanis a bill for all those years of freely delivering Weblogs' Inc. content to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of readers who probably wouldn't bother to visit his sites otherwise.
The Hitmaker Presents
The Hitmaker's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Hitmaker has remixed what is considered the greatest album in all of rock music history, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
We'll be releasing the songs online, for listening only, one at a time. So, for your listening pleasure, The Hitmaker presents the first single, Getting Better, from his remix masterpiece, The Hitmaker's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
What if you built a machine to predict hit movies?
One sunny afternoon not long ago, Dick Copaken sat in a booth at Daniel, one of those hushed, exclusive restaurants on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where the waiters glide spectrally from table to table. He was wearing a starched button-down shirt and a blue blazer. Every strand of his thinning hair was in place, and he spoke calmly and slowly, his large pink Charlie Brown head bobbing along evenly as he did. Copaken spent many years as a partner at the white-shoe Washington, D.C., firm Covington & Burling, and he has a lawyer’s gravitas. One of his best friends calls him, admiringly, “relentless.” He likes to tell stories. Yet he is not, strictly, a storyteller, because storytellers are people who know when to leave things out, and Copaken never leaves anything out: each detail is adduced, considered, and laid on the table—and then adjusted and readjusted so that the corners of the new fact are flush with the corners of the fact that preceded it. This is especially true when Copaken is talking about things that he really cares about, such as questions of international law or his grandchildren or, most of all, the movies.
Dick Copaken loves the movies. His friend Richard Light, a statistician at Harvard, remembers summer vacations on Cape Cod with the Copakens, when Copaken would take his children and the Light children to the movies every day. “Fourteen nights out of fourteen,” Light said. “Dick would say at seven o’clock, ‘Hey, who’s up for the movies?’ And, all by himself, he would take the six kids to the movies. The kids had the time of their lives. And Dick would come back and give, with a completely straight face, a rigorous analysis of how each movie was put together, and the direction and the special effects and the animation.” This is a man who has seen two or three movies a week for the past fifty years, who has filed hundreds of plots and characters and scenes away in his mind, and at Daniel he was talking about a movie that touched him as much as any he’d ever seen.
“Nobody’s heard of it,” he said, and he clearly regarded this fact as a minor tragedy. “It’s called ‘Dear Frankie.’ I watched it on a Virgin Atlantic flight because it was the only movie they had that I hadn’t already seen. I had very low expectations. But I was blown away.” He began, in his lawyer-like manner, to lay out the plot. It takes place in Scotland. A woman has fled an abusive relationship with her infant son and is living in a port town. The boy, now nine, is deaf, and misses the father he has never known. His mother has told him that his father is a sailor on a ship that rarely comes to shore, and has suggested that he write his father letters. These she intercepts, and replies to, writing as if she were the father. One day, the boy finds out that what he thinks is his father’s ship is coming to shore. The mother has to find a man to stand in for the father. She does. The two fall in love. Unexpectedly, the real father reëmerges. He’s dying, and demands to see his son. The mother panics. Then the little boy reveals his secret: he knew about his mother’s ruse all along.
“I was in tears over this movie,” Copaken said. “You know, sometimes when you see a movie in the air you’re in such an out-of-body mood that things get exaggerated. So when I got home I sat down and saw it another time. I was bawling again, even though I knew what was coming.” Copaken shook his head, and then looked away. His cheeks were flushed. His voice was suddenly thick. There he was, a buttoned-down corporate lawyer, in a hushed restaurant where there is practically a sign on the wall forbidding displays of human emotion—and he was crying, a third time. “That absolutely hits me,” he said, his face still turned away. “He knew all along what the mother was doing.” He stopped to collect himself. “I can’t even retell the damn story without getting emotional.”
He tried to explain why he was crying. There was the little boy, first of all. He was just about the same age as Copaken’s grandson Jacob. So maybe that was part of it. Perhaps, as well, he was reacting to the idea of an absent parent. His own parents, Albert and Silvia, ran a modest community-law practice in Kansas City, and would shut down their office whenever Copaken or his brother had any kind of school activity or performance. In the Copaken world, it was an iron law that parents had to be present. He told a story about representing the Marshall Islands in negotiations with the U.S. government during the Cold War. A missile-testing range on the island was considered to be strategically critical. The case was enormously complex—involving something like fifty federal agencies and five countries—and, just as the negotiations were scheduled to begin, Copaken learned of a conflict: his eldest daughter was performing the lead role in a sixth-grade production of “The Wiz.” “I made an instant decision,” Copaken said. He told the President of the Marshall Islands that his daughter had to come first. Half an hour passed. “I get a frantic call from the State Department, very high levels: ‘Dick, I got a call from the President of the Marshall Islands. What’s going on?’ I told him. He said, ‘Dick, are you putting in jeopardy the national security of the United States for a sixth-grade production?’ ” In the end, the negotiations were suspended while Copaken flew home from Hawaii. “The point is,” Copaken said, “that absence at crucial moments has been a worry to me, and maybe this movie just grabbed at that issue.”
He stopped, seemingly dissatisfied. Was that really why he’d cried? Hollywood is awash in stories of bad fathers and abandoned children, and Copaken doesn’t cry in fancy restaurants every time he thinks of one of them. When he tried to remember the last time he cried at the movies, he was stumped. So he must have been responding to something else, too—some detail, some unconscious emotional trigger in the combination of the mother and the boy and the Scottish seaside town and the ship and the hired surrogate and the dying father. To say that he cried at “Dear Frankie” because of that lonely fatherless boy was as inadequate as saying that people cried at the death of Princess Diana because she was a beautiful princess. Surely it mattered as well that she was killed in the company of her lover, a man distrusted by the Royal Family. Wasn’t this “Romeo and Juliet”? And surely it mattered that she died in a tunnel, and that the tunnel was in Paris, and that she was chased by motorbikes, and that she was blond and her lover was dark—because each one of those additional narrative details has complicated emotional associations, and it is the subtle combination of all these associations that makes us laugh or choke up when we remember a certain movie, every single time, even when we’re sitting in a fancy restaurant.
Of course, the optimal combination of all those elements is a mystery. That’s why it’s so hard to make a really memorable movie, and why we reward so richly the few people who can. But suppose you really, really loved the movies, and suppose you were a relentless type, and suppose you used all of the skills you’d learned during the course of your career at the highest rungs of the law to put together an international team of story experts. Do you think you could figure it out?
The most famous dictum about Hollywood belongs to the screenwriter William Goldman. “Nobody knows anything,” Goldman wrote in “Adventures in the Screen Trade” a couple of decades ago. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess.” One of the highest-grossing movies in history, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” was offered to every studio in Hollywood, Goldman writes, and every one of them turned it down except Paramount: “Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars? . . . Because nobody, nobody—not now, not ever—knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”
What Goldman was saying was a version of something that has long been argued about art: that there is no way of getting beyond one’s own impressions to arrive at some larger, objective truth. There are no rules to art, only the infinite variety of subjective experience. “Beauty is no quality in things themselves,” the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. “It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” Hume might as well have said that nobody knows anything.
But Hume had a Scottish counterpart, Lord Kames, and Lord Kames was equally convinced that traits like beauty, sublimity, and grandeur were indeed reducible to a rational system of rules and precepts. He devised principles of congruity, propriety, and perspicuity: an elevated subject, for instance, must be expressed in elevated language; sound and signification should be in concordance; a woman was most attractive when in distress; depicted misfortunes must never occur by chance. He genuinely thought that the superiority of Virgil’s hexameters to Horace’s could be demonstrated with Euclidean precision, and for every Hume, it seems, there has always been a Kames—someone arguing that if nobody knows anything it is only because nobody’s looking hard enough.
In a small New York loft, just below Union Square, for example, there is a tech startup called Platinum Blue that consults for companies in the music business. Record executives have tended to be Humean: though they can tell you how they feel when they listen to a song, they don’t believe anyone can know with confidence whether a song is going to be a hit, and, historically, fewer than twenty per cent of the songs picked as hits by music executives have fulfilled those expectations. Platinum Blue thinks it can do better. It has a proprietary computer program that uses “spectral deconvolution software” to measure the mathematical relationships among all of a song’s structural components: melody, harmony, beat, tempo, rhythm, octave, pitch, chord progression, cadence, sonic brilliance, frequency, and so on. On the basis of that analysis, the firm believes it can predict whether a song is likely to become a hit with eighty-per-cent accuracy. Platinum Blue is staunchly Kamesian, and, if you have a field dominated by those who say there are no rules, it is almost inevitable that someone will come along and say that there are. The head of Platinum Blue is a man named Mike McCready, and the service he is providing for the music business is an exact model of what Dick Copaken would like to do for the movie business.
McCready is in his thirties, baldish and laconic, with rectangular hipster glasses. His offices are in a large, open room, with a row of windows looking east, across the rooftops of downtown Manhattan. In the middle of the room is a conference table, and one morning recently McCready sat down and opened his laptop to demonstrate the Platinum Blue technology. On his screen was a cluster of thousands of white dots, resembling a cloud. This was a “map” of the songs his group had run through its software: each dot represented a single song, and each song was positioned in the cloud according to its particular mathematical signature. “You could have one piano sonata by Beethoven at this end and another one here,” McCready said, pointing at the opposite end, “as long as they have completely different chord progressions and completely different melodic structures.”
McCready then hit a button on his computer, which had the effect of eliminating all the songs that had not made the Billboard Top 30 in the past five years. The screen went from an undifferentiated cloud to sixty discrete clusters. This is what the universe of hit songs from the past five years looks like structurally; hits come out of a small, predictable, and highly conserved set of mathematical patterns. “We take a new CD far in advance of its release date,” McCready said. “We analyze all twelve tracks. Then we overlay them on top of the already existing hit clusters, and what we can tell a record company is which of those songs conform to the mathematical pattern of past hits. Now, that doesn’t mean that they will be hits. But what we are saying is that, almost certainly, songs that fall outside these clusters will not be hits—regardless of how much they sound and feel like hit songs, and regardless of how positive your call-out research or focus-group research is.” Four years ago, when McCready was working with a similar version of the program at a firm in Barcelona, he ran thirty just-released albums, chosen at random, through his system. One stood out. The computer said that nine of the fourteen songs on the album had clear hit potential—which was unheard of. Nobody in his group knew much about the artist or had even listened to the record before, but the numbers said the album was going to be big, and McCready and his crew were of the belief that numbers do not lie. “Right around that time, a local newspaper came by and asked us what we were doing,” McCready said. “We explained the hit-prediction thing, and that we were really turned on to a record by this artist called Norah Jones.” The record was “Come Away with Me.” It went on to sell twenty million copies and win eight Grammy awards.
The strength of McCready’s analysis is its precision. This past spring, for instance, he analyzed “Crazy,” by Gnarls Barkley. The computer calculated, first of all, the song’s Hit Grade—that is, how close it was to the center of any of those sixty hit clusters. Its Hit Grade was 755, on a scale where anything above 700 is exceptional. The computer also found that “Crazy” belonged to the same hit cluster as Dido’s “Thank You,” James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” and Ashanti’s “Baby,” as well as older hits like “Let Me Be There,” by Olivia Newton-John, and “One Sweet Day,” by Mariah Carey, so that listeners who liked any of those songs would probably like “Crazy,” too. Finally, the computer gave “Crazy” a Periodicity Grade—which refers to the fact that, at any given time, only twelve to fifteen hit clusters are “active,” because from month to month the particular mathematical patterns that excite music listeners will shift around. “Crazy” ’s periodicity score was 658—which suggested a very good fit with current tastes. The data said, in other words, that “Crazy” was almost certainly going to be huge—and, sure enough, it was.
If “Crazy” hadn’t scored so high, though, the Platinum Blue people would have given the song’s producers broad suggestions for fixing it. McCready said, “We can tell a producer, ‘These are the elements that seem to be pushing your song into the hit cluster. These are the variables that are pulling your song away from the hit cluster. The problem seems to be in your bass line.’ And the producer will make a bunch of mixes, where they do something different with the bass lines—increase the decibel level, or muddy it up. Then they come back to us. And we say, ‘Whatever you were doing with mix No. 3, do a little bit more of that and you’ll be back inside the hit cluster.’ ”
McCready stressed that his system didn’t take the art out of hit-making. Someone still had to figure out what to do with mix No. 3, and it was entirely possible that whatever needed to be done to put the song in the hit cluster wouldn’t work, because it would make the song sound wrong—and in order to be a hit a song had to sound right. Still, for the first time you wouldn’t be guessing about what needed to be done. You would know. And what you needed to know in order to fix the song was much simpler than anyone would have thought. McCready didn’t care about who the artist was, or the cleverness of the lyrics. He didn’t even have a way of feeding lyrics into his computer. He cared only about a song’s underlying mathematical structure. “If you go back to the popular melodies written by Beethoven and Mozart three hundred years ago,” he went on, “they conform to the same mathematical patterns that we are looking at today. What sounded like a beautiful melody to them sounds like a beautiful melody to us. What has changed is simply that we have come up with new styles and new instruments. Our brains are wired in a way—we assume—that keeps us coming back, again and again, to the same answers, the same pleasure centers.” He had sales data and Top 30 lists and deconvolution software, and it seemed to him that if you put them together you had an objective way of measuring something like beauty. “We think we’ve figured out how the brain works regarding musical taste,” McCready said.
It requires a very particular kind of person, of course, to see the world as a code waiting to be broken. Hume once called Kames “the most arrogant man in the world,” and to take this side of the argument you have to be. Kames was also a brilliant lawyer, and no doubt that matters as well, because to be a good lawyer is to be invested with a reverence for rules. (Hume defied his family’s efforts to make him a lawyer.) And to think like Kames you probably have to be an outsider. Kames was born Henry Home, to a farming family, and grew up in the sparsely populated cropping-and-fishing county of Berwickshire; he became Lord Kames late in life, after he was elevated to the bench. (Hume was born and reared in Edinburgh.) His early published work was about law and its history, but he soon wandered into morality, religion, anthropology, soil chemistry, plant nutrition, and the physical sciences, and once asked his friend Benjamin Franklin to explain the movement of smoke in chimneys. Those who believe in the power of broad patterns and rules, rather than the authority of individuals or institutions, are not intimidated by the boundaries and hierarchies of knowledge. They don’t defer to the superior expertise of insiders; they set up shop in a small loft somewhere downtown and take on the whole music industry at once. The difference between Hume and Kames is, finally, a difference in kind, not degree. You’re either a Kamesian or you’re not. And if you were to create an archetypal Kamesian—to combine lawyerliness, outsiderness, and supreme self-confidence in one dapper, Charlie Brown-headed combination? You’d end up with Dick Copaken.
“I remember when I was a sophomore in high school and I went into the bathroom once to wash my hands,” Copaken said. “I noticed the bubbles on the sink, and it fascinated me the way these bubbles would form and move around and float and reform, and I sat there totally transfixed. My father called me, and I didn’t hear him. Finally, he comes in. ‘Son. What the . . . are you all right?’ I said, ‘Bubbles, Dad, look what they do.’ He said, ‘Son, if you’re going to waste your time, waste it on something that may have some future consequence.’ Well, I kind of rose to the challenge. That summer, I bicycled a couple of miles to a library in Kansas City and I spent every day reading every book and article I could find on bubbles.”
Bubbles looked completely random, but young Copaken wasn’t convinced. He built a bubble-making device involving an aerator from a fish tank, and at school he pleaded with the math department to teach him the quadratic equations he needed to show why the bubbles formed the way they did. Then he devised an experiment, and ended up with a bronze medal at the International Science Fair. His interest in bubbles was genuine, but the truth is that almost anything could have caught Copaken’s eye: pop songs, movies, the movement of chimney smoke. What drew him was not so much solving this particular problem as the general principle that problems were solvable—that he, little Dick Copaken from Kansas City, could climb on his bicycle and ride to the library and figure out something that his father thought wasn’t worth figuring out.
Copaken has written a memoir of his experience defending the tiny Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques against the U.S. Navy, which had been using their beaches for target practice. It is a riveting story. Copaken takes on the vast Navy bureaucracy, armed only with arcane provisions of environmental law. He investigates the nesting grounds of the endangered hawksbill turtle, and the mating habits of a tiny yet extremely loud tree frog known as the coqui, and at one point he transports four frozen whale heads from the Bahamas to Harvard Medical School. Copaken wins. The Navy loses.
The memoir reads like a David-and-Goliath story. It isn’t. David changed the rules on Goliath. He brought a slingshot to a sword fight. People like Copaken, though, don’t change the rules; they believe in rules. Copaken would have agreed to sword-on-sword combat. But then he would have asked the referee for a stay, deposed Goliath and his team at great length, and papered him with brief after brief until he conceded that his weapon did not qualify as a sword under §48(B)(6)(e) of the Samaria Convention of 321 B.C. (The Philistines would have settled.) And whereas David knew that he couldn’t win a conventional fight with Goliath, the conviction that sustained Copaken’s long battle with the Navy was, to the contrary, that so long as the battle remained conventional—so long as it followed the familiar pathways of the law and of due process—he really could win. Dick Copaken didn’t think he was an underdog at all. If you believe in rules, Goliath is just another Philistine, and the Navy is just another plaintiff. As for the ineffable mystery of the Hollywood blockbuster? Well, Mr. Goldman, you may not know anything. But I do.
Dick Copaken has a friend named Nick Meaney. They met on a case years ago. Meaney has thick dark hair. He is younger and much taller than Copaken, and seems to regard his friend with affectionate amusement. Meaney’s background is in risk management, and for years he’d been wanting to bring the principles of that world to the movie business. In 2003, Meaney and Copaken were driving through the English countryside to Durham when Meaney told Copaken about a friend of his from college. The friend and his business partner were students of popular narrative: the sort who write essays for obscure journals serving the small band of people who think deeply about, say, the evolution of the pilot episode in transnational TV crime dramas. And, for some time, they had been developing a system for evaluating the commercial potential of stories. The two men, Meaney told Copaken, had broken down the elements of screenplay narrative into multiple categories, and then drawn on their encyclopedic knowledge of television and film to assign scripts a score in each of those categories—creating a giant screenplay report card. The system was extraordinarily elaborate. It was under constant refinement. It was also top secret. Henceforth, Copaken and Meaney would refer to the two men publicly only as “Mr. Pink” and “Mr. Brown,” an homage to “Reservoir Dogs.”
“The guy had a big wall, and he started putting up little Post-its covering everything you can think of,” Copaken said. It was unclear whether he was talking about Mr. Pink or Mr. Brown or possibly some Obi-Wan Kenobi figure from whom Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown first learned their trade. “You know, the star wears a blue shirt. The star doesn’t zip up his pants. Whatever. So he put all these factors up and began moving them around as the scripts were either successful or unsuccessful, and he began grouping them and eventually this evolved to a kind of ad-hoc analytical system. He had no theory as to what would work, he just wanted to know what did work.”
