|12-09-07, 09:48 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - September 15th, '07
"'Fair Use' is worth more to the economy than copyrights." – Computer and Communications Industry Association report
"As the United States economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based, the concept of fair use can no longer be discussed and legislated in the abstract. It is the very foundation of the digital age and a cornerstone of our economy." – Ed Black
"This kind of negative publicity spells the beginning of the end for VeriChip and their plans to chip us all like bar-coded packages of meat." – Katherine Albrecht
"What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves." – Colin Powell
"The most dangerous threat posed by quantum computing - the ability to break the codes that protect our banking, business and e-commerce data - is now a step nearer reality." – Saswato Das
"We don’t need hackers to break the systems because they’re falling apart by themselves." – Peter G. Neumann
"The fight for that 4% will ruin the industry." – ButterBuddha
"The train wreck can’t be her shtick." – Jay Marose
September 15th, 2007
Fair Use Worth More to Economy Than Copyright, CCIA Says
Fair use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws account for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States, according to the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
Fair use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws account for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
"Much of the unprecedented economic growth of the past ten years can actually be credited to the doctrine of fair use, as the Internet itself depends on the ability to use content in a limited and nonlicensed manner," CCIA President and CEO Ed Black said in a statement. "To stay on the edge of innovation and productivity, we must keep fair use as one of the cornerstones for creativity, innovation and, as today's study indicates, an engine for growth for our country."
By one measure -- "value added," which the report defines as "an industry's gross output minus its purchased intermediate inputs" -- the fair use economy is greater than the copyright economy.
Recent studies indicate that the value added to the U.S. economy by copyright industries amounts to $1.3 trillion, said Black. The value added to the U.S. economy by the fair use amounts to $2.2 trillion.
The fair use economy's "value added" is thus almost 70% larger than that of the copyright industries.
The $4.5 trillion in annual revenue attributable to fair use represents a 31% increase since 2002, according to the report, which claims that fair use industries are responsible for 18% of U.S. economic growth and almost 11 million American jobs.
The fair use doctrine allows the use of copyrighted material without a license from the copyright owner.
CCIA members include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and many other tech companies that benefit immensely from fair use. The media also benefits from fair use -- quoting the copyrighted CCIA report would be illegal were it not for fair use. The same can be said for anyone who has ever printed copyrighted material from a Web page, sent copyrighted material in an e-mail, or used a recording device of some sort to capture copyrighted audio or video.
According to the U.S. Copyright office, use of copyrighted material may be considered fair use based on four criteria: "the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."
However, assuming a use qualifies as fair use remains a gamble. The distinction between fair use and infringement isn't easily defined, as the Copyright Office puts it. Companies like Google, which has been sued at least four times so far this year for copyright infringement, know this all too well.
Black said his organization's aim in releasing this report is to encourage lawmakers to recognize that copyright legislation requires balance. "What it points out is there's an important chunk of the economy that's impacted by what happens to copyright law," he said. "It points out to some extent ... that when you focus on only one side when making policy changes and don't recognize that, you're going to have a collateral impact on the other side."
"Copyright was created as a functional tool to promote creativity, innovation, and economic activity," said Black. "It should be measured by that standard, not by some moral rights or abstract measure of property rights."
Fair Use Economy Represents One-Sixth of U.S. GDP
Fair Use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws are responsible for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States, according to the findings of an unprecedented economic study released today. According to the study commissioned by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and conducted in accordance with a World Intellectual Property Organization methodology, companies benefiting from limitations on copyright-holders’ exclusive rights, such as “fair use” – generate substantial revenue, employ millions of workers, and, in 2006, represented one-sixth of total U.S. GDP.
The exhaustive report, released today at a briefing on Capitol Hill, quantifies for the first time ever the critical contributions of fair use to the U.S. economy. The timing proves particularly important as the debates over copyright law in the digital age move increasingly to center stage on Capitol Hill. As the report summarizes, in the past twenty years as digital technology has increased, so too has the importance of fair use. With more than $4.5 trillion in revenue generated by fair use dependent industries in 2006, a 31% increase since 2002, fair use industries are directly responsible for more than 18% of U.S. economic growth and nearly 11 million American jobs. In fact, nearly one out of every eight American jobs is in an industry that benefits from current limitations on copyright.
“As the United States economy becomes increasingly knowledge-based, the concept of fair use can no longer be discussed and legislated in the abstract. It is the very foundation of the digital age and a cornerstone of our economy,” said Ed Black, President and CEO of CCIA. “Much of the unprecedented economic growth of the past ten years can actually be credited to the doctrine of fair use, as the Internet itself depends on the ability to use content in a limited and nonlicensed manner. To stay on the edge of innovation and productivity, we must keep fair use as one of the cornerstones for creativity, innovation and, as today’s study indicates, an engine for growth for our country”
The Fair Use exception to U.S. copyright law, as codified in Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 states, “The fair use of a copyrighted work … is not an infringement of copyright.” Fair use permits a range of activities that are critical to many high technology businesses such as search engines and software developmers. As the study indicates, however, fair use and related exceptions to copyright are crucial to non-technology industries as well, such as insurance, legal services, and newspaper publishers. The dependence of industries outside the high-tech field illustrates the crucial need for balanced copyright law.
Click here to download the study.
RIAA Case Dismissed as 'Speculation'
Judge tells trade body to offer better evidence on P2P pirates
A US judge has told the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that it needs to present more evidence of illegal file-sharing if it wants to prosecute individuals.
The RIAA had applied for judgement in the case of Interscope Records, UMG Recording and Atlantic Recording versus Yolanda Rodriguez, which had gone unanswered by the defendant.
However, US senior district court judge Rudi M Brewster said that the plaintiffs had not shown enough evidence to rule in their favour and referred to their case as "speculation".
"Plaintiff here must present at least some facts to show the plausibility of their allegations of copyright infringement against the defendant," said the judge.
"Other than the bare conclusory statement that on 'information and belief' defendant had downloaded, distributed and/or made available for distribution to the public copyrighted works, Plaintiffs have presented no facts that would indicate that this allegation is anything more than speculation."
The legal challenge was filed against Rodriguez on 14 November 2006, and a summons was served exactly one month later.
Rodriguez was accused of downloading copyrighted recordings and making them available for other internet users.
The record companies have 30 days from the judgement to amend the complaint and serve it again.
The RIAA has recently been countersued by an Oregon woman after the organisation withdrew a two-year legal case against her for alleged file sharing activity.
The trade body is also being pursued for legal costs by a mother accused of "secondary copyright infringement" because her IP address was used to download files.
With Trial Date Looming, RIAA Tries to Avoid Facing a Jury
The over 20,000 file-sharing lawsuits that have been filed over the past few years share a single distinction: not one of them has made it to trial. The RIAA is trying to keep Virgin Records, et al v. Jammie Thomas from a jury trial, filing a motion for summary adjudication on some specific aspects of the case.
What the RIAA is after is a ruling from the judge that some of the facts of the case are not in dispute. If that is the case, then there are no issues of material fact that exist to be decided, and therefore no need for a trial by jury. It's the same scenario in Novell v. SCO: all the material facts were decided by the judge last month, so there's nothing left for a jury to decide.
The RIAA is looking for the judge to rule favorably on three issues. First, it wants the judge to rule that the record labels own the copyrights to the songs allegedly shared by the defendant. Second, it wants the judge to agree that the copyright registrations are in order. Those two items may not appear to be that big of deal, but number three is a doozy.
The labels want the judge to rule that the defendant was not authorized to copy or distribute the songs flagged by SafeNet, the RIAA's investigator in this case. If the judge decides those three issues in the labels' favor, the plaintiffs believe that it "will significantly narrow" the outstanding issues and prevent the "unnecessary expense of litigating issues about which there is no dispute."
Thomas is fighting the motion, saying that the plaintiffs need to prove two things: that they are the true copyright owners and that there was an act of infringement. Thomas is confident that should the case go to trial, the verdict will go her way.
Who owns the copyright?
Thomas' attorneys also raise a number of issues about the copyright claims. As part of the original complaint, the record labels attached screenshots of the files the defendant was allegedly sharing and stipulated that they owned the copyright to those songs. But the documentation provided by the labels to support their claims of copyright ownership don't quite add up. Here are a few examples cited by the defendant:
Song Copyright holder according to the RIAA Copyright holder according to the certificate of registration
"Appetite for Destruction" UMG Recordings The David Geffen Company
"The Comfort Zone" UMG Recordings Polygram Records
"Control" UMG Recordings A&M Records, Inc.
"Frontiers" Sony BMG CBS, Inc.
"Let it Loose" Sony BMG CBS, Inc.
"Get a Grip" UMG Recordings Geffen Records
"Hysteria" UMG Recordings Mercury Records
"If You See Him" UMG Recordings MCA Records Nashville
Thomas argues that since she lacks the financial means to conduct a thorough examination of the ownership history (e.g., track the ownership of "Hysteria" from Mercury to UMG) for the songs she is accused of infringing the copyright to, her only opportunity to determine their true ownership is either via discovery or cross-examination at trial. With the documentation provided by the labels "questionable" and "nonconclusive," according to the defendant, her only option is to cross-examine the witnesses.
Her attorneys also note that the labels have not taken advantage of some of the deadlines in this case, including one for filing a partial summary judgment. The conclusion? "The issue involved is far too material to preclude cross examination by defendant, therefore plaintiffs’ motion should in all respects be denied."
Perhaps the biggest reason that the RIAA doesn't want this—or any other—case to go to trial is the possibility of losing. The RIAA has fought the exoneration efforts of every defendant tooth and nail, trying to simply walk away from the litigation by dismissing it without prejudice. A handful of defendants have managed to be exonerated, most notably Debbie Foster, Patricia Santangelo, and Tanya Andersen—who is now suing the RIAA for malicious prosecution.
A loss at trial would be even more catastrophic for the RIAA. It would give other defense attorneys a winning template while exposing the weaknesses of the RIAA's arguments. It would also prove costly from a financial standpoint, as the RIAA would have to foot the legal expenses for both itself and the defendant. Most of all, it would set an unwelcomed precedent: over 20,000 lawsuits filed and the RIAA loses the first one to go to a jury.
A subtle change in strategy
There is one more subtle shift in strategy on the part of the music industry. The RIAA appears to have dropped the "making available" argument in its most recent filings. It is absent from the RIAA's motion for default judgment in Interscope v. Rodriguez and, in Virgin v. Thomas, the labels are accusing the defendant of "distributing" music over KaZaA. If they can make the distribution charges stick, it will be problematic for the defendants. But given that the only cases of "distribution" ever witnessed occurred when only the RIAA's investigators were watching, it is by no means a slam dunk.
If the judge denies the RIAA's motion, there is a September 24 settlement conference scheduled. Should that fail to bear fruit—and there is no reason to think that it will—Virgin Records, et al v. Jammie Thomas is scheduled to go to trial on October 1.
How Do You Spell Illegal Cartel: R.I.A.A.?
Marie Lindor stands behind her copyright misuse defense, accuses record companies of anticompetitive behavior
In responding to the RIAA's papers, her attorneys wrote:
it has been the law at least since 1979, not only in the Second Circuit but throughout the United States, that copyright pooling by competitors raises a copyright misuse issue which is to be resolved by a rule of reason analysis. See, e.g., Broadcast Music, Inc. v. Hearst/ABC Viacom, supra, at 326 (SDNY 1990)(Keenan, J.)
It is of more than passing interest that, while they devoted a third of their brief to the totally inapposite affirmative defense of the Noerr-Pennington doctrine ...., and most of the rest of the brief to the pleading requirements for antitrust claims which haven’t been interposed in this case, plaintiffs have not devoted a single word of their brief to supporting the reasonableness of their copyright-pooling behavior, which ultimately would be their only possibly meritorious answer to Ms. Lindor’s charges of copyright misuse. I.e., we are still left wondering, although they had another 15 pages or so left to them under the Court’s page-limit requirements, what lawful, “procompetitive” explanation they might possibly have offered for their admitted copyright-pooling agreement that would enable it to survive a rule of reason analysis.
We need to know why six (6) different multibillion dollar, multinational corporations did in fact need to pool all their resources to join forces against a home health aide living in Brooklyn, and found it impossible to negotiate settlements with her and others like her other than pursuant to an impermeable, seamless joint front, apart from the obvious explanation that they did it to increase their leverage in bludgeoning defendants into a defenseless posture, where accepting an extortionate settlement demand would be their only means of averting financial ruin.
Plaintiffs thus avoided the sole issue that is properly before the Court on this motion.
Fearing Legalized P2P Downloading, CRIA Declares War on Private Copying Levy
The Canadian Recording Industry Association this week quietly filed documents in the Federal Court of Appeal that will likely shock many in the industry. CRIA, which spent more than 15 years lobbying for the creation of the private copying levy, is now fighting to eliminate the application of the levy on the Apple iPod since it believes that the Copyright Board of Canada's recent decision to allow a proposed tariff on iPods to proceed "broadens the scope of the private copying exception to avoid making illegal file sharers liable for infringement."
Given that CRIA's members collect millions from the private copying levy, the decision to oppose its expansion may come as a surprise. Yet the move reflects a reality that CRIA has previously been loath to acknowledge - the Copyright Board has developed jurisprudence that provides a strong argument that downloading music on peer-to-peer networks is lawful in Canada. Indeed, CRIA President Graham Henderson provides a roadmap for the argument in his affidavit:
"First, the Board has stated, in obiter dicta, on several occasions that the Private Copying regime legalizes copying for the private use of the person making the copy, regardless of whether the source is non-infringing or not. Therefore, according to the Board, downloading an infringing track from the Internet is not infringing, as long as the downloaded copy is made onto an 'audio recording medium'...
Second, also in obiter dicta, the Board stated that the private copying exception in Section 80 is not conditioned on the existence of a tariff to collect royalties covering the medium onto which copies are made.
Third, in combination with the aforementioned obiter dicta in the Board's other decisions, the Decision [the iPod decision] could potentially be interpreted to allow the copying of music files from any source - whether legitimate or illegitimate - onto any type of device ordinarily used by individuals to copy music, such as personal computers..."
While Henderson and CRIA make it clear that they disagree with this interpretation, they are obviously sufficiently concerned that it reflects Canadian law that they have burned their remaining bridges with Canadian music in order to try to persuade the Federal Court of Appeal to allow them to intervene in iPod hearings. In fact, with the Canadian labels having left the organization, CRIA has now:
• irrevocably split with the Canadian Private Copying Collective (on which CRIA General Counsel Richard Pfohl serves as a member of the board of directors), telling the court that "CRIA Members do not control the CPCC with respect to decisions to file particular tariffs. And in the case at hand, CRIA did not have the authority or means to prevent the CPCC from filing the [iPod levy tariff]."
• openly acknowledged that its concerns rest with foreign artists, as it complains about the preferential treatment for Canadian artists under the private copying system and argues that "this has meant that under the Private Copying regime, CRIA Members receive compensation for only a small fraction of their recordings that are copied."
CRIA's attempt to intervene is somewhat odd, not only because it represents a public acknowledgement of the argument for legalized P2P in Canada, but also because CRIA's intended arguments if granted leave to intervene are easily rebutted. The Henderson affidavit outlines the organization's seven arguments:
1. the Decision failed to consider the fundamental importance of exclusive rights in Canadian copyright law [not true - CRIA itself sought the creation of the levy to grant consumers a license to make personal copies].
2. the Board failed to consider the implications of the combination of the Decision with statements in its prior decisions to the effect that the Private Copying regime legalizes copying for the private use of the person making the copy, regardless of whether the source is a non-infringing copy or subject to a levy. [in other words, the Board's decision makes it clear that P2P downloading is legal]
3. by broadening the scope of the exception to devices never intended by Parliament to be covered, the Board has potentially and inappropriately transformed the 'private copying' exception into a public license [yet in 1996 CRIA told a House of Commons committee that "the proposed private copying regimes should not create yet another exemption, but should be structured as a statutory license."]
4. the Decision failed to adequately consider and apply policy principles related to copyright. Any decision or combination of decisions that exempts unauthorized P2P downloading from infringement would be contrary to the public interest because it serves as a disincentive to investment in the production of music and the dissemination of legitimate copies of music [not true - a compensation system for P2P is arguably in the public interest as it ensures that artists get paid, a position supported by Canadian musicians].
5. the Decision failed to adequately consider and apply the specific policy principles behind the private copying exception [not true - the Decision is nothing but the application of the policy principle that the levy is technology neutral].
6. the Board was wrong to broaden the scope of the private copying exception to avoid making illegal file sharers liable for infringement [the clearest statement from CRIA that private copying as construed by the Copyright Board legalizes P2P].
7. the Decision failed to consider Canada's international and bilateral treaty obligations related to copyright and related rights [an issue for Parliament, not the Copyright Board or the Federal Court].
Hearings in the iPod case are not likely to occur until 2008, yet these filings from CRIA will reverberate long after that hearing concludes. It is not every day that the recording industry acknowledges an argument widely known within legal circles - downloading music in Canada for personal purposes is arguably legal as it is compensated activity covered by the private copying levy.
Shutting Down Big Downloaders
Comcast Cuts Internet Service to Bandwidth Hogs
The rapid growth of online videos, music and games has created a new Internet sin: using it too much.
Comcast has punished some transgressors by cutting off their Internet service, arguing that excessive downloaders hog Internet capacity and slow down the network for other customers. The company declines to reveal its download limits.
"You have no way of knowing how much is too much," said Sandra Spalletta of Rockville, whose Internet service was suspended in March after Comcast sent her a letter warning that she and her teenage son were using too much bandwidth. They cut back on downloads but were still disconnected. She said the company would not tell her how to monitor their bandwidth use in order to comply with the limits.
"You want to think you can rely on your home Internet service and not wake up one morning to find it turned off," said Spalletta, who filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Cable and Communication Services. "I thought it was unlimited service."
As Internet service providers try to keep up with the demand for increasingly sophisticated online entertainment such as high-definition movies, streaming TV shows and interactive games, such caps could become more common, some analysts said.
It's unclear how many customers have lost Internet service because of overuse. So far, only Comcast customers have reported being affected. Comcast said only a small fraction of its customers use enough bandwidth to warrant pulling the plug on their service.
Cable companies are facing tough competition from telephone giants like AT&T and Verizon, which are installing new cables capable of carrying more Internet traffic.
The cable companies collectively spent about $90 billion in the past decade to improve their networks. And on cable networks, several hundred subscribers often share an Internet connection, so one high-traffic user could slow the rest of a neighborhood's connections. Phone lines are run directly to each home, so a single bandwidth hog will not slow other connections.
As Internet users make more demands of the network, cable companies in particular could soon end up with a critically short supply of bandwidth, according to a report released this month by ABI Research, a New York market-research firm. This could lead to a bigger crackdown on heavy bandwidth users, said the report's author, Stan Schatt.
"These new applications require huge amounts of bandwidth," he said. Cable "used to have the upper hand because they basically enjoyed monopolies, but there are more competitive pressures now."
To trigger a disconnection warning, customers would be downloading the equivalent of 1,000 songs or four full-length movies every day. Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas declined to reveal specific bandwidth limits.
"It's our responsibility to make sure everyone has the best service possible," he said, "so we have to address abusive activities so they won't damage the experience for other customers. "
Companies have argued that if strict limits were disclosed, customers would use as much capacity as possible without tipping the scale, causing networks to slow to a crawl.
Some customers are unaware they are using so much capacity, sometimes because neighbors are covertly connecting through unsecured wireless routers. When they are told of that possibility, many curb their use after an initial warning, Douglas said. Others, however, may be running bandwidth-hungry servers intended for small businesses from their homes, which can bog down a network serving a neighborhood. Comcast said it gives customers a month to fix problems or upgrade to business accounts before shutting off their Internet service.
Joe Nova of North Attleboro, Mass., lost Internet service after Comcast told him that he was using too much bandwidth to watch YouTube videos, listen to Internet radio stations and chat using a Web camera. He and other customers who complained of being shut off said they were not running servers from their homes.
"Sure, I'm online a lot, but there's no way I could have been consuming that much capacity," Nova said.
Other Internet service providers, including Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T, say they reserve the right to manage their networks, but have not yet suspended service to subscribers. Smaller Internet service providers RCN in Herndon, Leros Technologies in Fairfax and OpenBand in Dulles said they do not cap bandwidth use.
Some AT&T customers use disproportionately high amounts of Internet capacity, "but we figure that's why they buy the service," said Michael Coe, a spokesman for the company.
Cox Communications, which provides Internet and cable services to parts of Northern Virginia and Maryland, said the bandwidth demand on its network has doubled every year for the past six years. It has boosted its speeds twice in the past 18 months to keep up and offers tiered service plans for heavier users, spokesman Alex Horwitz said.
"We don't spend a lot of time enforcing [bandwidth] caps, but we contact customers when their usage is egregious enough for it to impact the network," he said. "Instances are few and far between."
When Comcast canceled service to Frank Carreiro, who lives in a Salt Lake City suburb, he started a blog about the experience. His wife and six children then relied on sluggish dial-up Internet access until a phone company offered DSL service in his neighborhood.
"For a lot of people, it's Comcast or it's nothing," he said.
Bob Williams, director of HearUsNow.org, a consumer Web site run by Consumers Union, said the vagueness of Comcast's rules is "unfair and arbitrary."
"They're cutting service off to the people who want to use it the most," he said.
Schatt, the ABI Research analyst, said he expects cable companies to spend about $80 billion over the next five years to increase network capacity. In addition, they may acquire airwaves at an upcoming federal auction and could lay fiber-optic lines over their existing cables. Switching to digital-only programming could also help conserve capacity.
Comcast, Cox and Time Warner say they have more than enough capacity to meet demand and are adding new technologies to strengthen signals. Bruce McGregor, senior analyst at Current Analysis, a research firm in Sterling, said the bandwidth bottleneck is not yet a crisis for cable companies, but it could intensify with competition from phone companies.
Companies like Comcast "need to address people who are major drains on the network" without angering consumers, he said. "They're not the only game in town anymore."
Verizon Unhappy with 700MHz Open Access Requirements, Sues FCC
When the Federal Communications Commission issued its final set of rules for the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction, reaction was mixed. Open access proponents were disappointed that the FCC failed to include all four of Google's open access suggestions, while the telecoms bemoaned the fact that two of them were included. Verizon is taking its irritation over the FCC's rules to the courts, asking the US District Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to set them aside.
Under the FCC's rules, whoever wins the spectrum auction must allow consumers to use any device and any lawful application on their networks. After the FCC's decision, Verizon quickly made its position clear. "Imposing any such requirements in the competitive wireless market would reduce the revenue the government will receive from the spectrum auction and limit the introduction of new and innovative wireless services," the company said shortly after the announcement. Despite that, Verizon appeared as though it would go along with the FCC's decision.
As one might expect, the sticking points for Verizon are the two open access rules adopted by the FCC. The telecom is asking the appeals court to vacate the FCC's open access requirements but leave the rest of the auction rules intact. In its petition for review, Verizon argues that the FCC exceeded its authority in mandating the two open access conditions, accusing the Commission of being "arbitrary" and "capricious" and saying that the rules are "unsupported by substantial evidence and otherwise contrary to law."
Ars contacted Verizon for comment on the filing but was told by a company spokesperson that it would not comment further beyond the appeal.
Google, which has indicated that it plans to participate in the auction, was critical of Verizon's lawsuit. In a statement released in response to the legal action, Google criticized Verizon, saying that it "doesn't think consumers deserved more choice" than they currently have.
"It's regrettable that Verizon has decided to use the court system to try to prevent consumers from having any choice of innovative services," wrote Chris Sacca, Google's head of special initiatives. "Once again, it is American consumers who lose from these tactics."
The auction is currently scheduled to begin on January 16, 2008. It is hoped that the result will be a real alternative to the current cable/DSL broadband duopoly. The 700MHz spectrum is prime wireless real estate, as signals of that wavelength have a far reach and can easily penetrate buildings.
Marley Family’s Vitriol Leads Verizon to Bite Back
Andrew Adam Newman
The licensing dispute between the estate of the reggae singer Bob Marley and the Universal Music Group took an ugly turn yesterday, with nobody getting together or feeling the least bit all right.
At issue is an agreement struck last month for Verizon Wireless to become the exclusive provider of ring tones from the catalog of Mr. Marley, who died in 1981. Universal, a subsidiary of Vivendi, owns the rights to the music.
Mr. Marley’s family promptly objected to the deal, calling it tantamount to an endorsement and saying that it required their approval. The family threatened to sue to block the arrangement.
Yesterday, early in the afternoon, it looked as if Verizon Wireless was removing itself from the fray. The Marley family issued a statement that it would not follow through with plans to file a suit against the carrier for trademark infringement because Verizon had “ceded” to its demands and taken most of the 44 ring tones by the singer off the Verizon Wireless Web site. Sixteen ring tones remained on the site, songs from early in Mr. Marley’s career that are owned by companies other than Universal.
But in announcing that Verizon had changed course, the family was less than conciliatory. In a written statement, Chris Blackwell, a longtime spokesman for the family, said that he was “infuriated that Verizon would go around the estate and initiate partnership with Universal” and that it was “disturbing that these companies refuse to give the musicians the respect they deserve.”
James Gerace, a Verizon spokesman, said, “I was a little taken aback by their statement.”
And the company was not just taken aback; it took it all back.
“We had earlier this week decided to take the content down temporarily to give the Marley estate and Universal time to work out their differences,” Mr. Gerace said. “Now, in light of that statement, we’ll be putting that content back up tomorrow.”
In that case, Mr. Blackwell said in a hastily prepared statement last night, the suit with Verizon was back on “because they went back on their word.”
Complicating matters, Universal announced yesterday afternoon that Verizon, which initially trumpeted that it was the exclusive provider of the Marley ring tones, would soon be joined by “all phone carriers.”
Mr. Blackwell said Universal would be named in yet another suit, to be filed within a couple of weeks. He said the family remained livid with the label, which they maintain circumvented them in its deal with Verizon.
“It was basically a subterfuge action,” Mr. Blackwell said from his home in Britain. “It is Universal who really are the major criminals in this thing because they actually licensed the songs without our permission.”
In a written statement, Universal said it was disappointed that “the Marley estate has chosen to take such an extreme and meritless position that a customary promotional campaign highlighting the availability of Marley mastertones somehow constitutes an ‘endorsement’ of Verizon over all.”
The issue is a personal one for Mr. Blackwell, 70, the founder of Island Records. He is credited with exposing Mr. Marley, who died of cancer at the age of 36, to an international audience. He sold Island Records to Polygram Records, which was eventually bought by Seagram and merged into Universal.
The Marley ring tones have been downloaded more than 30,000 times in less than two weeks, according to a spokesman for Universal.
Among the downloaded ring tones that Verizon removed but is now offering again is Mr. Marley’s “One Love/People Get Ready,” in which he sings, “Let’s get together and feel all right.”
Vodafone to Launch Unlimited Music Service in U.K.
Vodafone Group unveiled a range of new handsets and services for the key Christmas period on Monday including an exclusive music service offering unlimited tracks, to challenge the iPhone in Britain.
Mobile-handset makers and network operators have been investing heavily in music in recent years to boost revenue.
Nokia, the world's largest cell phone maker, unveiled an online music store last month while Apple's latest "must-have" gadget, the iPhone, is due in Britain by the end of the year.
Analysts had expected Vodafone to secure an exclusive, pan-European deal to sell the iPhone, but media reports suggest Apple has chosen other partners to carry the product.
"I am sure the iPhone will have appeal but we think what we are offering here with MusicStation is a very good, customer-centric, all-you-can-eat offer," Vodafone Chief Marketing Officer Tim Yates told Reuters.
Vodafone has signed an exclusive deal with British music firm Omnifone that will give customers an unlimited number of tracks from a catalog of more than 1 million to their mobile phones for a weekly fee of $4.
Omnifone's MusicStation will allow consumers to download music while they are on the move and it will be available on new Vodafone UK handsets as well as existing 2.5G and 3G mobiles, meaning most customers would not need to upgrade their phones.
Nokia will roll out its music store later this year with songs selling for $1.37 each and, Yates said, Vodafone would feature the N81 and N95 Nokia handsets in its store and allow customers to decide which music service to use.
"Today's announcement ... means a fundamental change to the way people experience music on their phones," he said.
In a bid to boost its Christmas sales, the group also unveiled additions to its handset range, offering what it said was its widest choice of Internet-ready mobile phones with high-speed, 3G broadband access.
Vodafone, which has been developing its 3G network across Europe, will sell multimedia phones from manufacturers including Nokia, Samsung Electronics and Sony Ericsson and the majority of devices will support access to Web sites such as eBay, MySpace and YouTube.
Vodafone will also market two BlackBerry handsets from Research In Motion to consumers as well as business customers.
Senators Take on Cell Phone Contract Fees
Early terminations have long annoyed cell phone subscribers, but now they're beginning to annoy Congress as well. On Friday, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill that would give subscribers greater freedom to leave cell phone carrier contracts before the agreements expire.
The Cell Phone Consumer Empowerment Act of 2007 would allow subscribers to cancel a contract for any reason up to 30 days after a new agreement is signed or an existing contract is extended. Klobuchar said the bill is all about fairness. "Early termination fees are a family budget buster," she said. "Families should be able to terminate service without outrageous fees and know if their cell phone will work on their drives and in their home and office."
While most carriers already give subscribers a set period for leaving a new contract, they are not required to do so by law. What's more, the bill would require carriers to prorate ETFs the closer a subscriber is to the contract's ending date. Here again, many carriers already offer that option, but it is not required.
Not surprisingly, the wireless industry's lobbying arm in Washington isn't greeting the bill with cheers. In a statement, Steve Largent, the president and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (and a former Republican member of Congress), disputed the need for any regulation.
"Wireless consumers in America enjoy the most affordable service in the free world," Largent said. "The [bill] is unnecessary and, if enacted, threatens to increase the cost of wireless service and reduce the number of choices available to American consumers." He also cited FCC statistics that state that between 2003 and 2006, the number of contract related complaints fell from 15 for every 1 million customers to nine for every 1 million.
The CTIA has long defended ETFs as a way for them to offer free and discounted cell phones and plans at a lower monthly price. "ETFs are a means of holding customers to the 'bargain' they made with their carrier," said a CTIA position paper from earlier this year. "They allow carriers to offer their most attractive rate plans to their customers who commit to a specific term."
But Klobuchar and Rockefeller aren't buying that argument and are calling for additional mandates in their legislation.
Most interestingly, it directs the FCC to submit a report to Congress that studies the practice of handset locking and its effect on consumer behavior and competition. Though phone locking has been a long-standing practice in the industry, AT&T's much-publicized exclusive on the Apple iPhone has brought the issue under Congress' radar.
Additionally, the bill mandates that carriers do the following: produce coverage maps that are detailed enough to identify whether a person could get service in their home; make public-specific details on coverage gaps and dropped calls; and inform customers of rate changes at least 30 days before they take effect. Fees not expressly authorized by federal, state, or local governments would be illegal, and carriers would be required to clearly explain all fees and break out roaming charges in a separate section of a subscriber's monthly billing statement.
AMD NDA Scandal
Just two weeks ago, we reported that a Thai journalist walked out of the hush-hush (but ultimately pointless) AMD event in Singapore over a controversial NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) that required him to "send any stories to the vendor before his newspaper can publish it". AMD categorically denied it happened, stating...
...it is inaccurate. We had a great session yesterday and the journalists came away with a better understanding and even more enthusiasm about our upcoming barcelona launch. Definitely no one walked out of yesterday's presentation.
Today, we can confirm that report and even identify the journalist who walked out. He is none other than Don Sambandaraksa of the Bangkok Post, whom I met once. He posted about the issue just a few days ago. By coming out and clearing the air about the issue, we now have a much better understanding of what went on.
All of those invited to the event were given an NDA to sign before going on that 5-star, all-expense-paid trip to Singapore. Hidden in that piece of legal boilerplate were some sneaky clauses. Yeah, don't we just love those clauses. This is what Don found in that NDA :
First off, the non-disclosure agreement covered everything confidential said or written over the next two years on the product, and had a duration of five years, during which anything published or used in marketing would have to receive written approval from AMD before it could be used. Worse, at the end of the five years, all copies of the information made would have to be returned to the chipmaker.
Translated, that means those who sign the NDA must get their work approved in writing by AMD before they can be published. If that's not unethical, then we need to rewrite the dictionary. Don stomped his foot right there, and apparently so did other journalists. Good for them!
Finally, AMD agreed to let Don and the other journalists attend the event without signing that particular NDA. Everything was hunky-dory on Day 1 of the event, other than the fact that AMD was merely regurgitating what they had already revealed to the US press (and the entire world online) a whole month ago.
On Day 2 though, they were presented with another NDA to sign before a factory visit. This one stipulated that "any confidential information from this visit would need written approval from corporate communications before it could be used". I don't know about you, but that clause sounds exactly like the clause in the first NDA. The PR person even had the temerity to say that it was "just paperwork and that everyone, be it a president or prime minister, had to sign this document". That was when Don walked out.
What Does This Mean To Us?
AMD will be launching their new Quad-Core Opteron (Barcelona) processor tomorrow, September 10, 2007 amid much fanfare and simultaneous article and press releases from websites all over the world. The synchronicity of the whole affair will be ensured by the NDA being enforced on all those who signed it.
It is highly probable that the same NDA will be used to force everyone to toe the line and publish only suitably-positive, pre-approved articles. It's either that or face the threat of lawsuits. So, keep that in mind when you wade through the inevitable deluge of articles and reports on the AMD Quad-Core Opteron (Barcelona) processor from tomorrow onwards.
Curiously, Don stated that "AMD issued an apology a week later saying the incident was a misunderstanding among certain local staff and that it is not, and has never been, AMD policy to vet the stories of tier-1 publications prior to publication." What exactly did AMD mean by that?
Does that mean it is AMD policy to vet tier-2 and tier-3 publications? I will let you decide for yourselves.
The SCO Group Files Chapter 11 to Protect Assets as It Addresses Potential Financial and Legal Challenges
Reorganization ensures business as usual and that assets remain for continued support of customers and channel partners
LINDON, Utah, Sept. 14 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The SCO Group, Inc. ("SCO"), a leading provider of UNIX® software technology and mobile services, today announced that it filed a voluntary petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. SCO's subsidiary, SCO Operations, Inc., has also filed a petition for reorganization. The Board of Directors of The SCO Group have unanimously determined that Chapter 11 reorganization is in the best long-term interest of SCO and its subsidiaries, as well as its customers, shareholders, and employees.
The SCO Group intends to maintain all normal business operations throughout the bankruptcy proceedings. Subject to court approval, SCO and its subsidiaries will use the cash flow from their consolidated operations to meet their capital needs during the reorganization process.
"We want to assure our customers and partners that they can continue to rely on SCO products, support and services for their business critical operations," said Darl McBride, President and CEO, The SCO Group. "Chapter 11 reorganization provides the Company with an opportunity to protect its assets during this time while focusing on building our future plans."
The SCO Group has filed a series of first day motions in the Bankruptcy Court to ensure that it will not have any interruption in maintaining and honoring all of its commitments to its customers. The motions also address SCO's continued ability to pay its vendors, the retention of various professional advisors, and other matters.
Half laptop per child
The $100 Laptop Now the $188 Laptop
The vaunted "$100 laptop" that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers dreamed up for international schoolchildren is becoming a slightly more distant concept.
The $100 laptop has many innovative features including a pull cord for recharging by hand.
Leaders of the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child that was spun out of MIT acknowledged Friday that the devices are now slated to cost $188 when mass production begins this fall. The last price the nonprofit announced was $176; it described $100 as a long-term goal.
Spokesman George Snell blamed the increase on a variety of factors, including currency fluctuations and rising costs of such components as nickel and silicon. He said the project was committed to keeping the price from rising above $190.
While less than $200 for an innovative, wireless-enabled, hand-powered laptop is a relative bargain, a price nearly twice what the project's memorable nickname promised could make it harder for One Laptop Per Child to sign up international governments as customers. Those governments are expected to give the computers to children for them to keep and tinker with, which the project's founders believe will cause critical thinking and creativity to blossom.
"Where does it end? It started out at $130, then it was $148, then it was $176, now it's $188 -- what's next? $200?" said Wayan Vota, the former director of the Geekcorps international tech-development organization and current editor of the OLPCNews blog. "You have these governments who were looking at this original, fanciful $100-per-child figure, now we're going up towards or maybe past $200."
One Laptop Per Child says it has commitments for at least 3 million of its rugged "XO" computers, though it won't disclose which countries are first in line. Among the nations that have shown interest are Brazil, Libya, Thailand and Uruguay.
The "XO" machines feature an open-source interface designed to be intuitive for children; a sunlight-readable display; very low power consumption; built-in wireless networking; and a pull cord for recharging by hand. The laptops are being made by Taiwan's Quanta Computer Inc., the world's leading manufacturer of portable computers
Warner Shifts Web Course, Shouldering Video Costs
In the race to become a major supplier of original video programming to the Web, Warner Brothers has decided to reverse its direction.
The studio, part of Time Warner, plans today to introduce 24 Web productions in a range of formats including minimovies, games and episodic television shows.
But for this latest online push, Warner Brothers has discarded its initial strategy of insisting that advertisers shoulder production costs from the start. Instead, it has decided to finance most projects itself and worry about lining up advertisers to recoup costs later.
“In trying to get the business off the ground,” said Craig Hunegs, executive vice president for business development, “we ended up in a bit of a dance with advertisers about what various projects would look like.”
The shift underlines a growing realization among the big Hollywood studios: Web entertainment is evolving so quickly that they must take on more financial risk to keep up.
So far, Warner and most other traditional studios have tried to lock down a comfortable, low-risk business model before venturing too far online. That approach has slowed them down, delivering a competitive edge to scrappier, upstart production companies.
In the year since Warner moved into original production for the Web, it has delivered just one project: Hardly News, a satirical pop-culture quiz show that had its premiere on Anheuser-Busch’s entertainment Web site, Bud.TV, in April. It failed to gain an audience, although the studio is not giving up on the concept and is weighing new distribution options.
“We may have initially had a narrow view,” said Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Warner Brothers Television Group, which houses the studio’s digital production unit. He is now operating on the idea that as long as the studio churns out quality digital entertainment, advertising dollars will follow.
The slate of short-form Web productions that Warner plans to announce today are already deep in the production pipeline and range across genres including science fiction and animation.
“The Jeannie Tate Show,” created by Liz Cackowski, is a 10-episode series about a neurotic soccer mom who presents a television talk show from her minivan. A puppet comedy for adults from the Jim Henson Company, unofficially titled the Simian Undercover Detective Squad, follows a group of ape investigators.
The comedy projects can hit close to home. A mockumentary titled “Viral,” from Joey Manderino and David Young, looks at the dysfunction that overtakes a digital studio as it tries to come up with the next big online hit.
The studio says that a half-dozen more video projects are in development, including an animated offshoot of “The Wizard of Oz” and an online dating game produced by Lauren Graham of “Gilmore Girls.” Joseph McGinty Nichol, a director of the “Charlie’s Angels” movies who is known as McG, also has a project in the works.
Although Warner is spending more cash up front, executives point out that the combined budget for the 24 projects is less than $3 million, or the approximate cost of one episode of a high-end television drama.
And Mr. Rosenblum has distribution plans for most of its new digital entertainment. RealNetworks has agreed to distribute the Jim Henson project. With other projects, Mr. Hunegs said, programming will appear on Joost and other video portals. Warner plans to sell its digital projects to advertisers through its own media sales unit.
The studio is trying to gain traction in an increasingly crowded field. More than a dozen new production companies are angling for a share of the exploding online video business. Among the upstarts achieving early success are Generate, co-founded by a former Warner executive, and Vuguru, a new media company backed by Walt Disney’s former chief, Michael D. Eisner.
Brent Weinstein, chief executive of 60Frames Entertainment, a digital studio co-founded by the United Talent Agency, said, “We can get things to market a lot quicker than traditional media companies because we aren’t hamstrung by all their legal and rights issues.”
The agency, like most of its rivals, is building an internal unit devoted to scouting up-and-coming creators of Internet content and to securing new media deals for existing clients with the likes of Warner.
Jason U. Nadler, director of UTA Online, said, “Artists know the Web is a great place to both showcase their talent and incubate new ideas without the pressure of delivering a full-blown movie or television hit out of the gate.”
Although Warner’s digital venture, dubbed Studio 2.0, has gotten off to a slow start, the company has emerged as a leader in other areas of Web entertainment.
Mr. Rosenblum announced a deal in May 2006 to allow local television stations that buy reruns of the Warner-produced comedy “Two and a Half Men” to stream the episodes on their Web sites. The studio’s TMZ.com, a Web celebrity tabloid, has grown so popular since its debut in December that Warner will introduce a television spin-off this week.
And Warner’s chief executive, Barry M. Meyer, announced plans last week for a virtual online world populated by animated characters from the company’s library. A spring debut is planned for the site, called T-Works. It will also stream episodes of Hanna-Barbera and Looney Tunes cartoons.
“Some of the announcements you will see from us over the next several months will show how dedicated we are to this business,” Mr. Rosenblum said.
More Led Zeppelin Reunion Rumors
It finally looks like we're starting to exit rumor territory on the whole Led Zeppelin reunion thing. On Wednesday, NME claimed that they received official word from Robert Plant while the group's website is dropping cryptic hints.
Meanwhile, Blabbermouth reports that the date 11.13.07 popped up on the band's website without any explanation. Because it was rumored that the Zep would be playing the O2 Arena on that day, it led [people without lives] huge fans of the band to speculate that the show was in fact real.
NME reported that Robert Plant spoke with one of their readers and told them that the reunion was looking to be a go.
"Well we've got a band meeting about it this afternoon about it. There's not a lot to work out as it's only going to be one-off gig," Plant told an NME reader.
Along with this, various sources are reporting that the show will probably be a one-off charity gig in honor of Atlantic Records founder, Ahmet Ertegun
A few other sources are reporting that there will be a handful of gigs including dates in the U.S.
Rewriting Hollywood’s Rules
David M. Halbfinger
Kevin Morris had just negotiated a landmark deal that set Hollywood buzzing, giving the creators of “South Park,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker, a precedent-setting 50 percent stake in the cartoon’s success on the Web and other emerging media.
For Mr. Morris, this might have been the coup of a career. But he is already onto his next project: trying to build bridges between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
In November, Mr. Morris wants to put entertainment and technology people together to hash out differences and dream up new deals. He will model it on the Sun Valley conference for media moguls, but plans to invite producers, directors, agents and others who understand the importance of the shift to new media — including the talent.
“It’s great that those guys all meet and talk and ride bikes,” Mr. Morris said, “but I’m not sure the exchange of ideas is happening at a more functional level.” He hopes to get people who think things up for a living to start asking questions — like why there is still no Hollywood soap opera, variety show or drama on the Web.
“Everybody says that content is king, but they’re not acting like it,” Mr. Morris said. “On the tech side, they don’t have any cultural understanding of the tradition of paying for talent. They’re enamored of user-generated stuff because they think ‘Entourage’ is real — that they’re going to get ripped off.”
He continued: “The media companies, meanwhile, are so big, they have no spirit of entrepreneurialism and they’re obsessed with being tough. Nobody wants to be the guy that overpaid. It creates a risk-averse culture, just at a time when we need risks.”
Though Mr. Morris’s clients include the likes of Mike Judge, Minnie Driver, Mike Newell and Matthew McConaughey, it is hard to imagine that there would have been much interest in his conference had he not just cut the “South Park” deal soon after his firm helped set up FunnyorDie.com, an attention-getting comedy site created by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.
“It’s a very forward-thinking firm,” said Jim Wiatt, chief executive of the William Morris Agency, which also represents Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker. “Usually, it’s easier just to renegotiate and play by the rules that have been defined, rather than pulling back and saying, ‘We have an opportunity to create a model and use our leverage and creativity to find it.’ I think they spend a lot of time thinking about that.”
The new media landscape that Mr. Morris, 44, has been pondering is a long way from Media, Pa., ouside Philadelphia, where he was raised by a refinery worker and a school secretary. He bartended his way through Cornell and law school at New York University, then fled New York for Los Angeles, hoping to translate his penchant for pop culture into a job at a Hollywood firm.
But the boutique agencies that negotiated talent deals would not hire someone just out of school. So Mr. Morris got experience where he could find it, befriending independent filmmakers and offering to handle their contracts.
At the Sundance Film Festival in 1994 he met Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker at a party, watched their film “Cannibal: The Musical,” and was hooked. He represented them and for the next few years, Mr. Stone said, “he didn’t make a dollar off us.”
Around the same time, Mr. McConaughey met and befriended Mr. Morris, whom he remembered as “sitting in a cubicle with long hair and a rumpled suit wishing he could have an assistant one day.”
By 1995, Mr. Morris said, when Mr. McConaughey was asked to read for a supporting role in “A Time to Kill,” Mr. Morris, who had been working for him for nothing as well, urged his friend to “tell them you want to be the lead.” Mr. McConaughey did so, took a screen test, and won John Grisham’s approval. And though Hollywood’s top lawyers came calling, Mr. McConaughey stuck with the unknown Mr. Morris.
“For me it’s always been, take the leap, take the risk, throw yourself into the fire, and you’ll be rewarded,” Mr. Morris said.
That same year, Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker showed up in their still-unpaid lawyer’s office with a short animated film they had made featuring a fight between Jesus and Santa Claus. Comedy Central outbid MTV for their services, and Mr. Morris struck the deal for “South Park.”
Mr. Morris — by then married to Gaby Morgerman, now head of the talent department at William Morris — decided to take another risk by starting his own firm. Kevin Yorn, then an assistant district attorney, remembers Mr. Morris sketching a model for a new kind of firm on a cocktail napkin. “He had a vision. He was very, very serious about it, and I figured I had nothing to lose,” Mr. Yorn, a partner, said.
Their firm, now 11 years old, is styled after talent agencies like Creative Artists, with which it shares Century City’s newest office tower. Mr. Morris’s firm does hire lawyers out of school but starts them as assistants. Junior lawyers are assigned to track the media conglomerates. Partners and associates work in teams, avoiding the fiefs and silos of rival firms. All 18 lawyers attend free-for-all, seminar-style Monday meetings and Wednesday marketing sessions.
Mr. Morris and his partners consider their firm, Barnes Morris Klein Mark Yorn Barnes & Levine, a “media company,” and their standard 5 percent fee increasingly comes as equity in new ventures.
Paul Nadel, a former venture fund manager who joined the firm recently and helped set up FunnyorDie.com, remarked, “I could throw a rock and hit 5,000 lawyers, and I wouldn’t hit one who’d want to forgo immediate fees for the long haul.”
The “South Park” deal, in fact, came about over the long haul: In the late ’90s, years before anyone could guess how new media ventures might generate income for the show, Mr. Morris negotiated a provision giving Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker a stake in any non-TV profits. As a result, Comedy Central had little choice but to share the wealth, he said, if it wanted to fully exploit the show’s presence and profitability on the Web.
Entertainment lawyers are often suspected of papering deals to justify their fees, but Mr. Morris said he strives to add value. Creativity and entrepreneurialism can come from anywhere, he said, even from a lawyer.
And even a lawyer can be a source of valued creative input.
“He still reads the scripts I go do before I go do them,” Mr. McConaughey said. “He came to me to do ‘U-571.’ I’d read it and didn’t want to do it, but he came out to the beach and called me to the side, pinned me up against a wall and said, ‘Read this thing again.’ ”
“I’m always teasing him: keep your hair long,” he added.
HD VMD to Battle Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD
Players and discs using a new high-def format will appear soon--but will consumers make room for yet another combatant in the HD format wars?
At the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) trade show in Denver, a company promoting a new high-definition optical disc format demonstrated set-top players and high-definition movies that cost far less than ones that use the competing Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD formats. The only faux pas: Arriving late to a two-party format war that consumers are already reluctant to support.
Next month, New Medium Enterprises' 1080p set-top players, which use the HD VMD (Versatile Multilayer Disc) format, will go on sale on Amazon.com and in stores such as Radio Shack and Costco for around $150--about half the cost of the least-expensive 1080p HD DVD player, and perhaps a fourth the cost of the least-expensive Blu-ray player. The movies that work in them are similarly inexpensive.
"Expect a small premium over DVD [discs], and a big discount over Blu-ray and HD DVD," says Jim Cardwell, an advisor to the company and former president of Warner Home Video.
Instead of the blue-laser technology embraced by the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps, the HD VMD format uses the red-laser technology already used to create DVDs, and as a result, keeps the cost of manufacturing discs and drives low, says Eugene Levich, director and chief technology officer of New Medium Enterprises. He said that manufacturing a Blu-ray drive costs ten times as much as manufacturing a DVD or HD VMD drive, because the latter two are essentially the same drive but with different firmware.
HD VMD discs, which hold up to 30GB on a single side, are encoded with a maximum bit rate of 40 megabits per second; that's within halfway between HD DVD's 36 mpbs and Blu-ray's 48 mbps. The format uses MPEG-2 and VC1 video formats to encode at 1080p resolution for the time being, and will possibly move to the H.264 format in the future.
Levich said the video quality is "at least as good" as that of the other formats. Using a projection system, HD VMD reps showed me clips of "We Were Soldiers" and "Apocalypto." The movies looked very good--not as stunning as I expected, but I'd just arrived from the CEDIA show floor, where every television vendor uses phenomenal, highly doctored content to show off their products.
The HD VMD format supports up to 7.1-channel Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS audio output, though it will not offer the high-bit-rate Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio surround-sound codecs.
Multitalented, Inexpensive Players
The ML622S and the ML775S players each have a single HDMI 1.3 connection and can play HD VMDs, DVDs, CDs, and MP3 CDs, as well as a few other formats. The ML622S costs about $150; the ML775S will cost slightly more. The ML775S adds USB ports and a media-card reader for displaying photos and playing video content from devices such as thumb drives and external hard drives. Both players have Ethernet ports designed for downloading firmware updates, not the interactive features supported by HD DVD and Blu-ray. They come in black, red, gray, and white.
At launch, 20 U.S. movie titles will be available, including many from Mel Gibson's Icon Entertainment International. That's pretty sparse, and the list doesn't include that many hot titles. Of course, Blu-ray and HD DVD didn't start out with many more than that either, and New Medium Enterprises says that much more content from around the world, including many Bollywood titles, will be available.
Cardwell says that if the set-top players sell well, that will convince more major studios to sign on for HD VMD. But without content, buyers may be reticent to buy the set-top players. However, HD VMD players work with other, non-HD VMD content--and because they're inexpensive, buyers may be willing to take a chance.
Judge Deals Blow to RIAA's Boilerplate Copyright Infringement Complaints
In the over 20,000 file-sharing cases filed so far, the RIAA has relied on a simple procedure: scour P2P networks for shared music, file a John Doe lawsuit to learn the identity of the account-holder responsible for the IP address flagged by the RIAA's investigative arm, and, if the account-holder doesn't agree to the RIAA's settlement terms, file a lawsuit using a boilerplate complaint. A federal judge in California has now refused to grant the RIAA a judgment based on just such a complaint, forcing the RIAA to draw up a new complaint containing specifics.
Yolanda Rodriguez was sued by the record labels for copyright infringement in November of last year. Apparently, Rodriguez is of the "ignore the problem and hope it will go away" mindset, as she never filed an answer to the complaint, and a search of the case history shows no action on her part to fight the lawsuit.
Given Rodriguez's inaction, the clerk entered a notice of default this past April. In July, the record labels asked the court for a default judgment in the amount of $3,750 (five songs at $750 each) plus $420 in court costs. Judge Rudi M. Brewster declined to give the RIAA what it was asking for, ruling that the plaintiffs' boilerplate complaint "fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief may be granted."
Drawing on the recent Bell Atlantic v. Twombly case decided by the Supreme Court, Judge Brewster held that the RIAA's complaint wasn't sufficient to merit a default judgment. "[O]ther than the bare conclusory statement that on 'information and belief, Defendant has downloaded, distributed and/or made available for distribution to the public copyrighted works, Plaintiffs have presented no facts that would indicate that this allegation is anything more than speculation," wrote the judge. "The complaint is simply a boilerplate listing of the elements of copyright infringement without any facts pertaining specifically to the instant Defendant."
Bell Atlantic v. Twombly involved allegations that the Baby Bells engaged in an anticompetitive conspiracy to hinder local phone and broadband competition. The Supreme Court ruled that the mere fact that a conspiracy was conceivable and that the companies engaged in conduct that supported the conspiracy allegations wasn't enough for a lawsuit to proceed.
Judge Brewster vacated the entry of default but gave the RIAA 30 days to refile the complaint and serve Rodriguez with it. It took the RIAA little less than a week to file an amended complaint. In contrast to the original complaint, which was extremely short on specifics, the RIAA's latest filing offers more in the way of details. Those details include the date the RIAA spotted the PC it believes was used by Rodriguez on Gnutella, the IP address, and a list of recordings in the user's shared folder.
There's still a great deal of "information and belief," however. The RIAA is "informed and believe[s]" that Rodriguez "had continuously used and continued to use a P2P network to download and/or distribute to the public" the files contained in the shared folder as well as "additional sound recordings owned by or exclusively licensed to" the labels.
In fact, the only significant difference between the original and amended complaint are the dates, IP address, the name of the network, and screenshots showing each and every file seen in the shared folder allegedly residing on Rodriguez's PC. Of course, if Rodriguez once again fails to show up in court, that may be enough to grant a default judgment.
Judge Brewster's decision may have ramifications for two contested lawsuits, Elektra v. Barker and Warner v. Cassin. The judges in both cases have indicated their intention to rule on a central facet of the RIAA's complaints, that making a song available over a P2P network constitutes copyright infringement. Copyright attorney Ray Beckerman, who is defending both Barker and Cassin, points out that the judge's ruling in Interscope v. Rodriguez supports the arguments made in the other two cases.
Prince to Sue YouTube, eBay Over Music Use
U.S. pop star Prince plans to sue YouTube and other major Web sites for unauthorized use of his music in a bid to "reclaim his art on the Internet".
The man behind hit songs "Purple Rain", "1999" and "When Doves Cry" said on Thursday that YouTube could not argue it had no control over which videos users posted on its site.
"YouTube ... are clearly able (to) filter porn and pedophile material but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success," a statement released on his behalf said.
YouTube responded by saying it was working with artists to help them manage their music on the site.
"Most content owners understand that we respect copyrights, we work every day to help them manage their content, and we are developing state-of-the-art tools to let them do that even better," said YouTube chief counsel Zahavah Levine.
"We have great partnerships with major music labels all over the world that understand the benefit of using YouTube as another way to communicate with their fans."
In addition to YouTube, Prince plans legal action against online auctioneer eBay and Pirate Bay, a site accused by Hollywood and the music industry as being a major source of music and film piracy.
The legal action is the latest bid by the music industry to wrest back control over content in an age where file sharing, mobile phones and video sites make enforcing copyright increasingly difficult.
But it is believed to be rare for an individual artist of Prince's stature to take on popular Web sites, while some up-and-coming performers actually encourage online file sharing to create a fan base and buzz around a record.
"Prince strongly believes artists as the creators and owners of their music need to reclaim their art," the statement added.
British company Web Sheriff has been hired to help coordinate the action.
"In the last couple of weeks we have directly removed approximately 2,000 Prince videos from YouTube," said Web Sheriff managing director John Giacobbi.
"The problem is that one can reduce it to zero and then the next day there will be 100 or 500 or whatever. This carries on ad nauseam at Prince's expense," he told Reuters.
He said his company had also removed around 300 items from eBay, where whole lines of pirated goods trading on Prince's name had appeared, including clocks, socks, mugs and key rings.
Prince's latest initiative is likely to please record industry executives and music retailers, who have not always seen eye-to-eye with the 49-year-old.
He has referred to the record industry as "the speculation business" and gave away copies of his new album "Planet Earth" for free with a British Sunday newspaper.
If You Can't Beat 'Em, Sue 'Em
The recording industry needs to realize it won't overcome its troubles just by suing those who download music
LAST WEEK the recording industry decided that it was easier to extort money than adapt to changing technology. According to The Cavalier Daily, seven University students received pre-litigation settlement letters (That is, give us your money or we'll sic our lawyers on you.) from the Recording Institute Association of America (RIAA) for illegal music downloading. The RIAA blames illegal downloads for more than $300 million in lost revenue and a $3 billion decline in sales over the last six years. But where did these numbers come from?
Record labels seem to think that they've lost the revenue of an album sale every time someone illegally downloads a song. They're assuming that someone who downloads music would have otherwise bought the music if downloading was not a viable option.
But would they? The cost of downloading is the energy expended clicking a computer screen while a CD costs at least ten dollars. That implies that most downloads are probably not, in fact, lost sales. If downloading songs doesn't actually cost record companies money, then it isn't really stealing. The real reason they're losing money is the changing nature of the industry.
Record companies' inability to deal with the internet has been on full display over the past decade. Only recently have they allowed customers to buy individual songs through programs like iTunes. And they only started cutting deals because the volume of illegal downloading left them with few options.
Major record labels have, quite simply, misjudged what people wanted. They missed two major trends: the individualization of music and the changing record company-musician relationship.
Rapid technological advances have enabled everyone to enter his or her own universe. The ability of the new economy to tailor products to very specific people means that niche markets spring up to satisfy every idiosyncratic taste. Nearly unlimited choice combined with uniquely American individualism made for exciting times. Too bad record executives didn't notice.
Joseph Schumpeter wrote about the process of "creative destruction" in which outdated firms go under as the underlying technological paradigm shifts and society advances. Cars wiped out horse and buggy companies; gas heating replaced coal furnaces; and now the recording industry's business model's time has come. Peer-to-Peer file sharing networks have stripped record companies of their raison d'être: publicizing and promoting albums.
Instead of embracing "new media" and targeting songs and new artists at the most specific audience possible, record labels upped their cut of album sales. Musicians see merely pennies on the dollar of each album sold or when their songs play on the radio. Artists have to make their money by going directly to their fans through ticket sales and merchandise. But when bands can build a buzz and a following by putting their music online, they have no need for record labels. No wonder sales are down so much.
By whittling away artists' stake in their own album sales, record companies sowed the seeds of their own demise. Even the Dave Matthews Band wasn't upset when an unreleased album popped up on Napster. Recording companies have been stubborn and instead of changing their structure or accepting the inevitable, they took to the courts.
In 1999 the RIAA filed suit against Napster for facilitating the transfer of copyrighted material. After Napster's appeal failed in 2001, the RIAA won an injunction forcing Napster to shutdown its network. A swathe of settlements followed and the service was finished.
After taking out Napster,the recording industry set its sights on Kazaa. Kazaa cut a deal and had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars. Then, in 2005, the Supreme Court gave the record labels their greatest prize: MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. The Court unanimously ruled that since Grokster and Streamcast (maker of Morpheus) could reasonably expect illegal file sharing to happen on their networks, they could be sued by record companies despite not actually having done anything wrong. So much for justice.
The lone remaining effective P2P network is LimeWire. It's hoping that requiring its users to agree that they won't transfer copyrighted material will shield it from litigation. The recording industry's heavy-handed approach shows just how afraid it is of working with artists to give their customers what they want: cheap individual songs.
Which brings us back to the seven University students. They downloaded a few songs from their favorite bands and now have legalese letters telling them they'd better pay or else.
The real legal question is, as the world increasingly runs on intellectual rather than physical property, what is stealing? Listening to a few tracks that you wouldn't have bought anyway doesn't sound like it to me. And taking money from everyone involved doesn't sound much like justice either.
Defendant: RIAA Abusing Courts to Shore up "Failing Business Model"
Another file-sharing defendant who says she has never installed or used file-sharing software is fighting back against the RIAA, accusing the music industry of waging war in the US court system to "shore up the American recording industry's failing business model."
The action this time is in the US District Court for South Carolina, which is where Catherine Njuguna was sued by the RIAA for allegedly sharing tracks such as "Teenage Dirt Bag," "She F***** Hates Me," "That N*****'s Crazy," and "F*** You Softly" via KaZaA. According to a motion she recently filed, her explanations that she was in Oklahoma City on the day the RIAA's investigators reportedly discovered the shared music on KaZaA and that she only listened to contemporary Christian music fell on deaf ears at the industry's Settlement Support Center. In addition, the SSC turned down her requests to have her PC inspected for evidence of infringement, and the RIAA ultimately sued her after she refused to give into its settlement demands.
After the lawsuit was filed, Njuguna said she boxed up the PC reportedly used for infringement and purchased a new one. She then filed a series of counterclaims to the RIAA's lawsuit in an attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed and her name cleared. One of those accuses the record labels of failing to negotiate in good faith.
"The Plaintiffs/SSC have not honored their obligation and duty to negotiate in good faith and in a fair manner," argues Njugana. "They have advised an unrepresented client regarding her legal rights, sometimes incorrectly, and misled the Defendant in order to force her into a settlement that is a pure contract of adhesion, with unconscionable terms, at a cost that is extraordinarily excessive considering alleged loss of the Plaintiffs."
In its motion to dismiss Njugana's counterclaims, the RIAA argues that it owes no duty to negotiate in good faith to the defendant.
Njugana also accuses the RIAA of engaging in deceptive and unfair trade practices, arguing that the record labels have demonstrated repeated behavior that has an "adverse effect on the public interest." She also cites former RIAA defendant Tanya Andersen's lawsuit (which seeks class-action status) as evidence that, unless the courts step in at some point, the RIAA will continue its campaign.
If, like a handful of other former defendants, Njugana is exonerated by the courts, the RIAA could be looking at another malicious prosecution lawsuit like the one filed by Andersen. Yesterday, the RIAA asked an Oregon judge to dismiss Andersen's lawsuit, arguing that her accusations that the industry group violated state racketeering laws depend on "sweeping, conclusory statements about alleged attempts to coerce or extort money from her."
The Biggest Ever BitTorrent Leak: MediaDefender Internal Emails Go Public
Enigmax & Ernesto
When TorrentFreak reported that Media Defender (MD) was behind the video site MiiVi, they cast doubt on us. Now, in what is surely the biggest BitTorrent leak ever, nearly 700mb of MD’s emails have gone public. When MD’s Randy Saaf found out we rumbled MiiVi he said, “This is really fucked.” This is too, but much more so.
When we reported in July that an Anti-Piracy Gang Launches their own Video Download Site to Trap People and that the company was called Media Defender and, as anyone who aims to be a credible news resource would, we checked and double checked our sources. We said, with some confidence:
Media Defender, a notorious anti piracy gang working for the MPAA, RIAA and several independent media production companies, just launched their very own video upload service called “miivi.com”. The sole purpose of the site is to trap people into uploading copyrighted material, and bust them for doing so.
However, in comments made to Ars technica, Media Defender’s Randy Saaf chose to rubbish our claims, calling it an ‘accidentally un-secured internal project’.
From the emails we cannot be sure that it’s an entrapment site or that it is related to the MPAA (perhaps it’s a legit a P2P video client?), but it does look suspicious.
Unfortunately for Media Defender - a company dedicated to mitigating the effects of internet leaks - they can do nothing about being the subject of the biggest BitTorrent leak of all time. Over 700mb of their own internal emails, dating back over 6 months have been leaked to the internet in what will be a devastating blow to the company. Many are very recent, having September 2007 dates and the majority involve the most senior people in the company. Apparently this is not the first time that a MediaDefender email leaked onto the Internet.
According to the .nfo file posted with the Mbox file the emails were obtained by a group called “MediaDefender-Defenders”. It states: “By releasing these emails we hope to secure the privacy and personal integrity of all peer-to-peer users. The emails contains information about the various tactics and technical solutions for tracking p2p users, and disrupt p2p services,” and “A special thanks to Jay Maris, for circumventing there entire email-security by forwarding all your emails to your gmail account”
Note: The mbox formatted file is circulating publicly on BitTorrent, completely unedited. However, for publication here we have removed the username and password logins for Media Defender’s servers, and replaced them with asterisks and avoided publishing emails of a personal nature, e.g pay negotiations etc. We believe that the emails are the real deal and all the info posted here serves the public interest.
At first we couldn’t believe that it was real, but after we scanned through the e-mails it became clear that it was indeed the real deal. Hundreds of IPs and logins to their servers, lists of their decoy/entrapment trackers, decoy strategies, the effectiveness of their fake torrents (in many cases with a breakdown of success, title specific), high and low priority sites, .torrent watchlists, information on their monitoring of competitors, pictures of their weekend trips and even the anti-piracy strategy for dealing with The Simpsons Movie leak:
# REMINDER: “The Simpson’s Movie” premieres this Friday (to Torrents).
* Decoy files are available in torrents MDfile server.
* Use Public Trackers for pre-Leak releases.
* Create two new trackers for this project.
o Ebert to inform Torrents of these new machines.
* Send a list of 5 release names from each torrent team member to Ebert.
* REMEMBER to input torrent file into interdiction if a real Leak is available this weekend.
It’s impossible to sum up all the juicy details in one post as the amount of information is staggering, so as much as we’d like to tell you about the custom Media Defender software (called ProxyMaster) included in the leak, we’ll focus mainly on the MiiVi case.
Let’s start off with their response to our story about MiiVi.com.
From: Ben Grodsky
Sent: Tue 03-Jul-07 20:19
To: MIIVI; Randy Saaf; Octavio Herrera; Steve Lyons
Subject: MiiVi got Dugg
Looks like the domain transfer has screwed us over:
And the response from Randy Saaf himself.
This is really fucked.
Let’s pull miivi offline.
Apparently our reports about MiiVi made them really paranoid. They are worried that reporters will apply for jobs just to find out more about their secret project.
From Ben Grodsky, Media Defender
Subject: care in interviewing
Given all the recent Digg, SlashDot and derivative online articles about MD, be careful what you say in job interviews. Specifically, I’m concerned about giving any information BEYOND what’s already on the mediadefender.com website. I’m worried about someone interviewing for a position just for the purpose of getting more info to post online. For example, if anyone asks anything about MiiVi, just reiterate what Randy has said online (it was an internal video project that we probably should have password protected; we were in no way directed to, or working with, the MPAA on that project; NO part of the project was a honeypot designed to trap downloaders).
Seemingly every last detail of the MiiVi preparations are laid bare for all to see, such as these attempts to deal with some unexpected content. Interestingly, if MiiVi was only an internal operation, where on earth did this content come from?:
From Ben Grodsky, Media Defender
I wouldn’t normally e-mail you directly about MiiVi stuff, because a lot of what I say about this is total crap (so keep that in mind) and Jay filters the crap from the important stuff for you. Is there a way to add this hash/title to the porn filter explicitly?
hash=30755326A4E4B28E678BFF8CB2AF5FC4A4FBF710&i=3 (the title is Celebrity deathmatch: Korn vs slipknot and the exact URL is http://184.108.40.206/zonie/media.php?hash=30755326A)
If this is a big deal, don’t worry about it for now.
And, If MiiVi was an internal project only, how does that sit with these attempts to generate lots of traffic?
Another thing we can do to increase Google and other search engine traffic is to get more link-ins. At the next MiiVi meeting, I’m going to ask Randy for permission to incentivize people to link-in a MiiVi video on their MySpace. Colin is already doing this and it helps the word-of-mouth spread, even if the link-ins are nominal. I’m not sure what we could do in the link-in regard early on, but getting the cumulative ~1000+ MySpace friends of MediaDefender employees to see MiiVi link-ins can’t hurt….
Colin — start coming up with a list the list of keywords and descriptors for hidden metadata entries, per Dylan’s e-mail below.
One can only speculate what the MiiVi client might’ve been capable of, should it have gotten off the ground:
From: Ben Grodsky
To: Jay Mairs
Cc: Randy Saaf
Sent: Wed Jun 20 23:36:54 2007
Subject: miivi emule spoof
Do you think it would break a lot and take more time than its worth for the MiiVi application/installer also to act like Serge’s Proxy client and spoof on eMule?
Just about every aspect of the company’s operations on every file sharing network is revealed in the emails, including their fake eDonkey server and Soulseek activities, not to mention payroll issues and discussions about what to eat for lunch.
Of course, Mr Saaf was always very keen to distance MediaDefender from MiiVi, as this email shows:
From: Randy Saaf
Sent: Wed 6/13/2007 12:54 AM
To: Colin Keller
Cc: Ben Grodsky; Steve Lyons; Jay Mairs
Subject: miivi emails
Set up your email so that you always reply with a email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or an email@example.com address respectively. I don’t want MediaDefender anywhere in your email replies to people contacting Miivi. Steve and Ben can help you set up your email for this. Make sure MediaDefender can not be seen in any of the hidden email data crap that smart people can look in.
I am setting up firstname.lastname@example.org to forward to email@example.com.
They made up fake company (MiiVi Inc.), edited their own Wikipedia entries and hosted Miivi on IPs that couldn’t be traced back to MediaDefender.
From: Jay Mairs
Sent: Tue 7/3/2007 9:59 PM
To: Steve Lyons; Randy Saaf; Octavio Herrera
Cc: Ty Heath; Dylan Douglas; Ben Grodsky; Ivan Kwok (gmail)
Subject: Re: MiiVi got Dugg
Steve, please redirect miivi.com to point to an ip that’s not one of ours (random ip or whatever).
Dylan, if there’s nothing critical running on the miivi server, please shut the computer down. If there is something critical on there, please let us know ASAP.
MediaDefender took down MiiVi.com but it seems they aren’t ditching the project but instead looking for a new name because domain names are really important for internal projects:
From: Randy Saaf
Sent: Friday, July 13, 2007 4:44 PM
To: Jay Mairs; Colin Keller
Subject: FW: New miivi name.
Do you like vidber.com or bivvid.com or vidorama.com?
Reply from: Colin Keller
Vidorama would be my first choice (though it is a bit 70’s, kind of like a bad video rental store). Vidber doesn’t spark much interest (kind of ends too abruptly), and bivvid I’m not really feeling.
Or maybe they’ll just change the domain name to something similar, and move things round a little?
Subject: MiiVi (currently on www.viide.com)
Date: 23/07/2007 18:05
When you get a chance, we would love you to start taking a look at www.viide.com. That is the current home of our MiiVi site. We have totally locked-down the site, while we improve the look and feel from the blogosphere saw. Accordingly, to access the site you will need to login using the following login/password *****/**** (we have also made a login/password for Bobby, in case you think we could use some help with our graphics — *****/*****).
Once you log on the site, surf over to www.viide.com/download.php to get our application. The website currently acts a GUI for the application. When we go live with the site for the general public, there will also be a java applet that also minimal/one-off type use of MiiVi (but this feature is inaccessible with the current locked-down version of the site).
Date: 27/07/2007 23:56
I’m not sure if you guys are planning on going live with the Viide domain name….but in case you are….you might want to remove all references of Miivi on the homepage of viide.com before it gets Googled or someone public comes across it. For example, at the bottom under terms of service and on the HTML Title where it says “MiiVi, Inc”, and probably the default image of the skyscrapers (which are the same as Miivi).
Also, the WHOIS information is still linked to MediaDefender, Inc.
Yes, they need to get on top of the WHOIS situation before someone sees it.
After the MiiVi incident, we later reported that Media Defender owned the p2p.net domain name. A little later, our claims were proven correct when they made the p2p.net domain link back to our own article, which it still does to this day. We took this as a compliment and this is what the guys had to say about it:
From: Ben Grodsky
To: Jay Mairs; Ben Ebert; Octavio Herrera
Sent: Fri Jul 13 12:18:02 2007
Subject: FW: p2p.net on digg and torrentfreak
this is too funny. torrentfreak accused us of buying p2p.net on ebay earlier this year. Randy found out and redirected it to that vary article on torrentfreak. now there’s an article about the redirected p2p.net!
We admit it, it was quite funny at the time and proved that even anti-piracy guys have a sense of humor but sadly, it’s doubtful that the comedy will extend through this latest episode, as it’s expected that thousands of file-sharers will dissect and disseminate their commercially sensitive data into every corner of internet.
For a business model that gets its life-blood from piracy, in a twisted way this leak is likely to help generate even more business and develop the market. Funny old world.
Does Sony Finally Have an iTunes Answer?
To Sony, the weak spot in Apple's iTunes fortress could be in video downloads.
Sony is preparing to launch a challenge to iTunes' video service, according to a story published Tuesday in the The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported that Sony's effort would employ the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Portable and Bravia high-definition televisions to offer some kind of download service.
The story, which, coincidentally or not, appeared the day before Apple has scheduled a major product launch, should provide grist for Sony bashers who can't wait to see the once-mighty Japanese electronics giant botch another effort to compete with Apple's iTunes juggernaut.
Skeptics would have a point. This is hardly the first time Sony has discussed a new digital download effort. Last week, the company finally buried Connect, its online music service that was doomed by infighting and buggy software. As for hardware, the PlayStation Portable, or PSP, could have run away with the mobile-video market. When it launched in 2005, it featured good storage and a larger screen than the iPod, but consumers were turned off by Sony's preoccupation with digital rights management and proprietary video discs.
"The PSP had a shot to define the mobile market, and that opportunity has now passed," said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Unless the company can find a new approach, something that moves the ball forward, I don't see how this latest video effort is going to go in Sony's favor."
But before pundits ignore the latest nuggets of Sony news in order to focus on Wednesday's Apple product launch (which most observers expect to be the unveiling of new and improved iPods), they would do well to consider this: although Sony's execution in recent years may have been abysmal, it does have many of the tools to launch an offensive against Apple.
Sony could conceivably integrate Internet video across the PSP, the PS3 and Bravia high-definition TVs. The company owns Sony Pictures, one of the top motion picture studios, which could provide video customers plenty of content. In addition, that studio connection is now all the more attractive as it appears Apple's relationship with Hollywood is shakier than ever. Last week, NBC Universal announced that it wouldn't be renewing its long-term contract with iTunes.
Right now, Sony is trying to work the kinks out of the PS3 and PSP. When the company first introduced the PSP, it didn't allow users to connect to their TV sets, which prevented them from playing games or watching PSP videos on a big screen.