Copaken and Meaney also shared a fascination with a powerful kind of computerized learning system called an artificial neural network. Neural networks are used for data mining—to look for patterns in very large amounts of data. In recent years, they have become a critical tool in many industries, and what Copaken and Meaney realized, when they thought about Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown, was that it might now be possible to bring neural networks to Hollywood. They could treat screenplays as mathematical propositions, using Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown’s categories and scores as the motion-picture equivalents of melody, harmony, beat, tempo, rhythm, octave, pitch, chord progression, cadence, sonic brilliance, and frequency.
Copaken and Meaney brought in a former colleague of Meaney’s named Sean Verity, and the three of them signed up Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown. They called their company Epagogix—a reference to Aristotle’s discussion of epagogic, or inductive, learning—and they started with a “training set” of screenplays that Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown had graded. Copaken and Meaney won’t disclose how many scripts were in the training set. But let’s say it was two hundred. Those scores—along with the U.S. box-office receipts for each of the films made from those screenplays—were fed into a neural network built by a computer scientist of Meaney’s acquaintance. “I can’t tell you his name,” Meaney said, “but he’s English to his bootstraps.” Mr. Bootstraps then went to work, trying to use Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown’s scoring data to predict the box-office receipts of every movie in the training set. He started with the first film and had the neural network make a guess: maybe it said that the hero’s moral crisis in act one, which rated a 7 on the 10-point moral-crisis scale, was worth $7 million, and having a gorgeous red-headed eighteen-year-old female lead whose characterization came in at 6.5 was worth $3 million and a 9-point bonding moment between the male lead and a four-year-old boy in act three was worth $2 million, and so on, putting a dollar figure on every grade on Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown’s report card until the system came up with a prediction. Then it compared its guess with how that movie actually did. Was it close? Of course not. The neural network then went back and tried again. If it had guessed $20 million and the movie actually made $110 million, it would reweight the movie’s Pink/Brown scores and run the numbers a second time. And then it would take the formula that worked best on Movie One and apply it to Movie Two, and tweak that until it had a formula that worked on Movies One and Two, and take that formula to Movie Three, and then to four and five, and on through all two hundred movies, whereupon it would go back through all the movies again, through hundreds of thousands of iterations, until it had worked out a formula that did the best possible job of predicting the financial success of every one of the movies in its database.
That formula, the theory goes, can then be applied to new scripts. If you were developing a $75-million buddy picture for Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell, Epagogix says, it can tell you, based on past experience, what that script’s particular combination of narrative elements can be expected to make at the box office. If the formula says it’s a $50-million script, you pull the plug. “We shoot turkeys,” Meaney said. He had seen Mr. Bootstraps and the neural network in action: “It can sometimes go on for hours. If you look at the computer, you see lots of flashing numbers in a gigantic grid. It’s like ‘The Matrix.’ There are a lot of computations. The guy is there, the whole time, looking at it. It eventually stops flashing, and it tells us what it thinks the American box-office will be. A number comes out.”
The way the neural network thinks is not that different from the way a Hollywood executive thinks: if you pitch a movie to a studio, the executive uses an ad-hoc algorithm—perfected through years of trial and error—to put a value on all the components in the story. Neural networks, though, can handle problems that have a great many variables, and they never play favorites—which means (at least in theory) that as long as you can give the neural network the same range of information that a human decision-maker has, it ought to come out ahead. That’s what the University of Arizona computer scientist Hsinchun Chen demonstrated ten years ago, when he built a neural network to predict winners at the dog track. Chen used the ten variables that greyhound experts told him they used in making their bets—like fastest time and winning percentage and results for the past seven races—and trained his system with the results of two hundred races. Then he went to the greyhound track in Tucson and challenged three dog-racing handicappers to a contest. Everyone picked winners in a hundred races, at a modest two dollars a bet. The experts lost $71.40, $61.20, and $70.20, respectively. Chen won $124.80. It wasn’t close, and one of the main reasons was the special interest the neural network showed in something called “race grade”: greyhounds are moved up and down through a number of divisions, according to their ability, and dogs have a big edge when they’ve just been bumped down a level and a big handicap when they’ve just been bumped up. “The experts know race grade exists, but they don’t weight it sufficiently,” Chen said. “They are all looking at win percentage, place percentage, or thinking about the dogs’ times.”
Copaken and Meaney figured that Hollywood’s experts also had biases and skipped over things that really mattered. If a neural network won at the track, why not Hollywood? “One of the most powerful aspects of what we do is the ruthless objectivity of our system,” Copaken said. “It doesn’t care about maintaining relationships with stars or agents or getting invited to someone’s party. It doesn’t care about climbing the corporate ladder. It has one master and one master only: how do you get to bigger box-office? Nobody else in Hollywood is like that.”
In the summer of 2003, Copaken approached Josh Berger, a senior executive at Warner Bros. in Europe. Meaney was opposed to the idea: in his mind, it was too early. “I just screamed at Dick,” he said. But Copaken was adamant. He had Mr. Bootstraps, Mr. Pink, and Mr. Brown run sixteen television pilots through the neural network, and try to predict the size of each show’s eventual audience. “I told Josh, ‘Stick this in a drawer, and I’ll come back at the end of the season and we can check to see how we did,’ ” Copaken said. In January of 2004, Copaken tabulated the results. In six cases, Epagogix guessed the number of American homes that would tune in to a show to within .06 per cent. In thirteen of the sixteen cases, its predictions were within two per cent. Berger was floored. “It was incredible,” he recalls. “It was like someone saying to you, ‘We’re going to show you how to count cards in Vegas.’ It had that sort of quality.”
Copaken then approached another Hollywood studio. He was given nine unreleased movies to analyze. Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Bootstraps worked only from the script—without reference to the stars or the director or the marketing budget or the producer. On three of the films—two of which were low-budget—the Epagogix estimates were way off. On the remaining six—including two of the studio’s biggest-budget productions—they correctly identified whether the film would make or lose money. On one film, the studio thought it had a picture that would make a good deal more than $100 million. Epagogix said $49 million. The movie made less than $40 million. On another, a big-budget picture, the team’s estimate came within $1.2 million of the final gross. On a number of films, they were surprisingly close. “They were basically within a few million,” a senior executive at the studio said. “It was shocking. It was kind of weird.” Had the studio used Epagogix on those nine scripts before filming started, it could have saved tens of millions of dollars. “I was impressed by a couple of things,” another executive at the same studio said. “I was impressed by the things they thought mattered to a movie. They weren’t the things that we typically give credit to. They cared about the venue, and whether it was a love story, and very specific things about the plot that they were convinced determined the outcome more than anything else. It felt very objective. And they could care less about whether the lead was Tom Cruise or Tom Jones.”
The Epagogix team knocked on other doors that weren’t quite so welcoming. This was the problem with being a Kamesian. Your belief in a rule-bound universe was what gave you, an outsider, a claim to real expertise. But you were still an outsider. You were still Dick Copaken, the blue-blazered corporate lawyer who majored in bubbles as a little boy in Kansas City, and a couple of guys from the risk-management business, and three men called Pink, Brown, and Bootstraps—and none of you had ever made a movie in your life. And what were you saying? That stars didn’t matter, that the director didn’t matter, and that all that mattered was story—and, by the way, that you understood story the way the people on the inside, people who had spent a lifetime in the motion-picture business, didn’t. “They called, and they said they had a way of predicting box-office success or failure, which is everyone’s fantasy,” one former studio chief recalled. “I said to them, ‘I hope you’re right.’ ” The executive seemed to think of the Epagogix team as a small band of Martians who had somehow slipped their U.F.O. past security. “In reality, there are so many circumstances that can affect a movie’s success,” the executive went on. “Maybe the actor or actress has an external problem. Or this great actor, for whatever reason, just fails. You have to fire a director. Or September 11th or some other thing happens. There are many people who have come forward saying they have a way of predicting box-office success, but so far nobody has been able to do it. I think we know something. We just don’t know enough. I still believe in something called that magical thing—talent, the unexpected. The movie god has to shine on you.” You were either a Kamesian or you weren’t, and this person wasn’t: “My first reaction to those guys? Bullshit.”
A few months ago, Dick Copaken agreed to lift the cloud of unknowing surrounding Epagogix, at least in part. He laid down three conditions: the meeting was to be in London, Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown would continue to be known only as Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown, and no mention was to be made of the team’s current projects. After much discussion, an agreement was reached. Epagogix would analyze the 2005 movie “The Interpreter,” which was directed by Sydney Pollack and starred Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. “The Interpreter” had a complicated history, having gone through countless revisions, and there was a feeling that it could have done much better at the box office. If ever there was an ideal case study for the alleged wizardry of Epagogix, this was it.
The first draft of the movie was written by Charles Randolph, a philosophy professor turned screenwriter. It opened in the fictional African country of Matobo. Two men in a Land Rover pull up to a soccer stadium. A group of children lead them to a room inside the building. On the ground is a row of corpses.
Cut to the United Nations, where we meet Silvia Broome, a young woman who works as an interpreter. She goes to the U.N. Security Service and relates a terrifying story. The previous night, while working late in the interpreter’s booth, she overheard two people plotting the assassination of Matobo’s murderous dictator, Edmund Zuwanie, who is coming to New York to address the General Assembly. She says that the plotters saw her, and that her life may be in danger. The officer assigned to her case, Tobin Keller, is skeptical, particularly when he learns that she, too, is from Matobo, and that her parents were killed in the country’s civil war. But after Broome suffers a series of threatening incidents Keller starts to believe her. His job is to protect Zuwanie, but he now feels moved to act as Broome’s bodyguard as well. A quiet, slightly ambiguous romantic attraction begins to develop between them. Zuwanie’s visit draws closer. Broome’s job is to be his interpreter. On the day of the speech, Broome ends up in the greenroom with Zuwanie. Keller suddenly realizes the truth: that she has made up the whole story as a way of bringing Zuwanie to justice. He rushes to the greenroom. Broome, it seems, has poisoned Zuwanie and is withholding the antidote unless he goes onstage and confesses to the murder of his countrymen. He does. Broome escapes. A doctor takes a look at the poison. It’s harmless. The doctor turns to the dictator, who has just been tricked into writing his own prison sentence: “You were never in danger, Mr. Zuwanie.”
Randolph says that the film he was thinking of while he was writing “The Interpreter” was Francis Ford Coppola’s classic “The Conversation.” He wanted to make a spare, stark movie about an isolated figure. “She’s a terrorist,” Randolph said of Silvia Broome. “She comes to this country to do a very specific task, and when that task is done she’s gone again. I wanted to write about this idea of a noble terrorist, who tried to achieve her ends with a character assassination, not a real assassination.” Randolph realized that most moviegoers—and most Hollywood executives—prefer characters who have psychological motivations. But he wasn’t trying to make “Die Hard.” “Look, I’m the son of a preacher,” he said. “I believe that ideology motivates people.”
In 2004, Sydney Pollack signed on to direct the project. He loved the idea of an interpreter at the United Nations and the conceit of an overheard conversation. But he wanted to make a commercial movie, and parts of the script didn’t feel right to him. He didn’t like the twist at the end, for instance. “I felt like I had been tricked, because in fact there was no threat,” Pollack said. “As much as I liked the original script, I felt like an audience would somehow, at the end, feel cheated.” Pollack also felt that audiences would want much more from Silvia Broome’s relationship with Tobin Keller. “I’ve never been able to do a movie without a love story in it,” he said. “For me, the heart of it is always the man and the woman and who they are and what they are going through.” Pollack brought Randolph back for rewrites. He then hired Scott Frank and Steven Zaillian, two of the most highly sought-after screenwriters in Hollywood—and after several months the story was turned inside out. Now Broome didn’t tell the story of overhearing that conversation. It actually happened. She wasn’t a terrorist anymore. She was a victim. She wasn’t an isolated figure. She was given a social life. She wasn’t manipulating Keller. Their relationship was more prominent. A series of new characters—political allies and opponents of Zuwanie’s—were added, as was a scene in Brooklyn where a bus explodes, almost killing Broome. “I remember when I came on ‘Minority Report,’ and started over,” said Frank, who wrote many of the new scenes for “The Interpreter.” “There weren’t many characters. When I finished, there were two mysteries and a hundred characters. I have diarrhea of the plot. This movie cried out for that. There are never enough suspects and red herrings.”
The lingering problem, though, was the ending. If Broome wasn’t after Zuwanie, who was? “We struggled,” Pollack said. “It was a long process, to the point where we almost gave up.” In the end, Zuwanie was made the engineer of the plot: he fakes the attempt on his life in order to justify his attacks on his enemies back home. Zuwanie hires a man to shoot him, and then another of Zuwanie’s men shoots the assassin before he can do the job—and in the chaos Broome ends up with a gun in her hand, training it on Zuwanie. “The end was the hardest part,” Frank said. “All these balls were in the air. But I couldn’t find a satisfying way to resolve it. We had to put a gun in the hand of a pacifist. I couldn’t quite sew it up in the right way. Sydney kept saying, ‘You’re so close.’ But I kept saying, ‘Yeah, but I don’t believe what I’m writing.’ I wonder if I did a disservice to ‘The Interpreter.’ I don’t know that I made it better. I may have just made it different.”
This, then, was the question for Epagogix: If Pollack’s goal was to make “The Interpreter” a more commercial movie, how well did he succeed? And could he have done better?
The debriefing took place in central London, behind the glass walls of the private dining room of a Mayfair restaurant. The waiters came in waves, murmuring their announcements of the latest arrival from the kitchen. The table was round. Copaken, dapper as always in his navy blazer, sat next to Sean Verity, followed by Meaney, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Pink. Mr. Brown was very tall, and seemed to have a northern English accent. Mr. Pink was slender and graying, and had an air of authority about him. His academic training was in biochemistry. He said he thought that, in the highly emotional business of Hollywood, having a scientific background was quite useful. There was no sign of Mr. Bootstraps.
Mr. Pink began by explaining the origins of their system. “There were certain historical events that allowed us to go back and test how appealing one film was against another,” he said. “The very simple one is that in the English market, in the sixties on Sunday night, religious programming aired on the major networks. Nobody watched it. And, as soon as that finished, movies came on. There were no lead-ins, and only two competing channels. Plus, across the country you had a situation where the commercial sector was playing a whole variety of movies against the standard, the BBC. It might be a John Wayne movie in Yorkshire, and a musical in Somerset, and the BBC would be the same movie everywhere. So you had a control. It was very pure and very simple. That was a unique opportunity to try and make some guesstimates as to why movies were doing what they were doing.”
Brown nodded. “We built a body of evidence until we had something systematic,” he said.
Pink estimated that they had analyzed thousands of movies. “The thing is that not everything comes to you as a script. For a long period, we worked for a broadcaster who used to send us a couple of paragraphs. We made our predictions based on that much. Having the script is actually too much information sometimes. You’re trying to replicate what the audience is doing. They’re trying to make a choice between three movies, and all they have at that point is whatever they’ve seen in TV Guide or on any trailer they’ve seen. We have to take a piece here and a piece here. Take a couple of reference points. When I look at a story, there are certain things I’m looking for—certain themes, and characters you immediately focus on.” He thought for a moment. “That’s not to deny that it matters whether the lead character wears a hat,” he added, in a way that suggested he and Mr. Brown had actually thought long and hard about leads and hats.
“There’s always a pattern,” he went on. “There are certain stories that come back, time and time again, and that always work. You know, whenever we go into a market—and we work in fifty markets—the initial thing people say is ‘What do you know about our market?’ The assumption is that, say, Japan is different from us—that there has to be something else going on there. But, basically, they’re just like us. It’s the consistency of these reappearing things that I find amazing.”
“Biblical stories are a classic case,” Mr. Brown put in. “There is something about what they’re telling and the message that’s coming out that seems to be so universal. With Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ people always say, ‘Who could have predicted that?’ And the answer is, we could have.”
They had looked at “The Interpreter” scripts a few weeks earlier. The process typically takes them a day. They read, they graded, and then they compared notes, because Mr. Pink was the sort who went for “Yojimbo” and Mr. Brown’s favorite movie was “Alien” (the first one), so they didn’t always agree. Mr. Brown couldn’t remember a single script he’d read where he thought there wasn’t room for improvement, and Mr. Pink, when asked the same question, could come up with just one: “Lethal Weapon.” “A friend of mine gave me the shooting script before it came out, and I remember reading it and thinking, It’s all there. It was all on the page.” Once Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown had scored “The Interpreter,” they gave their analyses to Mr. Bootstraps, who did fifteen runs through the neural network: the original Randolph script, the shooting script, and certain variants of the plot that Epagogix devised. Mr. Bootstraps then passed his results to Copaken, who wrote them up. The Epagogix reports are always written by Copaken, and they are models of lawyerly thoroughness. This one ran to thirty-eight pages. He had finished the final draft the night before, very late. He looked fresh as a daisy.
Mr. Pink started with the original script. “My pure reaction? I found it very difficult to read. I got confused. I had to reread bits. We do this a lot. If a project takes more than an hour to read, then there’s something going on that I’m not terribly keen on.”
“It didn’t feel to me like a mass-appeal movie,” Mr. Brown added. “It seemed more niche.”
When Mr. Bootstraps ran Randolph’s original draft through the neural network, the computer called it a $33-million movie—an “intelligent” thriller, in the same commercial range as “The Constant Gardener” or “Out of Sight.” According to the formula, the final shooting script was a $69-million picture (an estimate that came within $4 million of the actual box-office). Mr. Brown wasn’t surprised. The shooting script, he said, “felt more like an American movie, where the first one seemed European in style.”
Everyone agreed, though, that Pollack could have done much better. There was, first of all, the matter of the United Nations. “They had a unique opportunity to get inside the building,” Mr. Pink said. “But I came away thinking that it could have been set in any boxy office tower in Manhattan. An opportunity was missed. That’s when we get irritated—when there are opportunities that could very easily be turned into something that would actually have had an impact.”
“Locale is an extra character,” Mr. Brown said. “But in this case it’s a very bland character that didn’t really help.”
In the Epagogix secret formula, it seemed, locale matters a great deal. “You know, there’s a big difference between city and countryside,” Mr. Pink said. “It can have a huge effect on a movie’s ability to draw in viewers. And writers just do not take advantage of it. We have a certain set of values that we attach to certain places.”
Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown ticked off the movies and television shows that they thought understood the importance of locale: “Crimson Tide,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Lost,” “Survivor,” “Castaway,” “Deliverance.” Mr. Pink said, “The desert island is something that we have always recognized as a pungent backdrop, but it’s not used that often. In the same way, prisons can be a powerful environment, because they are so well defined.” The U.N. could have been like that, but it wasn’t. Then there was the problem of starting, as both scripts did, in Africa—and not just Africa but a fictional country in Africa. The whole team found that crazy. “Audiences are pretty parochial, by and large,” Mr. Pink said. “If you start off by telling them, ‘We’re going to begin this movie in Africa,’ you’re going to lose them. They’ve bought their tickets. But when they come out they’re going to say, ‘It was all right. But it was Africa.’ ” The whole thing seemed to leave Mr. Pink quite distressed. He looked at Mr. Brown beseechingly.
Mr. Brown changed the subject. “It’s amazing how often quite little things, quite small aspects, can spoil everything,” he said. “I remember seeing the trailer for ‘V for Vendetta’ and deciding against it right there, for one very simple reason: there was a ridiculous mask on the main character. If you can’t see the face of the character, you can’t tell what that person is thinking. You can’t tell who they are. With ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Superman,’ though, you do see the face, so you respond to them.”
The team once gave a studio a script analysis in which almost everything they suggested was, in Hollywood terms, small. They wanted the lead to jump off the page a little more. They wanted the lead to have a young sidekick—a relatively minor character—to connect with a younger demographic, and they wanted the city where the film was set to be much more of a presence. The neural network put the potential value of better characterization at an extra $2.46 million in U.S. box-office revenue; the value of locale adjustment at $4.92 million; the value of a sidekick at $12.3 million—and the value of all three together (given the resulting synergies) at $24.6 million. That’s another $25 million for a few weeks of rewrites and maybe a day or two of extra filming. Mr. Bootstraps, incidentally, ran the numbers and concluded that the script would make $47 million if the suggested changes were not made. The changes were not made. The movie made $50 million.
Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown went on to discuss the second “Interpreter” screenplay, the shooting script. They thought the ending was implausible. Charles Randolph had originally suggested that the Tobin Keller character be black, not white, in order to create the frisson of bringing together a white African and a black American. Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown independently came to the same conclusion. Apparently, the neural network ran the numbers on movies that paired black and white leads—“Lethal Weapon,” “The Crying Game,” “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” “Die Another Day,” “The Pelican Brief”—and found that the black-white combination could increase box-office revenue. The computer did the same kind of analysis on Scott Frank’s “diarrhea of the plot,” and found that there were too many villains. And if Silvia Broome was going to be in danger, Mr. Bootstraps made clear, she really had to be in danger.
“Our feeling—and Dick, you may have to jump in here—is that the notion of a woman in peril is a very powerful narrative element,” Mr. Pink said. He glanced apprehensively at Copaken, evidently concerned that what he was about to say might fall in the sensitive category of the proprietary. “How powerful?” He chose his words carefully. “Well above average. And the problem is that we lack a sense of how much danger she is in, so an opportunity is missed. There were times when you were thinking, Is this something she has created herself? Is someone actually after her? You are confused. There is an element of doubt, and that ambiguity makes it possible to doubt the danger of the situation.” Of course, all that ambiguity was there because in the Randolph script she was making it all up, and we were supposed to doubt the danger of the situation. But Mr. Pink and Mr. Brown believed that, once you decided you weren’t going to make a European-style niche movie, you had to abandon ambiguity altogether.
“You’ve got to make the peril real,” Mr. Pink said.
The Epagogix revise of “The Interpreter” starts with an upbeat Silvia Broome walking into the United Nations, flirting with the security guard. The two men plotting the assassination later see her and chase her through the labyrinthine cor-ridors of what could only be the U.N. building. The ambiguous threats to Broome’s life are now explicit. At one point in the Epagogix version, a villain pushes Broome’s Vespa off one of Manhattan’s iconic East River bridges. She hangs on to her motorbike for dear life, as it swings precariously over the edge of the parapet. Tobin Keller, in a police helicopter, swoops into view: “As she clings to Tobin’s muscular body while the two of them are hoisted up into the hovering helicopter, we sense that she is feeling more than relief.” In the Epagogix ending, Broome stabs one of Zuwanie’s security men with a knife. Zuwanie storms off the stage, holds a press conference, and is shot dead by a friend of Broome’s brother. Broome cradles the dying man in her arms. He “dies peacefully,” with “a smile on his blood-spattered face.” Then she gets appointed Matobo’s U.N. ambassador. She turns to Keller. “‘This time,’ she notes with a wry smile . . . ‘you will have to protect me.’ ” Bootstraps’s verdict was that this version would result in a U.S. box-office of $111 million.
“It’s funny,” Mr. Pink said. “This past weekend, ‘The Bodyguard’ was on TV. Remember that piece of”—he winced—“entertainment? Which is about a bodyguard and a woman. The final scene is that they are right back together. It is very clearly and deliberately sown. That is the commercial way, if you want more bodies in the seats.”
“You have to either consummate it or allow for the possibility of that,” Copaken agreed.
They were thinking now of what would happen if they abandoned all fealty to the original, and simply pushed the movie’s premise as far as they could possibly go.
Mr. Pink went on, “If Dick had said, ‘You can take this project wherever you want,’ we probably would have ended up with something a lot closer to ‘The Bodyguard’—where you have a much more romantic film, a much more powerful focus to the two characters—without all the political stuff going on in the background. You go for the emotions on a very basic level. What would be the upper limit on that? You know, the upper limit of anything these days is probably still ‘Titanic.’ I’m not saying we could do six hundred million dollars. But it could be two hundred million.”
It was clear that the whole conversation was beginning to make Mr. Pink uncomfortable. He didn’t like “The Bodyguard.” Even the title made him wince. He was the sort who liked “Yojimbo,” after all. The question went around the room: What would you do with “The Interpreter”? Sean Verity wanted to juice up the action-adventure elements and push it to the $150- to $160-million range. Meaney wanted to do without expensive stars: he didn’t think they were worth the money. Copaken wanted more violence, and he also favored making Keller black. But he didn’t want to go all the way to “The Bodyguard,” either. This was a man who loved “Dear Frankie” as much as any film he’d seen in recent memory, and “Dear Frankie” had a domestic box-office gross of $1.3 million. If you followed the rules of Epagogix, there wouldn’t be any movies like “Dear Frankie.” The neural network had one master, the market, and answered one question: how do you get to bigger box-office? But once a movie had made you vulnerable—once you couldn’t even retell the damn story without getting emotional—you couldn’t be content with just one master anymore.
That was the thing about the formula: it didn’t make the task of filmmaking easier. It made it harder. So long as nobody knows anything, you’ve got license to do whatever you want. You can start a movie in Africa. You can have male and female leads not go off together—all in the name of making something new. Once you came to think that you knew something, though, you had to decide just how much money you were willing to risk for your vision. Did the Epagogix team know what the answer to that question was? Of course not. That question required imagination, and they weren’t in the imagination business. They were technicians with tools: computer programs and analytical systems and proprietary software that calculated mathematical relationships among a laundry list of structural variables. At Platinum Blue, Mike McCready could tell you that the bass line was pushing your song out of the center of hit cluster 31. But he couldn’t tell you exactly how to fix the bass line, and he couldn’t guarantee that the redone version would still sound like a hit, and you didn’t see him releasing his own album of computer-validated pop music. A Kamesian had only to read Lord Kames to appreciate the distinction. The most arrogant man in the world was a terrible writer: clunky, dense, prolix. He knew the rules of art. But that didn’t make him an artist.
Mr. Brown spoke last. “I don’t think it needs to be a big-budget picture,” he said. “I think we do what we can with the original script to make it a strong story, with an ending that is memorable, and then do a slow release. A low-budget picture. One that builds through word of mouth—something like that.” He was confident that he had the means to turn a $69-million script into a $111-million movie, and then again into a $150- to $200-million blockbuster. But it had been a long afternoon, and part of him had a stubborn attachment to “The Interpreter” in something like its original form. Mr. Bootstraps might have disagreed. But Mr. Bootstraps was nowhere to be seen.
The NewYorker Video
Malcolm Gladwell talks about engineering hits.
Survey Finds Declining P2P Usage in Canada
The Copyright Board of Canada conducted hearings today on the private copying levy. Included as part of the evidence was a major survey (not online at the moment) on music copying conducted for the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) by Reseau Circum. The CPCC, which counts CRIA General Counsel Richard Pfohl as one of its board members, has tracked music copying habits since 2001-02.
The headliner in the latest survey is that file sharing activity is in steady decline in Canada. The survey, conducted in June 2006, finds that just 14 percent of Canadians have downloaded music in the last 12 months, down from 15 percent in 2005, 19 percent in 2004, 21 percent in 2003, and 21 percent in 2002. It goes without saying that this finding comes despite the absence of lawsuits, the absence of copyright reform, and the continual (yet questionable) claims that Canada is a world leader in file sharing.
As expected, file sharing activity is higher in the younger demographics - 39 percent of 12-17 years olds have downloaded in the past 12 months, 29 percent of 18-25 year olds, 13 percent of those in 26-45 age bracket, and only 3 percent of those over the age of 46. Contrast those numbers with CRIA-commissioned Pollara data from earlier this year which misleadingly asked whether survey respondents had ever used file sharing services. Unsurprisingly, that question resulted in a positive response from 69 percent of 12-17 year olds and 64 percent of 18-25 year olds - numbers that provided CRIA with the opportunity to claim that file sharing continues unabated when in fact the numbers are shrinking.
The survey included several additional noteworthy findings:
• When respondents were asked how many songs downloaded from the Internet reside on their computers, 35 percent said zero, 26 percent said between 1-50 songs, 17 percent said 51-250, and 17 percent said 251 or more.
• When asked about the number of songs obtained from P2P services in the previous month, 29 percent said none, 54 percent said between 1-50, and just 9 nine percent said more than 51 songs. That contrasts with 2002 data when 14 percent said zero, 71 percent said between 1-50, and 11 percent said more than 51 songs.
• When asked about the use of commercial download sites such as iTunes, 67 percent said they had no songs from such services on their computers and 19 percent said they between 1-50 songs. That contrasts with data in 2002 when 84 percent said they had no songs from such services on their computers and 12 percent said they had between 1-50 songs.
• Respondents who have purchased less music in the last 12 months were asked to explain the change. Just nine percent of respondents cited P2P as the reason for fewer purchases.
So we have yet another survey, this one indirectly backed by CRIA, that points to the fact that file sharing simply isn't the concern that CRIA claims. When combined with the Pollara study (top source of music is burned CDs, not P2P) and the Canadian Heritage music report (continued gains for Canadian music), the evidence continues to affirm that legal reforms targeting P2P are wrongheaded solutions in search of a problem.
Despite Legal Efforts P2P Traffic Keeps Growing
If Germany is any indication, the movie and music industry's campaign against peer to peer filesharing isn't curbing the amount of peer to peer related traffic.
A new study finds that P2P in Germany is growing and evolving, "Depending on time of day, P2P traffic uses a share of 30% (daytime) and 70% (nighttime) of the overall Internet traffic in Germany. The absolute data volume has risen by 10% between June and October 2006. BitTorrent has surpassed eDonkey as the most popular file sharing network and causes more than half of all P2P traffic in Germany. Both networks generate over 95% of the P2P traffic and have nearly displaced previously popular networks such as Kazaa's FastTrack."
The study's findings come on the heels of the IFPI's renewed efforts to take filesharers to court around the globe. The IFPI announced last week that it had initiated 8,000 new filesharing lawsuits in seventeen countries.
IFPI Set Their Sights on Parents of Peer-To-Peer Network Users
The German section of the IFPI announced today that it plans to intensify the legal action takes against users of peer- to-peer networks. In particular, the Association pointed out that people with Internet connections have a responsibility under civil law if their Internet access is used to violate copyright. "Parents have to understand that they are responsible for any violations of copyright that their children commit via these Internet connections. And that can cost a pretty penny!" threatened Michael Haentjes, chairman of the German Phonograph Associations. Recently, the first- instance district court of Hamburg confirmed that parents must monitor the way their children use the Internet via home connections and take action if need be.
But copyright experts say that the legal situation is not as clear as the IFPI sees it. Marco Gercke, attorney and lecturer for media penal law, says that "the claim that parents can always be held responsible for copyright violations that their children commit is problematic." Parents can only be held liable if they have failed to watch over their children. This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. "If the child is 12 years old and has already been caught providing copyrighted works in peer-to-peer networks, then the parents should have been keeping an eye on the child; but if the child is a 23-year-old student who still lives at home, the liability of the parents is questionable. We therefore need to be very careful when making such blanket statements."
Professors Weigh Benefits of Online File Sharing
University administrators will soon finish phasing in a new online file sharing system that they say will reduce the amount of software held on university computers, but could leave faculty with less storage space.
The new network, GUShare, is a Web-based application designed to allow administrators and professors to store their work and gives them the ability to make it accessible to their co-workers, said Beth Ann Bergsmark, director of University Information Services. Although the program was launched in January, its predecessor, Novell — which stores files for most Georgetown faculty — will remain active until Dec. 6, giving faculty members less than two remaining months to move their work.
Will Anderson, UIS associate director, said that Novell servers require additional software to be installed on all Georgetown computers. Since GUShare is based on the Internet, he said that it can be accessed from any computer with a faculty or staff member’s Net ID and password and does not use up hard-drive space.
Bergsmark added that GUShare makes it easier for Georgetown faculty to collaborate on projects with staff at other universities and organizations. Under the new system, a faculty member can send a password-protected “ticket” to someone outside GU to share a file, she said.
Anderson said that this was a primary motivation for creating the new system.
“We decided to go with a system that allowed for more sharing for not only people at Georgetown, but outside the university as well,” he said.
Bergsmark added that each member of the Georgetown faculty is given 450 megabytes of storage for individual use on GUShare. Each university department receives between two and 10 gigabytes on GUShare, depending on its size and need for file-sharing, she said.
But Diana Owen, director of the American studies program, said that while the new network has its benefits over the current system, GUShare does not provide enough storage space.
“From what I’ve heard, the space that we are going to be allocated for departments might not be big enough to do the kinds of things we want to do,” she said.
Owen also questioned the functional capabilities and security of the new network, citing the tendency of Georgetown’s Web-based e-mail server to experience frequent delays and occasionally crash.
“How well is it really going to work? How secure is it?” she asked.
UIS began holding training sessions for faculty members earlier in the semester on the new program. Bergsmark said that over 2,200 faculty members have already begun to use the new system.
“While GUShare is relatively straightforward, we encourage faculty and staff to attend training sessions, to learn some shortcuts and increase their comfort level,” she said.
UDit Regulations Annoying, Blame Not Given Where it is Deserved
Maybe you are one of the unfortunate students who have read the dreadful words from Jeremy Landis, the supposed representative of the Recording Industries Association of America (RIAA) who is sending censures to the university claiming illegal peer-to-peer file sharing activity. Excluding the expletives, your response was probably one of confusion. You probably weren’t sure if you downloaded the files or not. And if you didn’t, you sure don’t know how to prove your innocence.
This has become all too common at our university, very unlike the Marianist charisma and spirit we’ve grown to love. UDit has barraged yet another round of students with notices of their alleged violation of the peer-to-peer file sharing policy found in the Standards of Behavior handbook.
But if you are one of the students who haven’t been privileged to have wireless added to your dorm, you might have a wireless router. Your wireless router only gets its IP address once, so whoever logs the router into the network—now has their Cisco Clean Access account associated with everyone who is using the wireless. What this means is anyone that is using your wireless is technically using your identity.
Thanks to a well-meaning, however poorly written policy, you are held responsible for any misusage of your ‘online identity.’ That’s exactly how the policy reads (See Policy 6.2). Why is this poorly written? Suppose you are a good, responsible UD student and you keep a nice, randomly generated password on your account. Well, what happens if some unknown persons cracks your password, downloads illegal music—or worse yet, ‘kiddie porn’—and UDit gets wind of it? Technically you’re responsible. It came from your IP address. Or, at least that’s how the policy reads. What about equipment malfunction? What if your router malfunctions and the security you put on disappears? Or, your computer malfunctions and the screen saver doesn’t lock your computer? Same deal. You’re responsible.
The question becomes how do I defend myself? It’s not simple, but it can be done. Just note, if you actually did commit the policy violation, don’t use these suggestions to try to get out of it. It won’t work. If you are caught lying, plan on being in front of the Judicial Board with very serious sanctions.
Have a reliable person (a help desk support person would do great—they are an outside source that wouldn’t lie) look at the files on your computer and verify you do not have the files.
If you do have the files, have a reliable person check your “File Creation” dates. Check these dates against the date your IP address was detected by the RIAA and see if the files were created before the date of the violation, thus proving you had the files before your IP address was even recorded. Make sure the person who verifies this either comes to your hearing or writes a witness statement.
If you own the music/files that you allegedly stole, bring those CDs to a hearing.
If you want to get technical, demand that UDit provides you with the violator’s MAC address. If you can prove you didn’t log into the computer that committed the violation, you’ve got a very strong point.
Lastly, if it came from your computer and your login—yet you know you didn’t download it—you need to have an alibi. Look at the dates the file was created and try to determine where you were, how someone could have gotten access to your computer, check what Web sites were recently visited and see if this person saved their username/password anywhere.
The policy should not read that you are responsible for anything that happens under your identity. The policy should read that you are responsible for anything that happens if you do not take proper precautions against your account being compromised. Don’t make your password your first and last name. Don’t give out your private information to anyone. Don’t leave your computer unlocked. Don’t neglect to protect your router in your room.
If you need help, contact the Office of Community Standards and Civility in Gosiger Hall 224. They will find you an advocate from the Judicial Board that will help you prepare for your case (they even have techno savvy persons such as myself). Just remember, you only get a short amount of time to appeal responsibility for your case—so don’t delay.
Stop P2P File-Sharing
Unsigned editorial from the board
In this week's issue, we explore some of the reasons for slower Internet connections on campus (see the story from the front page). One of the biggest problems ITS faces is Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing.
The problem with file-sharing is that it uses up a great deal of the College's bandwidth, decreasing the speed at which everyone else is able to access the Internet.
While many college students participate in downloading music, movies and television shows, it's clearly an illegal practice (in certain instances) that can become a nuisance for other students, faculty and staff members. However, at times, inconvenience is the least of the College's worries, as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been handing out "notifications" like candy recently.
Cary H. Sherman, president of the RIAA, said Sept. 26 that "recent surveys indicate that more than half of the nation's college students frequently download music and movies illegally." She also announced that students at 132 schools have been sued since March 2004.