That problem has been eliminated as part of recent upgrades to the device.
Sony has also enabled the PS3 to record content that can be transferred to the PSP and confirmed that a video download store for the PSP is on its way. Last week, Sony upgraded the Walkman digital music player--which thus far has failed to dent iPod's lead--so owners can watch music videos and movie trailers on the device.
One of the biggest challenges confronting Sony, of course, is how it will bind a video game machine, portable device and TV set into a cohesive video offering.
"The problem Sony faces is that very few homes will have enough of those devices to build allegiance to Sony," McQuivey said. "The relationship with the customers is going to be fractured. The gamers are going to be in one place, and the Bravia owners in still another. Bringing them together and building loyalty will be a challenge, especially considering that early adopters have had exposure to iTunes for some time now."
But how important is it for Sony to catch Apple in the video market? While Apple is No. 1 in video downloads, revenue for the sector is worth about $300 million right now, McQuivey said. Of that amount, Apple likely generated about $200 million, he said. While the market is sure to get much bigger, just how much bigger is anyone's guess.
Nobody knows whether it's more profitable to offer pay-per-view content or give it away and support a video service through advertising. Plenty of TV networks have begun offering clips of shows on their own Web sites but attach ads. If this practice becomes widespread, it could undercut Apple's offering.
It seems apparent that music will remain Apple's bread and butter for a long time to come, and revenue from video sales represents only a tiny part of Apple's revenue.
And believe it or not, some people are still rooting for Sony. Chris Cardone, for example, an anesthesiologist from Cincinnati, is an avid iPod video viewer, or at least he was before he got his hands on the iPhone's bigger screen. He thinks consumers can only benefit from more competitors joining the video sector.
"I would prefer that there's competition," Cardone said. "At iTunes, I don't mind paying $1.99 for a show without ads. It's more efficient and takes up less storage, but maybe Sony or someone else can appeal to customers who might see price as a priority. I wouldn't mind having more than one choice."
New iPods Reengineered to Block Synching with Linux
The latest iPods have a cryptographic "checksum" in their song databases that prevents third-party applications from synching with the portable music players. This means that iPods can no longer be used with operating systems where iTunes doesn't exist -- like Linux, where gtkpod and Amarok are common free tools used by iPod owners to load their players.
Notice that this has nothing to do with piracy -- this is about Apple limiting the choices available to people who buy their iPod hardware. I kept my iPod when I switched to Ubuntu Linux a year ago, and I've been using it happily with my machine ever since (though it took me a solid week to get all my DRMed Audible audiobooks out of iTunes -- I had to run two machines 24/7, playing hundreds of hours of audio through a program called AudioHijack, to remove the DRM from my collection, which had cost me thousands of dollars to build). I'd considered buying another iPod when this one started to show its age -- it's a perfectly nice player to use, provided you stay away from the DRM.
The new hardware limits the number of potential customers for Apple's products, adding engineering cost to a device in order to reduce its functionality. It's hard to understand why Apple would do this, but the most likely explanations are that Apple wants to be sure that competitors can't build their own players to load up iPods -- now that half of the major labels have gone DRM free, it's conceivable that we'd get a Rhapsody or Amazon player that automatically loaded the non-DRM tracks they sold you on your iPod (again, note that this has nothing to do with preventing piracy -- this is about preventing competition with the iTunes Store).
It won't be the first time Apple has rejigged iTunes/iPod to lock out competitors: back when Real built a DRM player for its own music that would run on an iPod, Apple threatened to sue them and engineered a firmware update to break their code (again, nothing to do with fighting piracy). This is the soul of anti-competitiveness: Real made code that iPod owners could use to get more legal use out of their iPods, Apple threatened to sue them for endangering their monopoly over delivering iPod software.
This is all par for the course, of course. Businesses have taken countermeasures to prevent competitors from interoperating with their products for decades. Apple had to break Microsoft's file-formats to give Numbers, Pages and Keynote the ability to read Office files -- they're enthusiastic participants in "adversarial compatibility." Decades ago, IBM lost a high-profile lawsuit against competitors who'd been making compatible mainframe accessories and selling them for less than IBM, wrecking IBM's business-model of selling cheap mainframes and charging a fortune for accessories. The law of the land has generally been that compatibility is legal, even if it undermines your profitability -- making a product does not create a monopoly over everything that your customers might do with that product.
That was then. Now, Apple has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act on its side, which makes it illegal to "circumvent an effective means of access control" -- that is, to break DRM. I don't know if Apple will invoke the DMCA against people who break this latest measure (they threatened Real with the DMCA before) but I guarantee you that the attorneys and investors advising potential iTunes competitors are going to be very conservative about this. The upshot is that iPod owners and the public interest lose out, because competitive products that expand the utility of the iPod are less likely to come into existence, thanks to the DMCA and Apple's locking technology.
I guess my next player won't be an iPod after all.
With the release of the new range of iPods - the new Nano, the iPod Classic and the iPod Touch, we were expecting more of the same - a few tweaks here and there and everything would be fine. No so.
At the very start of the database, a couple of what appear to be SHA1 hashes have been inserted which appear to lock the iTunes database to one particular iPod and prevent any modification of the database file. If you try to do either of these, the hashes will not match and the iPod will report that it contains "0 songs" when the iTunesDB would otherwise be perfectly adequate.
The Future for XM, With or Without a Sirius Merger
Eric A. Taub
SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO and XM Satellite Radio, the only satellite radio networks authorized to operate by the Federal Communications Commission, expect to learn by the end of this year whether their request to merge will be successful.
The move has been opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters, the group representing traditional television and radio companies, and by some consumer groups as anticompetitive and counter to agreements the companies made when the government approved their requests for operating licenses.
Nate Davis, XM’s president and interim chief executive, and Gary Parsons, the company’s chairman, recently discussed the merger and the future of the company if the merger petition is not successful.
Q. It is said that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Do you ever wake up fearing that this merger will not happen?
PARSONS No, I actually don’t. We have said that we do not need the merger to go forward. Candidly, it’s pedal to the metal from the beginning to the very end. The most extraordinary thing has been the visceral nature with which the N.A.B. jihad has progressed against the merger.
Q. What do you attribute that to?
PARSONS To the fact that they recognize we’re a very effective and difficult competitor and on a combined basis we’d be even a stronger competitor. And it makes perfect sense they would oppose it strongly. The only part that doesn’t make sense is that they would oppose it that strongly while maintaining that we aren’t competitors.
Q. Some of your opponents argue that if satellite radio is having financial difficulties, that is your problem. You should not ask the government to reverse its original position against a merger.
PARSONS If I were a competitor and two parties were coming together to become a strong competitor, I would not want that to occur. And if they were having difficulties, I would want them to continue having difficulties. So I think their motivations are fairly transparent.
Q. Should the gloves be taken off with regard to restrictions on traditional, commercial radio?
PARSONS If I got to that point where I believed the merger was going forward and I were a competitor, then that’s the new position I would adopt. However, you really are almost dealing with apples and oranges relative to who has economic power and the concentration of the market. Obviously, terrestrial radio has 97 percent of the audience, and historically regulators don’t look at that in the same way. We do believe that, yes, they also have to compete, with iPods, satellite radio, Internet radio, streaming cellphones. That’s something they had concurred with prior to the announcement of our merger.
Q. If the merger is not approved, that will be a big problem for you.
PARSONS Prior to the merger, we were clearly on a continuing growth path and a path that would turn us cash flow positive and earnings positive in the out years. That is still expected to be the case. But combined, you will turn cash flow positive and positive earnings much more rapidly.
DAVIS As a company, we do face competition but we also have a product that’s growing significantly. As a category, we’re up to 14 million subscribers. Yes, there are 100 million iPods out there, but satellite radio was one of the fastest-growing products ever introduced. We think our growth, especially in the automotive industry, is really going to pick up.
Q. Some consumers may imagine that if the merger goes through, they are suddenly going to get double the number of channels. Is that correct?
PARSONS Subscribers with current radios will continue to get all of what they get from either XM or Sirius, and they will also get 10 to 12 of the most important best-quality content from the other service. But they will not suddenly have their existing radio get 300 rather than 100 channels.
DAVIS What you will get is more choice: you will get packages that will allow you to buy all sports or mostly music. You will be able to pick the channels you want, all at various prices. That’s not something we can do if we do not merge.
PARSONS We have a pool of bandwidth that we allocate depending on what game is playing. That works great because when hockey is in full swing we are not carrying baseball.
Q. Do you need to adapt your strategy going forward?
DAVIS We cannot continue on with business as usual. Our method of competing four years ago is different than it was two years ago and different than it will be in 2008, and I’m saying that assuming there is no merger.
We are pushing our Internet capabilities, and we are also partnered with cellphone companies to sell streamed XM music. We will be available on portable wearable devices and navigation devices, so our focus is on having a wide variety of ways to get content.
Q. One year from now, if the merger does not go through, what will you do going forward?
DAVIS If the merger does not happen, we will be very focused on making sure we continue to move to generate cash from operations in the near term and being earnings positive. We have to compete in all markets so we will continue to make our content better and better.
New Social Sites Cater to People of a Certain Age
Older people are sticky.
That is the latest view from Silicon Valley. Technology investors and entrepreneurs, long obsessed with connecting to teenagers and 20-somethings, are starting a host of new social networking sites aimed at baby boomers and graying computer users.
The sites have names like Eons, Rezoom, Multiply, Maya’s Mom, Boomj, and Boomertown. They look like Facebook — with wrinkles.
And they are seeking to capitalize on what investors say may be a profitable characteristic of older Internet users: they are less likely than youngsters to flit from one trendy site to the next.
“Teens are tire kickers — they hang around, cost you money and then leave,” said Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and author of the blog “Infectious Greed.” Where Friendster was once the hot spot, Facebook and MySpace now draw the crowds of young people online.
“The older demographic has a bunch of interesting characteristics,” Mr. Kedrosky added, “not the least of which is that they hang around.”
This prospective and relative stickiness is helping drive a wave of new investment into boomer and older-oriented social networking sites that offer like-minded (and like-aged) individuals discussion and dating forums, photo-sharing, news and commentary, and chatter about diet, fitness and health care.
Last week, VantagePoint Ventures, an early investor in MySpace, announced that it had led a $16.5 million round of financing for Multiply, a social networking site aimed at people who are settled.
In August, Shasta Ventures led a $4.8 million financing round for TeeBeeDee, a site coming out of its test stage this month. The name is short for “To Be Determined” (as in: just because you’re not trolling for a mate on MySpace doesn’t mean your life is over.)
Also in August, Johnson & Johnson spent $10 million to $20 million to acquire Maya’s Mom, a social networking site for parents, according to a person briefed on the deal. The site has been in existence about a year.
Social networking has so far focused mainly on businesspeople and young people because they are tech-savvy and are treasured by Madison Avenue.
But there are 78 million boomers — roughly three times the number of teenagers — and most of them are Internet users who learned computer skills in the workplace. Indeed, the number of Internet users who are older than 55 is roughly the same as those who are aged 18 to 34, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, a market research firm.
TeeBeeDee’s founder is Robin Wolaner, who in 1987 created Parenting magazine. That year, at least seven magazines focused on being a parent were started, and Ms. Wolaner said she was seeing the same sudden recognition of a need for Internet publishers to respond to the demands of older Americans.
She came up with the idea for the site, she said, “when I was sitting around with friends and we said, ‘We’re not going to hang out at the AARP site. What is there for us?’ ” (Plus, she said, she wanted to find a community where she could discuss her interest in getting an eye lift).
“There’s a recognition that this generation now uses the Internet just like younger people,” she said. “The one thing this generation hasn’t done yet is network online.”
The question is whether they’ll want to network in large enough numbers to justify the tens of millions of dollars going into the space. Indeed, the interest from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists has led to a mini-boom in sites that cater to baby boomers, creating what they say is both critical mass and a likely falling out.
Some of the older users of the sites say the experience feels more comfortable to them than when they tried MySpace, Facebook or Friendster.
“I’ve discussed my divorce, my medical issues, and when do I dare go dating again,” said Martha Starks, 52, a retired optician in Tucson, who spends an hour or two each evening on a site called Eons. “I sure wouldn’t discuss that stuff with a 20-year-old.”
She says she talks about lighter things, too, like movies and music, with an audience that gets what she is saying.
“They don’t even know who Aretha is — she’s the queen of soul!” she said.
Meg Dunn, 38, who is raising three children in Fort Collins, Colo., said she had tried MySpace and Facebook but had found that the short attention span of users didn’t suit her either. She now uses Multiply, where she shares family photos with her relatives, and gets into discussions on substantive topics, like health issues and illnesses affecting elderly people.
“I feel like I’m putting down roots, building relationships,” she said. “My feeling on MySpace is that people give you a poke, and then they’re gone and you never see them again.”
Peter Pezaris, president and chief executive of Multiply.com Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla., said he believed that older customers were stickier than younger ones, but said the evidence so far was anecdotal. He said 96 percent of the company’s active users returned each month, a statistic that he said impressed the venture capitalists who considered investing in the site.
David Carlick, a managing director with VantagePoint, which led the latest investment round in Multiply, said he believed that social networking sites in general had a bright business future as advertisers start to gravitate to them. He also said he believed that targeted sites, like those focused on an age demographic, could be particularly effective.
He said he had some concern that sites focusing on younger users could be vulnerable to the whims and caprice of fashion.
“That was on our minds when Murdoch came in with an offer,” he said of the decision to sell MySpace to the publishing tycoon Rupert Murdoch for around $550 million.
But venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have been slow to embrace the interests of older Internet users, said Susan Ayers Walker, a freelance technology journalist for AARP and founder of SmartSilvers Alliance, which offers consultant services to businesses looking to connect with older consumers.
She said that Silicon Valley investors have seen themselves as eternally youthful, and identified with ever-new gadgets. But they are starting to accept their age — and to invest in it.
“They’ve all got high blood pressure,” she said. “They’re starting to understand their age group — they’re living it.”
Peter Ziebelman, a partner at Palo Alto Venture Partners, joked that the interest in sites aimed at aging Americans represented the end of a state of denial for venture capitalists.
“Perhaps there aren’t many V.C.’s who want to be in the newspaper saying they’re backing the 5o-and-over population,” he said. “They’d rather say they’re attending the next keg party.”
(Mr. Ziebelman is an investor in www.agis.com, which is not a social networking site, but focuses on delivering information and services to people who need help with elder care.)
Ms. Ayers said that the investors are learning that social networks aimed at older users are a big draw for investors, consumer products and services companies. “Not only do we have a lot more money, we pay a lot more attention to advertisers,” she said.
The advertisers on Eons include Humana health care insurance, Fidelity Investments and the pharmacy chain CVS. Lee Goss, president and chief operating officer of Eons Inc., which received backing from the venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and General Catalyst, said that the sites aimed at an older audience may not grow as quickly as MySpace, but could have longevity.
“Our audience, while it is harder to attract, is more durable and sticky over time,” he said.
Social Networks at Crossroads: From Mainstream to 'Lame'stream?
A few years ago, social networking Web sites were just some newfangled technology that college students loved. But over time, they have metamorphosed into an unavoidable Internet phenomenon that is changing the way people of all ages keep in touch with friends, find long-lost acquaintances, explore new hobbies and even look for employment.
While Facebook Inc. started as a small site catering only to the most elite universities, it has since opened its doors to the general public and quickly grown to become the second largest social networking site on the Web, right behind News Corp.'s MySpace.
According to the most recent social networking data from Hitwise, Facebook claimed 11.47% of U.S. Internet visits to social networking sites. The online tracking service said May 21 that Facebook's market share grew 106% between September 2006, when it expanded to include members without a school affiliation, and April 2007.
And now Facebook is hoping to take its popularity and name recognition to the next level.
In an e-mailed statement sent to SNL Kagan Sept. 6, a Facebook spokesperson said the company will begin offering public search listings so that even users who do not have a Facebook account can access the names and pictures of certain Facebook members. Within the next month, Facebook also plans to make those available listings to external search engines — such as Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc. or Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.com — and members wanting to keep their listings private will have to adjust their user settings.
"Many people who are not familiar with Facebook perform searches for people they are looking for using other search engines," Facebook said. "Indexing public search listings results for people on Facebook in these external search engines allow more people to connect with those they are looking for."
The move is part of a larger string of initiatives aimed at broadening Facebook's footprint on the Web. In August, CareerBuilder.com launched job- and internship-matching applications on the social network's platform, and recent reports indicated Facebook plans to develop a new, farther-reaching advertising system.
But as social networks become more popular, especially among adults and potential employers, they may also lose some of their appeal, according to Robin Kent, founder and president of the Internet advertising firm Rebel Digital.
"I think that there will definitely be some backlash," Kent said during a Sept. 6 interview with SNL Kagan. He noted that his own 23-year-old son recently decided to close his profiles on MySpace and Facebook to protect his privacy and his name: "My son said, 'We know that employers search these pages when we go for job interviews and the last thing I need is some of my friends posting pictures of themselves getting drunk ... I don't want to be prejudged.'"
Kent also has his own Facebook profile, which he keeps for work purposes. "I get people sending me notes saying 'I'm a friend of yours, can I join your Facebook page?' And I think, 'Well, I don't even know who you are,'" he said. "I've started to hide quite a lot of my profile. It's not that there's anything that I'm worried about anybody seeing, I'm just starting to think that I don't want people looking at it that I don't know."
Other social networks have sprung up to compete with Facebook and MySpace, hoping to provide users with the privacy features or other services that the two dominant networks lack.
One such startup competitor is YUNiTi.com, a social network that aims to give users more control over their profiles, and how they are displayed to whom.
In a Sept. 6 interview with SNL Kagan, YUNiTi co-founder and President Marcos Boyington said, "We basically just got tired of not being able to do a lot of things on these other sites and we just kind of thought, 'Hey, maybe we can do our own.'" He added: "There are so many nice, easy-to-use things that you wish you had on these other sites. Anytime we think, 'It'd be really cool to have this,' we just do it."
YUNiTi introduced an identity validation process to its site. The feature prompts users to answer six personal questions to prove they are who they say they are. "It's the exact same technology that agencies use to validate your identity when you go to do a credit report," Boyington said. Once users have correctly answered the six personal questions and confirmed their identities, a golden seal is placed on their profile.
"It shows this big golden seal on your profile so basically if you talk to someone online that has a seal, you know that they are a real person," Boyington said. Because YUNiTi contracts with the identity theft prevention firm StrikeForce Technology, the identity validation service costs users $1.50. Also, the user must either be at least 18 years of age and a U.S. resident, or have a parent present who fits those parameters if they want to obtain a seal.
While Boyington wishes the validation service was open to a wider audience, he sees the service both as a starting place and as a very important tool for people who are hoping to meet new friends or even new love interests on the network.
"We're trying to be the end-all service where you don't have to pay $20 a month to meet people, but at the same time, for not that much, we offer a way to know that the person you are talking to really is who they claim to be," he said. "I know I've had a couple of instances where I've talked to somebody online and they seemed real enough, but when I went to try and meet them, they kind of just disappeared."
YUNiTi is also trying to offer more international services so that members who might have grown up or traveled outside of the U.S. can look up former acquaintances. "I grew up in Brazil and right now, there is no possible way I could find anyone that lives in the city where I lived," Boyington said, noting that most rival social networks — such as Google's Orkut — limit city-by-city searches to the U.S. "So we try to fill that void where you can say you're from any city in the world and we have a database of all those cities."
YUNiTi also offers a sorting feature, which allows a user to divide fellow network members into different categories. "You can choose whether people are your 'Friends,' 'Close Friends,' or whatever and then you can choose what parts of your profile are visible to each group," Boyington said. "You can have co-workers on there, your best friends on there, your family on there, and you can decide what you want to show to whom."
These kinds of innovations may help to stem some users' concerns about privacy and overexposure on the Web. But Kent believes that even with these emerging technologies, social networking may soon experience a decline in popularity as the novelty wears off. "I think we are just going through a discovery phase and it'll settle down in a few years time and these things will be less important than they are today," he said.
Although Kent believes now that social networks have arrived, they will likely be a permanent fixture in some form or another, the massive sites such as MySpace or the U.K.-based Bebo are destined to wane as too much general information about too many regular users is published on the Internet. He said, "It is one of those trends that comes in for a while, does really well, people get excited about it, and then after a while people forget about it — like kung fu movies."
Study Finds Left-Wing Brain, Right-Wing Brain
Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently, researchers show.
Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.
In a simple experiment reported todayin the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.
Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.
The results show "there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.
Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.
M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.
Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.
Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.
Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity."
Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.
Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict.
Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.
"There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major revolutions in science," said Sulloway, who has written about the history of science and has studied behavioral differences between conservatives and liberals.
Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.
Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some conservatives favor abortion rights.
Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.
"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."
Known for Famous Photos, Not All of Them His
Joe O’Donnell’s glowing legacy outlived him by less than a week. The man recalled by some as “The Presidential Photographer” with a knack for having a camera to his eye at just the right moment, became instead someone described as a fraud who hijacked some of the 20th century’s most famous images and claimed them as his own.
Mr. O’Donnell, a retired government photographer, died on Aug. 9 in Nashville at age 85. Obituaries published nationwide, including one in The New York Times on Aug. 14, praised his body of work over several presidential administrations, most of them singling out one famous picture: little John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his slain father’s passing coffin on Nov. 25, 1963. That picture was later determined to have been taken by someone else, and a closer examination of photos that Mr. O’Donnell claimed as his own has turned up other pictures taken by other photographers.
Retired news photographers all over the country, some into their 80s, reacted at the claims in the obituaries with shock and outrage as the only rights most of them have to their own pictures — bragging rights — were quietly taken by a man they never heard of.
“The more I hear about this, the more upset I get,” said Cecil Stoughton, 87, a former White House photographer. “I don’t know where he’s coming from. Delusions of grandeur.”
Mr. O’Donnell’s family said his claims to fame — made in television, newspaper and radio interviews, as well as on his own amateurish Web site — were not out of greed or fraud, but the confused statements of an ailing man in his last years. The only thing stolen, his widow and one of his sons said, was the soundness of his memory. While he was not formally diagnosed with a mental illness, he clearly became senile, his family said.
For them, the backlash has been severe and threatens to overshadow what they say are Mr. O’Donnell’s legitimate works, especially his chronicling of the effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
“I just wish people would realize he was an extraordinary photographer,” said his son J. Tyge O’Donnell, 38, who grew up taking his father’s pictures with him to school to show classmates. “Don’t hold getting old against him.”
The story of Mr. O’Donnell’s colorful life and exaggerations continues to unfold. Tales he has told for decades have been questioned. Much of his travel history remains something of a mystery, because of difficulty in obtaining personnel information from the government from decades ago.
The quest for authorship of a number of famous photos is also complicated by the times in which he worked, when many news and government photographers were not credited for their pictures.
More discrepancies in Mr. O’Donnell’s work continue to surface, and there may be more challenges to their authorship. To date, the scrutiny has centered on the years in the 1950s and 1960s when Mr. O’Donnell photographed presidents and purportedly traveled with national leaders.
The scrutiny has extended to pictures he took as a 23-year-old marine in Japan that he said had been hidden in a trunk in his home until he unearthed the negatives in 1985. The pictures were published in a book, “Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine’s Photographs From Ground Zero,” (Vanderbilt University Press). The authenticity of those pictures has not been disproved.
If Mr. O’Donnell lied about his pictures, it is unclear why. He did not appear to reap financial gains from his claims. Perhaps desire for recognition played a role. He worked for the United States Information Agency, a government body that carried out overseas educational, cultural and media programs.
While he was believed to have witnessed important moments in history, he remained unknown to the public. But his family insisted that he simply confused attending various events with photographing them.
The controversy began with the obituaries describing his role in taking a famous picture of 3-year-old “John-John,” as was John F. Kennedy Jr.’s nickname, at the funeral.
Stan Stearns, a 72-year-old wedding photographer in Annapolis, Md., knows that picture well. He took it.
A photographer for United Press International, he kept a close eye that day on the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and her children.
“I’m watching her, and she bent down, whispered in his ear,” Mr. Stearns recalled in a recent interview. “The hand went up. Click — one exposure. That was it. That was the picture.”
Mr. Stearns quit in 1970 and has been shooting weddings and portraits since. “I am very, very proud to have contributed this photograph to history,” he said.
But, it seems, so was Mr. O’Donnell.
He said for years that he was at the funeral and that he photographed the boy. “I had a telephoto lens on my camera, and we were across the street behind what we called the ‘bull rope,’ that we had to stay there,” he said in an interview on CNN in 1999.
The image showed on CNN that day was not his own. But neither was it the picture taken by Mr. Stearns, which leads to another complicating factor surrounding the John-John salute: several photographers captured the image that day, each distributed in different newspapers and magazines, many times without credit.
The salute picture broadcast on CNN in 1999 was actually taken by Dan Farrell, then with The Daily News. Now 76, he recalled the picture in an interview last week. “You never want to miss one like that, you know?”
Mr. O’Donnell often spoke of a picture, but his son said he never saw it.
The complaints over the John-John picture expanded to a fuller investigation of Mr. O’Donnell’s career by a group of mostly retired photographers and reporters angered by his false claim.
Several photographs at a Nashville art gallery called the Arts Company, which had represented Mr. O’Donnell and displayed more than 80 of his pictures, were found not to be his own. One of them, a famous image of President Kennedy piloting a yacht, is without question one taken by the photographer Robert Knudsen in 1962, said James Hill, the audio and visual archives specialist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Mr. O’Donnell claimed he took this 1962 photograph of President
Kennedy piloting his yacht, but it was actually taken by Robert Knudsen.
Another renowned photographer, Elliott Erwitt, has become forever linked to the “Kitchen Debate” in Moscow in 1959, for his famous photograph of Vice President Richard Nixon poking Nikita S. Khrushchev in the chest during a heated exchange. He even attended an anniversary reception 25 years later, playfully poking Mr. Nixon in the chest.
So Mr. Erwitt was stunned when he was shown a late-1990s video of Mr. O’Donnell speaking with a Nashville news anchor, and Mr. O’Donnell’s description of having taken the picture.
“They were arguing,” Mr. O’Donnell told the reporter. “Khrushchev was very belligerent and said, ‘We’re gonna bury you.’ And Nixon reacted just as fast as he did, and pointed his finger at him and said, ‘You’ll never bury us.’ ”
Of course, this was mistaken. Mr. Khrushchev’s famous line, “We will bury you,” was delivered three years earlier, in 1956 in Moscow before Western representatives.
Watching Mr. O’Donnell’s interview last week, Mr. Erwitt said, “Unbelievable. The picture is so well known.”
The list goes on. A picture the museum said was taken by Mr. O’Donnell of the Tehran Conference of Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1943 is suspect. It has been credited in the past to the Associated Press and the United States Army Signal Corps, but its authorship remains unclear.
Mr. O’Donnell was born on May 7, 1922, in Johnstown, Pa., his family said. He joined the Marines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, his son said. After the war and his trip to Japan, he worked for the State Department and later the Information Agency, upon its creation in 1953.
An archivist’s paper for a 1998 National Archives conference on cold war documentation cites several of the assignments in 1948 that took Mr. O’Donnell “from the home of a truck driver in Arlington, Va., to the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina to small-town polling stations in Lancaster County, Penn.” In an interview, the archivist, Nicholas Natanson, said he had examined the collection of photographs taken at the Kennedy funeral and found none taken by Mr. O’Donnell. But he said some photographs had no credits.
Pictures of Mr. O’Donnell standing beside several presidents were some of his proudest possessions, his son said, and there is archival evidence that he photographed Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. But while Mr. O’Donnell referred to himself in his later years as a White House photographer, he did not seem to have ever held that official title.
He married four times, and had four children. He retired in 1968 after suffering a back injury in a car accident while working in a motorcade on an assignment. He moved to Michigan, where he owned an antiques store and acted as the sexton of a local cemetery, his son said.
The family moved to Nashville in 1979, J. Tyge O’Donnell said. The Arts Company’s owner, Anne Brown, said Mr. O’Donnell was known in the Nashville community as a former presidential photographer, an image no one seemed to question.
Mr. O’Donnell’s health had declined since Kimiko O’Donnell, 46 and also a photographer, married him nine years ago; they met in Japan, she said. “He wasn’t interested in showing any of his photos,” she said. “He had two rods in his back. Three strokes, two heart attacks. Skin cancers. Part of colon taken out.”
It is practically impossible to say Mr. O’Donnell never sold another photographer’s work as his own, but it seems he did not make any substantial profits off any pictures in the last decade or so.
“Where’s the money?” Mrs. O’Donnell asked. The museum owner, Ms. Brown, said she kept several prints Mr. O’Donnell claimed to have taken for sale in a box, but that she had sold only 9 or 10 over a period of years.
When Ms. Brown learned of Mr. O’Donnell’s death, she uploaded to the Web site the dozens of pictures from a computer disk provided by his family years earlier. She also sent a press release about the “Presidential Photographer” to Ventures Public Relations, which sent it to news outlets with misidentified photos of John-John’s salute and President Roosevelt attached.
The O’Donnells had one bit of what looked like good news these past weeks. Mrs. O’Donnell discovered, among her husband’s things, a photograph of John-John, saluting the president’s casket. Mr. O’Donnell had signed the back.
But yesterday, the National Archives matched it to a picture in its collection, and while there is no photographer’s name attached, the picture has been credited as having been taken by someone with U.P.I.
“That is disappointing,” Mr. O’Donnell’s son J. Tyge, said yesterday. “But it doesn’t mean he wasn’t there.”
Porn Industry Hard Up for Solutions to Piracy Problem
The porn industry is sick of people pirating its content, and some players in the industry have finally decided to take an official stand against it. A group of 65 producers, attorneys, and other industry members held a piracy conference last week, billed as one of the first major roundtables for the industry to get together and address what has become a big problem for porn sales.
The porn industry has quietly coexisted with P2P services for many years, something that attorney Greg Piccionelli says has resulted in a very difficult environment for producers today. "The lack of enforcement over the years has left the pirates and consumers with the impression that copying and stealing adult content is something that has absolutely no punitive consequence associated with it whatsoever, and so the industry has really sort of dug its own grave to this degree," he said to the panel, according to the AVN Media Network.
With sales tanking quickly over the past several years in favor of free alternatives, the industry is now trying to figure out ways to stay afloat. Piccionelli estimates that no more than 15 or 20 percent of the porn in the wild is legitimate—for an estimated $50 billion industry, that could mean a lot in lost sales, although it is highly debatable whether many of those downloading XXX features on their P2P network of choice would have purchased those titles instead.
Attendees at the conference were split over how exactly to compete against pirates, however. Some wanted to focus on stopping piracy—a noble goal indeed—and one company even set up a web site for producers to post screenshots of pirated content for potential future use in lawsuits. "It's for any kind of stolen content," Shane's World VP Megan Stokes said. "[W]ith the time-stamp and the screenshot, it's something that we can start using as evidence in court cases."
Others hoped to learn new ways to adapt to digital distribution. "One of the ways of dealing with it is [...] an iTunes kind of situation where you have scene sales at a low enough price that appropriately deters people from stealing it," said Piccionelli. He also said that the industry could start to pair pirateable material—the movies—with nonpirateable material, such as t-shirts and other items to make legit sales more attractive. One thing that he doesn't want to focus on, however, is DRM, noting something that Hollywood still has yet to acknowledge: "I worry about [the producers] coming up with DRM or technological solutions, because they're not going to work."
The panel appointed a small group of producers to continue talks on the topic and attempt to get more studios involved in the industry movement against piracy. "If we all do it together, we'll be able to make a lot bigger impact," Stokes told AVN.
And keep it somewhere else…
Please Backup Your Hard Drive Now… Twice!
There is a tightness in my chest, and I am crying right now. I have just suffered a catastrophic data loss for the second time in my life. Fool me once, shame on, shame on, fool me can’t get fooled again, or something like that.
In college, a freak transformer explosion and subsequent power surge killed my hard drive. From that point on, I swore to always back up my data, and mostly I did just that. As of mid this summer, I had a ridiculous mirrored RAID drive setup with external SATA drives and all sorts of doohickies. I had about 1 terabyte of data backed up locally and had started to upload it offsite to a service called Mozy. But then I started selling off my desktop in preparation for my move from Boston to NYC. I purchased a LaCie 1TB Big Disk and put all my media files and documents from my “Atlas” drive on it. That drive literally held my world on its shoulders.
I reasoned that after the move, I would re-establish my redundant data setup. I was not given the time. Two days after moving in, the drive started clicking. I knew that sound from my college crash, and raced to B&H Photo Video in Midtown. I purchased a Drobo storage device (a redundant storage array), hoping to save my Atlas drive. I was too late. I took the drive to Tekserve on 23rd St. It would cost $2,000, but can you put a price tag on your memories and thousands of hours of media production? They couldn’t recover it. They sent it on to DriveSavers who said it may cost up to $6,000.
I had recently closed out my Discover Card, but decided it was worth going back into nasty credit card debt. Then today, I got the phone call. “We have some bad news.”
They could recover nothing. They will just charge $400 for the attempt. It’s funny, I struggled with the decision to send them the drive considering the cost but it is so clear now that I would rather have paid $10,000 to get my data back. On the technical side, here is what happened. That LaCie big disk is actually two 500GB drives “striped” together in an array. One of those drives failed and because the data is stretched across both, you can get nothing even from the good drive.
Fortunately, I managed to get some of my data uploaded to Mozy as of late May 2007. So I’ve managed to recover all my digital photos as well as my “Documenz” folder which includes my books, jokes, financial filings, scripts and everything else a digital paper version of a file cabinet would have. Over the past year, I have been using Google Docs for most of my day to day creative documents with columns, joke ideas, etc, so that’s all good. Unfortunately, I have lost much, much, much more, so much that I cannot even be sure how much.
• My iTunes music and video library. (~300GB) I estimate I had about $1500 worth of purchased music and videos in there plus hundreds of gigs of ripped CDs. The good news is I saved all the original CDs and can re-rip them. I had also “acquired” a massive music collection from a friend which ended up creating more problems than it solved. There was a lot of music I never really wanted to own permanently. I can repurchase the iTunes music at far less than the cost of the data recovery, though I’ll see about begging Apple for a restoration. I’ve head that happens sometimes.
• My video projects (~500GB). This includes imported MiniDV footage and many edited and rendered Final Cut and iMovie projects made since January 2005. The good news is I have all the original MiniDVs and I can download the most valuable rendered projects back from YouTube (I hope) and blip.tv which hosts a bunch. The bad news is video is the most time intensive, high learning curve activity I have ever engaged in. Much of my knowledge in those project files has to be relearned.
• My audio projects (??GB). This includes raw audio for my podcast, including dozens of unedited, unreleased interviews. I’ve often felt bad that I never got to many of these. Now I have a pretty good excuse.
• My old computer files. About two months ago, I extracted data from my old college computer hard drives and put them on the Atlas drive. This had emails, papers, mp3s, etc. I was so excited to have found this time capsule, but now it’s gone.
• My mother. At the end of it all, I am pained by the loss of the above items, but nothing can represent the sense of anguish I feel at having lost audio of my mother who passed away two years ago. We had taken a cross-country drive together, and I recorded hours of conversation. I only got to podcast a little bit of it (which can be redownloaded from my webhost) but the unedited stuff is beyond valuation. It’s like losing her all over again.
I certainly blame Lacie for the drive that failed, but my data is my responsibility. I will mourn this loss forever, and I really will never let it happen again. I’m trying to be open minded about this. It’s the most aggressive “spring cleaning” I’ve ever done. Even with my mother’s memories, I have thousands of photos and a bit of video. Mostly I have her in my heart, and if I think about it, I just happen to live in an era where it’s possible to capture image and sound in such high fidelity. Most of the people that ever lived had no such technology to remind them of their lost loved ones. The best memories are always going to be with me.
Now, here’s the plan
• I have the Drobo with 1.3 terabytes of capacity to be the home of New_Atlas. This drive will also be mirrored on a 1TB external Glyph and online via Mozy or a similar service. Any recommendations?
• My MacBook Pro internal drive will be mirrored on the Drobo/Glyph/Mozy setup as well
• I’ll keep a smaller subset of high priority files for more frequent offsite backup
I urge everyone reading this to backup your most important files right now. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. But right now. Do a local backup. Upload files to a server. Email them to yourselves. Print things out and put them in a lockbox.
If you’re interested in the Drobo, I have a discount code you can use for $25 off. It’s EVBARATUNDE, and yes I get some money out of it. Mostly, I want you to avoid what I’m going through.
Update: September 10, 2007 @ 11:13am
Wow, I never expected such a massive response to this, of all my posts. Most of yall found me through reddit, it seems. Thanks for dropping by and thanks for all the very useful suggestions. I wanted to provide a few more details of what went down and why I wrote this in the first place
• The more technical side of the failure is that the “master” drive is fine but the “slave” drive suffered a series of head crashes. Basically, a major mechanical failure happened, and the platters inside the drive collapsed. It does not appear to be due to physical impact but just a mechanical malfunction
• I appreciate just about all the comments except for those telling me I’m an idiot. I know that. This single-point-of-failure system was temporary during my move. The odds of the drive failing in such a short period of time are low, but it happened. Remind me to drop in on your house and mock you when you suffer your own tragedy
• I wrote this post to 1) provide an emotional outlet for me 2) see how others might be handling their own data backups in this era of digital memories but mostly 3) to scare people into backing up their stuff as soon as possible in one way or another. I really don’t want this to happen to others. It costs too much in time and emotional energy.
If you’re interested in what I do when I’m not lamenting the loss of my digital existence, here are a few posts to give you a flavor for what I’m about. If you like what you see/hear/read, subscribe to the feeds or join the email list (both at the top of the blog page in the left and right columns)
• Facebook Follies (or the Dangers of Investing in Someone Else’s Platform)
• gcc 004: I Hate the Smugness of Apple (VIDEO)
• Iraq is to Vietnam as Dubya is to WTF!?!? (Huffington Post)
• Jesse Jackson Really Needs to Read a Book… explaining what satire is
• Me. Public Radio. Monday Apr 24. Racism In America.
• and my standup set on YouTube
Update: September 11, 2007 @ 8:50am
First up, welcome digg users who put me on the front page. I am so glad this story is making people back up their stuff. This is unbelievable. A few more updates
• Apple’s iTunes folks restored almost all my purchased items, 83GB worth in over 900 tracks
• A 1TB Glyph drive has arrived which I will use to back up the drobo in a “spanning” setup. It’s two drives, but in this case the Glyph will fill up one drive then the other, sequentially. I’ll store this in a fire-proof box in my home. I’m also gonna store this all on Mozy, so that’s three places (two on-site and one remote) with ALL my data. I’ll make smaller backup sets of really important stuff
• Today is my birthday, and getting Dugg is the best web gift ever… way better than a $1 Facebook “gift” And yes, it really is my birthday. Check the vid…
Free Speech Sometimes Trumps Copyright
On my first day of my new position as civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt my previous employer, the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, a fantastic victory. The court's ruling in Golan v. Gonzales is also a triumph for the First Amendment and for the overwhelming majority of creators.
In Golan, we challenged section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, or URAA, which removed thousands of books, films and musical compositions from the public domain. We argued that this violated the First Amendment because people could no longer use these works for their own creative expression. As an example, our community orchestra and conductor clients could no longer freely play compositions to which they had purchased the sheet music and learned, and our film collector and preservationist clients could no longer show or make restored copies of films in their archives.
Our argument depended on the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft. In Eldred, the Supreme Court affirmed Congress' 20-year extension of already-existing copyrights because it found a long history of copyright extensions. But not all copyright laws are immune from review. Copyright regulates speech by limiting what subsequent speakers can do with a creative work. If Congress changes copyright's "traditional contours," courts must conduct a more searching First Amendment review to ensure that those changes do not overly burden free expression in an unjustified manner.
In Golan, we argued that removing works from the public domain, as the URAA did, was a change in the traditional contours of the law. The government defended the URAA arguing that copyright laws triggered First Amendment concerns only if Congress either limited fair use or began to regulate ideas rather than just modes of expressing those ideas. We successfully argued that those two limits on copyright protection were some but not the only ways in which traditional copyright law harmonizes with constitutional free-speech protections, and that other changes -- including depredation of the public domain -- were equally unacceptable.
Having agreed with our position that there are more than two "traditional contours" and that an inviolate public domain is one of them, the 10th Circuit sent the Golan case back to the District Court to determine whether the URAA goes too far in burdening speech.
Stanford CIS has another case about the constitutional limits of copyright protection, Kahle v. Gonzales, which we lost in the 9th Circuit and are now seeking a review of before the Supreme Court. Both Golan and Kahle seek to define what "traditional contours" means.
In Kahle, the issue is Congress' change from a self-selecting system of copyright, where people had to register and give notice to indicate that they wanted copyright protection, to an indiscriminate system where every napkin doodle is copyrighted and people are forced to license or dedicate their works to the public domain, or make some other indication that they do not want copyright protection. This change from an opt-in to an opt-out system has produced generations of "orphan works" -- creative works that are still under copyright, but for which owners are absent or prohibitively expensive to find. People who want to make use of an orphan work cannot locate the copyright owner to obtain permission. These would-be creators' fear that someone will appear years later alleging copyright infringement chills new creative uses.
The 10th Circuit's decision in Golan should make it more likely that the Supreme Court will grant a review and hear the Kahle case, because there is now a split between two federal circuit courts regarding the First Amendment's application to Congress' copyright lawmaking.
The prospect of arguing this issue before the Supreme Court is both thrilling and an immense responsibility. Our hope is that the Supreme Court affirms its holding in Eldred that Congress, in considering copyright legislation, must take free speech concerns to heart, and that when copyright laws deviate from tradition, courts must actively ensure that these new laws do not overly burden free speech.
Congress and creators also need guidance from the Supreme Court about how much breathing room we are entitled to in a digital world, where every transmission is a copy and yet everyone can be a speaker or an artist. For now, the First Amendment is alive and well in the 10th Circuit.
EFF Wins Protection for Security Researchers
Court Blocks DirecTV's Heavy-Handed Legal Tactics
San Francisco - In an important ruling today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked satellite television provider DirecTV's heavy-handed legal tactics and protected security and computer science research into satellite and smart card technology after hearing argument from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The cases, DirecTV v. Huynh and DirecTV v. Oliver, involved a provision of federal law prohibiting the "assembly" or "modification" of equipment designed to intercept satellite signals. DirecTV maintained that the provision should cover anyone who works with equipment designed for interception of their signals, regardless of their motivation or whether any interception occurs. But in a hearing earlier this year, EFF argued that the provision should apply only to entities that facilitate illegal interception by other people and not to those who simply tinker or use the equipment, such as researchers and others working to further scientific knowledge of the devices at issue.
"Congress never meant this law to be used as a hammer on those who use or tinker with new technologies," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "We're pleased the court recognized that researchers need to be protected."
These cases were part of DirecTV's nationwide legal campaign against hundreds of thousands of individuals, claiming that they were illegally intercepting its satellite TV signal simply because they had purchased smart card technology. Because DirecTV made little effort to distinguish legal uses of smart card technology from illegal ones, EFF has worked to limit the lawsuits to only those cases where DirecTV has proof that their signals were illegally received.
"DirecTV always had legal recourse against those who pirate their signal. The ruling today prevents satellite and cable TV companies from piling on excessive damages that would punish and chill legitimate encryption research," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick.
David Price and Trevor Dryer at Stanford Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic also assisted in this case.
For the full opinion from the 9th Circuit:
For more on this case:
Black Screen of Darkness to Haunt Vista Pirates
Buy the software or suffer the consequences
Microsoft Windows' infamous "blue screen of death" has become synonymous with an operating system crash or freeze, but that's nothing compared with what users of pirated copies of Vista worldwide can expect from now -- a black screen of darkness.
In an e-mail to a large Windows Vista distributor titled "Pirated Vista -- A darkness descends!" -- a local Microsoft representative made it quite clear what Vista pirates can expect to happen to their unlicensed installations.
A copy of this e-mail was obtained by Computerworld.
"Good afternoon, as of this week, Microsoft has activated a function in Vista called 'Reduced Functionality.' This is a specific function in Vista that effectively disables nongenuine copies of Windows. Therefore anyone who has a pirated copy of Vista will experience:
A black screen after one hour of browsing
No start menu or task bar
Please communicate this antipiracy initiative from Microsoft to your resellers -- note this function has only just been activated in Vista worldwide and therefore any issues with nongenuine versions will start to arise from now onward."
Microsoft's new tough antipiracy move also proves the company still controls its software releases with an iron fist, but it marks the first global use of heavy-handed tactics for pirated copies of Windows.
The e-mail message also included what resembled an advertisement of the new antipiracy initiative.
Titled "Don't let this happen to your customers," the advertisement indicates nongenuine copies of Windows Vista will lose access to key features, have limited access to updates, and thus risk attack from viruses, malware and spyware.
"If Windows Vista is not activated with a genuine product key, your customers will experience reduced functionality," according to the ad. "The blocking of nongenuine product keys is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. To help protect honest partners and fight piracy, Microsoft will continue to block product keys that are determined to be pirated, stolen or otherwise deemed nongenuine."
The ad concludes with "Don't risk it!" and "make sure your customers always get genuine Windows Vista preinstalled."
Microsoft Says Some Way to Go on Software Piracy
Microsoft on Friday said it may take decades to tackle software piracy in large emerging economies, despite some recent progress, and called on Asian governments to invest more in policing the practice.
"We are realistic in recognizing that we have to work diligently over periods, that are really a decade or two, to make real progress in a number of these environments," Craig Mundie, Microsoft chief research and strategy officer, told Reuters.
Mundie, one of the successors to Microsoft founder Bill Gates next year, said progress had been made in countries like China and Vietnam in recent years to tackle software pirates, which cost the company billions of dollars each year.
However, he said more needed to be done to police the problem.
"Most of the Asian countries have the laws, some of the regulations--they probably need tuning up--but the biggest weakness is, very few of them have made the necessary investment on the enforcement side," Mundie said.
Microsoft has made progress in China, where the piracy rate has dropped to 82 percent this year from 94 percent four years ago, he said. The piracy rate is a measure of the level of pirated software in the country. China President Hu Jintao last year pledged to crack down on software piracy.
Mundie was speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting of the 21 Asia-Pacific leaders, some of whom have pledged flexibility in trade talks, which have dragged for years.
"As businesspeople, we certainly find it encouraging that the Doha (Development) Round could get completed and trade can go to the next level," said Mundie, who earlier addressed a forum of business leaders.
He said Microsoft expected to continue to grow its workforce, and research and development capability, in countries outside its dominant U.S. market, such as India.
The software company has been expanding beyond its Windows operating system and Office productivity software businesses, saying Web services and consumer devices are key to the company's future. Its software products account for most of the company's profit.
Microsoft Updates Windows Without Users' Consent
Microsoft has begun patching files on Windows XP and Vista without users' knowledge, even when the users have turned off auto-updates.
Many companies require testing of patches before they are widely installed, and businesses in this situation are objecting to the stealth patching.
Files changed with no notice to users
In recent days, Windows Update (WU) started altering files on users' systems without displaying any dialog box to request permission. The only files that have been reportedly altered to date are nine small executables on XP and nine on Vista that are used by WU itself. Microsoft is patching these files silently, even if auto-updates have been disabled on a particular PC.
It's surprising that these files can be changed without the user's knowledge. The Automatic Updates dialog box in the Control Panel can be set to prevent updates from being installed automatically. However, with Microsoft's latest stealth move, updates to the WU executables seem to be installed regardless of the settings — without notifying users.
When users launch Windows Update, Microsoft's online service can check the version of its executables on the PC and update them if necessary. What's unusual is that people are reporting changes in these files although WU wasn't authorized to install anything.
This isn't the first time Microsoft has pushed updates out to users who prefer to test and install their updates manually. Not long ago, another Windows component, svchost.exe, was causing problems with Windows Update, as last reported on June 21 in the Windows Secrets Newsletter. In that case, however, the Windows Update site notified users that updated software had to be installed before the patching process could proceed. This time, such a notice never appears.
For users who elect not to have updates installed automatically, the issue of consent is crucial. Microsoft has apparently decided, however, that it doesn't need permission to patch Windows Updates files, even if you've set your preferences to require it.
Microsoft provides no tech information — yet
To make matters even stranger, a search on Microsoft's Web site reveals no information at all on the stealth updates. Let's say you wished to voluntarily download and install the new WU executable files when you were, for example, reinstalling a system. You'd be hard-pressed to find the updated files in order to download them. At this writing, you either get a stealth install or nothing.
A few Web forums have already started to discuss the updated files, which bear the version number 7.0.6000.381. The only explanation found at Microsoft's site comes from a user identified as Dean-Dean on a Microsoft Communities forum. In reply to a question, he states:
"Windows Update Software 7.0.6000.381 is an update to Windows Update itself. It is an update for both Windows XP and Windows Vista. Unless the update is installed, Windows Update won't work, at least in terms of searching for further updates. Normal use of Windows Update, in other words, is blocked until this update is installed."
Windows Secrets contributing editor Susan Bradley contacted Microsoft Partner Support about the update and received this short reply:
"7.0.6000.381 is a consumer only release that addresses some specific issues found after .374 was released. It will not be available via WSUS [Windows Server Update Services]. A standalone installer and the redist will be available soon, I will keep an eye on it and notify you when it is available."
Unfortunately, this reply does not explain why the stealth patching began with so little information provided to customers. Nor does it provide any details on the "specific issues" that the update supposedly addresses.
System logs confirm stealth installs
In his forum post, Dean-Dean names several files that are changed on XP and Vista. The patching process updates several Windows\System32 executables (with the extensions .exe, .dll, and .cpl) to version 7.0.6000.381, according to the post.
In Vista, the following files are updated:
In XP, the following files are updated:
These files are by no means viruses, and Microsoft appears to have no malicious intent in patching them. However, writing files to a user's PC without notice (when auto-updating has been turned off) is behavior that's usually associated with hacker Web sites. The question being raised in discussion forums is, "Why is Microsoft operating in this way?"
How to check which version your PC has
If a system has been patched in the past few months, the nine executables in Windows\System32 will either show an earlier version number, 7.0.6000.374, or the stealth patch: 7.0.6000.381. (The version numbers can be seen by right-clicking a file and choosing Properties. In XP, click the Version tab and then select File Version. In Vista, click the Details tab.)
In addition, PCs that received the update will have new executables in subfolders named 7.0.6000.381 under the following folders:
Users can also verify whether patching occurred by checking Windows' Event Log:
Step 1. In XP, click Start, Run.
Step 2. Type eventvwr.msc and press Enter.
Step 3. In the tree pane on the left, select System.
Step 4. The right pane displays events and several details about them. Event types such as "Installation" are labeled in the Category column. "Windows Update Agent" is the event typically listed in the Source column for system patches.
On systems that were checked recently by Windows Secrets readers, the Event Log shows two installation events on Aug. 24. The files were stealth-updated in the early morning hours. (The time stamp will vary, of course, on machines that received the patch on other dates.)
To investigate further, you can open the Event Log's properties for each event. Normally, when a Windows update event occurs, the properties dialog box shows an associated KB number, enabling you to find more information at Microsoft's Web site. Mysteriously, no KB number is given for the WU updates that began in August. The description merely reads, "Installation Successful: Windows successfully installed the following update: Automatic Updates."
No need to roll back the updated files
Again, it's important to note that there's nothing harmful about the updated files themselves. There are no reports of software conflicts and no reason to remove the files (which WU apparently needs in order to access the latest patches). The only concern is the mechanism Microsoft is using to perform its patching, and how this mechanism might be used by the software giant in the future.
I'd like to thank reader Angus Scott-Fleming for his help in researching this topic. He recommends that advanced Windows users monitor changes to their systems' Registry settings via a free program by Olivier Lombart called Tiny Watcher. Scott-Fleming will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending in a comment we printed.
I'll report further on this story when I'm able to find more information on the policies and techniques behind Windows Update's silent patches. Send me your tips on this subject via the Windows Secrets contact page.
For Networks, Thin Is In
IN the world of information technology, the future often arrives as predicted but rarely on time. The big things that ignite new markets and change people’s behavior, like the personal computer and the Internet, are actually collections of related technologies rather than single breakthroughs — symphonies rather than solo performances.
The PC revolution was the crest of a long wave of advances in chip design and software. The Internet, through decades of incubation, exploded only after millions of people began using newly affordable PCs with faster communication links and souped-up browsers.
The Internet shook the business world, but about a decade later than forecast. A similarly late though potentially revolutionary trend may finally be getting its day.
A decade ago, the network computer — also called the thin-client computer — was promoted as a replacement for personal computers and desktop software. Thin clients have no hard drives to store desktop applications, like Microsoft’s Word or Excel, permanently. The leading supporters of the inexpensive, terminal-style machines were Microsoft’s archrivals at Oracle and Sun Microsystems.
The market never took off in the 1990s. But the vision of a decade ago now seems within reach. Years of progress in hardware, software and networking have enabled thin computers to mimic the user experience of PCs for most tasks. Evidence that thin computing may really be catching on came in July, when Hewlett-Packard announced it would buy Neoware, a thin-client maker. The $214 million deal sent a message: thin-client computing was a market that could not be ignored.
Several forces are rekindling the interest in thin clients, money being the most obvious. An estimated three-fourths of the annual cost of a corporate PC is attributable to technical support, software upgrades, security patches and other maintenance. Thin computing now offers an alternative. Maintenance and software fixes can be handled more efficiently on central server computers.
Without a hard drive and less need for local processing, thin computers use far less power than PCs. The yearly savings in electric bills can be $150 or more for each desktop.
Thin computers are also far less susceptible to viruses and spyware than PCs, which store the programs that are subject to attacks by malicious codes.
“All these pieces are falling into place, and all the big guys are looking at this, both vendors and corporate customers,” said Bob O’Donnell, a vice president at IDC, a technology research firm. Thin-client shipments, IDC estimates, will more than double over the next five years to 7.2 million worldwide.
The business strategy behind the thin-client push is different than it was a decade ago. Today, thin computing is not part of an anti-Microsoft crusade. The technology has “matured, by and large, around delivering the Microsoft desktop experience remotely,” said Tad Bodeman, the global director of Hewlett-Packard’s thin-client business.
Virtual software versions of Windows desktops, including audio and video, can be streamed to thin clients.
No one expects PCs to go away: more than 200 million are sold worldwide each year. But thin clients have strong support. Telecommunications companies in India, China and elsewhere are considering supplying households with inexpensive thin computers and selling computing as a service. And Google, Salesforce.com and others that want to deliver software applications over the Internet are also allies.
People like graphic designers, engineers and financial analysts who need lots of computing horsepower at their fingertips are not candidates for thin computers. But these devices, industry executives and analysts say, will work well for many. Over the next decade, thin computers could replace as many as 30 percent of all business PCs, Mr. Bodeman of Hewlett-Packard predicted.
In some places, the potential is even greater. To curb costs and improve patients’ care by computerizing operations and records, Kaiser Permanente, the health-maintenance organization, has tripled the number of PCs it uses in its offices, clinics and hospitals to 210,000. A recent internal study concluded that half of those PCs could be replaced with thin computers, said David Watson, a consultant who was Kaiser’s chief technology officer until this summer. Even two years ago, Mr. Watson said, thin-client machines did not have the graphics processing power to display X-ray and M.R.I. images.
“Now, with the latest generation of thin clients, you can do it,” he said. “To be able to deliver a good clinical computing experience in the exam room could be a real cost-saving milestone.”
Thin-client machines start around $200 and can go up to $1,000, not much lower than inexpensive PCs. Thin-computing converts speak of the lower maintenance costs of the machines, as well as greater security and flexibility.
Jenny Craig, the weight-loss company, is upgrading the computerized record-keeping and analysis tools that are available to its consultants at 500 centers around the country. It chose a thin-client approach to replace PCs.
Since November, it has put the thin computers in 380 centers. Alessandra Nicoletti, the company’s director of technology, said the company was pleased with “the speed we can do things and the simplicity of managing our computer systems.”
There are even notebook thin computers. In Marysville, Calif., the police force has been using them in patrol cars for more than a year. Officers can write reports, send and receive messages and tap into law enforcement Web sites.
The 32 notebooks the police bought, from Neoware, cost far less than the PCs they replaced, and the department is saving about $1,000 a month in technical support and repair costs, estimated Lt. Mike Kostas, support division commander.
No sensitive information, like criminal records, is stored on a notebook, which could be lost or stolen. “From a security standpoint, it’s wonderful,” Lieutenant Kostas said.
Stolen Laptop Sparks New Rules
Officials announce guidelines on use of state computers
State officials have adopted some new rules in the wake of the recent theft of a laptop computer containing thousands of residents' Social Security numbers.
Officials on Monday announced guidelines on the use of state computers and called for a wider range of benefits for the 106,000 people whose Social Security numbers were inside a stolen state laptop computer.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered a new statewide security policy on mobile computers and data devices, including a regular, systematic "purge" of sensitive data on some state computers.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the state Department of Revenue Services' reaction to the theft last month of its stolen laptop falls far short of the credit protections needed by those whose personal information is now at risk.
Connecticut's Auditors of Public Accounts has launched a review of laptop use and custody standards.
"The safety and security of taxpayer and resident information must be our top priority," Rell said from her Capitol office. "The loss of the Department of Revenue Services information is an accident that should never have happened."
Rell ordered that personal information remain restricted to Connecticut state offices except under "certain carefully controlled circumstances."
Blumenthal estimated the $1 million the Department of Revenue Services has budgeted to cover taxpayers exposed to the theft could more than double if the department agrees to his recommendation to enhance the coverage and the duration of the initial protection program.
The attorney general stopped short of criticizing the DRS but called for enhanced benefits for those whose information could be taken by identity thieves.
"These steps are inadequate to protect taxpayers against the very real threat of identity theft," Blumenthal said. "They are not strong enough, not long enough, not sure or secure enough."
Blumenthal also said taxpayers deserve more protection.
"What DRS is offering these taxpayers exposed to identity theft is really a security blanket, not the financial body armor that they need," Blumenthal said.
Sarah Kaufman, spokeswoman for the DRS, said Monday the internal review of the computer theft remains active. She declined to release specific information on the employee who lost the computer, or why the agency had its computer on Long Island last month.
Kaufman said the department welcomed Blumenthal's proposals. The DRS plans to review the contract of an identity-theft service -- Debix One, Inc. -- within six months and determine whether it should be extended a second year, she said.
Blumenthal said many identity thieves, knowing consumer protections often expire after a year, will keep sensitive information for more than a year before using it.
Kaufman said DRS is considering increasing the amount of theft insurance.
"We appreciate the attorney general's comments and will do the most to provide protection for those whose information was compromised," she said.
Those whose names, phone numbers and Social Security information were contained in the computer -- stolen Aug. 17 from a car parked on Long Island --- have been notified of $5,000 worth of identity-theft insurance for the next year that the state will provide free of charge.
Blumenthal said $25,000 in theft insurance and at least two years of coverage is needed.
Among those advised by the DRS that their personal information may have been compromised was Robert G. Jaekle of Stratford, one of the state's two auditors of public accounts.
While he's not too concerned about his personal credit rating being affected, Jaekle said his agency has begun a probe into the statewide use and security protocols for laptops.
Jaekle said he believes the theft was a typical "smash-and-grab" crime, occurring with increasing regularity in vehicles that have global positioning systems and small personal-data devices.
"I'm not overly alarmed yet, but I may be in a small minority," Jaekle said.
He said he and Kevin P. Johnston, the other state auditor, have many questions beyond the loss of a single computer and the estimated $100,000 the DRS spent just to notify at-risk taxpayers.
Jaekle said the theft underscores oversight issues, including the need for encrypted software and the restriction of information.
"We may have to see what comes out of this," Jaekle said.
Time Running Out for Public Key Encryption
Two research teams have independently made quantum computers that run the prime-number-factorising Shor's algorithm — a significant step towards breaking public key cryptography. Most of the article is sadly behind a pay-wall, but a blog post at the New Scientist site nicely explains how the algorithm works.
From the blurb: "The advent of quantum computers that can run a routine called Shor's algorithm could have profound consequences. It means the most dangerous threat posed by quantum computing - the ability to break the codes that protect our banking, business and e-commerce data - is now a step nearer reality. Adding to the worry is the fact that this feat has been performed by not one but two research groups, independently of each other. One team is led by Andrew White at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and the other by Chao-Yang Lu of the University of Science and Technology of China, in Hefei."
|12-09-07, 09:49 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Who Needs Hackers?
NOTHING was moving. International travelers flying into Los Angeles International Airport — more than 17,000 of them — were stuck on planes for hours one day in mid-August after computers for the United States Customs and Border Protection agency went down and stayed down for nine hours.
Hackers? Nope. Though it was the kind of chaos that malevolent computer intruders always seem to be creating in the movies, the problem was traced to a malfunctioning network card on a desktop computer. The flawed card slowed the network and set off a domino effect as failures rippled through the customs network at the airport, officials said.
Everybody knows hackers are the biggest threat to computer networks, except that it ain’t necessarily so.
Yes, hackers are still out there, and not just teenagers: malicious insiders, political activists, mobsters and even government agents all routinely test public and private computer networks and occasionally disrupt services. But experts say that some of the most serious, even potentially devastating, problems with networks arise from sources with no malevolent component.
Whether it’s the Los Angeles customs fiasco or the unpredictable network cascade that brought the global Skype telephone service down for two days in August, problems arising from flawed systems, increasingly complex networks and even technology headaches from corporate mergers can make computer systems less reliable. Meanwhile, society as a whole is growing ever more dependent on computers and computer networks, as automated controls become the norm for air traffic, pipelines, dams, the electrical grid and more.
“We don’t need hackers to break the systems because they’re falling apart by themselves,” said Peter G. Neumann, an expert in computing risks and principal scientist at SRI International, a research institute in Menlo Park, Calif.
Steven M. Bellovin, a professor of computer science at Columbia University, said: “Most of the problems we have day to day have nothing to do with malice. Things break. Complex systems break in complex ways.”
When the electrical grid went out in the summer of 2003 throughout the Eastern United States and Canada, “it wasn’t any one thing, it was a cascading set of things,” Mr. Bellovin noted.
That is why Andreas M. Antonopoulos, a founding partner at Nemertes Research, a technology research company in Mokena, Ill., says, “The threat is complexity itself.”
Change is the fuel of business, but it also introduces complexity, Mr. Antonopoulos said, whether by bringing together incompatible computer networks or simply by growing beyond the network’s ability to keep up.
“We have gone from fairly simple computing architectures to massively distributed, massively interconnected and interdependent networks,” he said, adding that as a result, flaws have become increasingly hard to predict or spot. Simpler systems could be understood and their behavior characterized, he said, but greater complexity brings unintended consequences.
“On the scale we do it, it’s more like forecasting weather,” he said.
Kenneth M. Ritchhart, the chief information officer for the customs and border agency, agreed that complexity was at the heart of the problem at the Los Angeles airport. “As we move from stovepipes to interdependent systems,” he said, “it becomes increasingly difficult to identify and correct problems.”
At first, the agency thought the source of the trouble was routers, not the network cards. “Many times the problems you see that you try to correct are not the root causes of the problem,” he said.
And even though his department takes the threat of hacking and malicious cyberintruders seriously, he said, “I’ve got a list of 16 things that I try to address in terms of outages — only one of them is cyber- or malicious attacks.” Others include national power failures, data corruption and physical attacks on facilities.
In the case of Skype, the company — which says it has more than 220 million users, with millions online at any time — was deluged on Aug. 16 with login attempts by computers that had restarted after downloading a security update for Microsoft’s Windows operating system. A company employee, Villu Arak, posted a note online that blamed a “massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short time frame” for the 48-hour failure, saying it had overtaxed the network. Though the company has software to “self-heal” in such situations, “this event revealed a previously unseen software bug” in the program that allocates computing resources.
As computer networks are cobbled together, said Matt Moynahan, the chief executive of Veracode, a security company, “the Law of the Weakest Link always seems to prevail.” Whatever flaw or weakness allows a problem to occur compromises the entire system, just as one weak section of a levee can inundate an entire community, he said.
This is not a new problem, of course. The first flight of the space shuttle in 1981 was delayed minutes before launching because of a previously undetected software problem.
The “bug heard round the world,” as a former NASA software engineer, John B. Garman, put it in a technical paper, came down to a failure that would emerge only if a certain sequence of events occurred — and even then only once in 64 times. He wrote: “It is complexity of design and process that got us (and Murphy’s Law!). Complexity in the sense that we, the ‘software industry,’ are still naïve and forge into large systems such as this with too little computer, budget, schedule and definition of the software code.”
In another example, the precursor to the Internet known as the Arpanet collapsed for four hours in 1980 after years of smooth functioning. According to Dr. Neumann of SRI, the collapse “resulted from an unforeseen interaction among three different causes” that included what he called “an overly lazy garbage collection algorithm” that allowed the errors to accumulate and overwhelm the fledgling network.
Where are the weaknesses most likely to have grave consequences? Every expert has a suggestion.
Aviel D. Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, said that glitches could be an enormous problem in high-tech voting machines. “Maybe we have focused too much on hackers and not on the possibility of something going wrong,” he said. “Sometimes the worst problems happen by accident.”
Dr. Rubin, who is director of the Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections, a group financed by the National Science Foundation to study voting issues, noted that glitches had already shown up in many elections using the new generation of voting machines sold to states in the wake of the Florida election crisis in 2000, when the fate of the national election came down to issues like hanging chads on punch-card ballots.
Dr. Bellovin at Columbia said he also worried about what might happen with the massively complex antimissile systems that the government is developing. “It’s a system you can’t really test until the real thing happens,” he said.
There are better ways.
Making systems strong enough to recover quickly from the inevitable glitches and problems can keep disruption to a minimum. The customs service came under some of the most heated criticism for not having a backup plan that could quickly compensate for the network flameout; eventually, airport officials had to provide fuel to the planes so that the airlines could run the air-conditioning, and provided food, beverages and diapers to the trapped passengers.
Mr. Ritchhart said it was unfair to characterize his department as having no backup plan. In fact, there were two — but neither addressed the problem. The main backup plan envisions a shutdown of the national customs network, and allows local networks to function independently. Since it was the local network that was in trouble at Los Angeles, he said, that backup plan did not work.
The other fallback involves setting up customs agents with laptops that are equipped to scan the millions of names on the watchlists and to perform other functions. That system was put in place, he said, but the laptops operate at one-third the speed of the computer network, and the delays persisted. The agency is reviewing its policies to improve its response, he said, and if a similar slowdown occurs, is considering having agents call colleagues in other cities to perform searches on functioning parts of the network.
The best answer, Dr. Neumann says, is to build computers that are secure and stable from the start. A system with fewer flaws also deters hackers, he said. “If you design the thing right in the first place, you can make it reliable, secure, fault tolerant and human safe,” he said. “The technology is there to do this right if anybody wanted to take the effort.”
He was part of an effort that began in the 1960s to develop a rock-solid network-operating system known as Multics, but those efforts gave way to more commercially successful systems. Multics’ creators were so farsighted, Dr. Neumann recalled, that its designers even anticipated and prevented the “Year 2000” problem that had to be corrected in other computers. That flaw, known as Y2K, caused some machines to malfunction if they detected dates after Jan. 1, 2000. Billions of dollars were spent to prevent problems.
Dr. Neumann, who has been preaching network stability since the 1960s, said, “The message never got through.” Pressures to ship software and hardware quickly and to keep costs at a minimum, he said, have worked against more secure and robust systems.
“We throw this together, shrink wrap it and throw it out there,” he said. “There’s no incentive to do it right, and that’s pitiful.”
Chicago Transit Vulnerabilities Leaked
Documents showing the Chicago mass transit system's vulnerability to terrorist attack have been leaked on the Internet via a peer-to-peer file-sharing network.
Thirty-five of the nation's bus and rail systems were studied to determine potential vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks. The Federal Transit Administration commissioned Virginia-based Booz-Allen Hamilton to conduct the terrorist threat assessment. The confidential documents were obtained using a P2P program called LimeWire, according to a local Fox News affiliate in Chicago. Officials say the leaked documents illustrate specific terrorist vulnerabilities to Chicago's Metra and CTA transit systems.
The FTA has asked Booz-Allen Hamilton to identify the source of the leak.
By loading P2P software, such as LimeWire, on a home or work computer, individuals can access the computers of others who have also installed a P2P program. However, if not set up properly, P2P file-sharing networks could expose computers to certain viruses, or even a user's entire hard drive could be vulnerable for unauthorized viewing, allowing documents to be uploaded.
"It's a stunning security lapse because it gives several important directions for a terrorist in how to attack the system," said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in a statement. "If you can download it on your home computer, then an al-Qaida operative in Germany can do it too."
Security Expert Used Tor to Collect Government e-Mail Passwords
Last month, Swedish security specialist Dan Egerstad exposed the passwords and login information for 100 e-mail accounts on embassy and government servers. In a blog entry today, Egerstad disclosed his methodology. He collected the information by running a specialized packet sniffer on five Tor exit nodes operated by his organization, Deranged Security.
Tor is an onion routing service that facilitates anonymous Internet communication. Originally developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory and currently funded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tor is designed to protect users from traffic analysis and other kinds of network surveillance. It works by relaying connections through a series of distributed network servers. When a Tor user visits a web site, the IP address detected and logged by that site will be the IP address of one of the Tor nodes rather than the actual user. This makes it possible for users to obscure their identity under certain circumstances.
Unfortunately, many Tor users do not realize that all of their network traffic is being exposed to Tor nodes. Tor users who do not use encryption are broadly exposing themselves to identity theft. Egerstad was originally doing a study on e-mail encryption, but during the course of the research project, he decided to create the packet sniffer and expose sensitive e-mail login data in order to increase awareness of the fact that Tor exposes sensitive information when not used with encryption.
Egerstad believed that privately disclosing his findings to the organizations whose passwords he obtained would not convince them to change their practices. He also knew that it was only a matter of time before others with malicious intent would perform the same kind of experiment, so he felt that broad public disclosure was the only way he could generate enough attention to force people to think about the problem.
"Experience tells me that even if I would contact everyone on this list most are not going to listen," Egerstad wrote when he released the login information last month. "So f*** it! Here is everything you need to read classified email and f*** up some serious International business. Hopefully this will put light on the security problems that are never talked about and get at least this fixed with a speed that you never seen your government work before. As a Swedish citizen I can't give this information to anyone without getting into trouble, so instead I'm giving it to everyone."
After publicly releasing the information, Egerstad's site was taken down at the request of US law enforcement officials. After it was brought back earlier this week, Egerstad expressed frustration and pointed out that the information was already spreading across the Internet. Taking down Egerstad's site only served to silence his message about security and did not prevent dissemination of the sensitive data. "I've seen people saying that the US would be angry now that we forced foreign countries to tighten their security so NSA or whatever can't read their secrets any longer. To me it sounds like bulls*** taken out of a bad book but after this silly little stunt I'm reconsidering. Is there any reason you DO NOT want people to secure their systems?" asked Egerstad.
According to Egerstad, the information disclosed is only a fraction of what he collected. He continues to argue that the responsibility for exposing the login information rests on the organizations that failed to use encryption and that he simply drew attention to information that was essentially already public. "ToR isn't the problem, just use it for what it's made for," Egerstad notes. "[The system administrators for the organizations whose passwords were exposed] are responsible for giving away their own countries secrets to foreigners. I can't call it a mistake, this is pure stupidity and not forgivable!"
Egerstad also points out that very little is known about the intentions and activity of other Tor exit node operators, some of whom are already known to be associated with malicious hacker groups and foreign governments.
City Disables Access to Online Archive
City officials Tuesday disabled public access to City Hall's online document archive, citing concerns that it may have been the source of city employee pay stubs that were posted by the Claremont Insider blog.
On Monday night, Google, which hosts the blog, removed the post that included the pay stubs. The blog later re-posted the item without including the scanned pay stubs.
"Bottom line is, if we have a problem with our system that would allow for information that shouldn't be public to be public, we need to identify if there is a problem with our system," said City Manager Jeff Parker. "So until that is solved and identified, we're going to take that action."
City officials continue to investigate how the pay stubs were released. They remain unwilling to confirm claims made by the lead author of the blog that the pay stubs were accessed through a legal search of the city's public document archive.
On Friday, the Claremont Insider posted a copy of Parker's pay stub, along with the salaries and benefits of 31 staff members identified by name.
The blog later posted the pay stub of Jeff Porter, director of human services, and the salaries and benefits of five additional staff members.
The Claremont Insider has said in blog posts that it typed something along the lines of "Jeff Parker salary" into the search function of the archive, yielding several years' worth of pay stubs.
But attempts by the city to duplicate the search yielded no pay stubs, said Mayor Peter Yao, fueling concerns that the documents may have been obtained by other means.
City Attorney Sonia Carvalho first contacted Google on Friday to request that the post be removed because, the city claims, the pay stubs contain private information about employees that should not be available to the public.
In an interview Tuesday, Carvalho would not elaborate on her communication with Google and refused to release the city's e-mail correspondence with the company, citing attorney-client privilege.
Carvalho said the city was withholding the e-mail correspondence because city litigation against Google remains a possibility if the company fails in the future to respond if the blog re-posts copies of the pay stubs.
In an e-mail response on Tuesday to the Daily Bulletin, Google spokeswoman Wendy Rozeluk said: "Blogger prohibits certain kinds of content from being hosted on its servers."
"When we are notified of the existence of content that violates our terms of service," Rozeluk added, "we act quickly to review it and determine whether it violates these policies. If we determine that it does, we remove it immediately."
According to e-mails forwarded to the Daily Bulletin from the e-mail address listed on the Claremont Insider blog, Google removed the post because the city documents were copyrighted.
The authenticity of the correspondence could not be confirmed by Google because the Internet company did not respond to interview requests on Tuesday.
"We have removed your post due to the images of the paycheck stub of the city of Claremont, which in actuality is their copyrighted material," the e-mail from Google said. "If you would like to reload the post that we removed, feel free to do so as long as you leave out the images of the paycheck."