Inside Higher Ed recently reported that Dan Glickman, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), released the results of a study that found the U.S. film industry lost $6.1 billion to piracy in 2005. 44 percent of those losses ($2.6 billion) can be attributed to the actions of college students, according to the MPAA. Not only is P2P file-sharing inconvenient, it's also the equivalent of stealing from the artists who are not compensated for their work.
ITS needs to come up with a system of consequences for users who repeatedly cause problems. It needs to come up with that system soon. As things stand now, users may be removed from the network for a short period of time, but there are no real repercussions for people who abuse the system.
The best idea we've heard is a graduated system of penalties. After the first instance of bandwidth abuse, the user is removed from the system for a week and must attend a session explaining what may have caused the excessive bandwidth use. The second offense would result in a month-long suspension. After the third instance, the student would be removed for a full semester.
This system would allow users who honestly don't know they're causing problems to change their ways without undue punishment. However, in order for this to work, ITS will need to communicate with students openly and clearly. Educating students about proper use of P2P software is essential to the success of any penalty system.
We're against any policy that would block all file-sharing programs, because there are legal and legitimate uses for the software. For example, open-source software (software that is free and can be edited by the user) may be available for download only over P2P platforms. Certain online games utilize P2P software to enhance the experience for players.
For those Etown College students using the software legally to play games or download open-source software, keep up the good work. Those uses don't gulp up bandwidth and are not against the law.
To students who currently engage in P2P downloading but don't share their files, we'd like to let you know that this, too, puts a strain on the system. The more connections a culprit creates on the network (with P2P sharing, it can be up to 250 for one machine), the slower the network responds for other, law-abiding users.
Look at it Our Way represents a majority opinion of at least two-thirds of the editorial board of the Etownian.
Why is File-Sharing So Bad?
Why is free music so bad?
Music is an art form. I believe art should belong to everyone. No matter what the music industry does there will continue to be ways technology gets around these outdated copyright laws. Often they say bands/artists need the money, because no ones ever paid over a thousand bucks to see a concert. Not to mention appearence fees etc. I detest when bands say they love their fans, they love their fans money, or else maybe they'd make their music available to everyone.
I challenge technology and the industry to come up with something that makes everyone happy. A way to get music free while not putting labels out of business. File Sharing is a rather brilliant way of peeving off the music industry. A legal (for now) way to get free music. They call owners of these sites con men or criminals, but really they are brave innovators. Bring in a new era of technological freedoms.
Please comment! I love feedback. Maybe you have an idea to fix this war for music? I'd love to hear it.
File-Sharing in the Post-'Grokster' World
Richard Raysman and Peter Brown
In the past decade, the rise of peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing of music files on the Internet has had a radical impact on the music industry and the way music is distributed. In response, the music industry and other copyright holders have fought to defend this valuable right.
In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision in MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 US, 125 SCt 2764 (2005). In a relatively short time, the Court's decision has had a number of practical implications on P2P file sharing which are shaping the future of music and video distribution, and the licensing of other copyrightable content online.
This article will briefly summarize the Grokster decision and the consequences to the parties involved in the litigation, as well as other companies involved in peer-to-peer (P2P) file- sharing; generally summarize the unsettled international P2P file-sharing landscape; and highlight the entertainment industry's continuing concern over those developing the next generation of P2P networks.
'Grokster': A Brief Summary, the Fallout
Grokster involved consolidated cases brought by a coalition of music publishers, songwriters and motion picture studios against Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks (maker of the Morpheus P2P program). The issue before the court was the legality of the use of P2P file-sharing software that enabled computer users to easily exchange digitized music, video, software and motion picture files over the Internet "on a gigantic scale," without the use of a centralized server.1
In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court in Grokster was not concerned with how the technology worked and whether it was capable of "substantial non-infringing use." In the end, the Court fashioned an "active inducement" rule for copyright, relying on common-law principles and the active inducement rule in patent law (codified at 35 USC §271(b)). Generally speaking, in the file-sharing arena, "active inducement" involves the distribution of software "with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement."2
Following the Grokster decision, Grokster Ltd. shut down its services as part of a $50 million settlement with the plaintiffs, a judgment it may not be able to pay due to insufficient resources. However, in April 2006, settlement talks with the co-defendant StreamCast broke down. Recently, the district court ruled in favor of the entertainment companies on summary judgment and against StreamCast, citing the Supreme Court's Grokster decision, in finding instances of "massive" copyright infringement on the defendant's P2P network and "overwhelming" evidence of StreamCast's unlawful intent.
Beyond the defendants in the case, the Court's decision also affected other file-sharing companies. For example, in September 2005, WinMX stopped operating in response to cease-and-desist letters from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and one month later, i2hub, another file-sharing network, closed its site. In July 2006, Kazza, one of the most popular worldwide file-sharing networks, reached a settlement with several major music companies, whereby it agreed to pay over $100 million dollars to U.S. and Australian recording companies and become a legal file-sharing network through the use of filtering technology to prevent P2P file-sharing.3 This past summer, the RIAA filed suit against P2P software maker and distributor LimeWire in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for copyright infringement under an "active inducement" theory. The plaintiff claimed, among other things, that the defendants, like prior services such as Napster, Aimster and Grokster, "have continued to promote, market, and distribute LimeWire as the successor-in-infringement to these pirate services." See Arista Records LLC et al. v. LimeWire LLC, No. 06 CV 5936 (SDNY Complaint filed Aug. 4, 2006), at ¶3. In response, LimeWire filed a countersuit, alleging that the record companies engaged in "unfair business practices" and acquired "a monopoly over digital distribution of commercially valuable copyrighted music and movie content."
Indeed, the RIAA has been relatively successful in its litigation campaign against both direct and indirect infringers in the United States since it began filing lawsuits in 2003. As of August 2006, the RIAA has filed over 18,200 actions, most of which have been against individual file-sharers.4 Still, the RIAA, despite a drop in the number of lawsuits filed during the first half of 2006, seemingly has achieved its "initial goal" of deterring illegal file-sharing of music through an aggressive litigation approach.5
Unsettled International Landscape
Given that the Internet has no real geographical boundaries, the entertainment industry's fight against P2P file-sharing extends beyond the United States. Although Grokster is one of the earliest court decisions to address the issue, other courts, including Canadian and Australian, have weighed in on the legality of the practice.
Slightly more than a month prior to the Grokster decision, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal addressed the issue of the Canadian Recording Industry Association's (CRIA) right to identify and sue individual file-sharers. The Federal Court of Appeal, in BMG, Inc. Canada v. John Doe, 2004 FC 488, aff'd. 2005 FCA 193,6 issued an opinion that denied CRIA's motion to reveal the identities of 29 alleged file-sharers, focusing on CRIA's evidentiary threshold and the privacy of the anonymous defendants. The Canadian Court set forth a test or "road map" to be used before identities of file-sharers could be revealed. 2005 FCA 193 at ¶15. In addition, the appellate court questioned the trial judge's "statements relating to what would or would not constitute infringement of copyright" in the file-sharing context, cautioning about the "danger in reaching such conclusions at the preliminary stages of an action without the availability of evidence nor consideration of all applicable legal principles . . . ." Id. at ¶¶46-48. Ultimately, the court dismissed the appeal without prejudice, permitting the plaintiff to commence a further application to identify the users. Id. at ¶55. How the issue of the legality of file-sharing in Canada plays out and the degree, if any, to which Grokster might impact it, remains to be seen.
In France, a number of French court decisions have cleared users of file-sharing or handed down light punishments.7 For example, a court decision in February 2006 suggested that P2P downloading of music for private, noncommercial gain may be fair use. The French recording industry organization has since appealed the decision.8
More in line with the Grokster decision and suggesting that it may have had some international influence, an Australian court, in September 2005, found operators of the Kazaa file-sharing system liable for infringement under Australian copyright law for the unauthorized trading of copyrighted works by users of their system. See Universal Music Australia Pty Ltd v. Sharman License Holdings Ltd. (Australian Fed. Ct. Sept. 5, 2005). This legal decision prompted Kazaa's aforementioned $100 million settlement with the recording industry.
Similarly, in June 2006, a Dutch appeals court overturned an earlier favorable ruling, and upheld an injunction against the Web site www.zoekmp3.nl, which provides links to MP3 files, and ruled that it would have to pay damages. The court said that failure to adhere to the injunction would result in fines of 10,000 euros per day or 1,000 euros per infringing file. In July 2006, however, a Dutch appeals court, in another matter, blocked the Dutch antipiracy organization (BREIN) from learning the identities of alleged file-sharers from various ISPs. The court ruled that the method used by a private company hired by the plaintiff to collect IP addresses of alleged file-sharers was unlawful under European privacy laws.9
On the legislative front, the French parliamentary lower house has been debating the legalization of P2P through charging a flat, global licensing fee to Internet users. Like France, the Swedish government is considering a fee to be imposed upon broadband use, which would compensate film and music companies for downloading of their works, thereby changing current law, which makes it illegal to download copyrighted material. Despite the aforementioned BMG v. John Doe decision in Canada, lobbying continues in the Canadian legislature, as the industry seeks to declare file-sharing illegal.
Some companies, perhaps concerned with being sued for copyright infringement in the post-Grokster environment, have cooperated with the entertainment industry and have "retooled" their operations. For example, in November 2005, BitTorrent, a software used for file compression and easier distribution of content over the Internet, announced that it had entered into an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to help prevent illegal downloading of movies on its Web site. Additionally, BitTorrent executed licensing deals with at least four independent movie studios, as well as Warner Bros. Entertainment Group, to distribute video titles over the Internet. Similarly, in November 2005, iMesh music service became a legal license service of music downloading.
On the consumer side, legal downloading has been on the rise.
As of February 2006, one billion songs were downloaded from the Apple iTunes Music Store. And in June 2006, EMI Music arranged to deliver its music over a legal P2P network constructed by LTDnetwork. EMI also has begun negotiations with YouTube and other video-sharing sites to work together to help prevent copyright infringement from the unauthorized posting of music videos that appear on their sites.
Although the entertainment industry has been successful in litigation in the U.S. and some foreign courts in finding the makers or distributors of P2P software contributorily liable for copyright infringement and prodding other sites into legal business models, rapid advances in technology may provide the next challenge. Certain computer programmers are developing so-called "anonymous" P2P networks known as "darknets," which make it more difficult to detect users and identify the content being shared.10 Generally speaking, darknets are "closed" networks that are used by a small group of individuals who know and trust each other and share files among themselves. Given the "closed" nature of these networks, the potential for both noninfringing and infringing use exists (e.g., free communication outside of state censorship or the exchange of copyrighted music). In essence, information that is transmitted over these networks might be encrypted and "routed-through" other users of the network to cloak the particular user and the content delivered.11
To date, lower courts have begun to apply Grokster's rule of law. For example, in one music file-sharing case where the defendant downloaded and retained entire, unauthorized copies of copyrighted works that were available for retail sale, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Grokster forecloses the argument that such downloading in order to sample prior to purchase is fair use.12 However, the struggle to control the distribution of copyrighted material over the Internet continues. In the future, copyright holders will likely continue the pattern of filing lawsuits and lobbying in legislatures to protect content, while facilitating commercial online distribution. Still, some users will continue to look for easy and free online distribution of music and motion pictures that disregard the rights of copyright owners.
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If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em.
It seems like only yesterday that we were carrying walkmans to listen to our music. Unaware of little more than battery life and durability, portable music was simple: tune in to the radio, or play a cassette tape. When I got home from a day at school, I would often turn on the radio, cue my latest tape to the first blank section, and eagerly await the playing of my new favourite song. I hoped to catch and preserve it for all eternity on my Maxell 90-minute miracle mix-tape, so that the soothing beats could play through my headphones on my bus ride to school the next morning.
Little did I know, I was stepping on the road straight to H-E-double hockey sticks...At the tender age of 9, I was a pirate. Of course, at the age of 9, being a pirate is something that involves an eye patch, your mum's old ruffled blouse that hasn't seen the light of day since 1978, and some form of kitchen utensil as a substitute hook.
My, how times have changed. Now there are laws in place to send little 9-year-olds like I was to jail, and my trusty old walkman has been replaced by a sleek iPod nano. CD burners, Napster, and DeCSS came and went, and now Metallica has a contract to be on Napster's service while DVD Jon is writing protection instead of breaking it. So sit back, and let's take a musical trip through media, content protection, and your rights as the sucker with the dough.
"The style is new, but the face is the same as it was so long ago..." - A little history
In 1969, Led Zeppelin released its second album. Among other greats, it featured a song called "Heartbreaker." Though it was certainly never meant to be taken as such, it would be a great anthem for those of uswho are consumers looking at the media industry now. Record labels have always been at odds with their customer base, but it was never so popular to hate big business as it was when the cassette tape craze started.
When cassette tape recorders started being released to the general public, the recording industry worldwide went into a panic. Surely, nobody who could just record music would buy it?! The existance of tape-trading rings and organized bootleggers seemed to further the industry's point. Suddenly, it was possible to buy a tape of a concert that you didn't even go to, for a band that you didn't pay to see or hear. It was entertainment armageddon...and thus was born the first anti-piracy campaign: "Home taping is killing music."
What the record industries never bothered to mention was that these bootlegged copies of concerts were what made some of the most popular acts of the 80's and 90's. Metallica, the band that would later go on to be a thorn in the side of consumer-rights lovers everywhere, owe most of their career to the existance of bootlegs, which helped them rise up to immense popularity in spite of poor backing by their initial label. Elektra records would never have been capable of pouring enough advertising into the band as they received from word of mouth and bootlegged concert tapes.
Of course, the recording industry isn't the only group that had protection problems. The MPAA was struggling with the advent of Betamax at roughly the same time. Even the software industry had to acknowledge the threat of piracy once disk sizes shrank down to the ever-portable 3.5". The media was no longer ungainly, and computers were nowhere near as scarce. Eager to protect their own rights, the Software Publisher Association created the "Don't copy that floppy" campaign in 1992.
"Free Floating Hostility" - The advent of DRM
When George Carlin was a budding stand-up comic, he used to be able to stick to a topic and roll with it. As his skits matured, he started to take on shorter rants. By the time his 1996 album Back in Town was released, he had condensed a myriad of disjointed thoughts into one short burst entitled "Free Floating Hostility." The comic and acerbic rhetoric jumped all over the place - much like the way the media industries began to treat copy protection and methods.
Though there was little that could be done to protect analogue media, the digital age provided a whole new world of opportunities. Since CDs and DVDs were digital media, they could have the benefit of other computer files - lossless reproduction. Fortunately, they could also have another computer benefit - encryption that could be decoded on-the-fly. And thus, DRM was born.
The first big DRM effort was region encoding. If anyone has a good reason for the existance of this aside from to prevent grey-market price reduction, I'm all ears. Along with region coding came Content Scrambling, or CSS. Though DVDs have gone through a couple of other methods, these are the only two still widely used.
In music, DRM took a different direction - at first, there was little to be done about it at all. CD players had been out too long to make discs carry any sort of bona fide copy protection, or there'd be a chance older players couldn't run the disc. As the internet grew and music moved off of the disc, however, DRM began to grow into the monstrosity it is today - a horrid patchwork of discordant systems with little to no interoperability.
In order to protect that hodgepodge of systems, the individual industries each leaned on lawmakers in both the US and EU. Thus was born the DMCA, or Digital Millenium Copyright Act. In Europe, they passed the 2001 European Directive on Copyright, which covers much of the same ground. Though these laws spelled out very clearly the right to have protection for digital products, neither does a good job of spelling out how. In fact, the majority of each bill outlines what a consumer can or cannot do with protected media while imposing no guidelines on the producers.
The lack of standards in DRM methods has created problems on many fronts, but most all of them solely affect the legitimate end user. For instance, Apple's FairPlay prohibits any music that bears copy protection other than FairPlay from being able to play on iPods. On the flip-side, any music purchased that contains FairPlay cannot be played on a device that is not an iPod. Along a similar vein, Microsoft developed PlaysForSure, which for sure won't even play on the company's own upcoming Zune.
This leads to a crucial question: Who is DRM there to protect? The record industry didn't get any more money just because your Samsung Sansa won't play your legally purchased track from iTunes Music Store. But you're not going to run out and spend money on an iPod when you have a perfectly good player. If everything was standardized so that all players could play all DRM content, wouldn't that be better?
Why, sure...Unless, of course, you just give in and spend the $0.99 to buy the song twice. Don't forget the music video for just $2.99!
"Money, it's a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash." - DRM Abuse
When Roger Waters wrote the lyrics to "Money" on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in 1973, he probably didn't realize how well he'd outline their own industry 30 years later. Ever since the onset of copy and content protection, legitimate consumers have been the unwitting victims in what could best be described as a war between the producers and the pirates - the guy with the dough is just collateral damage. Or is he?
Probably the greatest faux-pas of any of the industries belongs to Sony as a member of the RIAA. The rootkit scandal is likely to go down in history as one of the greatest abuses to consumer rights currently known. Worse than the actual copy protection, though, was the fact that the installed software did "phone home" with information, turning your computer into a marketing infoproducer. This little boon was slid in under the guise of protecting the music that was purchased - it just happened to let them know your listening habits. How convenient...
The RIAA is far from the only group to try and benefit further off of their right to protection. Commercial DVDs (at least those sold here in the States) still come with that FBI warning I mentioned previously. By law, that track must be unskippable, so that any consumer is forced to be aware of what could happen if that DVD were to be pirated. Realising that advertising on a DVD was much easier to skip than on VHS, studios began putting the previews and adverts on that FBI Warning track - making them completely unskippable.
The software industry has had its own problems with copy protection being used to piggyback other benefits. For instance, many pieces of software generate hashes based on what hardware is in your machine - this information becomes part of the code you need for your product key, giving the manufacturer a good idea of what types of systems are in use and with what other software, without you ever providing a lick of consent. Many times in the computer world, though, this minor intrusion is ignored - there are usually bigger fish to fry, like the users of StarForce copy protection.
Most of these misguided attempts keep getting scape goated to one eternal, sworn enemy - the pirates. If pirates didn't crack and steal it, they rationalize, then the industry wouldn't have to work so hard to protect it. If you'd just turn against those pirates, then the **AA wouldn't have to violate your rights to protect their own.
Oh, wait...you had rights? Well, sort of...
What the DMCA and the 2001-EDC lacked in industry responsibility, they made up in spades for the consumer. Each article is laden with things that you as the end user can and cannot do. The majority of these rulings fall under the term "Fair Use" in the United States and "Fair Dealings" in the EU (and most other countries).
The most important thing to understand about Fair Use is that it simply cannot be revoked. No matter what an EULA or any other document says, Fair Use is not able to be taken away. However, what constitutes fair use is the second most important fact - it is an affirmative defense, or an acknowledgement that you did breach copyright law. You're just saying that nobody was hurt by it and that you had a good reason. Clearly, any attempt to profit from, further distribute, or in any way prevent the copyright holder from getting paid for that work will violate Fair Use. And in order to prevent any heated discussion on it, Fair Use does definitively allow you to make a back-up copy of your purchased media, subject to one exception.
The odd thing about Fair Use is what it doesn't specify - and what both the DMCA and 2001-EDC clearly deny, to remove any doubt. You are not allowed to remove the DRM imposed on a file. Ever. This has actually caused problems in the US, where photographers watermark a print and then a company buys rights to publish the image. Either the photographer has to send a new, unwatermarked version, or the company is in violation of the DMCA. Even if you have legal right to the image (or video, or song), only the copyright holder has the right to remove DRM.
Where this really falls afoul for media consumers is in the format of your file. Perhaps you want to put that DVD on your hard drive? Making a carbon-copy ISO is not illegal in any way. However, using DVD-shrink to cut off the FBI warning is. If you have a music file from iTunes, removing the FairPlay from it so it can play on your Sansa or Zen is also a violation. In fact, even having the tools to do so will put you on the wrong side of the legal line.
"I shot the sheriff" - Consumer Advocates
All the peace, love, and harmony of the 60s and 70s seem to be captured in the immortal words of everyone's favourite reggae artist, Bob Marley. His political activism in his homeland and in international policy left lasting impressions on generations of music listeners.
Though he's not quite Bob Marley (first of all, he lacks the dreadlocks), Norwegian Jon Lech Johansen knows a lot about being stuck fighting for rights in international policy. Having produced DeCSS at age 15, he found himself stuck in a fierce court battle with the Norwegian police, the MPAA, and the US Government. After prevailing in that court case, "DVD Jon" has gone on to be one of the greatest advocates against DRM technology.
Jon was helped out of his legal wranglings by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF. The EFF is an American organization that is devoted to the protection of individuals' rights online, where law simply has not caught up with technology. Though it is headquartered in California, the organization has an official presence in many places both in and out of the US, and is not at all afraid to wade into international laws.
Of course, many other forms of consumer-rights "advocacy" exist. There are tremendous grass-roots campaigns against DRM that survive solely on word-of-mouth and angry customers. These groups will often issue boycotts on brands or products that support DRM or copy protection, though tolerance of what constitutes DRM varies from group to group. Then there are those who go rogue, and choose to use piracy as a means of making a political statement.
It is important to note, however, that true consumer-rights advocates are much like true hackers - there is an attitude amongst those who genuinely rally, argue, and fight that those who just copy and steal are nothing more than thieves. This attitude falls right in line with true hackers, who believe that script-kiddies downloading programs and causing trouble have little understanding of what it means to truly hack anything.
Lovely... So where do we go from here?
With a little understanding of the history, laws, and powers behind DRM, it's not hard to see that it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Anti-copy sentiment and legal action have been around since the dawn of consumer duplication equipment, and the organizations that wield these rather crude tools haven't changed their tune in over 20 years.
So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. DVD Jon has gone to work writing DRM now, instead of breaking it. And the EFF has been lying low for a little while in the area of DRM. Why?
Standards. Johansen's company DoubleTwist Ventures has reverse engineered Apple's FairPlay and rewritten almost the exact same code. And this time, he's pretty sure he's got the legal ground to stand on if the lawsuits start to fly. Apple's iTunes Music Store, love it or hate it, is the best store out for the legal purchase of music downloads. By unlocking the FairPlay DRM, Johansen will be able to sell the protection to other media player companies, or even develop an open-source version for 'Nix.
If the patchwork and mishmash of failed DRMs get brushed away and everything falls under FairPlay, a standard will be set for all media and players to live by. Though it's not a perfect solution as it is written, FairPlay is well considered to be the most generous DRM out in the market - especially when you consider the amount of content that is protected under it. If the model then needed to be changed, the standard is already set - small tweaks would be easily able to propagate out to the consumer level with no inconvenience.
Most importantly, with standards a consumer would be able to choose the device that he or she wants to use. DRM wouldn't be one tenth the inconvenience if you could go buy any player, and be able to put any song on it that you legally purchased. Without all of the format wars, in-fighting and lawsuits, a consumer would be left with options - a solution that revolves around the convenience of the sucker with the dough.
Big Broadcasters Want to Control More Media Outlets
During its last quadrennial review of broadcast ownership rules, the FCC voted for less regulation of US media companies, only to be smacked down by a court decision in Prometheus v. FCC. That case sent the FCC back to the proverbial drawing board, and the agency has sought a new round of comments on media ownership. Many of those comments were filed on Monday (the day that public comments ended), and they make one thing perfectly clear: big media companies have not given up on the dream of major deregulation.
At issue are current FCC regulations that generally prohibit cross-ownership of a broadcast station and a newspaper in the same market and prohibit the ownership of too many radio stations and TV stations in the same market.
The public comments are strikingly similar, in some cases because different media organizations used the same DC law firm to help them draw up the papers. They all mention the growth of the Internet, arguing that the massive success of services like YouTube has made many of the FCC's rules about local ownership requirements obsolete. In fact, they claim, the FCC has it precisely backward: increased media consolidation will benefit consumers, not harm them.
Gannett (which owns USA Today, among other things) points to the "established and sizable benefits that can be achieved by more efficient combinations of resources in the media sector," while Fox says it is "beyond question that regulatory intervention is no longer necessary to ensure diversity and localism." CBS puts it most strongly what it says that failing to give broadcasters the "fundamental freedom to compete" means that "we put at risk the rich American tradition of free, over-the-air broadcasting." That's right—CBS is saying that not allowing massive conglomerates to own even more pieces of the media could kill off free television.
Not surprisingly, these assertions are controversial. Michael Copps, one of the two Democratic Commissioners at the FCC, gave a recent talk in which he called on consumers across the country to get involved in the process. Copps pointed out how important citizen comments were to the last round of rule-making. "Thankfully, citizens rose up across the land," he said. "They sent nearly 3 million protests to the Federal Communications Commission. Congress rose up, too, and then a federal court sent those rules back to the FCC saying they were badly flawed and they needed to be reworked. That was good, and anybody that doesn't believe that citizen action can have an effect should just revisit what happened there."
Journalist Juan Gonzalez was at the same event and offered a dire warning about how corporate media remains largely closed to minority viewpoints. "We are in real danger of waking up one day with a de facto apartheid system," he said, "one where a small group of giant firms, run almost exclusively by white investors and managers, control the production and distribution of news and information to a largely non-white population." This isn't scare-mongering—a study released last week by Dr. Carolyn Byerly of Howard University found that minorities held a majority interest in only 3.6 percent of all broadcast stations in the US, even though more than 100 million of the 300 million Americans come from non-European backgrounds.
Byerly's study was released under the auspices of the Social Science Research Council, which several days ago issued four academic reports on media consolidation (PDF). After examining all four reports (which were submitted to the FCC as well), the SSRC said, "These studies make clear that media consolidation does not create better, more local or more diverse media content. To the contrary, they strongly suggest that media ownership rules should be tightened not relaxed."
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Juan Gonzalez on the Color of Media Consolidation
Copps and Gonzalez spoke at last week’s town hall meeting in New York on diversity and media ownership. The FCC is reconsidering a number of broadcast rules -including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market. [includes rush transcript]
A town hall meeting on diversity and media ownership was held last week here in New York City. All five commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission were invited. Only two showed up – Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. More than 300 activists and citizens came out to show their opposition to further media consolidation as the FCC reconsiders a number of broadcast rules - including whether a single company should be able to own both a newspaper and television station in the same market.
Michael Copps, FCC Commissioner.
Juan Gonzalez, Daily News columnist and Democracy Now co-host.
AMY GOODMAN: This is FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
MICHAEL COPPS: The FCC is in the midst of a hugely important proceeding right now to decide what the future of our media, our TV, our radio, our newspapers, our cable, even our internet, are going to look like for a long, long time to come.
A little history, just to set the stage for our discussion. Three years ago, under then FCC Chairman Michael Powell and over the objections of my good friend Commissioner Adelstein and myself, the FCC severely cut back -- really “eviscerated” is a better word -- the rules that were meant to check big media’s seemingly endless appetite for more consolidation. It passed new rules, which have allowed a single media giant to own in a single market up to three television stations, eight radio stations, the cable system, the cable channels, even the internet portal, and the local newspaper, which in most cities in the United States of America is already a monopoly. And the agency did all of that behind closed doors and without seeking meaningful input from the American people. Can you imagine that? Authorizing a sea change in how news and entertainment are produced and presented over the people's airwaves, without even involving the people who own those airwaves and who depend so heavily upon them. It was a near disaster for America.
Thankfully, citizens rose up across the land. They sent nearly 3 million protests to the Federal Communications Commission. Congress rose up, too, and then a federal court sent those rules back to the FCC saying they were badly flawed and they needed to be reworked. That was good, and anybody that doesn’t believe that citizen action can have an effect should just revisit what happened there. We checked those rules. You checked those rules from going into effect. It was concerned citizens at work, and it was a citizen consumer victory.
But, here’s a reality check now. We’re right back at square one, and it’s all up for grabs again. And if we're going to have a better result this time around, doing something positive for media democracy, it’s going to be because of more citizen action and more input from folks like you. So, this time we need to make it an open public process, instead of hiding in our office in Washington like the majority did in 2003. This time, let all the commissioners come to New York City -- I wish they were all here tonight -- and let all the commissioners get out across America and find out what’s happening in the real world, beyond that Beltway that they bemoan so much but seem to love staying behind so much.
So, as we begin our discussion, then begin with that simple reminder: it’s all of us who own the airwaves. There is not a broadcaster, a business, a special interest, and any industry that owns one airwave in the United States of America. They belong to you, and they belong to me. And, my friends, now is the time to assert our ownership rights.
AMY GOODMAN: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps at the town hall meeting on diversity and media ownership here in New York. A number of people spoke, among them, New York Daily News columnist and Democracy Now! co-host, Juan Gonzalez.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I thank Commissioner Copps and Commissioner Adelstein for their continued willingness to hear the concerns of the public, as the FCC prepares yet again to overhaul the nation’s broadcast ownership rules, a process that has the potential to make a bad situation far worse than anyone can imagine. I am talking about the impact of media consolidation on news and information provided for and about the nation’s fast-growing population of racial and ethnic minorities.
Just this week, the United States reached a milestone: the 300 million population mark. More than a third of that population, more than 100 million people, trace their origin not to Europe, but to Africa, Asia, Latin America, or to the original indigenous people of the hemisphere. By 2050, that figure will surpass more than 50% of the total U.S. population. Yet our news media, especially our broadcast media, have failed in stunning fashion to reflect in their ownership, their employment and their news coverage, this rapidly changing reality.
Worse, if present trends of media concentration continue, and if our government loosens even further its regulation of broadcast ownership rules, media ownership by racial minorities in my opinion will virtually disappear in the United States. We are in real danger of waking up one day with a de facto apartheid system, one where a small group of giant firms, run almost exclusively by white investors and managers, control the production and distribution of news and information to a largely non-white population.
Is this overly alarmist? Not if you consider some of the facts we’ve heard this evening. The last report the Department of Commerce did tracking media ownership was in 2000. It stopped doing the reports. And at that time, it found that 3.8% of all full-power broadcast stations in the country were owned by people of color. Now, when an independent nonprofit group does the job that the federal government should be doing, we find that the actual ownership by minorities has decreased since 2000. So, while the minority population of the country is increasing, the minority ownership of radio and television is decreasing. So this is a troubling trend that we have been trying to get data on. The FCC has not been mining its own data. The Commerce Department has stopped doing the studies.
While the race or ethnic background of an owner is hardly a sure guarantee of more balanced news coverage, the FCC’s own studies several years ago, in response to the Adarand case, found a clear connection between minority ownership and more diversity in content and staffing.
For eleven years now, the NAHJ has produced its annual Network Brownout Report, as our executive director mentioned earlier. Each report examines coverage of Latinos on the evening news of the major networks. Every year, it shows the same depressing result: stories about Latinos have made up less than 1% of the more than 12,000 network news stories that air annually, even while the Latino population continues to explode. And this is going on year after year after year. When Latinos are covered, the two dominant themes are invariably undocumented immigration and crime. The harm done to our community and to the general society by this persistent marginalization of Hispanics and by the preponderance of stereotypical coverage cannot be overestimated.
As a veteran journalist, I know that ownership matters. There are few news executives in our time brave enough to buck the viewpoints of their owners on a day-to-day basis. It is not a matter of how many different channels, how many niche publications, on how many platforms or particular venues you produce your content. If it’s the same owners, the viewpoint diversity, no matter how many different niche publications and how many outlets you have, will not be substantially different.
So, if there is no diversity in ownership, it is extremely unlikely the public will receive sufficient diversity in viewpoint and coverage. Because of media ownership concentration, our democratic discourse has been cheapened and distorted. We call on the FCC to use its regulatory powers to reverse this dangerous trend, to reassert the long-established principles of our national broadcast policy of diversity, localism and competition. If we do not reassert them, then we are headed for a de facto apartheid media system. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan Gonzalez, the former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which was one of those organizations that sponsored the town hall forum on media diversity in New York.
Creative Commons Filmmaking - A Swarm Of Angels Remixes Modern Cinema
Creative Commons filmmaking experiment A Swarm Of Angels aims to create and distribute the first collaborative internet film. The aim is to use community participation and funding to make a film that would traditionally cost $3-4 million for just $1.75 million.
"A Swarm of Angels reinvents the Hollywood model of filmmaking to create cult cinema for the Internet era. It's all about making an artistic statement, making something you haven't seen before. Why are we doing this? Because we are tired of films that are made simply to please film executives, sell popcorn, or tie-in with fastfood licensing deals. We want to invent the future of film. Call it Cinema 2.0."
Because the finished product will be released under the creative commons license, users will be able to freely download, view, share, burn, rip, and remix the content as they see fit. The entire filmmaking process will be collaborative, from a Wiki-based script creation to community voting on certain creative & marketing decisions. They have set clearly defined stages and targets, with an eventual goal of 50,000 participants involved in the making of this feature film.
Torrentfreak has more details on the project, as well as a short interview with founder Matt Hanson.
"The genre will be thriller based with some soft sci-fi elements. The community is currently developing two scripts, The Unfold and Glitch. Based on member input these scripts will be put into initial drafts written by Matt Hanson."
"The success of this project would undoubtedly create a landmark example of how media can be created and made available for free. It would encourage an alternative entertainment model to Hollywood, which doesn’t crack down on filesharers, but encourages and accommodates them, and their enthusiasm. I think the future of film is about bringing audiences and filmmakers closer together in entertainment communities where both can interact and get more out of the experience."
Those interested in participating should check out the Join page and discussion boards to get involved. Join The Swarm.
What’s That Sound Coming From the Doctor’s Cabinet?
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” made in Germany in 1919, virtually cornered the market on the concept of “disorienting.” So what David Lee Fisher has accomplished in his unusual semi-remake is rather startling: he has out-disoriented the original. Probably not in the way he intended, but still, interesting, and kind of dizzying.
Robert Wiene’s “Caligari,” of course, is a landmark of silent cinema. Filmed when Germany was suffering a severe shortage of right angles, it is chock-full of skewed windows, crooked doors and warped walkways, not to mention freakishly made-up characters.
Mr. Fisher has scanned the original backgrounds from an old print and, through some kind of green-screen magic, put living, speaking actors into them. They tell a fleshed-out version of the original story, written by Mr. Fisher but basically the same as that flickering tale from almost 90 years ago: Francis (Judson Pearce Morgan) and his friend Alan (Neil Hopkins) visit a fair where the mysterious Caligari (Daamen Krall) is exhibiting a somnambulist (Doug Jones) who accurately predicts Alan’s death.
The disorientation begins the first time an actor speaks: so ingrained are the silent Expressionist images of the original that it is jarring to hear voices. It’s doubly jarring that the resulting dialogue sounds very 21st-century (except when, occasionally, it sounds like a noir detective film), even as the makeup is recreating the 1919 look. Brain cannot reconcile! Circuit overload!
And, of course, while your brain is fritzing out, you’re trying to figure out how the cinematic trick was done and what the implications might be for other old films. Scary, disturbing, intriguing, all at once.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
Opens today in Manhattan.
Directed and edited by David Lee Fisher; written by Mr. Fisher, based on the story by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, and the film “Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari” by Robert Wiene; director of photography, Christopher Duddy; music by Eban Schletter; production designer, Kim Richey; produced by Leonard McLeod and Paula Elins; released by Highlander Films. At the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village. Running time: 76 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Judson Pearce Morgan (Francis), Daamen J. Krall (Dr. Caligari), Doug Jones (Cesare), Lauren Birkell (Jane), Neil Hopkins (Alan), William Gregory Lee (Joseph), Randy Mulkey (Inspector) and Time Winters (Dr. Stern).
Talent Agency Is Aiming to Find Web Video Stars
David M. Halbfinger
One of Hollywood’s top five talent agencies has created an online unit devoted to scouting out up-and-coming creators of Internet content — particularly video — and finding work for them in Web-based advertising and entertainment, as well as in the older media.
The move by the United Talent Agency — best known as the home of comedians like Vince Vaughn and Jack Black, filmmakers like M. Night Shyamalan and television producers like Dick Wolf and David Chase — amounts to a bet, albeit a modest one, that Web video is on a growth curve similar to that of cable television a generation ago. It is also a return by Hollywood’s core talent representatives to the sort of new-media business they tested, without great success, at the peak of the dot-com boom.
The goal this time around, executives say, is not only to recruit the next generation of television and film writers and directors from the relative obscurity of sites like YouTube and Revver. It is also to help the major Web portals that are hungry for original content to find the creative people they need — just as movie studios have long turned to talent agencies when looking for new directors, screenwriters and actors.
“It starts with just helping identify people on both sides of the aisle,” said Brent Weinstein, head of the new division, UTA Online. “The barrier to entry is so low, everybody is now a potential artist. So there’s this great unwashed of talent out there, 99.999 percent of which is probably not good enough to have a traditional film and television career. But on the Internet, a lot of different types of things go. And yet for buyers, this is a wall of people, so how does a brand know which one of them can help it execute?”
John Moshay, head of business development for Whittman Hart, an interactive advertising agency based in Chicago, said it was becoming untenable for buyers like his firm and its clients to find their own writers, performers and directors.
“It’s very hit or miss at the moment, and we’re at a tipping point: the marketplace is just beginning to ramp up its demand for true talent like this,” he said. “We use it, and we buy it, but we’re not necessarily in the business of developing it.”