Parker and Carvalho refused to discuss whether the city argued in its correspondence with Google that the city pay stubs were copyrighted documents.
According to one open-government expert, the documents are not copyrighted.
"It doesn't make any sense," said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware. "First of all, I doubt that it's a fact that the city copyrights the pay stubs. I don't know why it would.
"And secondly, it's not clear to me that the display of the pay stubs would violate the copyright act anyway. It's simply displaying an image of them, it's not making a copy of them."
Francke added that if the documents are indeed copyrighted, the posting by the blog of the pay stubs would qualify as a "fair use" - meaning it would pass legal muster - because there is no market value lost by the publication.
"And what possible market value does the city have in the images of its pay stubs?" Francke added.
Tell-All PCs and Phones Transforming Divorce
The age-old business of breaking up has taken a decidedly Orwellian turn, with digital evidence like e-mail messages, traces of Web site visits and mobile telephone records now permeating many contentious divorce cases.
Spurned lovers steal each other’s BlackBerrys. Suspicious spouses hack into each other’s e-mail accounts. They load surveillance software onto the family PC, sometimes discovering shocking infidelities.
Divorce lawyers routinely set out to find every bit of private data about their clients’ adversaries, often hiring investigators with sophisticated digital forensic tools to snoop into household computers.
“In just about every case now, to some extent, there is some electronic evidence,” said Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who also runs seminars on gathering electronic evidence. “It has completely changed our field.”
Privacy advocates have grown increasingly worried that digital tools are giving governments and powerful corporations the ability to peek into peoples’ lives as never before. But the real snoops are often much closer to home.
“Google and Yahoo may know everything, but they don’t really care about you,” said Jacalyn F. Barnett, a Manhattan-based divorce lawyer. “No one cares more about the things you do than the person that used to be married to you.”
Most of these stories do not end amicably. This year, a technology consultant from the Philadelphia area, who did not want his name used because he has a teenage son, strongly suspected his wife was having an affair. Instead of confronting her, the husband installed a $49 program called PC Pandora on her computer, a laptop he had purchased.
The program surreptitiously took snapshots of her screen every 15 seconds and e-mailed them to him. Soon he had a comprehensive overview of the sites she visited and the instant messages she was sending. Since the program captured her passwords, the husband was also able to get access to and print all the e-mail messages his wife had received and sent over the previous year.
What he discovered ended his marriage. For 11 months, he said, she had been seeing another man — the parent of one of their son’s classmates at a private school outside Philadelphia. The husband said they were not only arranging meetings but also posting explicit photos of themselves on the Web and soliciting sex with other couples.
The husband, who like others in this article was reached through his lawyer, said the decision to invade his wife’s privacy was not an easy one. “If I were to tell you I have a pure ethical conscience over what I did, I’d be lying,” he said. But he also pointed to companies that have Internet policies giving them the right to read employee e-mail messages. “When you’re in a relationship like a marriage, which is emotional as well as, candidly, a business, I think you can look at it in the same way,” he said.
When considering invading their spouse’s privacy, husbands and wives cite an overriding desire to find out some secret. One woman described sensing last year that her husband, a Manhattan surgeon, was distant and overly obsessed with his BlackBerry.
She drew him a bubble bath on his birthday and then pounced on the device while he was in the tub. In his e-mail messages, she found evidence of an affair with a medical resident, including plans for them to meet that night.
A few weeks later, after the couple had tried to reconcile, the woman gained access to her husband’s America Online account (he had shared his password with her) and found messages from a mortgage company. It turned out he had purchased a $3 million Manhattan condominium, where he intended to continue his liaison.
“Every single time I looked at his e-mail I felt nervous,” the woman said. “But I did anyway because I wanted to know the truth.”
Being on the receiving end of electronic spying can be particularly disturbing. Jolene Barten-Bolender, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives in Dix Hills, N.Y., said that she was recently informed by AOL and Google, on the same day, that the passwords had been changed on two e-mail accounts she was using, suggesting that someone had gained access and was reading her messages. Last year, she discovered a Global Positioning System, or G.P.S., tracking device in a wheel well of the family car.
She suspects her husband of 24 years, whom she is divorcing.
“It makes me feel nauseous and totally violated,” Ms. Barten-Bolender said, speculating that he was trying to find out if she was seeing anyone. “Once anything is written down, you have to know it could be viewed by someone looking to invade or hurt you.”
Ms. Barten-Bolender’s husband and his lawyer declined to discuss her allegations.
Divorce lawyers say their files are filled with cases like these. Three-quarters of the cases of Nancy Chemtob, a divorce lawyer in Manhattan, now involve some kind of electronic communications. She says she routinely asks judges for court orders to seize and copy the hard drives in the computers of her clients’ spouses, particularly if there is an opportunity to glimpse a couple’s full financial picture, or a parent’s suitability to be the custodian of the children.
Lawyers must navigate a complex legal landscape governing the admissibility of this kind of electronic evidence. Different laws define when it is illegal to get access to information stored on a computer in the home, log into someone else’s e-mail account, or listen in on phone calls.
Divorce lawyers say, however, if the computer in question is shared by the whole family, or couples have revealed their passwords to each other, reading a spouse’s e-mail messages and introducing them as evidence in a divorce case is often allowed.
Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer, describes one client, a man, who believed his wife was engaging in secret online correspondence. He found e-mail messages to a lover in Australia that she had sent from a private AOL account on the family computer. Her lawyer then challenged the use of this evidence in court. Ms. Gold-Bikin’s client won the dispute and an advantageous settlement.
Lawyers say the only communications that are consistently protected in a spouse’s private e-mail account are the messages to and from the lawyers themselves, which are covered by lawyer-client privilege.
Perhaps for this reason, divorce lawyers as a group are among the most pessimistic when it comes to assessing the overall state of privacy in the digital age.
“I do not like to put things on e-mail,” said David Levy, a Chicago divorce lawyer. “There’s no way it’s private. Nothing is fully protected once you hit the send button.”
Ms. Chemtob added, “People have an expectation of privacy that is completely unrealistic.”
James Mulvaney agrees. A private investigator, Mr. Mulvaney now devotes much of his time to poking through the computer records of divorcing spouses, on behalf of divorce lawyers. One of his specialties is retrieving files, like bank records and e-mail messages to secret lovers, that a spouse has tried to delete.
“Every keystroke on your computer is there, forever and ever,” Mr. Mulvaney said.
He had one bit of advice. “The only thing you can truly erase these things with is a specialty Smith & Wesson product,” he said. “Throw your computer into the air and play skeet with it.”
Forensic Computer Promises to Make Quick Work of Digital Crime
A European consortium has come up with a high-speed digital forensic computer dedicated to the task of quickly offloading and analyzing all computer records from email or picture files to database contents and file transfers.The TreCorder is a rugged forensic PC able to copy or clone up to three hard disks simultaneously, at a speed of up to 2 Gb/min. The same transfer would take 30 to 60 minutes using alternative equipment said Martin Hermann, general director of MH-services, the company that lead product development in conjunction with EUREKA. EUREKA is a pan-European venture capital firm that offers partners access to knowledge, skills, expertise and of course national public and private funds.
The PC not only provides a complete mirror image of the hard disk and system memory - including deleted and reformatted date - but also eliminates any possibility of falsification in the process, Hermann said. It uses the FireWire high-speed serial bus to connect the host computer and provides support for IDE, SATA and SCSI hard disks, Hermann said in a statement.
Ultimately the goal of the TreCorder and forensics products similar to it is to provide companies and law-enforcement agencies digital forensic tools that can gather evidence to trap the criminals that will stand up in court. A particular need is to copy and analyze vast amounts of data very quickly in a write-protected manner to uncover the crime and provide legally credible evidence, Hermann said. Legal validity requires logical methodologies, transparency and detailed reporting. In addition, using the necessary tools correctly is essential. The goal therefore was to develop a PC-based forensic system that could read all types of memory technology and provide a mirror image of the data on any type of hard disk, sector by sector, using hardware-based writing protection to avoid any possibility of falsifying data while copying, Hermann said.
The new instrument is already attracting interest from security agencies, police forces, finance and tax authorities and accountancy organizations on both sides of the Atlantic, the company claims. Indeed security has been a huge problem with computer forensic work. A recent Network World article stated : The software that police and enterprise security teams use to investigate wrongdoing on computers is not as secure as it should be, according to researchers with Isec Partners. The security company has spent the past six months investigating two forensic investigation programs, Guidance Software's EnCase, and an open-source product called The Sleuth Kit. They have discovered about a dozen bugs that could be used to crash the programs or possibly even install unauthorized software on an investigator's machine, according to Alex Stamos, a researcher and founding partner with Isec Partners.
Researchers have been hacking forensics tools for years, but have traditionally focused on techniques that intruders could use to cover their tracks and thwart forensic investigations. The Isec team has taken a different tack, however, creating hacking tools that can be used to pound the software with data, looking for flaws.
Scientists Use the "Dark Web" to Snag Extremists and Terrorists Online
Team from the University of Arizona identifies and tracks terrorists on the Web
Terrorists and extremists have set up shop on the Internet, using it to recruit new members, spread propaganda and plan attacks across the world. The size and scope of these dark corners of the Web are vast and disturbing. But in a non-descript building in Tucson, a team of computational scientists are using the cutting-edge technology and novel new approaches to track their moves online, providing an invaluable tool in the global war on terror.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, Hsinchun Chen and his Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Arizona have created the Dark Web project, which aims to systematically collect and analyze all terrorist-generated content on the Web.
This is no small undertaking. The speed, ubiquity, and potential anonymity of Internet media--email, web sites, and Internet forums--make them ideal communication channels for militant groups and terrorist organizations. As a result, terrorists groups and their followers have created a vast presence on the Internet. A recent report estimates that there are more than 5,000 Web sites created and maintained by known international terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda, the Iraqi insurgencies, and many home-grown terrorist cells in Europe. Many of these sites are produced in multiple languages and can be hidden within innocuous-looking Web sites.
Because of its vital role in coordinating terror activities, analyzing Web content has become increasingly important to the intelligence agencies and research communities that monitor these groups, yet the sheer amount of material to be analyzed is so great that it can quickly overwhelm traditional methods of monitoring and surveillance.
This is where the Dark Web project comes in. Using advanced techniques such as Web spidering, link analysis, content analysis, authorship analysis, sentiment analysis and multimedia analysis, Chen and his team can find, catalogue and analyze extremist activities online. According to Chen, scenarios involving vast amounts of information and data points are ideal challenges for computational scientists, who use the power of advanced computers and applications to find patterns and connections where humans can not.
One of the tools developed by Dark Web is a technique called Writeprint, which automatically extracts thousands of multilingual, structural, and semantic features to determine who is creating 'anonymous' content online. Writeprint can look at a posting on an online bulletin board, for example, and compare it with writings found elsewhere on the Internet. By analyzing these certain features, it can determine with more than 95 percent accuracy if the author has produced other content in the past. The system can then alert analysts when the same author produces new content, as well as where on the Internet the content is being copied, linked to or discussed.
Dark Web also uses complex tracking software called Web spiders to search discussion threads and other content to find the corners of the Internet where terrorist activities are taking place. But according to Chen, sometimes the terrorists fight back.
"They can put booby-traps in their Web forums," Chen explains, "and the spider can bring back viruses to our machines." This online cat-and-mouse game means Dark Web must be constantly vigilant against these and other counter-measures deployed by the terrorists.
Despite the risks, Dark Web is producing tangible results in the global war on terror. The project team recently completed a study of online stories and videos designed to help train terrorists in how to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Understanding what information is being spread about IED methods and where in the world it is being downloaded can improve countermeasures that are developed to thwart them.
Dark Web is also a major research testbed for understanding the propaganda, ideology, communication, fundraising, command and control, and recruitment and training of terrorist groups. The Dark Web team has used the tools at their disposal to explore the content and impact of materials relating to "virtual imams" on the Internet, as well as terrorist training and weapons manuals.
Dark Web's capabilities are also being used to study the online presence of extremist groups and other social movement organizations. Chen sees applications for this Web mining approach for other academic fields.
"What we are doing is using this to study societal change," Chen says. "Evidence of this change is appearing online, and computational science can help other disciplines better understand this change."
China’s Cyber Army is Preparing to March on America, Says Pentagon
Chinese military hackers have prepared a detailed plan to disable America’s aircraft battle carrier fleet with a devastating cyber attack, according to a Pentagon report obtained by The Times.
The blueprint for such an assault, drawn up by two hackers working for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is part of an aggressive push by Beijing to achieve “electronic dominance” over each of its global rivals by 2050, particularly the US, Britain, Russia and South Korea.
China’s ambitions extend to crippling an enemy’s financial, military and communications capabilities early in a conflict, according to military documents and generals’ speeches that are being analysed by US intelligence officials. Describing what is in effect a new arms race, a Pentagon assessment states that China’s military regards offensive computer operations as “critical to seize the initiative” in the first stage of a war.
The plan to cripple the US aircraft carrier battle groups was authored by two PLA air force officials, Sun Yiming and Yang Liping. It also emerged this week that the Chinese military hacked into the US Defence Secretary’s computer system in June; have regularly penetrated computers in at least 10 Whitehall departments, including military files, and infiltrated German government systems this year.
Cyber attacks by China have become so frequent and aggressive that President Bush, without referring directly to Beijing, said this week that “a lot of our systems are vulnerable to attack”. He indicated that he would raise the subject with Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, when they met in Sydney at the Apec summit. Mr Hu denied that China was responsible for the attack on Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary.
Larry M. Wortzel, the author of the US Army War College report, said: “The thing that should give us pause is that in many Chinese military manuals they identify the US as the country they are most likely to go to war with. They are moving very rapidly to master this new form of warfare.” The two PLA hackers produced a “virtual guidebook for electronic warfare and jamming” after studying dozens of US and Nato manuals on military tactics, according to the document.
The Pentagon logged more than 79,000 attempted intrusions in 2005. About 1,300 were successful, including the penetration of computers linked to the Army’s 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the 4th Infantry Division. In August and September of that year Chinese hackers penetrated US State Department computers in several parts of the world. Hundreds of computers had to be replaced or taken offline for months. Chinese hackers also disrupted the US Naval War College’s network in November, forcing the college to shut down its computer systems for several weeks. The Pentagon uses more than 5 million computers on 100,000 networks in 65 countries.
Jim Melnick, a recently retired Pentagon computer network analyst, told The Times that the Chinese military holds hacking competitions to identify and recruit talented members for its cyber army.
He described a competition held two years ago in Sichuan province, southwest China. The winner now uses a cyber nom de guerre, Wicked Rose. He went on to set up a hacking business that penetrated computers at a defence contractor for US aerospace. Mr Melnick said that the PLA probably outsourced its hacking efforts to such individuals. “These guys are very good,” he said. “We don’t know for sure that Wicked Rose and people like him work for the PLA. But it seems logical. And it also allows the Chinese leadership to have plausible deniability.”
In February a massive cyber attack on Estonia by Russian hackers demonstrated how potentially catastrophic a preemptive strike could be on a developed nation. Pro-Russian hackers attacked numerous sites to protest against the controversial removal in Estonia of a Russian memorial to victims of the Second World War. The attacks brought down government websites, a major bank and telephone networks.
Linton Wells, the chief computer networks official at the Pentagon, said that the Estonia attacks “may well turn out to be a watershed in terms of widespread awareness of the vulnerability of modern society”.
After the attacks, computer security experts from Nato, the EU, US and Israel arrived in the capital, Tallinn, to study its effects.
Sami Saydjari, who has been working on cyber defence systems for the Pentagon since the 1980s, told Congress in testimony on April 25 that a mass cyber attack could leave 70 per cent of the US without electrical power for six months.
He told The Times that all major nations – including China – were scrambling to defend against, and working out ways to cause, “maximum strategic damage” by taking out banking systems, power grids and communications networks. He said that there were at least a thousand attempted attacks every hour on American computers. “China is aggressive in this,” he said.
Programmed to Attack
Malware: a “Trojan horse” programme, which hides a “malicious code” behind an innocent document, can collect usernames and passwords for e-mail accounts. It can download programmes and relay attacks against other computers. An infected computer can be controlled by the attacker and directed to carry out functions normally available only to the system owner.
Hacking: increasingly a method of attack used by countries determined to use electronic means to gain access to secrets. Government computers in Britain have a network intrusion detection system, which monitors traffic and alerts officials to “misuse or anomalous behaviour”.
Botnets: compromised networks that an attacker can exploit. Deliberate programming errors in software can easily pass undetected. Attackers can exploit the errors to take control of a computer. Botnets can be used for stealing information or to collect credit card numbers by “sniffing” or logging the strokes of a victim’s keyboard.
Keystroke loggers: they record the sequence of key strokes that a user types in. Logging devices can be fitted inside the computer itself.
Denial of service attacks: overloading a computer system so that it can no longer function. This is the method allegedly used by the Russians to disrupt the Estonian government computers in May.
Phishing and spoofing: designed to trick an organisation’s customers into imparting confidential information such as passwords, personal data or banking details. Those using this method impersonate a “trusted source” such as a bank or IT helpdesk to persuade the victim to hand over confidential information.
F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Initial Targets
The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.
The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target was in contact with. The bureau stopped the practice early this year in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said.
The community of interest data sought by the F.B.I. is central to a data-mining technique intelligence officials call link analysis. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American counterterrorism officials have turned more frequently to the technique, using communications patterns and other data to identify suspects who may not have any other known links to extremists.
The concept has strong government proponents who see it as a vital tool in predicting and preventing attacks, and it is also thought to have helped the National Security Agency identify targets for its domestic eavesdropping program. But privacy advocates, civil rights leaders and even some counterterrorism officials warn that link analysis can be misused to establish tenuous links to people who have no real connection to terrorism but may be drawn into an investigation nonetheless.
Typically, community of interest data might include an analysis of which people the targets called most frequently, how long they generally talked and at what times of day, sudden fluctuations in activity, geographic regions that were called, and other data, law enforcement and industry officials said.
The F.B.I. declined to say exactly what data had been turned over. It was limited to people and phone numbers “once removed” from the actual target of the national security letters, said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a continuing review by the Justice Department.
The bureau had declined to discuss any aspect of the community of interest requests because it said the issue was part of an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general’s office into national security letters. An initial review in March by the inspector general found widespread violations in the F.B.I.’s use of the letters, but did not mention the use of community of interest data.
On Saturday, in response to the posting of the article on the Web site of The New York Times, Mike Kortan, a spokesman for the F.B.I., said “it is important to emphasize” that community of interest data is “no longer being used pending the development of an appropriate oversight and approval policy, was used infrequently, and was never used for e-mail communications.”
The scope of the demands for information could be seen in an August 2005 letter seeking the call records for particular phone numbers under suspicion. The letter closed by saying: “Additionally, please provide a community of interest for the telephone numbers in the attached list.”
The requests for such data showed up a dozen times, using nearly identical language, in records from one six-month period in 2005 obtained by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that it brought against the government. The F.B.I. recently turned over 2,500 pages of documents to the group. The boilerplate language suggests the requests may have been used in many of more than 700 emergency or “exigent” national security letters. Earlier this year, the bureau banned the use of the exigent letters because they had never been authorized by law.
The reason for the suspension is unclear, but it appears to have been set off in part by the questions raised by the inspector general’s initial review into abuses in the use of national security letters. The official said the F.B.I. itself was examining the use of the community of interest requests to get a better understanding of how and when they were used, but he added that they appeared to have been used in a relatively small percentage of the tens of thousand of the records requests each year. “In an exigent circumstance, that’s information that may be relevant to an investigation,” the official said.
A federal judge in Manhattan last week struck down parts of the USA Patriot Act that had authorized the F.B.I.’s use of the national security letters, saying that some provisions violated the First Amendment and the constitutional separation of powers guarantee. In many cases, the target of a national security letter whose records are being sought is not necessarily the actual subject of a terrorism investigation and may not be suspected at all. Under the Patriot Act, the F.B.I. must assert only that the records gathered through the letter are considered relevant to a terrorism investigation.
Some legal analysts and privacy advocates suggested that the disclosure of the F.B.I.’s collection of community of interest records offered another example of the bureau exceeding the substantial powers already granted it by Congress.
“This whole concept of tracking someone’s community of interest is not part of any established F.B.I. authority,” said Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which provided the records from its lawsuit to The New York Times. “It’s being defined by the F.B.I. And when it’s left up to the F.B.I. to decide what information is relevant to their investigations, they can vacuum up almost anything they want.”
Matt Blaze, a professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania and a former researcher for AT&T, said the telecommunications companies could have easily provided the F.B.I. with the type of network analysis data it was seeking because they themselves had developed it over many years, often using sophisticated software like a program called Analyst’s Notebook.
“This sort of analysis of calling patterns and who the communities of interests are is the sort of things telephone companies are doing anyway because it’s central to their businesses for marketing or optimizing the network or detecting fraud,” said Professor Blaze, who has worked with the F.B.I. on technology issues.
Such “analysis is extremely powerful and very revealing because you get these linkages between people that wouldn’t be otherwise clear, sometimes even more important than the content itself” of phone calls and e-mail messages, he said. “But it’s also very invasive. There’s always going to be a certain amount of noise,” with data collected on people who have no real links to suspicious activity, he said.
Officials at other American intelligence agencies, like the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, have explored using link analysis to trace patterns of communications sometimes two, three or four people removed from the original targets, current and former intelligence officials said. But critics assert that the further the links are taken, the less valuable the information proves to be.
Some privacy advocates said they were troubled by what they saw as the F.B.I.’s over-reliance on technology at the expense of traditional investigative techniques that rely on clearer evidence of wrongdoing.
“Getting a computer to spit out a hundred names doesn’t have any meaning if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “If they’re telling the telephone company, ‘You do the investigation and tell us what you find,’ the relevance to the investigation is being determined by someone outside the F.B.I.”
Police Busted after Tracking Device Found on Car
A police operation to covertly follow a Central Otago man came to an abrupt halt this week when the man found tracking devices planted in his car, ripped them out and listed them for sale on Trade Me.
Ralph Williams, of Cromwell, said he found the devices last week in his daughter's car, which he uses, and in his flatmate's car after the cars were seized by police and taken away for investigation.
Police have neither confirmed nor denied they placed the devices.
Williams said a cellphone sim card in one of the devices appeared to transmit messages to the mobile phone of Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw, of the Central Otago CIB.
Williams provided The Press with emails from Shaw saying: "If you have got something of ours it would be good to get it back. You can call me and I can come meet you."
Williams said he found the devices concealed behind panels in the passenger-side footwells of the cars. They were marked with the name Trimble, an international company that produces GPS location devices.
Williams took apart one of the devices and found a sim card, which he put into a cellphone. He found the device was sending location text messages to Shaw's mobile number.
Williams placed one of the devices on Trade Me with a price of $250.
The ad read: "Used government covert surveillance tracking. No police to bid on this."
A Trade Me spokesman said the listing was removed yesterday afternoon "at the request of the New Zealand Police".
Williams said the cars were seized for investigation after an unmarked police car was torched in Alexandra in July.
The investigation produced nothing on Williams, but when the cars were returned he contacted police because the cars were not running well, and he asked if they had left something behind.
Shaw emailed: "Can't immediately think of anything we would have left ... Like what ...?????"
Williams said he and Shaw then spoke on the phone, with Shaw telling him the devices were valuable and should be returned.
Shaw then emailed repeatedly asking for "the stuff" back.
When contacted by The Press, Shaw declined to comment other than to say: "Police use a variety of legitimate investigation techniques when investigating serious crime. However, it is not the policy of the police to comment on those techniques or other operational matters."
Shaw would not say whether a warrant had been obtained for the devices. The Summary Proceedings Act, which covers tracking devices, says a warrant should be obtained for a tracking device but an officer can install one without a warrant if there is not time and the officer believes a judge would issue a warrant.
Williams said he did not know why police were interested in him. He spent two years in jail "20 years ago" for selling marijuana to an undercover policeman, but had no convictions since then.
Williams said the devices were not hard to find and he described the operation as "a bumbling attempt" by "weirdos".
New Zealand Civil Liberties Council chairman Michael Bott said the affair had "shades of (George Orwell's) Nineteen Eighty-four", as well as "shades of the Keystone Kops".
Web Search for Bomb Recipes Should be Blocked: EU
Internet searches for bomb-making instructions should be blocked across the European Union, the bloc's top security official said on Monday.
Internet providers should also prevent access to any site giving instructions on how to make a bomb, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said in an interview.
"I do intend to carry out a clear exploring exercise with the private sector ... on how it is possible to use technology to prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism," Frattini told Reuters.
The EU executive is to make this proposal to member states early in November as part of a raft of anti-terrorism proposals.
These include the screening of private data of passengers flying into the 27-nation bloc and the creation of an early warning system to alert police forces to thefts of explosives.
Representatives of the Internet industry are meeting the EU on Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of al Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the United States, at a European Security Research and Innovation Forum.
The Internet has taken on huge importance for militant groups, enabling them to share know-how and spread propaganda to a mass audience, as well as to link cell members.
Asked whether a plan to block searches for bomb instructions or for the word 'terrorism' on Web search engines could infringe on the rights to expression and information, Frattini said in the phone interview:
"Frankly speaking, instructing people to make a bomb has nothing to do with the freedom of expression, or the freedom of informing people.
"The right balance, in my view, is to give priority to the protection of absolute rights and, first of all, right to life."
Frattini said there would be no bar on opinion, analysis or historical information but operational instructions useful to terrorists should be blocked.
He said European legislation would spell out the principles of blocking access to bomb instructions. The details would be worked out by each EU country.
Disconnecting a Web site immediately was currently possible only in a minority of EU states including Italy, Frattini said.
After German police arrested three men suspected of a major bomb plot last week, politicians called for greater powers to monitor computers. Germany's top appeals court has ruled the clandestine monitoring of computers by police is illegal.
"The level of the threat (in the EU) remains very high," Frattini said. "That's why I am making appeals and appeals for stronger and closer cooperation." (additional reporting by David Brunnstrom)
French Say 'Non' to U.S. Disclosure of Secret Satellites
Peter B. de Selding
A French space-surveillance radar has detected 20-30 satellites in low Earth orbit that do not figure in the U.S. Defense Department's published catalogue, a discovery that French officials say they will use to pressure U.S. authorities to stop publishing the whereabouts of French reconnaissance and military communications satellites.
After 16 months of operations of their Graves radar system, which can locate satellites in orbits up to 1,000 kilometers in altitude and even higher in certain cases, the French Defense Ministry says it has gathered just about enough information to negotiate an agreement with the United States.
The U.S. Defense Department's Space Surveillance Network is the world's gold standard for cataloguing satellites and debris in both low Earth orbit and the higher geostationary orbit at 36,000 kilometers in altitude, where telecommunications satellites operate.
Data from the U.S. network of ground-based sensors is regularly published and used worldwide by those tracking satellite and space-debris trajectories. The published U.S. information excludes sensitive U.S. defense satellites, but regularly publishes data on the orbits of other nations' military hardware.
In a series of presentations here at the site of the French Graves radar facility, French defense officials said they are gathering data on classified satellites in low Earth orbit as part of a future European space-surveillance program that European Space Agency governments will be asked to approve in 2008. This program, with a cost of some 300 million euros ($405 million), would feature higher-performance radars to track space debris in low orbit and in geostationary orbit.
This new space surveillance program may or may not be approved by European governments. But the Graves radar, and a complementary system operated by the German government, together already are enough to pinpoint the location, size, orbit and transmissions frequencies of satellites that the United States would prefer not be broadcast worldwide, French officials said.
"We have discussed the Graves results with our American colleagues and highlighted the discrepancies between what we have found and what is published by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network," said one French defense official responsible for the Graves operation. "They told us, 'If we have not published it in our catalogue, then it does not exist.' So I guess we have been tracking objects that do not exist. I can tell you that some of these non-existent objects have solar arrays."
Col. Yves Blin, deputy head of the space division at the French joint defense staff, said France would wait until it had acquired, with the help of the German radar, further information about the 20 to 30 secret satellites in question before beginning serious negotiations with the United States on a common approach for publishing satellite orbit information.
"Right now we do not have enough cards in our hand to begin negotiatons," Blin said here at the Graves radar transmitter site June 7. "We need more time to be sure of what we are seeing. At that point we can tell our American friends, 'We have seen some things that you might wish to keep out of the public domain. We will agree to do this if you agree to stop publishing the location of our sensitive satellites."
MI5 and MI6 to be Sued For First Time Over Torture
A British man who was held in Guantánamo Bay has begun a civil action against MI5 and MI6 over the tactics that they use to gather intelligence.
The suit has been brought by Tarek Dergoul, 29, who claims he was repeatedly tortured while he was held by the US, and that British agents who had also questioned him were aware of the mistreatment.
He wants a high court ruling that will ban the security services from "benefiting" from the abuse of prisoners being held in detention outside the UK.
If Mr Dergoul wins, it would mean that MI5 and MI6 could not interrogate British nationals while they are being held and tortured abroad.
A British citizen, he has been awarded legal aid for the case, and papers will be lodged at the high court today. They were drafted by the Rabinder Singh, QC, a leading human rights barrister from the Matrix Chambers.
According to court documents seen by the Guardian, Mr Dergoul alleges that agents from MI5 and MI6 repeatedly interrogated him while he was held and tortured in Afghanistan and then Guantánamo, and were thus complicit in his treatment. In the 13-page document to be lodged at court, he says he suffered beatings, sexual humiliation, insults to his religion, and was subjected to extremes of cold. He was released back to Britain in 2004 without charge.
Britain says it does not carry out or condone torture, but it stands accused of benefiting from inhumane treatment meted out by other countries.
Mr Dergoul is seeking damages for "misfeasance in public office" by the security services and the Foreign Office.
The court papers state: "The British government and its officials knew that the claimant was being subjected to mistreatment amounting to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment because he told them so...Accordingly the British government and its officials unlawfully sought to benefit from mistreatment of the claimant. It is averred that either the British officials knowingly unlawfully interrogated the claimant or they acted with reckless indifference to its illegality."
Mr Dergoul said he was picked up in Afghanistan in 2001 by local warlords who "sold" him to the US for $5,000.
He denies involvement in fighting or terrorism and says he went to the region to study Arabic. He was held for a month at the prison in Bagram then spent three months in Kandahar before being sent to Guantánamo Bay.
He says one week after his arrival at Bagram, British agents first questioned him, identifying themselves only by their first names, "Andrew" and "Matt" and was questioned in front of an armed US soldier. He says he was kept in a cage with 20 others and saw horrific acts of torture inflicted on prisoners.
"They would be severely beaten, often with baseball bats, when they collapsed from exhaustion. The claimant also observed two or three men being hung by their hands with bags over their heads. The claimant also heard gunshots and screams," the papers say.
Mr Dergoul says he was moved to Kandahar, suffering more torture and denial of medical treatment that led to a toe being amputated. Again he says he was visited and interrogated by the British. One of the officials was 'Matt' whom he had previously seen at Bagram and the other man was in his early 40s and short."
In 2002, hooded, drugged and shackled Mr Dergoul was taken to Guantánamo, where he says UK agents questioned him five times, at intervals of every four to five months. In Guantánamo the Briton says he suffered more abuse and torture, which he says he told UK officials about.
"The claimant complained that he was being beaten and was being sexually assaulted by having his genitals touched during searches. The claimant also complained that he had been repeatedly attacked..., that he had been placed in freezing conditions in isolation without access to a toilet, water or soap, that he had had his facial hair forcibly shaved."
The government is expected to fight the court action.
Last night Mr Dergoul said: "This action comes at a time when people all over the world need protection from torture and abuse by governments which say they represent and uphold human rights."
The government confirmed last night that security service agents had interviewed Mr Dergoul and other Britons held in Guantánamo "about the UK's national security" adding "it was important that we got as much information as possible. They were arrested in unusual circumstances. British officials who visited them acted with the highest degree of professionalism."
The Foreign Office said: "The UK unreservedly condemns the use of torture. The British government, including its intelligence and security agencies, never use torture for any purpose, including obtaining information, nor would we instigate actions by others to do so." It said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.
An Opportunity for Wall Street in China’s Surveillance Boom
Li Runsen, the powerful technology director of China’s ministry of public security, is best known for leading Project Golden Shield, China’s intensive effort to strengthen police control over the Internet.
But last month Mr. Li took an additional title: director for China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers. The company has just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company’s listing and Mr. Li’s membership on its board are just the latest signs of ever-closer ties among Wall Street, surveillance companies and the Chinese government’s security apparatus.
Wall Street analysts now follow the growth of companies that install surveillance systems providing Chinese police stations with 24-hour video feeds from nearby Internet cafes. Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behavior-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police.
Now, the ties between China’s surveillance sector and American capital markets are starting to draw Washington’s attention.
Rep. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was disturbed by a recent report in The New York Times about the development of surveillance systems in China by another company, China Public Security Technology, which, like China Security and Surveillance, incorporated itself in the United States to make it easier to sell shares to Western investors.
Mr. Lantos called American involvement in the Chinese surveillance industry “an absolutely incredible phenomenon of extreme corporate irresponsibility.”
He said he planned to broaden an existing investigation into “the cooperation of American companies in the Chinese police state.”
Executives of Chinese surveillance companies say they are helping their government reduce street crime, preserve social stability and prevent terrorism. They note that London has a more sophisticated surveillance system, although the Chinese system will soon be far more extensive.
Wall Street executives also defend the industry as necessary to keep the peace at a time of rapid change in China. They point out that New York has begun experimenting with surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan and other areas of the city, and that corporations make broad use of surveillance cameras in places like convenience stores and automated teller machines.
“Is New York a police state?” said Peter Siris, the managing director of Guerrilla Capital and Hua-Mei 21st Century, two Manhattan hedge funds that were among the earliest investors in China Security and Surveillance.
Mr. Lantos and human rights advocates contend that surveillance in China poses different issues from surveillance in the West because China is a one-party state where government officials can exercise power with few legal restraints.
Mr. Lantos is part of a Democratic Congressional majority that is increasingly eager to confront China at a time of high Chinese trade surpluses and considerable economic insecurity in the United States. He is also a longtime ally of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and a fellow Californian, who made her reputation in Congress as a critic of China on human rights issues.
A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto said the White House would not comment on specific companies, adding, “It’s not appropriate to interfere in the private decisions of Americans to invest in legally incorporated firms.”
The New York Stock Exchange said that it had no comment except to confirm that China Security and Surveillance was expected to list on the exchange “later this year, subject to the usual conditions, including approval by the S.E.C.”
Because the company already has shares traded in the United States and is not selling any additional shares, Securities and Exchange Commission regulations say approval is automatic once the company fills out a notification form and the New York Stock Exchange confirms it has approved the listing.
Over the last year, American hedge funds have put more than $150 million into Chinese surveillance companies.
The Chinese government trade association for surveillance companies, which also regulates the industry, predicts that the surveillance market here will expand to more than $43.1 billion by 2010, compared with less than $500 million in 2003. Under the Safe Cities program adopted by the government last winter, 660 cities are starting work on high-tech surveillance systems.
Many Western experts, skeptical that China faces a terrorism threat, have suggested that the government may be using it as an excuse for tougher policies toward ethnic minorities in western China, notably Xinjiang Province, and toward Tibet.
Terence Yap, the vice chairman and chief financial officer of China Security and Surveillance Technology, said his company’s software made it possible for security cameras to count the number of people in crosswalks and alert the police if a crowd forms at an unusual hour, a possible sign of an unsanctioned protest.
Mr. Yap said terrorism concerns did exist. His company has outfitted rail stations and government buildings in Tibet with surveillance systems.
Mr. Yap and Lin Jiang Huai, the chairman and chief executive of China Public Security, said that their companies did not do business with the Chinese military and should not raise concerns in the United States. They also said their businesses used technology developed in China and were therefore not subject to United States export controls.
China Security and Surveillance has been aggressively raising money in the United States, including $110 million in convertible loans so far this year from the Citadel Group, a big hedge fund in Chicago. In the last 18 months, the company has used the money to acquire or make a deal to buy 10 of the 50 largest surveillance companies in China.
James Mulvenon, the director of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, which does classified analyses of foreign military and intelligence programs for the Pentagon and other government agencies, said that Beijing clearly wanted the company to consolidate the industry.
“They’re really sort of the Ministry of Public Security’s national champion,” Mr. Mulvenon said of China Security and Surveillance. “In terms of the gear and building the surveillance society, they are the ones.”
After the company announced sharply higher sales and profit on Aug. 13, a succession of American hedge fund managers and investment bank analysts took turns on a conference call questioning and congratulating Mr. Yap.
Traded on the over-the-counter bulletin board market while waiting for the beginning of trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the company has raised almost all of its money through the Citadel loans and private placements of stock with 17 institutional investors in the United States, including the Pinnacle Fund and Pinnacle China Fund in Plano, Tex., and JLF, a hedge fund based in Del Mar, Calif.
The Pinnacle funds’ investments have risen six-fold in 17 months. The funds, which raise all their money in the United States, are also the main investors in China Public Security Technology, with a stake that has nearly tripled in value since February.
Barry Kitt, the founder and general partner of the funds, declined to comment. Citadel and JLF officials also declined to comment.
Each time China Security and Surveillance makes an acquisition, it holds an elaborate banquet, with dancers. The majority of the 500 or more people invited are municipal and provincial security officials, as well as executives of rival companies that may become acquisition targets.
“When they come, they hear central government officials endorsing us, they hear bankers endorsing us or supporting us, it gives us credibility,” Mr. Yap said. “It’s a lot of drinking, it’s like a wedding banquet.”
Lehman Brothers bankers and various Ministry of Public Security officials have spoken at such events, which have been held all over the country. One was at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where Mr. Li himself — of Project Golden Shield — addressed the crowd.
China Security and Surveillance has headquarters in Shenzhen, a high-tech manufacturing center in southeastern China, but two years ago it purchased a “shell” Delaware company with no operations but a listing on the American over-the-counter bulletin board market. It turned the Delaware company into its corporate parent.
China Public Security, also with headquarters in Shenzhen, incorporated in Florida in the same way to obtain a listing on the over-the-counter bulletin board.
China Security and Surveillance is involved in some of the most controversial areas of public security. Mr. Yap said on the conference call with Wall Street analysts and hedge fund managers in August that one of the company’s growth areas involved surveillance systems for Internet cafes; the government is trying to clamp down on users of the cafes in order to discourage pornography and prostitution.
Critics say the surveillance is aimed at catching democracy advocates, Falun Gong adherents and others the Communist Party regards as threatening, noting that rules for nightclubs are less rigorous, and do not require live feeds to police stations.
Mr. Yap said investment firms from Europe, the United States and Asia were so enthused about the surveillance market in China that he typically led a full-day tour each week to some of the company’s factories and installations.
At an aging Shenzhen police station, where the scuffed and peeling yellow walls look as though they have not been painted since the Cultural Revolution, a $100,000 bank of new video screens behind the duty officer’s desk shows scenes from nearby streets. In another neighborhood, the company has installed a $1 million system.
Many of the surveillance cameras are still assembled at a modest factory. But the company has used $20 million of the cash it raised in the United States to acquire a large industrial park with six just-completed factory buildings and six dormitories.
In Shenzhen, white poles resembling street lights now line the roads every block or two, ready to be fitted with cameras. In a nondescript building linked to nearby street cameras, a desktop computer displayed streaming video images from outside and drew a green square around each face to check it against a “blacklist.” Since China lacks national or even regional digitized databases of troublemakers’ photos, Mr. Yap said municipal or neighborhood officials compile their own blacklists.
To show off his systems, Mr. Yap strode across a nearby plaza flanked by apartment towers and a low-rise shopping area, pointing out tiny unobtrusive domes and tubes attached to various poles. “See, there’s a camera on the lamp pole, and another one over there and another one here,” he said. “Big Brother is watching you.”
Report of Cancer Hurts Maker of Chip Implants
Barnaby J. Feder
Shares of Applied Digital Solutions and of its publicly traded subsidiary VeriChip, which makes an implanted microchip for identifying people, fell sharply yesterday as investors reacted to a report this weekend linking the tiny radio device to cancer.
The report, by The Associated Press, suggested that VeriChip and federal regulators had ignored or overlooked animal studies raising questions about whether the chip or the process of injecting it might cause cancer in dogs and laboratory rodents.
VeriChip said that it had not been aware of the studies cited in the report, according to the article, but both the company and federal regulators said yesterday that animal data had been considered in the review of the application to implant the chips in humans. They said that there were no controlled scientific studies linking the chips to cancer in dogs or cats and that lab rodents were more prone than humans or other animals to developing tumors from all types of injections.
“At this time there appears to be no credible cause for concern,” said Karen Riley, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration.
But VeriChip shares fell more than 11 percent, to close at $5. Applied Digital, which has other businesses but has called VeriChip its main engine for future growth, fell nearly 10 percent, to $1.09.
In addition to driving down the two companies’ shares, the report created concern among veterinarians and operators of animal shelters that pet owners would resist the practice, now widespread, of putting similar chips in pets to make it easier to return lost animals to their owners. Most animals who are not reclaimed by owners are euthanized.
“If there are any cancers from the chips, they are so rare that losing pets is far more serious,” said Dr. Lawrence D. McGill, a veterinary pathologist at Animal Reference Pathology, a veterinary laboratory in Salt Lake City.
The radio identification device for which VeriChip is named is a glass-encased chip the size of a grain of rice. The device, which carries an encrypted number, is injected in the upper arm. In medical applications, the chip is linked to medical records stored at hospitals or with a primary-care physician. A low-powered transmitter in the chip emits the identification number when queried at close range by a VeriChip scanner.
VeriChip has demonstrated that the same chip could also be linked to other databases. For example, nightclubs have used it to recognize regular visitors and Mexican police have used it to control access to a high-security office.
All of the potential applications have stirred strong opposition from privacy advocates, who have called implanting chips in humans an extreme abuse of radio-frequency identification (or RFID) technology. Katherine Albrecht, a longtime critic of RFID and VeriChip who contacted The Associated Press several months ago with some of the studies on which the article released this weekend was based, said in an e-mail message to supporters yesterday, “This kind of negative publicity spells the beginning of the end for VeriChip and their plans to chip us all like bar-coded packages of meat.”
In its news release disputing suggestions that the implant could be linked to cancer, VeriChip said yesterday, “We will retain independent scientists and researchers to review the content, veracity and credibility of the studies alluded to in the article.”
Agencies Work on DNA 'Barcodes' Database
To help shoppers avoid mislabeled toxic pufferfish, and pilots steer clear of birds, federal agencies are starting to tap into an ambitious project that is gathering DNA ''barcodes'' for the Earth's 1.8 million known species.
A consortium of scientists from almost 50 nations is overseeing the building of a global database made from tiny pieces of genetic material. Called DNA barcoding, the process takes a scientist only a few hours in a lab and about $2 to identify a species from a tissue sample or other piece of genetic material.
David Schindel, a Smithsonian Institution paleontologist and executive secretary of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, said the purpose is to create a global reference library -- ''a kind of telephone directory for all species.''
''If I know that gene sequence, I can submit it as a query to a database and get back the telephone number,'' he said. ''I can get back the species name.''
The government's interest in the project stems from a variety of possible uses.
The Food and Drug Administration has begun eyeing it as a tool to ferret out hazardous fish species and to confirm a type of leech used in some surgery. In May, the FDA used it to warn that a shipment labeled monkfish from China might actually be a type of pufferfish that could contain a deadly toxin if not prepared properly.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Air Force hope it will help them identify birds prone to collide with aircraft. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sees it as a means to track commercial fish and reduce killing of unwanted species also caught by nets.
A growing collection of feathers and other remains of birds that collided with planes has provided ''operational'' information for the FAA, said Scott Miller, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution who chairs the consortium's executive committee.
''They have an almost complete reference database for the North American bird species,'' Miller said. ''It is a routine tool that they use.''
Elsewhere, the Environmental Protection Agency is testing species barcoding to identify insects and other invertebrates that indicate how healthy rivers and streams are. The Agriculture Department is contributing genetic data it has compiled on fruit flies in an effort help farmers control pests.
Scientists call it barcodes to compare it to the supermarket scanner codes that are indecipherable except to machines. But with plants and animals, the scanners look at the specific order of the four basic building blocks of DNA to identify the species.
Users gain free access to a repository of archival genetic material run jointly by U.S., European and Japanese facilities.
About 30,000 species have been logged in the database so far, but scientists hope to reach 500,000 within five years. A two-year goal is to have sequenced 2,800 -- or about 80 percent -- of the 3,500 different species of mosquitoes.
Yvonne-Marie Linton of the Natural History Museum in London, said efforts to reduce mosquito populations blamed for up to 500 million human malaria cases and 1 million annual deaths each year are consistently hindered by misidentifying the species responsible.
Linton, who heads a project to barcode the mosquito species, said correctly identifying and controlling those carriers of malaria and other misquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever and the West Nile virus are the ''key to disease management.''
The consortium is sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History. It grew out of 2003 research paper in which geneticist Paul Hebert at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, proposed database of DNA barcodes for identifying all species.
Prisons Purge Books on Faith From Libraries
Behind the walls of federal prisons nationwide, chaplains have been quietly carrying out a systematic purge of religious books and materials that were once available to prisoners in chapel libraries.
The chaplains were directed by the Bureau of Prisons to clear the shelves of any books, tapes, CDs and videos that are not on a list of approved resources. In some prisons, the chaplains have recently dismantled libraries that had thousands of texts collected over decades, bought by the prisons, or donated by churches and religious groups.
Some inmates are outraged. Two of them, a Christian and an Orthodox Jew, in a federal prison camp in upstate New York, filed a class-action lawsuit last month claiming the bureau’s actions violate their rights to the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the agency was acting in response to a 2004 report by the Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department. The report recommended steps that prisons should take, in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, to avoid becoming recruiting grounds for militant Islamic and other religious groups. The bureau, an agency of the Justice Department, defended its effort, which it calls the Standardized Chapel Library Project, as a way of barring access to materials that could, in its words, “discriminate, disparage, advocate violence or radicalize.”
Ms. Billingsley said, “We really wanted consistently available information for all religious groups to assure reliable teachings as determined by reliable subject experts.”
But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.
“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. “There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”
The Bureau of Prisons said it relied on experts to produce lists of up to 150 book titles and 150 multimedia resources for each of 20 religions or religious categories — everything from Bahaism to Yoruba. The lists will be expanded in October, and there will be occasional updates, Ms. Billingsley said. Prayer books and other worship materials are not affected by this process.
The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.
The identities of the bureau’s experts have not been made public, Ms. Billingsley said, but they include chaplains and scholars in seminaries and at the American Academy of Religion. Academy staff members said their organization had met with prison chaplains in the past but was not consulted on this effort, though it is possible that scholars who are academy members were involved.
The bureau has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.
A chaplain who has worked more than 15 years in the prison system, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is a bureau employee, said: “At some of the penitentiaries, guys have been studying and reading for 20 years, and now they are told that this material doesn’t meet some kind of criteria. It doesn’t make sense to them. They’re asking, ‘Why are our tapes being taken, why our books being taken?’ ”
Of the lists, he said, “Many of the chaplains I’ve spoken to say these are not the things they would have picked.”
The effort is unnecessary, the chaplain said, because chaplains routinely reject any materials that incite violence or disparage, and donated materials already had to be approved by prison officials. Prisoners can buy religious books, he added, but few have much money to spend.
Religious groups that work with prisoners have privately been writing letters about their concerns to bureau officials. Would it not be simpler, they asked the bureau, to produce a list of forbidden titles? But the bureau did that last year, when it instructed the prisons to remove all materials by nine publishers — some Muslim, some Christian.
The plan to standardize the libraries first became public in May when several inmates, including a Muslim convert, at the Federal Prison Camp in Otisville, N.Y., about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, filed a lawsuit acting as their own lawyers. Later, lawyers at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison took on the case pro bono. They refiled it on Aug. 21 in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. “It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves.”
Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”
The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.
“Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,” Mr. Laycock said. “But once they say, ‘We’re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that’s all you get,’ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They’re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can’t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they’re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.”
The lists have not been made public by the bureau, but were made available to The Times by a critic of the bureau’s project. In some cases, the lists belie their authors’ preferences. For example, more than 80 of the 120 titles on the list for Judaism are from the same Orthodox publishing house. A Catholic scholar and an evangelical Christian scholar who looked over some of the lists were baffled at the selections.
Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality.”
“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said. “I’m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.
The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited “The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.
“I would be completely sympathetic with Catholic chaplains in federal prisons if they’re complaining that this list is inhibiting,” he said, “because I know they have useful books that are not on this list.”
Young Muslims Begin Dangerous Fight for the Right to Abandon Faith
A group of young Muslim apostates launches a campaign today, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, to make it easier to renounce Islam.
The provocative move reflects a growing rift between traditionalists and a younger generation raised on a diet of Dutch tolerance.
The Committee for Ex-Muslims promises to campaign for freedom of religion but has already upset the Islamic and political Establishments for stirring tensions among the million-strong Muslim community in the Netherlands.
Ehsan Jami, the committee’s founder, who rejected Islam after the attack on the twin towers in 2001, has become the most talked-about public figure in the Netherlands. He has been forced into hiding after a series of death threats and a recent attack.
'Whoever changes religion – kill him'
The threats are taken seriously after the murder in 2002 of Pim Fortuyn, an antiimmigration politician, and in 2004 of Theo Van Gogh, an antiIslam film-maker.
Speaking to The Times at a secret location before the committee’s launch today, the Labour Party councillor said that the movement would declare war on radical Islam. Similar organisations campaigning for reform of the religion have sprung up across Europe and representatives from Britain and Germany will join the launch in The Hague today.
“Sharia schools say that they will kill the ones who leave Islam. In the West people get threatened, thrown out of their family, beaten up,” Mr Jami said. “In Islam you are born Muslim. You do not even choose to be Muslim. We want that to change, so that people are free to choose who they want to be and what they want to believe in.”
Mr Jami, 22, who has abandoned his studies as his political career has taken off, denied that the choice of September 11 was deliberately provocative towards the Islamic Establishment. “We chose the date because we want to make a clear statement that we no longer tolerate the intolerence of Islam, the terrorist attacks,” he said.
“In 1965 the Church in Holland made a declaration that freedom of conscience is above hanging on to religion, so you can choose whether you are going to be a Christian or not. What we are seeking is the same thing for Islam.”
Mr Jami, who has compared the rise of radical Islam to the threat from Nazism in the 1930s, is receiving only lukewarm support from his party which traditionally relies upon Muslim votes. His outspoken attack on radical Islam has led to a prelaunch walk-out from fellow committee founder Loubna Berrada, who herself rejected Islam.
She said: “I don’t wish to confront Islam itself. I only want to spread the message that Muslims should be allowed to leave Islam behind without being threatened.”
There have been suggestions that Mr Jami might defect to the right-wing Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, the most outspoken politician in the Netherlands, who has called for the Koran to be banned. But Mr Jami said: “I have respect for Wilders but we do not have the same ideology. I am for the freedom of religion.
“Banning something is not going to help. I am the opposite – everyone should read the Koran.” Mr Jami is being compared to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali refugee who became a prominent Dutch politician campaigning for the reform of Islam but who left eventually for an academic career in the United States.
Jannie Groen, a writer for De Volksrant newspaper, said: “[Among Muslims] he is getting the same reaction as Ayaan Hirsi Ali that he is too confrontational but you are seeing other former Muslims now coming forward. So he has been able to put this issue of apostasy on the agenda, even though they do not want to be in the same room as him and he has had to pay a price.”
By the Book
— 14 passages in the Koran refer to apostasy
— According to Baidhawi’s commentary, Sura 4: 88-89 reads: “Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard.”
— The hadith, tradition and legend about Muhammad and his followers used as a basis of Sharia, tells of some atheists who were brought to “’Ali and he burnt them. The news of this reached Ibn Abbas who said: ‘If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah’s Apostate forbade it . . . I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah’s Apostate, ‘Whoever changed his [Islamic] religion, then kill him’.”
— According to hadith, a special reward in Paradise is reserved for the killer of apostates
Qaeda Urges Cartoonist Death, Threatens Swedish Firms
The head of an al Qaeda-led group in Iraq has offered a $100,000 reward for the killing of a Swedish cartoonist for his drawing of Islam's Prophet Mohammad and threatened to attack major Swedish companies.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, also offered $50,000 in an audiotape posted on an Islamist Web site on Saturday to anyone who killed the editor of the newspaper that published the drawing by Lars Vilks.
Sweden's daily Nerikes Allehanda published the drawing, part of a series which art galleries in Sweden had declined to display, last month.
"From now on we announce the call to shed the blood of the Lars who dared to insult our Prophet... and during this munificent month we announce an award worth $100,000 to the person who kills this infidel criminal," he said in the 31-minute tape.
"The award will be increased to $150,000 if he were to be slaughtered like a lamb.
"We know how to force them to withdraw and apologies, and if they don't, they can wait for our strikes on their economy and giant companies such as Ericsson, Volvo, Ikea...."
Contacted by Reuters, Edvard Unsgaard, spokesman for Sweden's prime minister, declined to comment on what he said was "police business."
The newspaper published the image, depicting the head of the Prophet on the body of a dog, in what it called a defense of free speech. Muslim countries including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan expressed anger over the caricature.
Iran, the first country to protest against the publication of the drawing on August 27, summoned Sweden's charge d'affaires in Tehran to complain. Muslims believe images of the Prophet are forbidden and also consider dogs to be impure.
The Swedish Muslim Council, one of Sweden's largest Muslim organizations, rejected Baghdadi's threats.
"The Swedish Muslim Council definitely repudiates and at the same time condemns threats against individuals or Swedish institutions. We accept neither crimes nor ethical violations of everyone's right to live in security and to respectful treatment," it said in a statement.
Last year, Muslims around the world launched a firestorm of protest after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that were reprinted by other European newspapers.
Colin Powell: Terrorists are Not Greatest Threat to Nation
In an interview with GQ magazine that's scheduled to be put online here at 11 a.m. ET, former secretary of State and one-time potential presidential candidate Colin Powell has this to say about terrorism and the threat it poses to the USA:
"What is the greatest threat facing us now? People will say it's terrorism. But are there any terrorists in the world who can change the American way of life or our political system? No. Can they knock down a building? Yes. Can they kill somebody? Yes. But can they change us? No. Only we can change ourselves. So what is the great threat we are facing?"
Powell adds, in an interview with Walter Isaacson, that to improve its image in the world, the USA should focus on welcoming newcomers. He takes on the immigration debate that has become a hot-button issue in the presidential race:
"America could not survive without immigration," he says. "Even the undocumented immigrants are contributing to our economy. That's the country my parents came to. That's the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That's what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We've lost a bit of the image, but we haven't lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude -- and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain't the case."
As for the Iraq War, Powell -- a retired general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- tells Isaacson that as he and others in the Bush administration debated strategy in the lead-up to the war, he did not think the Pentagon and then-secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had planned for what would happen after Baghdad fell.
"That was the big mistake. Don had written a list of the worst things that could happen, but we didn't do the contingency planning on what we would do about it. So we watched those buildings get burned down, and nobody told the divisions, 'Hey, go in there and declare martial law and whack a few people and it will stop.' Then the insurgency started, and we didn't acknowledge it. They said it wasn't an insurgency. They looked up the definition. They said it was a few dead-enders! And so we didn't respond in a way that might have stopped it. And then the civil war started at the beginning of last year. I call it a civil war, but some say no, it's not a civil war, it's a war against civilians. In fact, we have total civil disorder."
Wesley Clark: P2P 'New National Security Risk'
Retired US general warns of danger of file sharing
Peer to peer technology (P2P) has been described as the “new national security risk” by a retired general at a recent Government Reform Committee hearing.
Retired General Wesley K. Clark, who is now a board member of Tiversa, a company that trawls P2P networks for sensitive information, said, "We found more than 200 classified government documents in a few hours search over P2P networks.
"We found everything from Pentagon network server secrets to other sensitive information on P2P networks that hackers dream about," he added.
At the committee hearing, Clark suggested regulation and mandatory defensive active monitoring programs, especially for sensitive government documents. "If everyone knew the scope of the risk of P2P networks, America would be outraged and demand solutions. If you wait for the lawsuit, you have waited too long," he said.
Clark revealed that many national information security leaks were fresh, complete and were often distributed on home computers over P2P networks.
In March, the United States Patent and Trademark Office released a study revealing that inadvertent file sharing continued to threaten national security. At the time, USPTO CEO Robert Boback said, "We found thousands of corporate cases from banking statements, server passwords, financial data, public company data, human resources, medical records and Fortune 500 company minutes on compliance."
Professor M. Eric Johnson, director of the Center for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College, carried out an experiment to illustrate the threat of P2P file sharing. The text of an email message containing an active Visa card number and an AT&T phone card in a music directory was posted in a P2P network that was shared via LimeWire.
"It appears that two takers of the card were able to obtain funds as the activity was split into two groups," Johnson told the hearing. “One taker used Paypal, which is more US-centric, while the other used Nochex, which is UK-centric. Within another week, the calling card was also depleted. Examining the call records of the card, all the calls were made from outside the US to two US area codes – 347 (Bronx, NY) and 253 (Tacoma, WA), illustrating the P2P threat both within and outside of the US. Even more interesting, long after we stopped sharing the file, we observed the file continuing to move to new clients as some of the original takers leaked the file to others."
Committee chairman, Henry Waxman, who is investigating the P2P networks invited LimeWire and StreamCast to testify along with other interested experts on illegal filesharing before the US Houses of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Democrats Question Prosecution of a Governor
House leaders are beginning an investigation this week of the prosecution of Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama who was imprisoned in June on federal corruption charges. The case could become the centerpiece of a Democratic effort to show that the Justice Department engaged in political prosecutions.
Republicans strongly deny the suggestion, and as Mr. Siegelman enters the fourth month of his 88-month sentence, the case is becoming a bitter flash point between Democratic officials and the Bush administration.
Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer who signed an affidavit saying she overheard a Republican political operative connect the prosecution of Mr. Siegelman to Karl Rove, will be questioned under oath this week by investigators for the House Judiciary Committee. The chairman of that committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, has asked the Justice Department to turn over its documents in the case.
The department has refused his request, saying in a letter last week to the committee that “we want to avoid any perception that the conduct of our criminal investigations and prosecutions is subject to political influence.”
On Monday, Mr. Conyers called the department’s position “unacceptable,” saying of its reasoning, “This concern should lead to precisely the opposite result.”
The case is considered unusual by many legal experts because actions like those Mr. Siegelman was accused of — exchanging a seat on the state hospital licensing board for a contribution to an education lottery campaign he was pushing — are hardly uncommon in state capitals around the country.
“It’s unusual to see a bribery prosecution where the payment wasn’t to the defendant,” said David A. Sklansky, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at the law school at the University of California, Berkeley. “It seems to me the conduct in this case was similar to a lot of what we take as normal for politics.”
Still, some legal experts say that federal prosecutors have wide latitude in interpreting the broad bribery statutes and that Mr. Siegelman’s actions, as outlined by the government, could have crossed the line. Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law, said the defense claim that the prosecution had not proved corrupt intent does not undermine the conviction.
“I think the government reply brief demolishes Siegelman’s legal argument on the current case law,” Mr. Gillers said.
Nonetheless, Democrats are planning to conduct hearings on the case as part of a wide-ranging look at what they say may be other political prosecutions elsewhere.
Representative Artur G. Davis, like Mr. Siegelman an Alabama Democrat, said he wanted Mr. Rove, the recently departed White House deputy chief of staff, to testify about Mr. Siegelman. Mr. Davis called Mr. Rove “the most significant factual witness in this matter.”
Mr. Davis, in his third term in Congress and a former federal prosecutor himself, said it was “certainly plausible” Mr. Rove could have had a hand in the Siegelman prosecution. He cited Mr. Rove’s involvement in the state’s politics in the 1990s and Alabama’s wholesale transition, bucked by Mr. Siegelman, to Republican dominance.
Forty-four former state attorneys general, including some Republicans, from New York, California, Massachusetts and elsewhere have signed a petition urging Congress to look into Mr. Siegelman’s conviction, which his lawyers are appealing.
“There is reason to believe that the case brought against Governor Siegelman may have had sufficient irregularities as to call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice,” the attorneys general wrote.
In Alabama, a small war of editorial boards has erupted since Mr. Siegelman was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison in late June. Newspapers in the state’s smaller cities have repeatedly raised questions about the former governor’s treatment.
Alabama Democrats are seething over a judge’s decision to have Mr. Siegelman immediately shackled and jailed on the day of sentencing, with no chance for him to seek bond or put his affairs in order. Republicans say the ex-governor is nothing more than a crook who ran a “pay for play” administration.
Mike Hubbard, chairman of the state’s Republican Party, called Ms. Simpson’s allegations “a bunch of hogwash” and said “the state of Alabama was for sale when Don Siegelman was governor.”
Democrats are equally passionate. “My sense is, there is a great unease with what has gone on here,” said Jack Miller, former chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. “It’s kind of, if it could happen to him, it could happen to anybody.”
Mr. Siegelman, meanwhile, is in the federal prison in Oakdale, La. In a recent note to The Associated Press, he said his case would will eventually be seen as the “Watergate of 2008.”
The government prosecutors who sent Mr. Siegelman to prison have angrily rebutted any suggestion of politics in several detailed statements, one of them criticizing national press coverage of the case.
“My sole motivation for pushing the prosecution was a firmly held belief, supported by overwhelming evidence and the law, that former Governor Siegelman had broken the law and traded his public office for personal and political favors,” Louis V. Franklin Sr., the acting United States attorney in Montgomery, said in one statement. Mr. Franklin took over the case after demands that the sitting United States attorney, Leura G. Canary, recuse herself because her husband, William, is active in the Republican Party and has ties to Mr. Rove.
Yet questions about the Siegelman case persist, including about whether Mr. Franklin played the decisive role he says he did, and not just among the former governor’s supporters.
For one thing, the prosecution of a high official like a governor is nearly always undertaken under the watchful eye of Justice Department officials in Washington, former government lawyers say.
One of Mr. Siegelman’s former lawyers, G. Douglas Jones, former United States attorney in Birmingham, says that at a crucial moment in 2004, when the Siegelman investigation seemed to be flagging, he was told by government prosecutors in Montgomery that the “folks in Washington said, ‘Take another look at everything.’ ”
Referring to a unit of the Justice Department, Mr. Jones said, “There is no question but that the Public Integrity Section was intimately involved.”
Democrats have tried to tie the case to the continuing dispute over the firing of several federal prosecutors for what they say were political reasons.
After serving as secretary of state, attorney general and lieutenant governor, Mr. Siegelman was elected governor in 1998. He was narrowly defeated in 2002 and for most of his term his administration was under investigation, his lawyers say. “These guys doing the investigating were hell-bent on finding something Siegelman did wrong,” Mr. Jones said.
In June 2006 Mr. Siegelman was convicted by a federal jury in Montgomery of accepting $500,000 from Richard M. Scrushy, then the chief executive of the HealthSouth Corporation, in return for an appointment to the state hospital licensing board.
The money was to be used to retire a debt incurred by Mr. Siegelman’s campaign for a state lottery to fund education. Government prosecutors say Mr. Siegelman, as a co-guarantor, was personally liable for the debt; his lawyers say that Mr. Siegelman’s signature was a formality and that he would never have been expected to personally pay back the loan. Mr. Scrushy had served on the same hospital board under three previous governors.
The White House has brushed off suggestions that Mr. Rove may have been involved.
An associate of Mr. Rove’s in the state, Matthew C. McDonald, a Mobile lawyer, said Mr. Rove had maintained at least a passing interest in Alabama affairs. The interest dated back to his pivotal role as a political consultant here in the 1990s, when he helped shift the state’s supreme court to the Republicans. Mr. Rove opened an office in Montgomery, and would fly in and out regularly.
Representative Davis pointed out that the case against the governor rested almost wholly on the testimony of two cooperating witnesses, most of whose allegations were rejected by the jury.
The most important of the witnesses, a former aide to Mr. Siegelman named Nick Bailey, testified about the governor’s appointing Mr. Scrushy to the hospital board in exchange for the contribution.
But Mr. Bailey also admitted taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes without the governor’s knowledge, said he had not been in the room when Mr. Siegelman met with Mr. Scrushy, and could offer only his recollection of a brief exchange with the governor on the matter.
In legal papers, however, the government dismissed the idea that its case was weak, saying the “evidence was more than sufficient to convict defendant.”
Former Law Adviser Speaks Out On Bush
THE TERROR PRESIDENCY
Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration
By Jack Goldsmith
256 pages. W. W. Norton. $25.95.
In October 2003 Jack Goldsmith, a legal scholar with sterling conservative credentials, was hired to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advises the president and the attorney general about the legality of presidential actions. As he was briefed on counterterrorism measures the Bush administration had adopted in the wake of 9/11, Mr. Goldsmith says he was alarmed to discover that many of those policies “rested on severely damaged legal foundations,” that the legal opinions that supported these counterterrorism operations were, in his view, “sloppily reasoned, overbroad, and incautious in asserting extraordinary constitutional authorities on behalf of the president.”
Mr. Goldsmith eventually withdrew several key department opinions — including two highly controversial “torture memos” dealing with the authority of the executive branch to conduct coercive interrogation — but only after contentious battles with administration hardliners led by David Addington, then Vice President Cheney’s legal adviser and now chief of staff.
As Mr. Goldsmith recounts in his chilling new book, “The Terror Presidency,” he and his Justice Department colleagues (in consultation with lawyers from the State Department, the Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the National Security Council) reached a consensus in 2003 that the Fourth Geneva Convention (which governs the duties of an occupying power and the treatment of civilians) affords protection to all Iraqis, including those who are terrorists. When he delivered this decision to the White House, he recalls, Mr. Addington exploded: “ ‘The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections,’ he barked. ‘You cannot question his decision.’ ”
The portrait of the Bush administration that Mr. Goldsmith — who resigned from the Office of Legal Counsel in June 2004, only nine months after assuming the post — draws in this book is a devastating one. It is a portrait of a highly insular White House obsessively focused on expanding presidential power and loathe to consult with Congress, a White House that frequently made up its mind about a course of action before consulting with experts, a White House that sidelined Congress in its policymaking and willfully pursued a “go-it-alone approach” based on “minimal deliberation, unilateral action, and legalistic defense.”
Similar portraits, of course, have been drawn by reporters and other former administration insiders, but Mr. Goldsmith’s account stands out by virtue that he was privy to internal White House debates about explosive matters like secret surveillance, coercive interrogation and the detention and trial of enemy combatants. It is also distinguished by Mr. Goldsmith’s writing from the point of view of a conservative who shared many of the Bush White House’s objectives (and who was an ideological ally of John Yoo, one of the main architects of the administration’s legal responses to a post-9/11 world and the author of some of the very opinions Mr. Goldsmith would later call into question). But he found himself alarmed by the Bush White House’s obsession with expanding presidential power, its arrogant unilateralism and its willingness to use what he regarded as careless and overly expansive legal arguments in an effort to buttress its policies.
Mr. Goldsmith does not go into detail here about his role on that March 2004 night when Alberto Gonzales, then White House legal counsel, and the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, went to the hospital to visit an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to try to pressure him into approving a secret program (which was about to expire) over objections from Mr. Goldsmith and Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey. But he does provide a visceral sense of the tensions within the administration, with Mr. Ashcroft and members of the Justice Department often at odds with Mr. Gonzales and the White House, and the hard-line, hard-driving Mr. Addington, backed with the power of the vice president’s office, usually prevailing in the legal policy meetings held in Mr. Gonzales’s office.
Noting that “the president and the vice president always made clear that a central administration priority was to maintain and expand the president’s formal legal powers,” Mr. Goldsmith says that lawyers soon realized that they “could gain traction for a particular course of action — usually, going it alone — by arguing that alternative proposals would diminish the president’s power.”
Working with Congress on matters like detention and military commissions, Mr. Goldsmith says, would have helped the administration establish “a solid legal foundation” for the war on terrorism while diminishing “many complaints about legitimacy.” And yet the White House took working with Congress “off the table,” which meant that “a lot of sensible policy options” simply “were not available.”
Fear of another terrorist attack, Mr. Goldsmith contends, created pressure on administration officials “to act to the edges of the law.” He writes that Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and now director of the C.I.A., would often say that after 9/11 he was troubled if he was not using “the full authority allowed by law,” and that he was “going to live on the edge,” where “his spikes will have chalk on them.”
This attitude “permeated the executive branch after 9/11,” Mr. Goldsmith says, and he agreed that his own job was “to make sure the president could act right up to the chalk line of legality.” But he adds, “Even blurry chalk lines delineate areas that are clearly out of bounds,” and in some pivotal cases he felt compelled to stand up to the hardliners and insist that the administration’s counterterrorism policies be put on sounder legal footing.
Of the notorious Aug. 1, 2002, torture memo (which narrowly defined torture as “extreme acts” causing “severe pain” of the sort that “accompanies serious physical injury” leading to “death or organ failure,” and which asserted that “any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of battlefield detainees would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president”), Mr. Goldsmith writes that its concept of sweeping executive power had “no foundation” in prior Office of Legal Counsel opinions, or in judicial decisions, or in any other source of law.”
What’s more, “the conclusion’s significance sweeps far beyond the interrogation opinion or the torture statute,” he says. “It implies that many other federal laws that limit interrogation — anti-assault laws, the 1996 War Crimes Act, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice — are also unconstitutional, a conclusion that would have surprised the many prior presidents who signed or ratified those laws, or complied with them during wartime.”
Mr. Goldsmith is similarly scathing about how the Bush administration went about side-stepping the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required the president and government agencies to obtain warrants from a special court before conducting electronic surveillance of people suspected of being terrorists or spies. Although he says he shared many of the administration’s concerns on this issue, he “deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem.”
He quotes Mr. Addington saying of the surveillance act in court: “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court.” And he observes that top Bush officials dealt with that act “the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: they blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations.”
This sort of unilateral action, Mr. Goldsmith argues, led to “legal and political errors that became very costly to the administration down the road.” In his view it was also a strategy “guaranteed not to work” and “certain to destroy trust altogether,” for “when an administration makes little attempt to work with the other institutions of our government and makes it a public priority to emphasize that its aim is to expand its power, Congress, the courts and the public listen carefully, and worry.”
Mr. Goldsmith concludes this illuminating volume with the observation that unlike Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt — two presidents who also presided over the nation at times of crisis — President Bush has relied only on “the hard power of prerogative,” ignoring “the soft factors of legitimation — consultation, deliberation, the appearance of deference, and credible expressions of public concern for constitutional and international values — in his dealing with Congress, the courts, and allies.” As a result, Mr. Goldsmith says, even if President Bush’s “accomplishments are viewed more charitably by future historians than they are viewed today,” they will “likely always be dimmed by our knowledge of his administration’s strange and unattractive views of presidential power.”
Spy Master Admits Error
Intel czar Mike McConnell told Congress a new law helped bring down a terror plot. The facts say otherwise.
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
In a new embarrassment for the Bush administration top spymaster, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is withdrawing an assertion he made to Congress this week that a recently passed electronic-surveillance law helped U.S. authorities foil a major terror plot in Germany.
The temporary measure, signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 5, gave the U.S. intelligence community broad new powers to eavesdrop on telephone and e-mail communications overseas without seeking warrants from the surveillance court. The law expires in six months and is expected to be the subject of intense debate in the months ahead. On Monday, McConnell—questioned by Sen. Joe Lieberman—claimed the law, intended to remedy what the White House said was an intelligence gap, had helped to “facilitate” the arrest of three suspects believed to be planning massive car bombings against American targets in Germany. Other U.S. intelligence-community officials questioned the accuracy of McConnell's testimony and urged his office to correct it. Four intelligence-community officials, who asked for anonymity discussing sensitive material, said the new law, dubbed the "Protect America Act,” played little if any role in the unraveling of the German plot. The U.S. military initially provided information that helped the Germans uncover the plot. But that exchange of information took place months before the new “Protect America” law was passed.
After questions about his testimony were raised, McConnell called Lieberman to clarify his statements to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, an official said. (A spokeswoman for Lieberman confirmed that McConnell called the senator Tuesday but could not immediately confirm what they spoke about.) Late Wednesday afternoon, McConnell issued a statement acknowleding that "information contributing to the recent arrests [in Germany] was not collected under authorities provided by the 'Protect America Act'."
The developments were cited by Democratic critics on Capitol Hill as the latest example of the Bush administration's exaggerated claims—and contradictory statements—about ultrasecret surveillance activities. In the face of such complaints, the administration has consistently resisted any public disclosure about the details of the surveillance activities—even thought McConnell himself has openly talked about some aspects of them.
The Justice Department, for example, just two weeks ago filed a brief opposing the public release of secret legal opinions about the program—even in redacted form—on the grounds that any disclosure beyond a one-sentence comment earlier this year by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would “cause serious damage to the national security of the United States.” (The existence of one of those rulings was first disclosed by NEWSWEEK this summer and publicly confirmed by McConnell in an interview with the El Paso Times in August. The ACLU last month filed an unprecedented motion with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking public release of its rulings about the surveillance program.)
The flap over McConnell’s latest statements is especially sensitive because many Democrats have said they felt the White House and the director of national intelligence stampeded them into passing the new surveillance law—claiming it was needed on an “emergency” basis to protect the country against a future terror attack. Speaking Wednesday at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Rep. Jane Harman, who was ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee until she was bumped from the committee earlier this year, charged that McConnell had politicized negotiations over the bill. He "appeared to be taking orders from the White House, negotiating for the White House," said Harman. The role he played, "whether he intended it or not, appeared to be political," she said. "Hey—Jane to Mike," she said. "Don't become a political actor."