United Talent’s online division, whose initial staff is three 26-year-old agents promoted from assistant, will operate independently from the main agency, said Jeremy Zimmer, a founder and director of the company. Defying industry conventions, agents will welcome unsolicited submissions (preferably as Web links), show existing clients’ output on a new agency Web site and be free to sign clients without the approval of the more-established departments.
Already, the three agents have cut six-figure deals with major media portals and signed a handful of clients whose Web-based serials, recurring comedy features and short digital films have drawn one-time downloads in the millions and regular watchers, in some cases, in the tens of thousands.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Weinstein said, one of his new agents showed him a Web video that had been up for less than an hour: “Paxilback,” a parody of a Justin Timberlake music video, “Sexyback.” The agents quickly reached out to its creators, a group of Los Angeles artists called People Food. By the time they could arrange a meeting five days later, the video had been seen 600,000 times.
United Talent is hardly the only agency to recognize the shift of media and advertising money, and consumers, to the Internet. Agencies like International Creative Management and Endeavor frequently bid against United Talent. And the venerable William Morris Agency created a digital media division in May, though that is aimed at helping existing clients find new work in the digital world — like a Web-based talk show that stars the comic Tom Green, a familiar television personality of a few years ago.
Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood’s dominant talent shop, had a big Internet division at the height of the dot-com boom. But that was long before user-generated content achieved its current volume and impact; the unit has since shut down, and no one at Creative Artists is assigned solely to recruiting Web talent, an agency employee said.
United Talent, by contrast, is taking the risk that relatively small deals today will quickly grow in size and scope, and it is banking on the notion that artists surfacing on the Internet may often be quite content to have successful careers that do not make the leap to TV or film.
“In the old days, i.e., two months ago, it was about signing up those clients and immediately figuring out how to flip them into traditional media,” Mr. Weinstein said. “Now we can look at an artist and say, that might be a goal, but in the interim, or while we’re doing that, or instead of that, how can we monetize their interests online?”
Agents, producers and buyers alike say the Web has been an unpredictable medium for making deals. But Mr. Zimmer said he hoped United Talent would soon have enough clout to lay down some rules of the road. “The more market share we have in Web-specific talent, the more we’ll be able to define the rules of the marketplace and help the buyers understand the best way to do their business,” he said.
Jason U. Nadler, one of the three new online agents, said United Talent’s clients were only now waking up to the possibilities. “These are people that realize they have something. They see YouTube being bought for $1.6 billion. They say, ‘Wait a sec, I haven’t seen a penny of this. Meanwhile, my stuff has been downloaded two million times.’ They feel like they might not be getting as good a deal as they should, and they’re excited when we call.”
The doctor is online
Net-Based Psychiatric Treatments Sometimes Beneficial
A yet-to-be-published study is making some startling claims about psychological treatment. According to researchers at The Australian National University in Canberra, spending time on therapeutic and educational web sites can be just as effective as regular visits to the psychotherapist.
Researchers studied a group of patients who were referred to two web sites: The MoodGYM and education site BluePages. The MoodGYM is therapeutic in nature, a cognitive behavior therapy site dedicated to preventing depression by helping users to "identify and overcome problem emotions," showing them how to "develop good coping skills for the future" in order to enjoy good mental health. BluePages is a depression education site, providing information about the symptoms of and treatments for depression.
After 12 months, users of both web sites reported improvement. Interestingly enough, the educational site BluePages proved to be more effective than the behavior-therapy site. BluePages users "were less likely to use actions that did not have an evidence basis," researcher Helen Christensen said. "We don't know exactly why the Internet interventions are so effective in the longer term, but it may be that there is a reduction in use of ineffective and potentially damaging treatments."
"In some ways the results are not that surprising," psychotherapist Kerry DeVries told Ars Technica. "Cognitive behavioral strategies—sometimes in conjunction with medication—are the most effective means of treating depression." DeVries also believes willingness to use the web sites shows the kind of initiative needed to successfully treat depression. "A person who is visiting an educational site like BluePages is taking the necessary steps with her own self-care. That's a key component of successful treatment for depression."
The researchers believe that the results indicate that Internet-based strategies—educational and therapeutic—can be as effective as in-office treatment. If that is indeed the case, educational and treatment-focused sites could become useful tools in treating people in remote or rural areas for whom access to professional help is problematic. Some therapists make use of remote treatments already, mostly over the phone, but using the Internet as a means of delivering psychiatric care is a relatively new phenomenon. While it can't replace individual psychotherapy or medication in all instances, the study does show that sites dedicated to education and treatment can be a valuable tool in the therapist's arsenal.
Amazon to Curtail Its Spending
Laurie J. Flynn
Going into the critical holiday shopping season, Amazon.com said yesterday that it would slow its investment in new technology in a bid to start reaping the rewards of its continuing growth.
Amazon, the huge online retailer based in Seattle, reported that its third-quarter earnings fell by more than a third, dragged down by heavy spending to get new projects off the ground, even as its sales rose 24 percent.
Despite the profit hit, the company’s promise to ease up on future spending on new technology came as a relief to investors, who bid up Amazon’s shares by more than 14 percent, to $38.38, in the after-hours trading that followed the release of its results.
Amazon shares had risen 75 cents, to close at $33.65, during the regular session.
Executives have long insisted that lower prices, new services and expanded selection are essential to power growth in sales and are necessary in light of the highly competitive market. Amazon faces challenges not only from merchants selling physical goods like electronics and toys, but also from sellers of digital products, including the Apple Computer iTunes store for music.
But for the first time in a long while, executives moved to assure investors that expansion and new hiring would now begin to slow.
“We expect our year-over-year increase in technology spending to decline during the fourth quarter,” Tom Szkutak, Amazon’s chief finance officer, said in a conference call with analysts.
Lately, Amazon’s profit gains have slowed as it has invested heavily in teams of software engineers and computer scientists to build the technology for its new offerings.
During the third quarter, Amazon’s investment in new technology and content increased 42 percent, to $171 million. Among the new initiatives was Amazon Unbox, a video downloading service introduced in September.
Sales increased to $2.31 billion in the third quarter, compared with $1.86 billion in the period last year, slightly higher than the $2.25 billion expected by analysts.
Profit in the quarter declined 37 percent, to $19 million, or 5 cents a share, from $30 million, or 7 cents, a year earlier. That beat analysts’ forecasts of 3 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial.
Jeffrey Bezos, the chief executive, said Amazon increased the selection of products it sells directly through its sites by roughly 50 percent during the quarter.
Investors were also encouraged yesterday by Amazon’s forecast for the holiday quarter. Amazon now expects revenue of $3.63 billion to $3.95 billion during the fourth quarter, an increase of 22 percent to 33 percent over the period last year, topping Wall Street’s forecast of $3.69 billion.
For the full year, revenue is expected to be $10.35 billion to $10.68 billion, growing 22 percent to 26 percent compared with 2005.
“There’s nothing remarkable about their performance, but investors are basically saying that things look O.K.,” Safa Rashtchy, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said. “The sector has rebounded. There is good growth momentum.”
One major area of investment for Amazon has been in the toy business, after its courtroom defeat this year by Toys ‘R’ Us, in a ruling that allowed the toy retailer to sell items on its own Web site. After losing that high-margin relationship, Amazon spent heavily to enhance its selection and its business partnerships with toy companies and other retailers.
Company executives also continued to defend Amazon Prime, the discount shipping program, despite longstanding concern among some analysts that the program was too costly. Amazon Prime gives subscribers unlimited two-day shipping for a fee of $79 a year.
“We continue to see increased purchases by Amazon Prime members across more categories,” Mr. Szkutak said.
Indeed, Amazon’s popularity appears to be growing. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, a market research company, traffic on Amazon.com’s sites overall increased 14 percent during the fourth quarter over last year. And the number of purchases increased to 5.8 million in August from 4.7 million in July.
Amazon’s earnings report was released the day after I.B.M. filed two lawsuits against the company, contending it has built its business on technology developed by I.B.M.
Sony Says Recall Strains Battery Production
The Sony Corporation said on Tuesday that a recall of up to 9.6 million of its personal computer batteries was overwhelming its production capacity and warned that it could lose some of that business to its rivals.
Besides Sony itself, major computer makers like Dell, Toshiba and Apple are recalling Sony-made lithium-ion batteries, which in rare cases can overheat and catch fire.
The executive deputy president at Sony, Yutaka Nakagawa, told reporters at a news conference that Sony’s capacity was inadequate to supply enough new batteries to replace its customers’ batteries while also meeting its regular demand.
Mr. Nakagawa said Sony was in talks with personal computer makers about enlisting the help of other battery makers to meet demand.
He also said that there was a good chance that some makers of personal computers could take their business elsewhere and reduce their reliance on Sony.
Such a move could be a boon for the Sanyo Electric Company, another top maker of lithium-ion batteries in 2005, according to the research firm Jstar Global.
Sony said it had no plans to quit its battery operations. “The battery operation is a very important business for us; we have no intention of quitting it or scaling it down,” Mr. Nakagawa said. “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for causing worries over the safety of lithium-ion batteries.”
Last month Masahiro Ono, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, estimated that Sony’s battery operations would post sales of 180 billion yen ($1.5 billion) for the fiscal year, or 2 percent of the company’s overall revenue. Sony itself does not disclose the size of its battery operations.
Sony has set aside 51 billion yen ($429 million) for costs related to the recall. Hit by the mounting recall costs and a widening loss at its game division, Sony last week slashed its full-year operating profit outlook by 62 percent.
Sony also said yesterday that it would recall batteries in its Vaio notebook computers.
Corning Earns $438 Million in 3Q as Sales Rise 8 Percent
Corning Inc., lifted by higher demand for liquid-crystal-display glass, said its third-quarter profit more than doubled, but warned Tuesday that sales in the fourth quarter would be slightly short of Wall Street's view.
The glass, fiber optics and specialty materials company earned $438 million, or 27 cents a share in the July-September period, compared with a profit of $203 million, or 13 cents a share, in last year's third quarter.
Sales jumped 8 percent to $1.28 billion from $1.19 billion a year ago.
Excluding one-time items, including an asbestos-litigation charge of $13 million, or 1 cent a share, Corning earned $451 million, or 28 cents a share.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had forecast earnings of 25 cents a share on sales of $1.32 billion.
In July, Corning warned that its third-quarter results would fall short of Wall Street expectations because of inventory buildups of LCD glass. It projected sales of $1.26 billion to $1.33 billion and per-share earnings of 22 cents to 26 cents a share, before items.
For the fourth quarter, Corning expects sales of $1.28 billion to $1.33 billion, with per-share earnings of 26 cents to 29 cents a share, before special items. Analysts had expected income of 27 cents per share on sales of $1.359 billion.
One reason for the shortfall, Corning's chief financial officer Jim Flaws said, "is Wall Street doesn't adjust for the change in the yen rate when they set some of those numbers at the beginning of the quarter.
"Remember this product is all sold in yen and ... the dollar was strengthening during this period of time, and so that was a slight negative to us," said Corning's chief financial officer, Jim Flaws.
Corning shares fell 25 cents, or 1 percent, to close at $23.14 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The earnings report was released after the market close, and its shares fell 54 cents to $22.60 in extended trading.
Corning's display technologies sales rose 3 percent to $506 million from $489 million a year ago as year-over-year LCD glass volume surged by 31 percent but this was largely offset by price declines and changes in foreign exchange rates.
Third-quarter revenue in the segment rose 10 percent from $461 million in the second quarter as volume increases of 16 percent were partially offset by lower prices and exchange-rate changes.
In May, the world's largest maker of LCD glass lowered its sales growth forecast for the flat-screen television and computer panels, predicting volume would be flat to 5 percent lower than the first quarter because of inventory buildups.
Sales in Corning's telecommunications unit fell 3 percent to $456 million mainly because of lower prices and lower volume for fiber-to-the-premises optical fiber and related products.
Based in western New York, Corning commands an estimated 55 percent of the global market for LCD glass, which accounts for about 38 percent of its revenue.
As many as 42 million LCD TVs will be shipped worldwide this year, up from 20 million in 2005, analysts say. Of those, more than 11 million units will be sold in North America.
James Houghton, the iron-willed patriarch who came out of retirement to guide Corning's recovery from the telecommunications crash of 2001, retired in May as an active employee of the pioneering glass company his great-great-grandfather founded in 1851.
For the first nine months of the year, Corning earned $1.21 billion, or 76 cents a share, versus $618 million, or 41 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue for the nine months rose to $3.81 billion from $3.38 billion a year ago.
Microsoft Earnings Rise, Beating Views
Microsoft Corp., which is gearing up to release new versions of its two most important products, says it started its fiscal year on the right foot with quarterly results that exceeded expectations.
For the three months ended Sept. 30, earnings rose by 11 percent, amid higher-than-expected sales of products including server software, Redmond-based Microsoft said Thursday.
But the company also warned that its results for its current fiscal second quarter would be hurt by plans to defer about $1.5 billion in revenue to the following quarter. The company's overall results for the full 2007 fiscal year, which ends in June, aren't expected to be impacted.
Microsoft expects to defer the revenue because of a plan to offer consumers who buy computers over the next few months coupons that are good for free or discounted upgrades to the new versions of its Windows operating system and Office business software.
After many delays, Windows Vista is due to reach consumers in January. Microsoft and computer makers are offering the coupons in the hopes people will buy new Windows-powered computers as holiday gifts even though they will be running a soon-to-be-outdated operating system. Office 2007 also isn't due to consumers until January.
For the fiscal first quarter, Microsoft said it earned $3.48 billion or 35 cents per share, compared with earnings of $3.14 billion, or 29 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.
The year-earlier results included a one-time legal charge of 2 cents per share.
The company said revenue for its fiscal first quarter was $10.81 billion, an 11 percent increase over $9.74 billion in the same period a year earlier.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of 31 cents per share on revenue of $10.75 billion.
Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said net income was boosted by higher-than-anticipated investment income. He said Microsoft also was able to reduce spending in the just-ended quarter, but he warned that some of that money will be spent in the current quarter instead, on marketing and other efforts.
Liddell said Microsoft also had higher-than-expected revenue from server software and the unit that includes the Xbox videogame console.
For the current fiscal second quarter that ends Dec. 31, Microsoft said it expects to earn between 22 cents per share and 24 cents per share. The company said the results would be about 11 cents less than they might have been because of the $1.5 billion revenue deferral plan.
Microsoft said that after deferring the $1.5 billion, revenue for its second quarter would be between $11.8 billion and $12.4 billion.
Analyst Sid Parakh with McAdams Wright Ragen said that although analysts were warned of the revenue deferral, some may not have been expecting the impact on earnings to be quite so high.
Microsoft now expects earnings of $1.43 to $1.46 per share for its full fiscal year ending in June, a small revision to a previous forecast of $1.43 to $1.47 per share.
But revenue for the 12-month period is expected to be between $50 billion and $50.9 billion, a slight increase over a previous forecast of $49.7 billion to $50.7 billion.
Liddell said the fiscal year earnings forecast was lowered in part because the company's plan to buy back about $20 billion worth of shares wasn't as successful as anticipated. Microsoft only was able to buy back about $4 billion in stock.
Analyst Alan Davis with D.A. Davidson said he was relatively pleased with overall performance.
"It's not a bad quarter, not a bad outlook," he said.
Sun Reports Higher Sales, and a Rise in Optimism
Laurie J. Flynn
Sun Microsystems, the struggling server maker that has become an emblem of the dot-com bust, has provided some evidence that its hard times may soon be over.
The company beat Wall Street’s estimates with a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss on Thursday on a 17 percent increase in sales.
Sun posted a loss of 2 cents a share during the first quarter that ended Oct. 1, in contrast to a loss of 4 cents a share in the quarter last year, as corporate customers showed greater confidence in the company’s growth prospects and helped it gain back share in the market for computer servers.
“We believe we are well on track to a more attractive future,” said Jonathan I. Schwartz, the chief executive.
Before the report was released, shares of Sun rose 6 cents to close at $5.36, just short of the 52-week high. They rose slightly in after-hours trading.
The stock has risen nearly 25 percent this year on optimism that a turnaround was finally under way.
“Things are progressing well,” said Brent Bracelin, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. “They are even a little ahead of plan.” He said he expected Sun to break even next quarter, a sentiment that appears to be widely held on Wall Street.
Sun’s sales increased 17 percent to $3.19 billion, from $2.73 billion for the same period last year. Sun’s loss was $56 million during the first quarter, compared with a loss of $123 million in last year’s period.
As part of its broad plan for turning things around, the company promoted Mr. Schwartz, its longtime president, to chief executive in April. He succeeded Scott McNealy, a company co-founder who had led Sun for more than two decades.
That was followed in May by Sun’s announcement that it would cut as many as 5,000 jobs before the end of the year in an attempt to turn a consistent profit again. Yesterday, Michael E. Lehman, Sun’s chief financial officer, said the company had reduced its work force by 2,000 since the end of June, and planned to reduce it by another 1,000 to 2,000 before the end of the year.
Over the last few years, the company has overhauled its entire product line, upgrading its line of computer servers and reworking its software operating system strategy. Sun announced new servers based on more powerful Sparc chips, while expanding its use of mainstream processors from Advanced Micro Devices. Last year, the company acquired StorageTek, a storage and data services company, for $4 billion.
In Sun’s services business, revenue was up 20 percent, to $1.23 billion from $1.02 billion a year ago. Sales from its computer systems increased 15 percent over last year’s first quarter, for the third consecutive quarter of year-over-year revenue increase. Software sales grew 17 percent.
“We grew all of our core businesses,” Mr. Schwartz said.
The strategy appears to be working in Sun’s crucial server business, which has lost market share in recent years. Sun’s share of the server market measured in revenue grew to 12.9 percent, from 11.2 percent during the second calendar quarter, according to IDC, a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.
While declining to give a precise forecast, Mr. Lehman said he expected Sun to see a rise in revenue in “the high single digits” in the second quarter from the first quarter.
For AMD, More Money Means More Problems
Success has its pitfalls, especially when you've awoken a sleeping giant.
For the past two years Advanced Micro Devices has made Intel, one of the world's most prominent companies, look bad. Better products and better timing have brought AMD significant market share and prominent new customers like Dell. But Intel is on the comeback with new processor designs better suited for the power-efficient multicore era, and it will beat AMD to the quad-core punch by using a design strategy that makes purists scoff but accountants happy.
The next six months will be tricky for AMD CEO Hector Ruiz. For starters, his company is taking a hit in the stock market after disclosing that its gross margin fell five points from the second quarter to the third, which ended last week. Part of that was due to the price war in the PC processor market, but AMD also is facing a challenge of overall demand is rising before new manufacturing technologies are completely ready.
"It's a good problem to have," said Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research, since it means people want your products. "But AMD needs more factories." The company's design strategy for the quad-core era requires that it successfully navigate the transition to building smaller transistors at the same time it gets a new factory up and running.
AMD's current pickle is the result of its success, which makes it a little easier to swallow for company executives. Demand is high, but the company's dual-core processors still use its 90-nanometer manufacturing technology. Intel's chips, on the other hand, are built using the smaller transistors provided by its 65-nanometer manufacturing technology. Not only is AMD using larger transistors, but its dual-core Opteron and Athlon 64 processors contain two processing cores integrated onto a single piece of silicon, or a die. This design has given AMD great performance during the past few years, but resulted in processors that were almost twice the size of its single-core chips.
Individual chips are cut from round silicon wafers. Manufacturers obsess over reducing the number of defects on those wafers, but there's always going to be some number of chips on a wafer that simply don't work. The problem is that when each individual chip is relatively large, there's an increased risk that a portion of that chip might contain a defect. Since it costs the same to make a wafer whether a chipmaker gets six chips or 60 chips from that batch, maximizing yields or the number of good die per wafer is essential to this business.
AMD's 90-nanometer dual-core Opteron and Athlon 64 processors have a die size of 199 millimeters squared. By chip design standards, that's considered a little large, McCarron said. When AMD starts making dual-core Opterons on its 65-nanometer manufacturing technology, that die size is expected to go down to something a little more comfortable that will allow AMD to produce more chips per wafer. An AMD representative declined to comment on the die size for its first 65-nanometer products.
On a conference call following AMD's earnings results last week, Chief Financial Officer Bob Rivet noted that the company would see a cost benefit from its move to 65-nanometer processors in the fourth quarter, since the cost of building the wafer can be spread over more chips. He also pointed out that AMD still hasn't made the full transition to 300-millimeter-wide wafers from 200-millimeter wafers. Obviously, the larger the wafer, the more chips that can be cut from that wafer, and--not counting the one-time expense of purchasing 300-millimeter equipment--the extra costs of the larger wafer are negligible. "Every day will make the wafer costs go down because we will have better utilization and the die costs will go down due to the conversion to 65-nanometers," Rivet said. The company will also be able to produce more chips from the same wafers in order to satisfy demand, and performance will also likely be improved.
Intel, however, made the move to 65 nanometers in the fourth quarter of 2005, and to 300-millimeter wafers some time ago. Its Core Duo chip was its first processor built using the smaller transistors, and it announced earlier this month that it is now shipping more 65-nanometer processors than 90-nanometer chips.
This has given Intel the flexibility to leapfrog AMD to the quad-core generation of processors. Intel plans to build quad-core chips by taking two separate dual-core processors and putting them together in a single package, which it calls a multichip module (MCM).
The MCM allows Intel to get its designs out into the market faster than AMD. Intel's first quad-core processors are expected to become available next month, but AMD is waiting until the middle of next year to unveil its quad-core server processor.
It also allows Intel to maximize its yields by building smaller chips. For example, if one of the dual-core processors in the MCM gets knocked out by a defect, the whole product doesn't have to be tossed. Intel will still need to build dual-core chips for the mainstream and lower ends of the market for several years. It can build dual-core chips for those markets, and simply package two dual-core chips when it wants to ratchet up the performance.
AMD's chips are based on a different design than Intel's, and so the company believes it benefits most from an integrated core design, where all four cores on its quad-core chips will live on a single piece of silicon. Each processor core will be connected by a fast Hypertransport link that allows signals to flow between the cores at the chip's clock speed without having to leave the die. Intel's design means that if a core on one processor wants to exchange information with a core on the other processor, they have to do so at rates slower than the chip's clock speed, since the signals have to travel through the package.
Some chip enthusiasts--who occasionally resemble architectural critics--aren't too impressed with the MCM approach, since it fails to address Intel's reliance on external communications links to exchange information between processors. This was one of the factors that led to AMD's performance advantage up until the introduction of Intel's Core microarchitecture processors, which outdo AMD's chips on several benchmarks.
Intel thinks its quad-core processors will be extremely competitive on performance and power consumption, in part because the company will boost performance between now and when AMD's quad-core chips are ready, said Bill Kircos, a company spokesman. Still, Intel will use a mix of monolithic and MCM quad-core designs in the future, depending on the need for performance, low-cost chips, volumes, and speed, he said.
AMD's monolithic design also means its die sizes will likely increase when it moves from dual-core 65-nanometer processors to quad-core 65-nanometer processors, raising the cost and margins issue once again. Earlier this year, AMD showed it recognized the need to catch up to Intel's manufacturing pace with the announcement that it plans to introduce 45-nanometer processors just 18 months after rolling out its 65-nanometer chips, a transition that usually takes at least two years. But if it can continue to deliver performance that makes server customers drool with its quad-core chips, the cost questions will be overshadowed by the revenue padding its bottom line.
One year ago
Energy Crisis: It's Hard to Make a Buck When You Are Storing Everyone's Stuff for Free
Robert X. Cringely
Combining themes of several recent columns, we can see that a lot of money is being bet on a future user computing experience based on web services. Ubiquitous broadband along with hefty processing capability in your desktop, notebook, and coat pocket will bring entertainment, information, and even classic office services to us wherever we are, finally making real Sun's old motto that the network is the computer. But this future brings with it a number of expenses and vulnerabilities. For users, there's the dilemma of trusting our data to whomever. For service providers, there's the alternate dilemma of having to hold that data, because the cost of keeping that data online all the time will be huge. It's an energy crisis in the making.
The best bet in terms of who will be providing these future web services is simple: everyone. Microsoft will build hooks into Windows Vista, making it work seamlessly with a variety of services that will clearly be coming from a revitalized MSN. What Microsoft does, Yahoo will do and Google will do -- entertainment suites, search suites, communication suites, Office suites. As Dave Winer said last week on NerdTV, developers will give users whatever they want. The big boys will be competing furiously for market share, too, as you can see from the recent public wrestling over buying a piece of AOL. And remember, that's the FREE part of AOL they are fighting over.
Wherever the majors let us down, the startups will take over with yet more individual services and suites. AJAX porno, anyone?
But every one of these service providers, if they really do intend to be there when we need them with all our pictures, videos, love letters, and construction blueprints, are going to have to keep all that data available online 24/7, which is an unprecedented storage challenge, and one that the storage industry has NOT been working on.
As my Mama would say, this is a problem of having a big old back end.
Let's imagine some typical numbers. In the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen/Netratings, we have approximately 202 million Internet users, each of whom is eligible for a free Gmail account with two gigabytes of storage. Since my mother uses less than two gigs and I use more, let's do our rule-of-thumb estimate with that number, making the potential Gmail storage obligation 404 million gigabytes or about 400 petabytes. That's 400 times the current capacity of the Internet Archive, but it is also probably a tenth or less the total capacity of our PC and DVR hard drives today, so I think it is a very fair number to play with.
Of course, all that storage won't be required just for Gmail, unless Microsoft decides to create phantom users and take down its competitors through overwork. (Would that be legal? Maybe.) Rather, the 400 gigs will be shared among many competitors. But for this exercise it doesn't really matter because the issue is TOTAL cost, not who is bearing that cost.
Probably 80 percent of this capacity will be borne by the major players, with each of those taking a roughly equal share. That's MSN, Yahoo and Google, assuming that AOL will be somehow distributed between them, with each having about 100 petabytes of storage.
How much storage IS that, really? Well, the biggest enterprise hard drives available today hold 400 gigabytes each, which means each of these companies is going to need AT LEAST 250,000 drives, making Seagate, Hitachi, Maxtor, and Western Digital all very happy. Though with volume discounts that's really only about $25 million in disk drives -- far less than Microsoft's legal bills.
Now let's build a data center using those 250,000 drives. A disk array can hold about 32 drives in a 3U space. In a typical cabinet you can store about 12 arrays or a total of 384 drives. That cabinet sits on a 2' x 2' floor tile, plus some aisle space, or about 10 square feet of floor space for planning purposes. 250,000/384=651 cabinets or about 6,500 square feet. Heck, that's nothing when you read about all the hosting companies, with their 20,000 square foot data centers containing 20,000 servers each.
But just how many of those 20,000 square foot data centers are there, really? Do a little investigating and you'll find many hosting companies share the same building and claim the same 20,000 square feet.
The problem comes when you start to think about power consumption. It's not that disk drives consume so much power or that they haven't come down in consumption over the years, but each of those cabinets will require using modern drives about 3,300 watts to run while the full 100 petabytes will require 2.148 MEGAwatts. And all that heat has to go somewhere, so the building will typically use three to four times as much power for air conditioning as it does to run the drives, taking our total power consumption up to just under 10 megawatts, which at typical U.S. industrial power rates will cost about $5 million per year.
NOW we know why Google bought those 30 acres on the Columbia River in Oregon right next to a generating station from the Bonneville Power Administration. It's a source of cheap, uninterruptible power.
Of course nobody would build such a data center today because it would require 330 watts per square foot, and even the most modern facilities are provisioned only with 200 watts per square foot. Most are designed for 100 watts. So chances are any of these companies would spread their storage over two to three facilities.
This is the kind of planning and provisioning required to support FREE services. Add pictures and especially video and the total data storage requirements go up by another two orders of magnitude, much of that supposedly still supported by ads.
That's a heck of a lot of ads.
My point here is that we're entering another period of Internet exuberance. Yes, a lot has changed since 1999, but it's amazing how many of the ideas being pushed are the SAME ideas, just empowered now by dark fiber, cheap broadband, and six years of Moore's Law. And this time I think it will actually work and the Internet will change even more than it has the ways we live and work. But it isn't going to come easy and it isn't going to come cheap.
10,000 Fedora Downloads in Five Hours
If you're curious what the appetite is for Fedora Core 6, Red Hat's newest version of Linux for hobbyists, the company has an answer: 10,000 downloads in five hours.
Doing the math, that works out to one download every 1.8 seconds. And considering that the minimum size of Fedora Core 6 is 3.4GB, it's no surprise Red Hat's servers fell to their knees after the release Tuesday.
Although not all the downloads taxed the servers. The 10,000 statistic includes downloads through BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that doesn't tax central download servers as much as direct downloads.
Bug Causes Microsoft to Push Vista RTM to Nov. 8
PC manufacturers that expected to get their hands on the final version of Windows Vista today will have to wait a couple more weeks for the operating system, according to sources familiar with Microsoft Corp.'s plans.
Microsoft originally targeted today for Vista's release to manufacturing, but a last-minute bug that "took most of the Vista team by surprise" caused an unexpected delay, said Ethan Allen, a quality assurance lead at a Seattle high-tech company that tests its products for Vista. Allen also oversees hotfix.net.
Allen said the Vista team discovered the bug, which "would totally crash the system, requiring a complete reinstall," in Vista Build 5824 on Oct. 13. The team fixed the bug a week later in Vista Build 5840, he said, but the delivery of the operating system to PC makers was delayed.
The team is now targeting a new date of Nov. 8 for Vista's release to manufacturing, Allen said. He also said that the business release of Vista, which Microsoft recently said is on track for release next month, "will barely make the end of November deadline."
A story in DigiTimes first reported the delay of Vista's release to manufacturing, citing Taiwanese PC makers.
"We aren't discussing a specific date in public for RTM, though we are in the final stages of development and we are on track for Vista's availability to businesses in November and general availability in January," said a Microsoft spokeswoman. She declined to comment on what timetables Microsoft has given to OEMs and other partners.
Vista's release to manufacturing isn't the only thing that Microsoft is keeping people waiting for. Consumers concerned about the change in Windows client licensing that will allow them to transfer a Vista license only once are still wondering what would happen if they switched out the motherboard and other components of a computer. Some power users who like to build computers from scratch and rebuild PCs frequently have wondered whether they will have to purchase a new Vista license every time they do this.
Microsoft is in no hurry to give them an answer. A week after users first raised the issue, Microsoft declined to comment on the issue, according to a representative from its public relations firm.
Computerworld's Eric Lai contributed to this report..
Spoofing Bug Found in IE 7
Security experts have found a weakness in Internet Explorer 7 that could help crooks mask phishing scams, the type of attack Microsoft designed the browser to thwart.
IE 7, released last week, allows a Web site to display a pop-up that can contain a spoofed Web address, security monitoring company Secunia said Wednesday. An attacker could exploit this weakness to trick people into believing they are on a trusted Web site when in fact they are viewing a malicious page, Secunia said in an alert.
"This makes it possible to only display a part of the address bar, which may trick users into performing certain unintended actions," Secunia said. The company has created a demonstration that shows a Microsoft Web address in the pop up window, but displays content from Secunia.
The problem lies in the way Web addresses are displayed in the IE 7 address bar, a Microsoft representative said in an e-mailed statement. An attacker could exploit the issue by tricking a user to click on a specially formatted link, the representative said.
The pop-up will block the left part of the Web address, Microsoft said. "Clicking in the browser window or in the address bar and scrolling within it will display the full URL, however," the company said. In case of the Secunia example, the true Secunia URL is revealed.
An attack won't work if a Web site is known to be part of a phishing scam, Microsoft said. The IE 7 phishing shield will identify such sites and warn the user, it said. Microsoft is not aware of any attacks that actually use the reported vulnerability, the company said.
IE 7 is the first major update to Microsoft's ubiquitous Web browser in five years. Security was the No. 1 investment for the update, Microsoft has said. The phishing protection has been a major focus for Microsoft, shielding against malicious Web sites designed to trick users into handing over their personal information.
The spoofing issue, rated "less critical" by Secunia, appears to be the first genuine, publicly disclosed flaw in the new Microsoft browser. An earlier problem, disclosed a day after the IE 7 release, lies in Outlook Express, not IE 7, Microsoft has said.
Microsoft will continue to look into the problem and may provide a browser patch to fix it, the company said. In addition, Microsoft chided the anonymous discloser of the flaw. The software maker prefers that security issues be disclosed privately so it can repair them before they get publicly known.
From Redmond With Love
The Microsoft Internet Explorer Team sent us a cake for the upcoming release of Firefox 2!
A big thanks to Redmond, Washington!
P.S.: No, it was not poisoned
Secure VoIP Calling, Free Software, and the Right to Privacy
All free nations in the world today recognize certain basic principles, such as freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the freedom of privacy. These values that we all share were articulated by and fought for by people such as Voltaire, Jefferson, and Bolivar. This common heritage of freedom is today under attack by those who wish to turn the clock back on human progress. We all know that a government that lives in such fear of its own citizens that it must spy on them and claims the authority to do so en-mass and unchallengeable is not a legitimate government of the people it claims to serve.
There is an interesting story about George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. At one point some of Washington's officers were plotting rebellion against him, and he accidentally received a dispatch that was meant for one of the conspirators. Having opened it, and read it, he realized what had happened, and then asked the courier to please apologize because the letter was not meant for him. He choose to act as best he could in a manner as if he had not read the letter. For Washington understood that even at a time of war, there are certain ideals that must never be sacrificed, otherwise even if victory was achieved, it is not worth the price of a nation nobody would wish to live in.
With these thoughts, we chose, on the first Monday of this October, to release a stack for secure VOIP calling, as free software developed through GNU Telephony, a loose organization of developers who specialize in free software for telecommunications. We accomplished this by creating a free software stack that implements Phil Zimmerman's ZRTP, as well as the Secure RTP spec. This is now part of the GNU RTP Stack, ccrtp. We chose to make this available for immediate use in the most compelling way, by having available at the same time, a complete secure softphone client anyone can also download and use and which implements the secure calling features in an easy to use manner. This client was the Twinkle Softphone client, developed by Michel De Boer, and modified with his help to meet this goal in time with our initial release.
Secure calling VOIP using ZRTP operates much like ssh in concept. The keys for communication are generated locally, rather than using an external certificate authority, hence preventing weak or poisoned certificates which SRTP potentially allows. Fingerprint session signatures are shown and cached much like the ssh host fingerprints, so that one can determine if there is a man in the middle decrypting at one end and encrypting to another.
What we have developed does not interfere with lawful police investigations, since the end point can still be compromised with physical access, presumably executed as part of a lawful and judicially supervised court order. But it does prevent arbitrary and mass spying on what people say, which must come to an end before all other freedoms are lost. With additional technologies including tls secured SIP and anonymizing connection proxies, it is possible to also reduce associative information signal that intelligence so desperately wishes to mine, and that is a goal of later phases of this project.
Since it is free software, anyone can download and use it. Since it is offered as a library, it can be used to produce applications, like Twinkle, that can perform secure communications by design, rather than as an afterthought. This technology is here to stay. There are enough people who have set it up now around the world, including some I personally showed. The source is available and mirrored worldwide. Binaries have been build and now distributed in Debian. Much of that was all done very rapidly and early on at the start of the month, the rest while I was in Maturin speaking at the IVth International Free Knowledge Conference, which I will write about next week, to deliberately make sure it was immediately usable and widely disseminated.
This technology we are bringing to free VOIP software was of course first proposed, in a proprietary form, and as an external proxy known as zfone, by Phil Zimmerman. Much of the work in developing secure calling in the GNU RTP Stack was done by people like Werner Dittman and Federico Pouzols, and with lots of Michel De Boer from Twinkle. Whether you are a head of state wishing to communicate in private, a union organizer within a company, or simply talking to your family and friends, you have a basic right and expectation of privacy. We intend to do everything in our power to help further that goal.
Phones for That Other System
MAKING phone calls using voice-over-Internet protocol seems not only inexpensive, but so very modern. Known by the zippy acronym VoIP (rhymes with practically nothing), it lets you make voice calls over the Internet to anywhere in the world for pennies; no old-fashioned phone company required.
But as modern as the service seems, the VoIP phone gear has been as fashion-oriented as an avocado-green rotary phone — and about four times as large. Until recently, the best you could hope for was an “operators standing by” headset and microphone, which had to be tethered to a computer, which was itself tethered to a router.
Over the last year, however, VoIP providers like the industry leaders Skype and Vonage have been offering handsets that look and work more like the phones people are used to. VoIP phones are compact and wireless, and in some cases double as standard landline phones. There are systems that can convert your existing landline phones to work with VoIP, and Wi-Fi phones that do not even need a computer to work, just a wireless Internet connection.
These new, familiar-looking VoIP phones are being cranked out to make VoIP services appealing to people who are less than tech whizzes, and to give manufacturers a chance to sell yet another handset for your home. “Anything that makes these services feel more like the phone services that people have 100 years of experience using is to their advantage,” said Joe Laszlo, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research.