McConnell's testimony that the new law helped in the German case was especially striking—since it seemed to contradict public statements by American and German officials about how the plot was exposed. About 10 months ago—long before the new law was put into effect—guards at a U.S. military base near Frankfurt noted a suspicious individual conducting surveillance outside the facility. U.S. military officials tipped off German authorities, who quickly identified the individual and several accomplices as militants affiliated with the Islamic Jihad Union, a violent Al Qaeda-linked group. The Germans kept the group under surveillance for months and discovered evidence that the militants—some of whom had been to an Islamic Jihad Union training camp in Pakistan—were assembling chemicals for bombing attacks on American military installations in Germany. (The U.S. Embassy in Berlin issued a public warning last April that it had received intelligence reporting about threats against U.S. personnel in that country.) One U.S. intelligence official described the law-enforcement operation as a case of “good old-fashioned police work.”
Yet when McConnell testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he cited the German case as an example of how the new Protect America Act was working. The law, he started to say, "allowed us to see and understand all the connections with ..." At that point, Lieberman, the committee chair, interrupted McConnell. Lieberman expressed surprise that the law might have contributed to the German counterterror operation. "The newly adopted law facilitated that during August?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, it did,” McConnell responded. “The connections to Al Qaeda, the connections specifically to what's referred to as IJU, the Islamic Jihad Union, an affiliate of Al Qaeda. Because we could understand it, we could help our partners through a long process of monitoring and observation ... And so at the right time, when Americans and German facilities were being targeted, the German authorities decided to move."
Counterterrorism officials familiar with the background of McConnell's testimony said they did not believe the intel czar made inaccurate statements intentionally as part of any strategy by the administration to goad Congress into making the new eavesdropping law permanent. Officials said they believed McConnell gave the wrong answer because he was overwhelmed with information and merely mixed up his facts. Nonetheless, some officials said, as news of McConnell's misstatements spread, it would be in the intelligence director's best interests to correct his testimony—advice he is now heeding.
59% Say US Has Changed for the Worse Since 9/11
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans have believed that the events of that horrible day changed the United States forever. Each year that has gone by has seen an increase in the number who believe those changes have not been good for the nation.
Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Americans now believe that the events of six years ago changed America for the worse. That’s an increase from 54% a year ago. Just 21% believe that the nation has changed for the better because of that tragedy.
The current results are almost the mirror image of the immediate reaction. Six weeks after the tragedy, 57% thought the nation had changed for the better. That number actually grew to 61% by January 2002. Now, half a decade later, just 21% of American adults hold that optimistic view. Fifty-four percent (54%) say the changes have been for the worse.
A plurality of Republicans (45%) now say the nation has changed for the worse since 9/11. That view is shared by 71% of Democrats and 61% of those not affiliated with either major party.
The increasing pessimism over the past six years has caused Americans to revise their assessment of the way that President Bush responded to the terrorist attacks. Today, just 42% rate his performance following 9/11 as good or excellent. That’s unchanged from a year ago, but down from 51% two years ago and 56% three years ago.
Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Republicans now say the President did a good or excellent job following the terrorist attacks. That view is shared by just 24% of Democrats and 36% of unaffiliateds.
More than a third of all Americans, 35%, now say the President’s response following 9/11 was poor. That’s up from 32% a year ago.
Similar trends are found in other questions asked regularly since the terrorist attacks.
Four years ago, 67% of all Americans believed the world would be a better place if other countries were more like our own. Today, 54% hold that view (up from 51% a year ago). Seventy-two percent (72%) of Republicans believe the world would be better if other nations were more like the United States. Just 43% of Democrats hold that view along with 49% of unaffiliateds.
Another question that Rasmussen Reports has tracked annually is whether the United States is safer than it was before the 9/11 attacks. Early in 2002, 61% thought the country was safer. Today, just 38% hold that view (up from 36% a year ago).
Today, 39% of Americans believe that the U.S. and its allies are winning the War on Terror. Last year, that figure was 41%. Three years ago, more than 50% thought the U.S. and its allies were winning.
A separate survey found that just 20% of Americans say the United States is generally heading in the right direction. Just 17% believe that Congress is doing a good or an excellent job.
India’s Cops Get Orwellian
I’m a huge fan of irony, and our world is full of it. Earlier this week, papers released by the National Archives in England revealed that “Special Branch police” had monitored George Orwell’s activities for a decade. In other words, Big Brother had been watching the man who would go on to write 1984. Orwell himself was presumably unaware of it – and yet, all too aware of the nature of Big Brother.
If Orwell were brought back from the dead, I presume he’d chuckle and think how little things have changed. He would certainly have been bemused by happenings in India. A few days ago, Mumbai’s police revealed their plans to install keystroke loggers in Mumbai’s cyber cafes, besides imposing licensing requirements on them.
This is done ostensibly to fight terrorism, and here are the implications for you and me. Whenever we surf from a Mumbai cyber café, everything we type will automatically be captured on record. Our email passwords, every message we type, the sites we visit, the pictures we download: everything will be stored in police records, rendering us, effectively, naked in their eyes.
If we buy stuff online, our credit card details will also get saved. Will these end up getting sold in a black market somewhere? Not unlikely. Much as we like to think of governments as benevolent entities that exist to serve us, in reality they comprise individuals with the same human weaknesses as the rest of us, responding to incentives just as we do. The Mumbai police, like all police in India, consists of underpaid people given excessive powers over others, with little accountability. So how do you expect them to behave?
Unless a policeman’s self-interest is perfectly aligned with the public interest, which is not the case in our system of government, it is inevitable that he will feel tempted to use his power for personal gain. It is equally likely that the police, like any other arm of government, will focus on expanding its power, and increasing its control over people, rather than carrying out its tasks, for which it is not accountable in practice. By insisting that cyber cafes in Mumbai need a license from the police, for example, they have opened up a new under-the-table revenue stream.
The government’s rationale (or rationalization) behind this is familiar and silly. Whenever the government wants to restrict freedom, it invokes security, and cops justify this move under the grounds of fighting terrorism. Well, firstly, at a practical level, the cops won’t have the manpower to scrutinize the massive volume of keystroke logs generated everyday, or to figure out what is terrorist code and what is teenage lingo. Secondly, at a moral level, it is simply wrong to deny people of their privacy in this manner.
Mid Day quoted an unnamed “National Vice President, People Union for Civil Liberty” as justifying these moves by saying that it was ok “[a]s long as personal computers are not being monitored. If monitoring is restricted to public computers, it is in the interest of security.” By this reasoning, why should the cops not place TV cameras in hotel rooms or record every conversation in every taxi and train? After all, terrorists use hotels and public transport. Are you okay with that?
The ultimate expression of a government’s lust for power lies in a term coined by Orwell in 1984: Thoughtcrime. Thoughtcrimes are thoughts that have been criminalised, and if the technology to detect emotions existed, it is not unlikely that the Indian government would ban hatred. Or, at least, hatred of things that it deems should not be hated. A recent Mid Day report describes how various authorities are trying to get communities on Orkut that are against Pratibha Patil removed. They include communities with names like ‘We hate Pratibha Patil’, ‘We don’t like Pratibha Patil’, ‘Pratibha Patil sucks’, and ‘Pratibha Patil — the puppet’.
I am no fan of the lady myself, and have expressed, in an earlier instalment of this column, my distaste for her views favouring compulsary sterilization of people with heriditory diseases, and her delusions about being able to converse with spirits. Columns appearing in big newspapers are harder to censor, but I fail to see why members of Orkut should be barred from expressing similar emotions.
Earlier this month, a computer engineer based in Bangalore was arrested “after he allegedly uploaded a blasphemous matter [sic] about Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji” on Orkut. Google, which owns Orkut, reportedly collaborated in the matter, providing the engineer’s IP address to the cops. (It is natural for them to go by the law of the land, according to the land they’re in, but they really should get off their “do no evil” high horse.) Technology, while it enables free expression, also provides mechanisms for its suppression. Don’t expect our government not to use it.
China's 'Eye on the Internet' a Fraud
The "Great Firewall of China," used by the government of the People's Republic of China to block users from reaching content it finds objectionable, is actually a "panopticon" that encourages self-censorship through the perception that users are being watched, rather than a true firewall, according to researchers at UC Davis and the University of New Mexico.
The researchers are developing an automated tool, called ConceptDoppler, to act as a weather report on changes in Internet censorship in China. ConceptDoppler uses mathematical techniques to cluster words by meaning and identify keywords that are likely to be blacklisted.
Many countries carry out some form of Internet censorship. Most rely on systems that block specific Web sites or Web addresses, said Earl Barr, a graduate student in computer science at UC Davis who is an author on the paper. China takes a different approach by filtering Web content for specific keywords and selectively blocking Web pages.
In 2006, a team at the University of Cambridge, England, discovered that when the Chinese system detects a banned word in data traveling across the network, it sends a series of three "reset" commands to both the source and the destination. These "resets" effectively break the connection. But they also allow researchers to test words and see which ones are censored.
Barr, along with Jed Crandall, a recent UC Davis graduate who is now an assistant professor of computer science at the School of Engineering, University of New Mexico; UC Davis graduate students Daniel Zinn and Michael Byrd; and independent researcher Rich East sent messages to Internet addresses within China containing a variety of different words that might be subject to censorship.
If China's censorship system were a true firewall, most blocking would take place at the border with the rest of the Internet, Barr said. But the researchers found that some messages passed through several routers before being blocked.
A firewall would also block all mentions of a banned word or phrase, but banned words reached their destinations on about 28 percent of the tested paths, Byrd said. Filtering was particularly erratic at times of heavy Internet use.
The words used to probe the Chinese Internet were not selected at random.
"If we simply bombarded the Great Firewall with random words, we would waste resources and time," Zinn said.
The researchers took the Chinese version of Wikipedia, extracted individual words and used a mathematical technique called latent semantic analysis to work out the relationships between different words. If one of the words was censored within China, they could look up which other closely related words are likely to be blocked as well.
Examples of words tested by the researchers and found to be banned included references to the Falun Gong movement and the protest movements of 1989; Nazi Germany and other historical events; and general concepts related to democracy and political protest.
"Imagine you want to remove the history of the Wounded Knee massacre from the Library of Congress," Crandall said. "You could remove 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' and a few other selected books, or you could remove every book in the entire library that contains the word 'massacre.'"
By analogy, Chinese Internet censorship based on keyword filtering is the equivalent of the latter -- and indeed, the keyword "massacre" (in Chinese) is on the blacklist.
Because it filters ideas rather than specific Web sites, keyword filtering stops people from using proxy servers or "mirror" Web sites to evade censorship. But because it is not completely effective all the time, it probably acts partly by encouraging self-censorship, Barr said. When users within China see that certain words, ideas and concepts are blocked most of the time, they might assume that they should avoid those topics.
The original panopticon was a prison design developed by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. Bentham proposed that a central observer would be able to watch all the prisoners, while the prisoners would not know when they were being watched.
The work will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Computer and Communications Security Conference in Alexandria, Va., Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 2007.
Lovers in the ’60s Take a Magical Mystery Tour
From its first moments, when a solitary dreamer on a beach turns to the camera and sings, unaccompanied, the opening lines of the Beatles’ song “Girl,” Julie Taymor’s ’60s musical fantasia, “Across the Universe,” reveals its intention to use the Beatles’ catalog to tell two stories at once, one personal, the other generational. That young man, Jude (Jim Sturgess), is a cheeky Liverpool dockworker with a twinkle in his eye. He quickly emerges as a winsome vocal composite of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with a personality to match.
From here the movie only gets better. Somewhere around its midpoint, “Across the Universe” captured my heart, and I realized that falling in love with a movie is like falling in love with another person. Imperfections, however glaring, become endearing quirks once you’ve tumbled.
That surrender is the kind of commitment that Ms. Taymor, a true believer in the magic of art, asks of an audience. And as the movie intensifies, and she brings in a fantastic array of puppets, masks and synergistic effects, you may find yourself in a heightened emotional state, even as you realize that what you’re seeing is unadulterated white, middle-class baby boomer nostalgia.
This risky hybrid of long-form music video and movie musical with clearly drawn characters tells the story of Jude’s star-crossed love affair with Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), a girl from upper-crust East Coast suburbia. It follows the couple as they are swept up and come apart in the evolving counterculture of left-wing politics, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
The story, briefly: Jude, visiting the United States in search of his long-lost father, meets Lucy through her brother, Max (Joe Anderson), a student at Princeton, where the father is discovered working as a janitor. Max takes Jude home to his stuffy family for Thanksgiving, during which Max shocks his parents by announcing that he is dropping out of college. He and Jude drive to New York and settle in a sprawling East Village tenement and are soon joined by Lucy.
Their landlady, Sadie (Dana Fuchs, who played Janis Joplin in the Off Broadway show “Love, Janis”), is the movie’s resident earth mother. An aspiring rock singer, she sounds like a warmer, more controlled Joplin. Her triumphal “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” announces Lucy’s arrival in New York, and later in the movie, her voice hoarsely shouting “Helter Skelter” rises above the mob during a Columbia University riot at which Jude is arrested.
Rounding out the bohemian household are Jo-Jo (Martin Luther McCoy), a guitarist who arrives from Detroit by Greyhound after his younger brother’s death in the Detroit riots, and Prudence (T.V. Carpio), an Asian-American lesbian cheerleader who hitchhikes to New York from Dayton, Ohio, and (in a joke on a Beatles song title) crashes into the house through the bathroom window.
Jo-Jo, who suggests a softened Jimi Hendrix, becomes Sadie’s on-again-off-again boyfriend and sometime lead guitarist. Prudence, who early in the film sings “I Want to Hold Your Hand” while gazing wistfully from afar at a blond cheerleader, develops a secret crush on Sadie. While Jude embraces art, Lucy, who lost her first boyfriend in Vietnam, gravitates toward antiwar activism after Max receives his draft notice and reluctantly leaves to fight in the war.
If the young lovers are familiar ’60s archetypes, the actors’ natural performances and the easy, colloquial dialogue by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“The Commitments”) allow the characters to transcend the generic. When Lucy, gazing at Jude, sings “If I Fell” very slowly, in a sweet, trembling voice, she is one girl worriedly fantasizing about one boy.
Most of the historical events are lightly fictionalized in a movie that maintains only the fuzziest of timelines. Its 33 Beatles songs (two without words) have been re-recorded and sung by the actors. Yet “Across the Universe” feels emotionally true both to the Beatles, whose music today seems to exist outside of time, and to the decade it remembers. Smart, uncluttered musical arrangements help reposition the songs to address the situation at hand. As a result, music that has congealed in collective memory — especially the clever, breezy early Beatles songs — emerges refreshed.
A visceral peak arrives with “Strawberry Fields Forever.” In this gorgeous production number, an artwork by Jude in which rows of bleeding strawberries are pinned to a white surface transmutes into a hallucination of strawberry bombs raining over Southeast Asia. Then the artist, in an anguished frenzy, begins smashing strawberries on the walls and floors and destroys his work.
This happens around the time that Lucy, who works for a militant antiwar organization, angrily dismisses Jude’s art as “doodles and cartoons.” He charges into her office, snarls the song “Revolution” and instigates a brawl. It is one of several moments in which “Across the Universe” grasps a central emotional duality of a culture in which rage and ecstatic idealism clashed and played into each other at the same time.
Another extraordinary scene follows Joe to a United States Army induction center at which an Uncle Sam poster comes to animated life, leans down, points a giant finger and growls, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Inside the center a choreographed sequence finds inductees in their underwear sliding involuntarily along the floor through lines of Army officers in grim Expressionistic masks, marching in robotic formation. The new recruits are next shown, still in their underwear, lugging a giant replica of the Statue of Liberty through the Vietnamese jungle.
The dreamiest reverie, set to “Because,” begins with a tableau of nine friends blissfully lying on their backs in the grass in a mandala pattern. The circle disperses as Jude and Lucy find themselves in a watery blue sky where clouds melt into liquid, and the entwined lovers are themselves floating underwater. Most fanciful of all is a largely animated sequence in which Eddie Izzard is Mr. Kite, the ringmaster of a psychedelic circus with a dancing chorus line of “the blue people.”
Amid the phantasmagoria are several star cameos. As Max recovers from war injuries in a veterans’ hospital, he has a morphine-induced fever dream in which the beds in his ward rear up from the floor to the song “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” and he is tended by five Salma Hayeks. Bono appears as the acid guru, Dr. Robert, a Ken Kesey-Neal Cassady fusion who sings “I Am the Walrus” at an acid-drenched party and conducts Jude, Lucy and a roiling band of Merry Pranksters on a delirious bus journey through a rainbow-colored countryside.
“Across the Universe,” in the spirit of the counterculture, goes with the flow. Its scenes, songs and witty roughhouse choreography, spun off from the Beatles’ movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” dissolve into a stream of consciousness with only occasional punctuation.
Because of its oh-wow aesthetic, its refusal to adopt a critical distance from the ’60s drug culture, its tacit approval of the characters’ antiwar activism and its token attention to the decade’s racial strife, “Across the Universe” leaves itself wide open to derision, complaints and endless nitpicking. But it couldn’t have succeeded any other way. The movie is completely devoid of the protective cynicism that is now a reflexive response to the term “the ’60s.”
“Across the Universe” believes wholeheartedly in the quaint, communitarian spirit it exalts. You share the joy of its blissed-out hippies in the grass. You feel the deepening friendship between Jude and Max that is sealed in Max’s incandescent performance of “Hey, Jude.” And during the time it lasts, the intoxicating passion of Jude and Lucy, both innocents by today’s standards, convinces, for a moment, that love is all you need.
“Across the Universe” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has nudity, sexual situations, drug use, mild violence and some strong language.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Opens today in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami and Chicago.
Directed by Julie Taymor; written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, based on a story by Ms. Taymor, Mr. Clement and Mr. La Frenais; director of photography, Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Françoise Bonnot; music score by Elliot Goldenthal, songs by the Beatles; production designer, Mark Friedberg; choreography by Daniel Ezralow; produced by Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd and Matthew Gross; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 131 minutes.
WITH: Evan Rachel Wood (Lucy), Jim Sturgess (Jude), Joe Anderson (Max), Dana Fuchs (Sadie), Martin Luther McCoy (Jo-Jo) and T. V. Carpio (Prudence).
MPAA: Pirate Party Politicians Are Illegitimate Thieves
Last year Pirate Parties were formed all over the world. Their main goal is to protect privacy, culture, and knowledge. The MPAA is not happy with politicians they can’t buy fund, and labels them as illegitimate thieves.
Dean Garfield, director of MPAA’s anti-piracy department, was interviewed by ZDNet recently. When he was asked whether the Pirate Party’s attempts to battle organizations like the MPAA through democratic means is legitimate, he responded: “There’s nothing about what the Pirate Bay does or what the Pirate Party does that is legitimate. There’s nothing philosophically principled about it. They steal copyright content and accept advertising dollars based on taking other people’s work. There’s nothing noble about it.”
Calling a political party illegitimate and their members thieves is a pretty bold statement for an organization who’s feeding politicians thousands of dollars to support their cause. I doubt that Garfield even read their election manifesto, if he did, he would know that the party has nothing to do with stealing copyright.
“This can only be seen as MPAA calling democracy illegitimate. We are a registered political party finishing in the top ten in a parliamentary democracy,” says Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party in a response to TorrentFreak. “That these people claim it would somehow be illegitimate to change laws through a parliamentary process shows just how corrupt to the core they are.”
Falkvinge continues: “On the other hand, I think the statement may be partly out of fear. There’s one thing that beats all their lawyers, war chests and monopolies. Just one. That one thing is votes in a democratic election, and that’s what we have and they don’t. These claims are so far out they don’t even reflect sunlight. Unfortunately, that seems to be true for most statements from the Music And Film Industry Associations of America, but we’re also seeing the oldskool politicians slowly starting to understand our counterpoints. It’s going to be an interesting couple of next years.”
It won’t be easy for the MPAA and other anti-piracy organizations to take on the Pirate Parties, especially not with such a clueless statement. Europe’s Pirate Parties are on course with their pan-European electoral assault for the 2009 European Elections. To quote Rick Falkvinge: “There is a far better than average chance that this is becoming the next global political movement, and I’m going to claim it already is the next big political movement.”
Hollywood's Copyright Enforcer
In Hollywood's ongoing battle against illegal file sharing, Dean Garfield is one of the people the studios depend on to cross swords with pirates.
Garfield is executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group that represents six of the nation's largest movie studios. He's charged with finding ways to limit the bootlegging of feature films and, as he says, help the film industry not end up like the music industry.
He knows all about the music industry's mostly losing battle against piracy. Prior to joining the MPAA, Garfield was vice president of legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America, where he helped manage the court cases against Grokster, Kazaa and MusicCity.
This kind of experience, working for both the music and film industries, has turned Garfield into the face of copyright enforcement.
But at the same time that the MPAA is pursuing a copyright complaint against TorrentSpy, a BitTorrent tracker, Garfield has been named in a lawsuit filed by TorrentSpy. He's accused of hiring a hacker to steal information from TorrentSpy's servers. The MPAA has denied the charges, and Garfield declined to comment on pending litigation.
CNET News.com recently spoke with Garfield about the MPAA's tactics and strategy for dealing with digital piracy.
Q: So is piracy growing?
Garfield: That's a good question. We're actually looking at it. In 2005, for the first time, we actually undertook that analysis, to look at the losses that are suffered by the industry from piracy, and we are in the process of revisiting and refreshing that analysis.
My thought is that it's not clear whether it's growing, although my sense is that it probably is. I do think also that it's changing very dramatically as we move forward. And we're trying to adapt and evolve to address it.
If you look at the list of movies that have broken new ground, from Star Wars to Polar Express, nobody would look at those movies and suggest that our industry is afraid of technology. The truth is quite the opposite.
Why do so many of these young people see the MPAA and RIAA as one big evil empire?
Garfield: I'm going to challenge your assumption a little bit. I do think that the people are able to distinguish between the industries. But for a lot of folks who aren't versed in our world, it's all Hollywood. So we're viewed as part of Hollywood and all that's wrong with Hollywood.
They aren't able to see the value and hard work that goes into making a movie. It's a real investment. It requires not only vision and great storytelling, but real capital investment. It costs a little over $100 million to make and market a movie.
Why hasn't the MPAA trotted out respected stars to help get your message out? Might it be more persuasive for Tom Hanks and Sean Penn to help sell the message?
Garfield: It's a good idea. We are trying to do more and more to spread the word on all that goes into the magic of moviemaking and the impact it has not only on people's lives but on our economy.
Earlier this year, we put out a report on the economic impact of the motion picture industry, and we had a symposium in Washington. The people behind that were the studios as well as the artists who are part of that industry. That is one of the events that we hope to do, to put a face to the work that goes into the movies.
I'm not of the view that we aren't doing anything. I'm also not of the view that we have a monopoly on perfection. So I think we can improve.
You guys have chosen a different tack than the music industry on fighting piracy. You aren't suing many people.
Garfield: We have sued some individuals, but we just haven't done it at the level of the music industry. Our campaign was different in that it was targeted at education and deterrents. In our testing over time, we started to see some difference. It's not where we wanted it to be.
Some members of the public didn't know what was legal. We're looking to see now whether, after this education, they will act consistent with what they know. Driving drunk was socially tolerated at one point in this country's history, but things have changed, and it's not accepted any longer. Hopefully, we'll get to that kind of understanding and change behavior.
What kind of technologies are you guys using to help prevent piracy?
Garfield: We're at the point where technology provides real opportunity, and it's not just down the road, but today. We're conducting requests for proposals in conjunction with MovieLabs around content recognition technologies. (MovieLabs is a company started by the six major studios to develop technologies that can help distribution of film.)
That testing is still ongoing, but the reports are that the technology really works. It is really effective. You can distinguish one piece of content versus another. That's real potential for monetizing and filtering out copyright content. Technology gives us real opportunities to give consumers what they want while also protecting the investment.
The big studios have just sold Movielink for pennies on the dollar. Google has gotten out of the video-on-demand business. Is it time to give up on the Internet as a distribution method for feature films?
Garfield: I don't think so. It's still too early. We're in the truly nascent stages of the Internet as a multimedia delivery mechanism. We are really just starting out. In time, I think it will be a real medium for delivering digital content.
Jack Valenti compared the Betamax to the Boston Strangler. Critics of the MPAA say his statement was an example of Hollywood's paranoia of technology. Are you guys paranoid?
Garfield: I wouldn't say that at all. The thing to keep in mind is that the development of the DVD and turning the Betamax recorder into a viable piece of technology was something done by our industry. We were behind much of the development behind DVDs.
What the studios do is tell stories, but the way they tell those stories is through the use of technology. We embrace technology and use it to tell our stories more effectively.
If you look at the list of movies that have broken new ground, from Star Wars to Polar Express, nobody would look at those movies and suggest that our industry is afraid of technology. The truth is quite the opposite.
Some have called you the MPAA's enforcer. What's your background, and how did you get to the MPAA?
Garfield: I got here from law school. I'm a lawyer by training. I was working for the recording industry for five years, and I think the impetus to work here was that I could help the motion picture industry avoid some of the pitfalls that the recording industry encountered.
That's one of the things I like about working here. People here really do want to learn. Our industry is filled with folks that are very interested in learning and listening to consumers.
What's the biggest misconception about the MPAA?
Garfield: That we are a bunch of Luddites that do not understand technology and are not interested in giving consumers what they want, or that we're only interested in saying "no."
They think that we're interested only in keeping people from getting motion picture content. The truth is that we're in the business of making motion pictures, and marketing and distributing motion pictures. We want people to have it worldwide. But we want them to have it legitimately.
Part of our challenge is to view the Pirate Party, and those who support it, as a market competitor. We have to make sure that we, as an industry, are as attuned to the marketplace as they are.
The Pirate Party in Sweden has plans to spread the anticopyright movement all over the world. Does it worry you that that some people see the issue of copyright as an attempt by Hollywood to suppress information and are painting piracy as a crusade?
Garfield: It is a concern. Part of our challenge is to view the Pirate Party, and those who support it, as a market competitor. We have to make sure that we, as an industry, are as attuned to the marketplace as they are. We have to be steadfast to respond to market wishes. We also shouldn't close our eyes to it, and we will be responsive to it.
Do you think that the Pirate Party's attempts to battle you guys at the ballot box is a legitimate way to work out these issues?
Garfield: There's nothing about what the Pirate Bay does or what the Pirate Party does that is legitimate. There's nothing philosophically principled about it. They steal copyright content and accept advertising dollars based on taking other people's work. There's nothing noble about it.
What's your technology background?
Garfield: Initially, working at a law firm, I had an interest in working with technology. What was important was that I got into this area very early, in 1998 or 1999, when a lot of these things were developing.
I knew that to understand what the best legal arguments were, I needed a deep understanding of the technology, and so I always tried to surround myself with people who understood it very well. So I'm not a technologist by training, by any stretch of the imagination, but I ask a lot of questions and sought out people who understand it.
Have you seen, among the file-sharing applications, any that could one day be a friend to Hollywood?
Garfield: It's not our role to endorse any particular technology, but I've seen a ton of stuff that could bring us great value. Already, BitTorrent has real value, because it's a really efficient way of transferring large files over the Internet. This is a big problem.
For us, BitTorrent holds real promise because our stuff is really large. It's hard to predict now where this will be 5 or 10 years down the road, but the potential is promising.
When you think that the motion picture industry, on a worldwide basis, is unique in that we are the dominant audiovisual art form in almost every country around the world--and delivering our content around the world requires real know-how--there is a real infrastructure around getting a movie that is premiering in the United States to countries around the world.
And technologies will help us do this more efficiently. For example, the rollout of digital cinema--that will help us go to places that don't necessarily have the infrastructure to get our content right now.
What about BitTorrent tracker sites, like TorrentSpy and Isohunt? A judge has ruled that TorrentSpy has to turn over information from its RAM over to the MPAA. Are you going to continue to go after these sites?
Garfield: Yes. I think our strategy has always been multifaceted. It will include litigation, but it will also include technology development (of security applications), and partnering with third parties, and creating real, legitimate alternatives to piracy. And all the studios are working very hard at this individually.
Just a year and a half ago, they invested a significant amount of money in creating MovieLabs to help them with the technological development. We will continue the legal efforts here, but it will always be supported by the efforts to give consumers a legitimate and attractive way to download movies.
Canadian Judge Orders Removal of Rant on YouTube
Stan Hall is mad at his lawyer. And he wanted to tell the world.
So, with a video camera and an Internet connection, he ranted about his treatment by a London law firm and posted it on YouTube.
But a judge said yesterday those postings go too far.
In a decision thought to be a first in local legal circles, the London judge agreed with a motion brought by Hall's lawyer to order the YouTube posts removed.
In the clips posted last month, Hall speaks out in the reports about his dissatisfaction with lawyer Paul Ledroit.
The grainy image shows Hall, cigarette in hand, venting anger over the handling of an insurance claim after he and his wife lost everything in a fire.
The Halls had a home and a general store in Dashwood. It burned in February 2006.
Since then, Hall has been battling insurance companies for a settlement in the case.
He hired Ledroit to handle his interests, but isn't happy with the work or his bill.
Ledroit, who wants off the case, asked the court to order Hall to remove the postings.
The lawyer's motion to be taken off the case goes to court Oct. 2.
But Hall and his wife object to Ledroit's removal from the case because they say they've paid him a lot of money.
Superior Court Justice William Jenkins reviewed the computer postings.
"I find that it includes unproven allegations that Mr. Ledroit and his law firm are incompetent and dishonest," Jenkins said in his decision.
Jenkins ruled the postings would cause lawyer Paul Ledroit and his law firm "significant and irreparable damage" if left for public viewing.
Jenkins ordered the clips removed and that Hall not post anything else until the court says he can.
The law firm, Ledroit Beckett, declined comment.
Hall, a London realtor, hasn't worked in two years. He says he's been ill since the fire and takes a lot of prescription drugs.
Hall has been a failed candidate in London civic elections.
He said he's still trying to decide if he will follow the judge's order.
He said he takes the judge's order seriously, but "one has to listen to your own mind and decide if it's worth it.
"Does anyone really care about little Stan Hall -- the David versus Goliath?" he said.
"I'm the one who's going to go to jail, and I'm the one who has to suffer all the repercussions if I choose to disobey.
"If I choose to obey it, they've won," he said.
The Man Who Dared to Sell AutoCAD R14 on eBay
For seven years a soft-spoken Seattle resident by the name of Timothy S. Vernor made a decent living selling stuff on eBay. Mostly he sold vintage comic books, but also whatever else he could get cheap and pass along to a waiting market.
Vernor has over 10,000 positive comments and a 99+% positive rating. Then he listed a copy of AutoCAD Release 14. That was the beginning of the nightmare for Timothy Vernor.
Autodesk filed a notice with eBay claiming Vernor violated their rights by trying to sell Autodesk software at auction. It is eBay policy to remove a listing first and ask questions later when a software company protests a listing. Vernor appealed and was relisted. He did this five times, for five different copies of R14 that came into his possession. Each time Autodesk appealed, the auction was pulled, Vernor appealed, and the auction was reinstated. After the fifth time, eBay suspended his seller account, leaving him without access to what had become his sole source of livelihood.
It took Vernor 30 days to convince eBay he was not a criminal and to have his seller account reinstated. Most people would have decided to stay far far away from anything with the word “Autodesk” on it at this point. But Timothy Vernor is not most people. He believes the law is on his side and that Autodesk is behaving badly. After studying things out on his own, Vernor walked the few blocks from his apartment to the nearest branch of the US District Court and sued Autodesk. Without a lawyer.
It took 60 days, Vernor told 3D CAD News, for the court “to decide I wasn’t a wacko” and allow Vernor’s case to move forward. Autodesk has now been sent a summons and has 60 days to respond.
Why does Mr. Vernor think he has a case against the world’s biggest CAD company? Here are his words, from a press release he wrote and sent out to various media outlets he found by doing some research:
A lawsuit has been filed in Federal Court (US District Court for the Western Washington District C07-1189 JLR) that alleges Autodesk, Inc., maker of the industry standard AutoCAD software and their attorney Andrew S. Mackay have devised an illegal scheme to have used copies of their software removed from the eBay site using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Autodesk attorney Andrew S. Mackey scours Seattle looking for Timothy Vernor.
The law passed in 1998 was designed to give intellectual property rights owners a way to have content removed from the Internet that violates copyright law. An example would be a television show uploaded to YouTube without permission from the production company. The right to sell an item that has been legally purchased is protected under copyright law. The first sale doctrine allows an individual to transfer (i.e. sell, giveaway etc.) a lawfully made copy of an item without permission once it has been obtained. The doctrine has been part of US law since the Supreme Court recognized it in 1908 and covers everything from books and DVDs to clothing and automobiles.
Autodesk is using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have legal copies of their software removed from eBay so they can sell more new copies. The latest version of AutoCAD software is around $4,000 a copy. Autodesk's lawyer, Andrew S. Mackay states "AutoCAD software is licensed not sold and that license is not transferable." AutoCAD software is available for purchase at most major software retailers. There is no indication your purchase would be different from any other until you get it home and open the box. There is a piece of paper tucked inside that says it is a licensing agreement with the statement "by opening the sealed software packet(s), you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions of this license agreement." This is called a "shrink wrap" contract. It cannot be read until you open the package which according to the contract constitutes agreement. US courts have not held a "shrink wrap" contract to be valid. Furthermore the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is only intended to enforce copyright violations, not breach of contract.
Vernor says his lawsuit is about more than simply teaching Autodesk a lesson, although that’s part of it. “These people didn’t take me seriously,” Vernor told us in an interview. “But the real reason is that this lawsuit is about eBay and intellectual property.” Vernor says Autodesk is not the only company to demand that eBay remove one of his auctions. Monster Cable, various textbook publishers and even name-brand apparel companies have done it as well. Vernor sees it all as egregious misapplications of laws regarding the ability to protect intellectual property. “It is too easy for a company to say an auction infringes on its intellectual property; anyone can file such a complaint.”
It seems Vernor is not alone in thinking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is being misused. The Electronic Freedom Foundation has a long article detailing ways it believes the DMCA is being misused, including the kind of software reselling Vernor attempted.
Faithful CAD scribe Owen Wengerd has posted access to the court documents in this case; head to http://www.adskvoda.com/NewsFeed/tab...7/Default.aspx if you want the gory details.
VIACOM SITUATION UPDATE:
YouTube Has Restored My Clip
It will be two weeks ago tomorrow since YouTube notified me that it had pulled the clip I had uploaded from VH1's show Web Junk 2.0 featuring my first school board commercial. VH1's parent company Viacom had considered it an infringement of copyright and requested that YouTube to act accordingly. Later that same day I filed a counter-notification claim with YouTube, arguing that I should be entitled to use the clip because it was a derivative product built on material that I was the original creator of. The incident received quite a bit of publicity after I posted about it on this blog.
A little after 9 p.m. tonight I received the following e-mail from YouTube:
In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we've completed processing your counter-notification dated x/xx/xx regarding your video
This content has been restored and your account will not be penalized.
The YouTube Team
And sure enough, the clip is back up.
Very special thanks to Fred von Lohmann and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their terrific assistance in this matter! Folks, I cannot begin to describe how impressed I have become with the Electronic Frontier Foundation because of this. Theirs has been the kind of service that is so rare to witness nowadays that when you do see it, it practically comes as a shock. There's no telling how much grief and headache that Fred and his crew have prevented not just for me, but for a lot of other people also. And if you find that you are capable of doing so, I would really like to suggest making a contribution to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This is one organization that really does merit a tremendous amount of respect for the work that it does.
There is more that I'm feeling led to say about this, but that'll have to wait to be appended to this post or on a new one tomorrow. But I wanted to go ahead and let it be known that the situation is now, apparently and very thankfully, resolved.
EDIT 9:33 a.m. EST:
There is something that I feel compelled to say now that this situation is apparently resolved for good. Something that I've been yearning to scream almost since this whole thing started...
At no point have I ever seen this, or even desired to see this, as a "get Viacom" thing. And I seriously regret that some people saw this incident as an opportunity to lash out at that company for sake of spite or profit or whatever.
Doubt it not: there's been a huge amount of frustration on this end for the past two weeks. But it's been such great irony that I've had to laugh about it too.
I've got nothing against Viacom. And I wish that nobody else would have anything against Viacom, either. Life's way too short to spend even a moment of it wanting to hurt others.
Believe me, I know from firsthand experience: bitterness will only reap regret.
Big companies are made up of people, too. Yeah, I know that a lot of big companies have screwed plenty of things up. But that's only because collective might magnifies the flaws that are already in every human being on the planet. And despite that apparent strength in numbers, you have to make yourself realize that it's not some corporate leviathan that you're in disagreement with, but the people within it... and it's altogether possible that you and they are more alike than you realize.
Ya see, we've made it all too easy to hate "them". It’s a hard thing to hate an individual person. But make that person a Viacom executive, or a Democrat or Republican, or a Protestant or Catholic, or a Muslim or Jew, or whatever, by de-humanizing them and sticking them behind some mass façade... and it becomes not just easy to hate them but it's practically expected that we try to destroy them!
I don't hate Viacom, no matter what's happened in the past few weeks. And I hope that nobody else does either, for this or for any other reason. So if you do, please stop.