There are essentially two types of VoIP consumer services: Skype, which has a proprietary technological standard, and most everything else, using a common version of a standard called SIP. While either can make calls over the Internet, Skype-certified phones won’t necessarily work on other services, like Vonage, and vice versa. You may have to read some fine print to find out, or just buy a phone certified for the service you choose.
Figuring out which service is best for you takes a little work with a spreadsheet. Some VoIP services, like Vonage, SunRocket, BroadVoice and AT&T CallVantage, are similar to traditional phone plans, charging a flat rate, sometimes with extra fees for some calls — for instance, to certain foreign countries.
VoIP services from the computer side of the industry, like Skype, Yahoo, AOL and MSN, usually offer free calling to other members using their service. You may want to choose the service already used by the people you want to call. Those companies do charge a fee for calls to and from people not on their service.
No matter, similar phones are available for either kind of plan.
Just like regular phones, VoIP phones need to be connected to a service provider, in this case through a broadband Internet connection. The latest phones, like the Netgear SPH101 for Skype ($250 before rebates) and the UT Starcom F1000 series for Vonage ($130), connect using Wi-Fi and have all of the VoIP software built into the phone. Since these phones connect to the Internet without a computer, they can work even when your computer is off, and anywhere within range of a Wi-Fi connection.
A test of these two phones found both to have very good sound quality — better than the average cellphone. But that quality, as with all VoIP phones, is partly contingent on your Internet connection. “Congestion on your line matters,” said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for the market research firm NPD. “If it’s 6 or 7 at night and everyone is on the PC, you might experience some quality issues.”
Even the latest phones have their limits. Neither the Netgear nor the UT Starcom phone will work at a Wi-Fi hot spot that requires sign-in from a Web browser, so you can’t fire them up at the local Starbucks. Also, getting them on a network may require a password, but in a test the Skype Netphone would not accept the 13-character Wi-Fi network password, requiring instead a 26-character pass code, which wasn’t easy to find or to type into the phone correctly.
The UT Starcom phone couldn’t sign onto my network until the software was updated, but couldn’t be updated until it was signed onto my network. A second UT Starcom phone with the newer software connected easily.
Much simpler to connect was the VTech IP8100-2 for Vonage. This phone comes with a base station that plugs directly into your modem or router and then connects wirelessly to two portable handsets. Again because the base bypasses the computer, it will work with any system.
Once the base was connected, the phones recognized the network, and calls were easily placed. One person I called said the phone sounded a tad “tinny,” but it was clear enough for her to hear a vacuum cleaner running in the background.
The phones aren’t cheap; the VTech IP8100-2 lists for $150. But you can save money if you use cordless phones that you already own — with the help of an adapter that turns your existing phones into a VoIP set.
These adapters are generally easy to connect. Some, like the D-Link USB phone adapter ($60 from Skype), connect to your computer and then require software installation to run. The computer has to be on for your VoIP phone to connect. A more elegant method is to get an adapter like the Linksys PAP2 ($60), which attaches directly to your router and can operate when your computer is off. It can support any 2.4- or 5.8-gigahertz cordless phone, and can be used to connect to a number of different providers.
Adding a new system can also mean a proliferation of handsets around the house. But the telephonic clutter can be controlled through dual phones, which are single handsets that connect to both a landline and VoIP. In a test the RTX DualPhone ($110), a Skype cordless phone, was both easy to set up and offered good sound quality. Switching between Skype and landline was as easy as pressing the appropriate send button.
While these phones are inexpensive to use, they aren’t necessarily a replacement for the standard landline. They won’t work when power is down, while standard landlines do (the system still takes messages, however, and can forward calls to another line).
Then there is the 911 problem. While you can use any Skype to make calls from any computer anywhere, the service doesn’t know where your computer is, and can’t route an emergency team to you. Some services, like Vonage, offer Enhanced 911, which lets you register the location of your phone.
That doesn’t mean a VoIP phone is pointless. It can be a money-saving second line. If you stripped frills from your landline, like message service, caller ID, call forwarding and other features, the savings may be far greater than the cost of VoIP service. VoIP offers all of those frills and more at no additional cost. “Their pitch is to be as much as possible like your old phone service, but cheaper, with more features,” Mr. Rubin said.
For VoIP, it’s still early in the game. Companies are putting together even more blended phones, like cellphones that double as Wi-Fi phones, and a standard is being developed that would allow a handset to move seamlessly among cellular, Wi-Fi, VoIP and landline calls. Now, if you could only get one in retro-cool avocado green.
T-Mobile Tests Dual Wi-Fi and Cell Service
Yesterday T-Mobile became the first major mobile phone carrier in the United States to begin selling service that allows a single handset to communicate over both cellular networks and Wi-Fi hot spots.
The first phones, which are available to consumers in Seattle on a trial basis, link to T-Mobile’s cellular network outdoors and to Wi-Fi routers at homes, in offices and in other locations like airports and hotels. This lets customers avoid using some of their cellular minutes and increases coverage in places where signals are typically weak, like basements and rooms without windows.
To gain access to the service, called T-Mobile HotSpot @Home, customers must buy a phone that works on both networks. T-Mobile is selling a choice of two handsets that cost $49.99 for customers who sign up for a two-year rate plan for at least $39.99 a month. Subscribers are charged $19.99 a month in addition to their regular cellular plan fees.
Customers also need a wireless router, which is free with a rebate. The router is then connected to any available broadband line for home or office use. The phones connect not just to the wireless router, but also at any of 7,000 Wi-Fi hot spots that T-Mobile operates at Starbucks coffee shops, Hyatt Hotels and other public locations.
T-Mobile has set up a Web site, www.theonlyphoneyouneed.com, for customers who want to sign up for the service.
Since customers can make unlimited calls using their broadband connections, the service represents a threat to Vonage, SunRocket and other companies that offer phone plans over high-speed Internet connections. The service also gives T-Mobile a leg up in competing with Sprint and other cellular carriers that are trying to develop similar services.
The dual-use phone service may appeal most to younger consumers who do not have a traditional phone line and rely solely on cellular phones and broadband lines.
“For the below-30 age segment, it’s a no-brainer,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst at Ovum, a consulting firm. “This is also a threat for other wireless carriers because it fixes the problem of poor coverage inside homes.”
Though consumers conceivably will use fewer cellular minutes with these phones, Mr. Entner said T-Mobile still benefits because consumers have to buy some kind of rate plan. T-Mobile can also lower its costs because some phone traffic that would otherwise travel on its cellular network will move to a competitor’s broadband network.
T-Mobile may also avoid having to build as many base stations and antennas to reach inside homes and offices.
A company spokesman, Peter Dobrow, declined to say how long the trial in the Seattle area would continue, or on T-Mobile’s plans to introduce the service elsewhere.
Earlier this month, however, Robert Dotson, the chief executive of T-Mobile USA, said his company would develop services that would eliminate the need for traditional phones.
Sprint has been working with cable companies to come up with services that integrate its cellular network with the broadband and video services offered by cable companies.
Review: Fastap Puts Twist on Cell Typing
There are only so many ways to lay out the keys on a cell phone for typing words, or so you'd think.
There's the traditional 10- number telephone keypad with the letters of the alphabet bunched three and four to a button. Even with cutsie abbreviations, typing is an arduous affair. If you want a full typewriter keyboard with one letter per key, then you probably have to settle for a bulkier BlackBerry-like device.
Innovative solutions to this stalemate have been rare, and only the BlackBerry 7100 series with its novel two-letters-per-key design can be judged a raging success. Another notable design, from Nokia, with a funky fold-out keyboard resembling a Star Wars wing fighter, has sold well enough to appear on three devices.
The Fastap keyboard from Digit Wireless offers a surprising new twist: The letters appear on 26 small raised buttons positioned at every corner between the standard keys found on a typical cell phone. The letters are placed in alphabetical order rather than the "QWERTY" layout found on typewriters, BlackBerries, Treos and the like.
For now, you can't get a phone with Fastap through one of the big national carriers, but Digit says that's due to change next year. That sounds plausible because the Fastap keyboard is already gaining traction with two smaller wireless providers, Alltel Corp. of Arkansas and Telus Corp. of Canada.
Telus Mobility launched the first handset with Fastap in late 2004, and the customer response has been so encouraging the company has introduced two more models with the keyboard, the third arriving last month.
According to Telus, the Fastap keyboard is fueling higher usage of text messaging and other premium services that generate extra revenue. On average, Fastap users send more than twice as many text messages as Telus customers with a standard phone. Likewise, Fastap handsets generate twice as much revenue from text messaging and mobile Internet usage as comparable handsets.
I tried out the Fastap keyboard on an otherwise ordinary LG handset from Alltel. Without a doubt, typing was swifter compared to the usual process of locating a letter on a number key and then tapping it multiple times to choose from among the three or four letters on that button.
My biggest complaint was that the letters were printed on the keys in a hard-to-read gray. The "Q" key was pretty indistinguishable from the "O" key, and so there were plenty of typos in my messages where a word like "word" was misspelled as "wqrd."
Since it's easy for a thumb to stray onto a number key from the slightly raised perch of a letter button, Fastap is programmed to decide which one the user meant to press. If it comes mid-word, for example, the error-prevention software presumes the number press was accidental, and chooses the letter.
The dedicated letter keys also make it possible to program one or more as a shortcut to an application. On the Alltel phone, for example, holding down the "W" key will launch the Web browser, cutting several key strokes from the process. A carrier can preconfigure these shortcuts or allow users to set their own, a freedom Alltel chose not to provide on its handset.
Another trick enabled by the Fastap keyboard is that you can just dial the letters of a vanity toll free phone number (let's say 1-8XX-NO-SWEAT) instead of hunting for the corresponding letters on the dial pad.
For those who'd prefer a QWERTY keyboard in a phone-sized package, the Nokia E70 may be the way to go, though it may be too pricey for American tastes. You'll need to pay the list price of $450 because the E70 isn't being sold directly by U.S. cellular providers, which unlike foreign carriers have conditioned customers to expect big device discounts in exchange for contract commitments.
The E70, compatible with the Cingular Wireless and T-Mobile USA networks, is a snazzy phone with letter keys far bigger than the buttons on most handheld computers. The hidden keyboard flips out on two hinges over the screen, extending all the way in the other direction to form wings on both ends of the display, with half the letters on either side. When the keyboard is open, a wing gripped in each hand, the display rotates 90 degrees.
Aside from price, another drawback to the E70 may be size, which is a notch bigger in weight and dimensions compared with the two previous Nokia models featuring this keyboard design.
It's rare that you come across a truly novel new approach to an old problem, and if nothing else, the Fastap keyboard is that. It will be interesting to see if this new mouse trap catches on.
Computer Beats Fastest Text Messenger
Ben Cook's fingers flurried so fast you couldn't see what he was doing until he had done it. But when the cell-phone screens cleared, the world's fastest text messenger was handed his first head-to-head defeat Tuesday: a voice-recognition computer had bested his record time on a complicated 27-word message.
"I'm a little humbled to have been beaten like that," the 18-year-old Provo, Utah, man said with a smile after the race.
The exhibition was sponsored by Nuance Communications Inc., a company that hopes to deploy its new software across several wireless carriers next year.
Nuance recruited Cook to test him against their software before he embarks on a two-year Mormon mission. He has gained celebrity for the text title and makes $1,000 a day doing public appearances for phone company Cricket.
Two Nuance employees also participated, one using a cell phone with a predictive text program that turns partial words into full ones and another with a full QWERTY keyboard on a Blackberry.
Neither came close to Cook, who used basic "3-key typing," in which several letters share the same number key on a phone pad. To get the desired character it can take three or more clicks.
Each contestant took turns completing a text message in three rounds of increasing difficulty. All spelling, grammar and capitalization had to match the sample text precisely.
The first message, "I'm on my way. I'll be there in 30 minutes," took over a minute with the predictive software, 29 seconds with a Blackberry and 16 seconds for the record holder. The voice recognition software finished it in under 8 seconds.
The final message was a duplicate of one that brought Cook a world record. It read "The razor toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygo centrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human."
Cook finished in 48 seconds, six seconds more than his record. But it took the Nuance program just 16 seconds before the 20-foot screens set up on either side of the contestants flashed red to signal the finish.
The software wouldn't ordinarily be programmed to handle those Latin words, said Michael Thompson, Nuance general manager and vice president of search and communications. But it does come ready to understand about 500,000 others in English.
Thompson couldn't say how much the service would cost consumers because it will likely vary by carrier. He said it'll be available in some new phones, but existing phones can download software for use as well.
Nuance envisions it as a tool for drivers and others who want to send text messages, instead of calling or leaving a voice mail, but don't have time to sit and type.
Blind Web Surfers Sue for Accessibility
"Links list dialogue." "Links list view." "Your Account - Two of 164." This is what the Internet sounds like to Chris Danielsen. Danielsen is blind. He's using a software program called Jaws that converts the text on a Web page into a computerized voice that comes out through a speaker, allowing him to surf the Web using keyboard commands instead of a mouse - the same way lots of blind people use the Internet.
In this case, his computer is listing all the Web links on the page he's on and telling him that the highlighted link his cursor is on now will take him to the "Your Account" section on Wal-Mart's Web site.
Danielsen, who writes a blog called "The Voice of the Nation's Blind" for the National Federation of the Blind, says accessing the Internet has been a "huge boon" for blind people. It's allowed them to accomplish a great number of tasks on their own that would otherwise present difficulties or require the help of a sighted person, such as banking, buying plane tickets and shopping for things like groceries and music.
But like any evolving technology, accessing the Internet has hardly been a smooth ride for the blind. Some sites can be difficult to navigate, particularly if they contain relatively few text links and rely more on graphics and other visual elements that screen-reading software such as Jaws can't interpret.
That's why the NFB, an organization that represents blind people, is suing Target Corp., saying that its Web site is inaccessible to blind Internet users.
Last month a federal judge in California allowed the NFB's case to proceed, rejecting Target's argument that its Web site wasn't subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act, a 1990 law that requires retailers and other public places to make accommodations for people with disabilities. Target argued that the law only covered physical spaces.
The case, which is entering a pretrial phase called discovery in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, could set an important precedent for applying federal accessibility law to the Internet.
Target said in a statement that its Web site was "committed to providing an online experience that is accessible to all of our guests. Despite the lawsuit brought forward by the National Federation of the Blind, we have always and will continue to implement new technologies to our Web site."
John Pare, a spokesman for the NFB, said most Web sites are far easier to navigate than Target's. In a demonstration of screen-reading software for The Associated Press, Danielsen showed that many links on Target's side were unintelligible to the Jaws software, and that the final purchase required the use of a mouse, something even the most sophisticated blind Web surfer would have trouble with. However, he was able to navigate other sites and purchased a CD from Amazon.
Jaws, made by Freedom Scientific, is a popular kind of screen-reading software, but there are others, including Window-Eyes, made by GW Micro, and Hal, made by Dolphin Computer Access.
Many Web sites already have made major progress in becoming accessible to the blind, and some, such as those run by the government, are required to do so by law.
Yet surfing the Internet is not always worry-free for the blind. Crista Earl, the head of Web operations for the American Foundation for the Blind in New York, said graphics that don't contain textual labels - which can be read by screen-reading software - are a common obstacle for blind Internet users, as are "forms" that are unlabeled. Forms are the little boxes where you insert data, such as a book title you wanted to search for.
The decision to hold Target's Web site to the same standards of accessibility as its physical store under the Americans with Disabilities Act was considered a victory by many advocates for the blind, but at the same time others worry that the ruling could be read too narrowly.
Not every business or Web site is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act, said John D. Kemp., a lawyer with the Washington law firm Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville P.C. The ADA applies mainly to public places such as restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and health care institutions, explained Kemp, who has long worked on compliance issues related to disabilities, employment and technology.
For an electronic retailer such as Amazon.com, which has no physical store, the law is unclear, Kemp said. "There is no well defined policy in this area at all."
However, Kemp noted that many businesses, such as banks, see a strong business rationale for making their sites accessible, and have moved aggressively to do so.
Meanwhile, other retailers are also moving to adapt their Web sites to screen-reading software. Kelly Groehler, a spokeswoman for Best Buy Co., says the company has made a number of changes to its site since late last year, including incorporating "alt tags" - or text that labels items like graphics - into its site.
Best Buy also moved code for drop-down menus to the bottom of the page, where it's less likely to duplicate other elements on the page. "We're trying to be proactive here," Groehler said. Walmart.com spokeswoman Amy Colella says the site has made sure it is "reasonably accessible" to the blind.
Other retailers are making similar efforts, but it remains a challenge due to the continuing evolution in the technologies used by blind people to surf the Internet, says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation for online retailers.
"As the retailers' Web sites continue to evolve to stay competitive in the marketplace, sometimes the technologies necessary to do that are a little bit ahead of where the screen-readers are," Silverman said. "It's a very fast-moving environment. Retailers want to serve all their customers, including blind people."
Internet search giant Google Inc. is getting into the act as well. In July it launched a project to identify and rank Web sites that offer significant accessibility to the blind.
As more information and services migrate online, keeping access open to it is of paramount importance to advocates for the blind.
"The blind have more access to information than they ever had in history - but that's only true to the extent that Web accessibility is maintained," Danielsen said. "The technology is out there, and we don't need barriers to be put in our way. Give us a way in."
But will my PC blink "12:00 AM"?
A “Napster Moment” for TV Downloads
The “Tape it off the Internet” project is currently in the final stages of the closed Beta program. TIOTI might very well be a realistic representation of what the future of TV will look like.
The TIOTI project approach to socialize and optimize your TV Download experience. TIOTI combines great design, TV-torrent tracking, favorites, recommendations, RSS feeds, tagging, groups, wiki’s, and a lot more ‘Web 2.0′ stuff.
In an interview we did with Paul Pod, one of the founders of the project, he said that their goal is to create a “Napster moment” for TV downloads.
I don’t know if you remember downloading music before Napster came along, but it was an experience not dissimilar to the BitTorrent experience today. And remember when you tried out Napster for the first time? We’re aiming to create that Napster moment for TV downloads. Web 2.0 is neither here nor there - what matters is good architecture and fantastic design. For non-geeks, it’s all about the user experience - if it sucks they don’t come back.
Last May we were able to give you a sneak peek behind the screens. Over the past months a lot of work has been done to optimize and add features to the site. Some of the new (working) features that are worth mentioning are RSS feeds for your favorite shows, and integration with Amazon and the iTunes store.
The episode view includes links to downloads from the iTunes store.
The Show page includes links to DVD’s from the Amazon store.
TIOTI offers RSS feeds for ever show, but also feeds for your favorite shows. This makes it easy to stay up-to-date.
There is no official release date for the public Beta yet, but it won’t take long now.
Until next week,
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