Man has spent six thousand years struggling with law and how to comprehend it. We still haven't got it down pat. And then things like the Internet and digital media come and muck it up even more. I sincerely believe that's what happened here: Viacom and I converged on untrotted soil, in a way that to the best of my knowledge had never happened before. Fortunately, we got out (and once again I would like to thank Fred von Lohmann and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their assistance with this situation).
In a way, I'm sort of glad that this happened. Just as I'm glad that I ran for school board even though I didn't win a seat. This Viacom/YouTube deal is something that I learned a lot from, and came out a better person for it. It's made me much more aware of things like copyright law and the DMCA (and the myriad of problems with that legislation). I think it's safe to say that from this incident I learned quite a lot about my personal strengths and weaknesses. It was a growth event.
And along the way, I got to meet and come to know a lot of good people.
Even the bad... or just the plain crazy... things that happen to you in life, you can find something good to take from them. If you want that.
It doesn't look like this is going to wind up in any kind of litigation, and for that I am thankful. If I can die someday without having sued or been sued, then I will die happy. This ends just as I had hoped it would: with the clip back up and, I like to think, with Viacom and me getting to shake hands and move on and wishing each other well. I'll certainly harbor no hard feelings toward Viacom for the past two weeks.
And I hope that Viacom doesn't think that this means that I want them to stop using my commercial on VH1. I just want to be able to let not only my friends see it but my children and grandchildren someday, which might be after the Web Junk 2.0 site has gone defunct.
Sometime in the next few days I'm going to "collect" the various news stories that appeared online about this thing and post them here, if nothing else than for my own convenience. But also for future reference in case anybody else wants to study what happened with this issue (including arguments that were made against my case... and there were plenty). Along with some other pertinent documentation, such as the DMCA counter-notification claim that I filed, which I would welcome others to study and scrutinize and if they feel so led, to criticize (hey, it was my first one :-).
2Clix Sues Whirlpool Founder
Whirlpool founder Simon Wright is being sued by accounting software firm 2Clix Australia Pty Ltd (ACN 118 044 198) for alleged "injurious falsehood".
The Statement of Claim from the company alleges that Simon Wright allowed statements "relating to the Plaintiff and its software product that are both false and malicious" to be published on the Whirlpool forums.
2Clix is suing for at least $150,000 (plus costs), and is demanding that two forum threads be removed from the site.
Whirlpool believes the action has no merit and will defend the matter vigorously, despite being a community website with little resources.
Simon Wright, the moderators and Whirlpool's legal team ask that users respect Simon's right to a fair trial and not prejudice his case. Users should refrain from doing anything that might expose Simon to contempt of court such as making statements that prejudge the outcome of the case. Please keep any comments polite and factual.
Microsoft Sued by Beijing Student for Privacy Infringement
Beijing university student is suing Microsoft for infringing upon his privacy, demanding 1,350 yuan (180 U.S. dollars) in compensation and an apology printed in a national newspaper.
Peking University student Lu Feng said he installed Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage software according to prompts from the Windows XP operating system on his laptop only to find the program enabled Microsoft to gather information about his computer and himself, rather than solely checking whether or not the installed Windows XP system was genuine.
Lu argued that Microsoft had violated his legal rights by providing a formal contract which had to be accepted in order to proceed with the installation.
Lu wants the court to annul the WGA installation agreement, order Microsoft to delete all his personal information and provide a software tool that can uninstall the program.
A spokesman with Microsoft China told Xinhua, "We have only just received this filing, have not had the opportunity to review it and therefore cannot comment on the specifics of the allegations.
"What we can say is that Microsoft is fully committed to letting customers control their personal information."
Google Calls for International Standards on Internet Privacy
Google, a frequent target of privacy advocates, yesterday called for new international standards on the collection and use of consumer data.
Peter Fleischer, global privacy counsel for Google, told a U.N. audience in Strasbourg, France, that fragmentary international privacy laws burden companies and don't protect consumers. He argued for an international body such as the United Nations to create standards that individual countries could then adopt and adapt to fit their needs.
"The ultimate goal should be to create minimum standards of privacy protection that meet the expectations and demands of consumers, businesses and governments," Fleischer said, according to a transcript of the speech provided by Google.
Google has been criticized for its privacy policies and its planned $3.1 billion merger with DoubleClick, an online advertising broker that sells banner and video ads. To target their advertising, both Google, which specializes in text ads, and DoubleClick collect information on which sites users visit. Critics argue that the merger would hurt competition in online advertising, and that it would aggregate too much consumer data in the hands of one company.
The European Union is currently investigating Google's privacy practices.
"Google, under investigation for violating global privacy standards, is calling for international privacy standards," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a critic of the DoubleClick merger. "It's somewhat like someone being caught for speeding saying there should be a public policy to regulate speeding."
Google says it has remained at the forefront of protecting consumer privacy. It was the first company to implement an expiration date for collected data. Google strips identifying information from its search logs after 18 months, the same standard that Microsoft now uses. Yahoo and AOL keep user data for 13 months, and Ask.com announced in July that it would give users an option to prevent its search engine from recording search terms and IP addresses.
"The key concept is user control," said Alissa Cooper, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocate whose funding comes from foundations, corporations and trade associations. The center is working with a group of U.S. firms, including Google, to create national privacy protection standards for the industry that it plans to submit to Congress.
Comprehensive legislation relating to privacy issues has not yet made it through the full House or Senate. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, submitted a bill in February intended to increase consumer privacy safeguards. In the Senate, Judiciary committee leaders Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) have also introduced a comprehensive privacy bill.
In his speech, Fleischer criticized the U.S. privacy law model as being "too complex and too much of a patchwork," because different laws apply to different industries and vary by state. He called the European Union model "too bureaucratic and inflexible."
Fleischer instead advocated something closer to the privacy framework developed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which Fleischer said "balances very carefully information privacy with business needs and commercial interests."
But critics say that the APEC standards are too lenient.
"The APEC guidelines are far below what Google would be expected to do in Europe or the United States," Rotenberg said. They "don't address the critical problem of limiting data collection, which is the key point in the dispute over Google's business practices."
Guidelines developed in 1980 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international body of developed countries, generally focus on the violation of privacy as a right rather than a demonstration of harm caused by the violation. These standards, which influenced the European Union's privacy laws, are usually preferred by privacy advocates.
Internet Domain Name Outlaw Faces 20 Years in Federal Prison
A Las Vegas man faces about 20 years in prison today after he agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud for impersonating an intellectual property lawyer and threatening lawsuits against the owners of Internet domain names.
According to the FBI, David Scali is charged with registering an e-mail account under an alias and then sending e-mails in which he claimed to be the intellectual property lawyer. In the e-mails, which were sent in late June and early July of 2006, Scali threatened to file $100,000 trademark infringement lawsuits against the owners of various Internet website names unless they gave up their domain name registrations within two days.
Published reports said Scali specialized in going after one-off or domain names with nomenclature similar to big name Web sites.
Cybersquatters who routinely snap up these typo-based domain sites looking to make a quick buck off of other people's hard work is one of the unsavory practices on the Internet.
Ron Jackson, editor and publisher of the online magazine Domain Name Journal, said in a recent interview that with a well-known trademark like a Microsoft, where so many people are trying to get on a given day, a good typo - meaning one that a lot of people would make the error of typing in - could generate thousands of dollars a month. There could be one on a lesser-known brand that has less traffic that maybe makes $10 a month, but some of these guys might hold tens of thousands of domains. If it costs them $10 a year to register a domain, and if they make $5 or $10 a month multiplied across thousands of domains, it becomes a significant amount of money, he said.
Microsoft earlier this year filed two new lawsuits against companies it accuses of registering domain names similar to certain of its trademarks. It alleged that the companies intentionally registered domain names with variations of its trademarks, a practice known as cybersquatting, or misspellings of those names, known as typosquatting. Often, domains registered in this way point to Web pages containing advertisements that, if clicked upon, generate revenue for the owner of the domain. Microsoft said the practice is deceptive and confusing for users. Microsoft will receive damages from some companies, it said.
In Scali's case the wire fraud count in the criminal information filed this morning concerns a victim who surrendered an Internet domain name very similar to citysearch.com
The wire fraud charge carries a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The plea agreement contemplates a sentence ranging from probation to six months in custody, ultimately the sentencing judge will make the final decision as to what Scali's sentence will receive, the FBI says.
Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism
One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)
The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.
For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”
But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit.
“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.
“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said.
One of Rand’s most famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whose memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” will be officially released Monday.
Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”
Rand’s free-market philosophy was hard won. She was born in 1905 in Russia. Her life changed overnight when the Bolsheviks broke into her father’s pharmacy and declared his livelihood the property of the state. She fled the Soviet Union in 1926 and arrived later that year in Hollywood, where she peered through a gate at the set where the director Cecil B. DeMille was filming a silent movie, “King of Kings.”
He offered her a ride to the set, then a job as an extra on the film and later a position as a junior screenwriter. She sold several screenplays and intermittently wrote novels that were commercial failures, until 1943, when fans of “The Fountainhead” began a word-of-mouth campaign that helped sales immensely.
Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”
Rand’s magazine, The Objectivist, later published several essays by Mr. Greenspan, including one on the gold standard in 1966.
Rand called “Atlas” a mystery, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit.” It begins in a time of recession. To save the economy, the hero, John Galt, calls for a strike against government interference. Factories, farms and shops shut down. Riots break out as food becomes scarce.
Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”
The book was released to terrible reviews. Critics faulted its length, its philosophy and its literary ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of “greed is good.” Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.
Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, Mr. Britting confirmed, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one.
“She wasn’t a nice person, ” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”
Ms. Moore, a benefactor of the University of South Carolina, spoke of her debt to Rand in 1998, when the business school at the university was named in Ms. Moore’s honor. “As a woman and a Southerner,” she said, “I thrived on Rand’s message that only quality work counted, not who you are.”
Rand’s idea of “the virtue of selfishness,” Ms. Moore said, “is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself.”
Some business leaders might be unsettled by the idea that the only thing members of the leadership class have in common is their success. James M. Kilts, who led turnarounds at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, said he encountered “Atlas” at “a time in college life when everybody was a nihilist, anti-establishment, and a collectivist.” He found her writing reassuring because it made success seem rational.
“Rand believed that there is right and wrong,” he said, “that excellence should be your goal.”
John P. Stack is one business executive who has taken Rand’s ideas to heart. He was chief executive of Springfield Remanufacturing Company, a retooler of tractor engines in Springfield, Mo., when its parent company, International Harvester, divested itself of the firm in the recession of 1982, the year Rand died.
Having lost his sole customer in a struggling Rust Belt city, Mr. Stack says, he took action like a hero out of “Atlas.” He created an “open book” company in which employees were transparently working in their own interest.
Mr. Stack says that he assigned every job a bottom line value and that every salary, including his own, was posted on a company ticker daily. Workplaces, he said, are notoriously undemocratic, emotionally charged and political.
Mr. Stack says his free market replaced all that with rational behavior. A machinist knew exactly what his working hour contributed to the bottom line, and therefore the cost of slacking off. This, Mr. Stack said, was a manifestation of the philosophy of objectivism in “Atlas”: people guided by reason and self-interest.
“There is something in your inner self that Rand draws out,” Mr. Stack said. “You want to be a hero, you want to be right, but by the same token you have to question yourself, though you must not listen to interference thrown at you by the distracters. The lawyers told me not to open the books and share equity.” He said he defied them. “ ‘Atlas’ helped me pursue this idiot dream that became SRC.”
Mr. Stack said he was 19 and working in a factory when a manager gave him a copy of the book. “It’s the best business book I ever read,” he said. “I didn’t do well in school because I was a big dreamer. To get something that tells you to take your dreams seriously, that’s an eye opener.”
Mr. Stack said he gave a copy to his son, Tim Stack, 25, who was so inspired that he went to work for a railroad, just like the novel’s heroine, Dagny Taggart.
Every year, 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels are offered free to Advanced Placement high school programs. They are paid for by the Ayn Rand Institute, whose director, Yaron Brook, said the mission was “to keep Rand alive.”
Last year, bookstores sold 150,000 copies of the book. It continues to hold appeal, even to a younger generation. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who was born in 1958, and John P. Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods, who was 3 when the book was published, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success.
The book’s hero, John Galt, also continues to live on. The subcontractor hired to demolish the former Deutsche Bank building, which was damaged when the World Trade Center towers fell, was the John Galt Corporation. It was removed from the job last month after a fire at the building killed two firefighters.
In Chicago, there is John Galt Solutions, a producer of software for supply chain companies like Tastykake. The founder and chief executive of the company, Annemarie Omrod, said she considered the character an inspiration.
“We were reading the book,” she said, when she and Kai Trepte were thinking of starting the company. “For us, the book symbolized the importance of growing yourself and bettering yourself without hindering other people. John Galt took all the great minds and started a new society.
“Some of our customers don’t know the name, though after they meet us, they want to read the book,” she went on. “Our sales reps have a problem, however. New clients usually ask: ‘Hey, where is John Galt? How come I’m not important enough to rate a visit from John Galt?’ ”
Stories With Mysterious Worlds, Specialized Rules and Inchoate Dangers
VANILLA BRIGHT LIKE EMINEM
By Michel Faber
246 pages. Harcourt. $23.
In a short story called “Mouse,” part of Michel Faber’s poignantly eerie new collection, “Vanilla Bright Like Eminem,” he writes of a myopic video-gamer named Manny and the strange little world he inhabits. Manny is one of 60,000 guys who share an obsessive online passion for a game called “Runner” and for Lena, its hot-looking virtual heroine. Manny is hooked on watching Lena as she outruns guard dogs, secret police and sociopaths while fighting her way out of the former Soviet bloc. Players guide her past these dangers, enjoying the way each attack shreds more of her clothing. If one of them foolishly lets a tank run over Lena, it’s Game Over.
Manny is grappling with a maddening software screw-up when he hears an unfamiliar sound: the ringing of his doorbell. He opens the door to find a real, live gorgeous woman who actually needs his help. Her problem involves a mouse, and it’s not the kind that has to be pried out of the hands of video-gamers. It’s a living, breathing furry thing that is running around her apartment and scaring her.
Manny would catch and kill the mouse if he could. But it’s not that simple. The beautiful woman follows the precepts of an exotic, Minneapolis-based religious group. She believes a mouse may be a recycled soul, one that Manny should not extinguish. This woman’s rules for living are every bit as intricate as the “Runner” code, and suddenly Manny is caught up in a new kind of reality: the immediate kind. The woman’s apartment has the same floor plan as Manny’s, making his newly altered state that much trippier. By the end of “Mouse,” Manny’s computer habit seems poised to undergo ineradicable change.
This is one way of saying that when Mr. Faber, who wrote the intoxicating novel “The Crimson Petal and the White,” shoehorns the name Eminem into the title of a literary short-story collection, he isn’t overreaching. Naming his book “Vanilla Bright Like Eminem” is not an affectation. These stories blend darkly phantasmagoric elements with humorously commonplace ones, and Eminem makes a perfectly good avatar for that kind of thinking. One of the best stories in this odd and haunting book, “Beyond Pain,” describes what happens when a heavy-metal drummer gets a headache, looks around at his life, realizes he is sick of pretending to be a tough guy called Morpheus, and slides into a wholly different world. In his new realm, Blaha and Fleps are proper names, and the background music is “Loch Lomond.”
Convention dictates that a short-story collection should begin with its heaviest hitter. But this book doesn’t: It starts with “The Safehouse,” an anomalously heavy-handed tale of dislocation that shows signs of the “Twilight Zone” trickery that is this book’s least interesting element. It follows a man through a world in which lost souls’ T-shirts provide precise, coded explanations of what is wrong with them, using “fearsome strings of algebra” to describe traumas. One mathematical-looking formula turns out to signify “birthday present sent by father, withheld by mother and never mentioned.”
Eventually, the main character finds his way to the safe house of the title and withdraws into a cocoon of institutional protection. That resolution comes too easily, but “The Safehouse” is followed by a much more snarkily imaginative tale: “Andy Comes Back,” in which a long-comatose man returns from his limbo to throw a figurative monkey wrench at his wife. Once she realizes that her husband can speak again, she smiles “a grin of infinite foolishness and shock, as if she were the victim of a surprise birthday party on the wrong day.” Try as she must to be gracious, her manner is terribly revealing. “She reached across the bed and embraced him awkwardly,” Mr. Faber writes, “like a member of the Royal Family embracing a deformed child.”
Along with every one of the main characters here, Andy reaches some point of change by the end of the story. But these are not cheap epiphanies; they are genuinely odd and stirring changes of heart. In “Finesse,” a delicately balanced tale that lives up to the meaning of its title, a dying dictator summons a female doctor and demands that she perform delicate surgery on him. The dictator and doctor may not seem evenly matched in this negotiation, but they are. She holds his life in her hands; he holds her husband and children as prisoners. The dictator hints menacingly that he will enjoy reuniting this family only if it occurs “as a high point of my convalescence.”
The doctor and dictator spar through their elegant war of words, as when she warns him to beware of germs. (“A soldier’s belt buckle can kill you — and not just in the way that is usual in our country.”) And as they trade barbs, dreams of the dictator’s miraculous survival and the doctor’s happy family turn shaky “like a child’s castle of blocks between them, ready to collapse at a single clumsy step.” Mr. Faber, who remains a writer capable of invoking all manner of inchoate dangers, teases this story toward a realization that life-or-death power is beyond both of them.
The title story succinctly captures crosscurrents of love and loathing, the forces that are at war throughout this book. A family of loutish American tourists snoozes on a train ride through the Scottish Highlands (where the Dutch-born Mr. Faber now lives). The father, Don, himself dressed in ludicrous cargo pants, resents the hip-hop affectations of his 15-year-old son. And the kid has obnoxiously defended his right to mimic Eminem’s hairdo.
Yet as the oafish boy dozes, his father is suddenly enraptured by all that bottle blondness and by the way his daughter combs her brother’s hair so tenderly. Mr. Faber is both cruel and credible as he declares this moment to be the high point of the father’s life. And pity trumps contempt in Mr. Faber’s vision of where each member of this family is headed.
Reshaping the Architecture of Memory
The ability to cram more data into less space on a memory chip or a hard drive has been the crucial force propelling consumer electronics companies to make ever smaller devices.
It shrank the mainframe computer to fit on the desktop, shrank it again to fit on our laps and again to fit into our shirt pockets.
Now, if an idea that Stuart S. P. Parkin is kicking around in an I.B.M. lab here is on the money, electronic devices could hold 10 to 100 times the data in the same amount of space. That means the iPod that today can hold up to 200 hours of video could store every single TV program broadcast during a week on 120 channels.
The tech world, obsessed with data density, is taking notice because Mr. Parkin has done it before. An I.B.M. research fellow largely unknown outside a small fraternity of physicists, Mr. Parkin puttered for two years in a lab in the early 1990s, trying to find a way to commercialize an odd magnetic effect of quantum mechanics he had observed at supercold temperatures. With the help of a research assistant, he was able to alter the magnetic state of tiny areas of a magnetic data storage disc, making it possible to store and retrieve information in a smaller amount of space. The huge increases in digital storage made possible by giant magnetoresistance, or GMR, made consumer audio and video iPods, as well as Google-style data centers, a reality.
Mr. Parkin thinks he is poised to bring about another breakthrough that could increase the amount of data stored on a chip or a hard drive by a factor of a hundred. If he proves successful in his quest, he will create a “universal” computer memory, one that can potentially replace dynamic random access memory, or DRAM, and flash memory chips, and even make a “disk drive on a chip” possible.
It could begin to replace flash memory in three to five years, scientists say. Not only would it allow every consumer to carry data equivalent to a college library on small portable devices, but a tenfold or hundredfold increase in memory would be disruptive enough to existing storage technologies that it would undoubtedly unleash the creativity of engineers who would develop totally new entertainment, communication and information products.
Currently the flash storage chip business is exploding. Used as storage in digital cameras, cellphones and PCs, the commercially available flash drives with multiple memory chips store up to 64 gigabytes of data. Capacity is expected to reach about 50 gigabytes on a single chip in the next half-decade.
However, flash memory has an Achilles’ heel. Although it can read data quickly, it is very slow at storing it. That has led the industry on a frantic hunt for alternative storage technologies that might unseat flash.
Mr. Parkin’s new approach, referred to as “racetrack memory,” could outpace both solid-state flash memory chips as well as computer hard disks, making it a technology that could transform not only the storage business but the entire computing industry.
“Finally, after all these years, we’re reaching fundamental physics limits,” he said. “Racetrack says we’re going to break those scaling rules by going into the third dimension.”
His idea is to stand billions of ultrafine wire loops around the edge of a silicon chip — hence the name racetrack — and use electric current to slide infinitesimally small magnets up and down along each of the wires to be read and written as digital ones and zeros.
His research group is able to slide the tiny magnets along notched nanowires at speeds greater than 100 meters a second. Since the tiny magnetic domains have to travel only submolecular distances, it is possible to read and write magnetic regions with different polarization as quickly as a single nanosecond, or one billionth of a second — far faster than existing storage technologies.
If the racetrack idea can be made commercial, he will have done what has so far proved impossible — to take microelectronics completely into the third dimension and thus explode the two-dimensional limits of Moore’s Law, the 1965 observation by Gordon E. Moore, a co-founder of Intel, that decrees that the number of transistors on a silicon chip doubles roughly every 18 months.
Just as with Mr. Parkin’s earlier work in GMR, there is no shortage of skeptics at this point.
Giant storage companies like Seagate Technology are starting to turn toward flash to create a generation of hybrid storage systems that combine silicon and rotating disk technologies for speed and capacity. But Seagate is still looking in the two-dimensional realm for future advances.
“There are a lot of neat technologies, but you have to be able to make them cost-effectively,” said Bill Watkins, Seagate’s chief executive.
So far, the racetrack idea is far from the Best Buy shelves and it is very much still in Mr. Parkin’s laboratory here. His track record, however, suggests that the storage industry might do well to take notice of the implications of his novel nanowire-based storage system in the not too distant future.
“Stuart marches to a little bit of a different drummer, but that’s what it takes to have enough courage to go off the beaten path,” said James S. Harris, an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University and co-director of the I.B.M.-Stanford Spintronic Science and Applications Center.
A visit to Mr. Parkin’s crowded office reveals him to be a 51-year-old British-American scientist for whom the term hyperactive is a modest understatement at best. During interviews he is constantly in motion. When he speaks publicly at scientific gatherings, his longtime technology assistant, Kevin Roche, is careful to see that Mr. Parkin empties the change from his pockets, lest he distract his audience with the constant jingling of coins and keys.
Today, a number of industry analysts think there are important parallels between Mr. Parkin’s earlier GMR research and his new search for racetrack materials.
“We’re on the verge of exciting new memory architectures, and his is one of the leading candidates,” said Richard Doherty, director of the Envisioneering Group, a computing and consumer electronics consulting firm based in Seaford, N.Y.
Mr. Parkin said he had recently shifted his focus and now thought that his racetracks might be competitive with other storage technologies even if they were laid horizontally on a silicon chip.
I.B.M. executives are cautious about the timing of the commercial introduction of the technology. But ultimately, the technology may have even more dramatic implications than just smaller music players or wristwatch TVs, said Mark Dean, vice president for systems at I.B.M. Research.
“Something along these lines will be very disruptive,” he said. “It will not only change the way we look at storage, but it could change the way we look at processing information. We’re moving into a world that is more data-centric than computing-centric.”
This is just a hint, but it suggests that I.B.M. may think that racetrack memory could blur the line between storage and computing, providing a key to a new way to search for data, as well as store and retrieve data.
And if it is, Mr. Parkin’s experimental physics lab will have transformed the computing world yet again.
For Google’s Founders, a Coveted Landing Strip
In the annals of perks enjoyed by America’s corporate executives, the founders of Google may have set a new standard: an uncrowded, federally managed runway for their private jet that is only a few minutes’ drive from their offices.
For $1.3 million a year, Larry Page and Sergey Brin get to park their customized wide-body Boeing 767-200, as well as two other jets used by top Google executives, on Moffett Field, an airport run by NASA that is generally closed to private aircraft.
It is a perk that is likely to turn other Silicon Valley tycoons green with envy, as no other private jets have landing rights there. But it may not sit well with a community that generally considers itself proud to have Google in its midst.
How did the two billionaires get such a coveted parking place for the jet, which is unusually large and rare by private jet standards? Officials at the Ames Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the agency signed a unique agreement last month that allows it to place scientific instruments and researchers on planes used by the Google founders. NASA gets to collect scientific data on some flights of those jets, which in addition to the Boeing 767-200 includes two Gulfstream Vs.
“It was an opportunity for us to defray some of the fixed costs we have to maintain the airfield as well as to have flights of opportunity for our science missions,” said Steven Zornetzer, associate director for institutions and research at the Ames Center. “It seemed like a win-win situation.”
NASA said it had already run one mission on one Gulfstream V, to observe the Aurigid meteor shower on Aug. 31.
Moffett Field is nearly adjacent to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and the four-mile drive between the two locations takes just seven minutes, according to Google Maps. Other Silicon Valley executives have to fight traffic to get to their large jets parked at the San Francisco or San Jose international airports or even farther away.
Two private aviation industry executives said that parking two Gulfstream Vs at San Francisco or San Jose airports would cost $240,000 to $360,000 a year, or more, depending on the parking location and the amount of fuel purchased. As for the Boeing, one of the executives, who asked not to be identified because his wealthy clients insist on privacy, said that most private jet facilities at large airports are not equipped to take in a jet that big. “It’s like if you lived in a condo and decided to own a semi,” he said.
The agreement is raising questions from local officials and community activists, who have a long history of opposing the expansion of flights at Moffett Field, a historic airport that was once under the supervision of the United States Navy, but was transferred to NASA in 1994.
“The Google flights represent the possibility that the camel’s nose is under the tent, and that NASA is looking at opening up the use of the runways to help pay for it,” said Lenny Siegel, director of the Pacific Studies Center, a local nonprofit group that over the years has opposed proposed expansions of civilian flights at Moffett Field. “The majority of the people in the community are against that.”
Mr. Siegel said he was hoping NASA would provide clear answers about the agreement. “If they are doing science missions, that’s O.K.,” Mr. Siegel said. “If they are doing it just because they are rich and popular, it is not O.K.”
Google and Ames Research Center have agreements to collaborate on research, as well as a preliminary plan for Google to build as much as a million square feet of space at Ames. The deal for the planes, which are not owned by Google, was unrelated to the Google agreements, Mr. Zornetzer said. It was signed with H211, a limited liability corporation that counts Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, as one of its principals. The ownership of the planes is held by other affiliated companies.
Google, for its part, said that this is a personal matter involving the founders, who were not available to comment. Ken Ambrose, whom NASA identified as a representative of H211, did not return calls seeking comment.
“This is not a new issue,” said Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat, whose district includes Moffett Field. “You have to live with your neighbors. You are not out in the middle of the desert. You are in the heart of Silicon Valley.”
The planes’ presence at Moffett Field was first reported last week by the technology gossip blog Valleywag. Some details of the agreement were reported Wednesday in The San Francisco Chronicle and The Palo Alto Daily News.
The Google founders’ jet has been the talk of Silicon Valley since 2005, when the pair purchased the plane, which in a normal configuration can hold 180 passengers.
A year later, attention on the plane intensified after The Wall Street Journal wrote about a legal dispute between the owners and a contractor who was hired to refurbish it. In the article, the contractor described requests for modifying the plane to include California king-size beds for the founders. At one point, the founders asked whether hammocks could be hung from the ceiling. The contractor said that Mr. Schmidt had described the jet as “party airplane.”
The extravagance of the plane stands in contrast to the low-key image cut by Mr. Brin and Mr. Page, whose lifestyle is less flashy than that of other Silicon Valley billionaires. They have been intensely private about the plane as they have been about all details of their private lives. Ever since the Navy decided to close operations at Moffett Field in the early 1990s, local communities have been opposed to expanding the airport’s use. In 1992, in nonbinding votes in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of opening up Moffett Field to general aviation. A plan to open the field to air cargo companies like FedEx and U.P.S. was rejected in the late 1990s, in part because of community opposition.
Mr. Zornetzer said NASA was not expecting the deal to create a large number of new flights at Moffett. While two other private parties — a helicopter operator and Lockheed Martin — are allowed to use the airfield, none of those agreements cover flights of private jets. NASA said it had no agreements allowing private jets to land at any of its other facilities. As news of the jet’s presence at Moffett Field spread, private jet owners and operators have begun coveting the airfield.
“Everyone who operates private jets or owns them has been eyeing that gorgeous runway eager to take off from there,” said Nicholas Solinger, chief strategy officer for Xojet, a private aviation company. Mr. Solinger said Moffett was far better situated for most Silicon Valley executives than the airports at San Jose and San Francisco. “People will now redouble their efforts to get access to that airfield,” he said.
Even in a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Matters
IT’S payday for Janine Hawkins. Not in the real world, where she is a student at Nipissing University in Ontario, but in the online world of Second Life, where she is managing editor of the fashion magazine Second Style.
Ms. Hawkins, who in Second Life takes on the persona of Iris Ophelia, a beauty with flowing hair and flawless skin, keeps a list of things she wants to buy: the latest outfits from the virtual fashion mecca Last Call, a new hairstyle from a Japanese designer, slouchy boots. When she receives her monthly salary in Linden dollars, the currency of Second Life, she spends up to four hours shopping, clicking and buying. After a year and a half, she owns 31,540 items.
Living it up in Second Life is a break from Ms. Hawkins’s part-time job as a French translator, but she works just as hard in the virtual world.
Last month, she earned 40,000 Linden dollars ($150), for interviewing designers, arranging fashion shoots and writing about trends in Second Life, called SL by frequent users. “I usually spend what I earn,” Ms. Hawkins said. “It’s entertaining.”
It also says a lot about the real world, especially when it comes to earning and spending money.
When people are given the opportunity to create a fantasy world, they can and do defy the laws of gravity (you can fly in Second Life), but not of economics or human nature. Players in this digital, global game don’t have to work, but many do. They don’t need to change clothes, fix their hair, or buy and furnish a home, but many do. They don’t need to have drinks in their hands at the virtual bar, but they buy cocktails anyway, just to look right, to feel comfortable.
Second Life residents find ways to make money so they can spend it to do things, look impressive, and get more stuff, even if it’s made only of pixels. In a place where people should never have to clean out their closets, some end up devoting hours to organizing their things, purging, even holding yard sales.
“Why can’t we break away from a consumerist, appearance-oriented culture?” said Nick Yee, who has studied the sociology of virtual worlds and recently received a doctorate in communication from Stanford. “What does Second Life say about us, that we trade our consumerist-oriented culture for one that’s even worse?”
Second Life, a three-dimensional world built by hundreds of thousands of users over the Internet, is also being used for education, meetings, marketing and more obvious game playing. It’s a wide world with a lot going on, in multiple languages, and it can be real-life enhancing for populations who are isolated for physical, mental, or geographic reasons. But as a petri dish for examining what makes many of us tick, Second Life reveals just how deep-seated the drive is to fit in, look good and get ahead in a material world.
Many residents have lived the American dream in Second Life, and built Linden-dollar fortunes through entrepreneurship. In what could have been an ideal world, however, or one where anyone could be a Harry Potter, Second Life has an up-and-down economy, mortgage payments, risky investments, land barons, evictions, designer rip-offs, scams and squatters. Not to mention peer pressure.
“Second Life is about getting the better clothes and the bigger build and the reputation as a better builder,” said Julian Dibbell, author of “Play Money,” which chronicles his year of trying to make a living by trading virtual goods in online games. “The basic activity is still the keeping up with the Joneses, or getting ahead of the Joneses, rat race game.”
TO have a Second Life, one needs a computer, the Second Life software, and a high-speed Internet connection. You use a credit card to buy Lindens, and Lindens earned during the game can be converted back into dollars via online currency exchanges. Players start by choosing one of the standard characters, called an avatar, and can roam the world by flying or “teleporting” (click and go). Nobody can go hungry, there is no actual need for warmer clothes or shelter, and there is much to do without buying Lindens.
But walking around in a standard avatar, when there are so many ways to buy a better appearance, is like showing up for the first day of school dressed differently than all the other kids. You stick out as different, as an SL “newbie.”
“It’s hard not to fall into that,” Mr. Yee said. “There are shops everywhere, so it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, O.K., I guess I’ll get a better pair of jeans.’ ”
Second Life was started in 2003 by a Silicon Valley techie inspired by a sci-fi novel, “Snow Crash.” It is owned by a private company called Linden Lab. The original idea of the game was to unleash creativity. Residents don’t have to wear the latest fashions; they don’t have to look — or act — human at all. They can take any animal, robotic, or inanimate form they want.
And while there is a minority population of animal characters, and wearing butterfly wings is currently in vogue for humans, for the most part the population is young women bursting from their blouses and young men bulging with muscle. (Underneath the clothes are cyber genitalia, sold separately. Mark Wallace, a blogger who writes about Second Life, explained that the parts are not fashion accessories but rather “a functional appliance” for, ahem, entertainment purposes.)
While a frequent criticism of Second Life is that spaces are often empty and that there’s “nothing to do,” a crowd can be found at the mall, just as it can in suburbia. For example, the Xcite! store, which sells body parts, is “always crawling with avatars,” said Mr. Wallace, co-author of a forthcoming book, “The Second Life Herald.” Fashion is big business in Second Life, along with entertainment and land development.
Big corporations like Toyota have set up islands in Second Life for marketing. Calvin Klein came up with a virtual perfume. Kraft set up a grocery store featuring its new products. But those destinations are not popular.
“These brands that have this real-world cachet are meaningless in Second Life, so most are ignored,” said Wagner James Au, who blogs and writes books about Second Life. “Just showing up and announcing ‘We’re Calvin Klein’ isn’t going to get you anywhere.” American Apparel closed its virtual clothing shop, and Wells Fargo abandoned the island it had set up to teach about personal finance.
Second Life exclusives do exist: A magic wand was a hot item at one point, and the sex bed is currently in demand. (“If you lie on it with more than one avatar, it’s like you’re in a porn movie,” Mr. Au explained.)
But the more mundane items are what really drive the economy: clothes, gadgetry, night life, real estate. “People buy these huge McMansions in Second Life that are just as ugly as any McMansions in real life, because to them that is what’s status-y,” Mr. Wallace said. “It’s not as easy as we think to let our imaginations run wild, in Second Life or in real life.”
Mitch Ratcliffe, an entrepreneur and blogger, was an early resident of Second Life and built a house with a lake. But he was soon disillusioned with the upkeep involved with owning the property. “I don’t see why I would want my second life to be about the same striving and profit that my first is,” Mr. Ratcliffe wrote in a blog entry about his Second Life adventures. He eventually reincarnated himself as Homeless Hermes.
“People come by, see the user name and tell me how sorry they are that I don’t have a home. Why?” he wrote. “It’s very middle class, very staid in the way economic stigma is attached to a failure to get to work.” In the meantime, Homeless Hermes took up buying and selling virtual land and has pocketed the equivalent of $800.
Land is the biggest-ticket item in Second Life, with Linden Lab selling islands for $1,675, plus a $295-a-month maintenance charge.) Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, a Russian translator in New York who in Second Life is a landlord known as Prokofy Neva, got into the game three years ago and now owns hundreds of apartment buildings, houses and stores that she rents out to about 1,500 tenants who pay from $1.50 a month to $150 a month. She takes several hundred dollars a month out of the game to pay real-world bills. Prokofy Neva herself does not have a house. “If I did, I would rent it out,” she said. “Why not make money from it?”
She has, however, turned over virtual acreage for a land preserve and public use. She and an architect friend were initially entranced by the idea of creating artistic homes that could defy gravity, but they discovered that there wasn’t demand for that in Second Life.
“The average person wants a ranch house or a beach house,” she said. “They don’t want even Frank Lloyd Wright.” (She added, “These people are my customers, so I respect that.”)
Some residents do wear grunge clothing — itself a status symbol in Second Life because of the difficulty of replicating ripped and stained clothing digitally. But the largest slice of the population follows the crowd, and the crowd is not dressing up as dragons.
“The money is in the real-looking stuff: making skins with red lips and smoky eyes, and stiletto boots,” said Ms. Hawkins, the Second Life fashion writer. First comes something popular, then the knockoffs. Soon everyone has one. “People go for similar looks and similar things,” she said.
In Ms. Hawkins’s online closet are avatars that let her move around as a rubber ducky or as a fruit salad encased in gelatin. But those identities are novelty items that usually stay on the shelf. When she goes out in virtual public, Ms. Hawkins usually takes the form of Ms. Ophelia, who has more than 250 pairs of shoes.
Items are real-world cheap — an outfit usually costs $2 to $5 — but they can add up quickly. “It’s so easy to buy something, you don’t realize how much you’re spending,” said Carrie Mandel, a homemaker and mother in Chicago who spends two work days a week as well as evenings and weekends on her Second Life business, selling pets.
One coveted status symbol in Second Life is a souped-up muscle car called the Dominus Shadow. It currently costs 2,368 Linden dollars, about $9 at the current rate of 268 Linden per dollar. Many players pay that much every month for premium membership that lets them own land, and all are sitting at computers with high-speed Internet access. So why don’t more people treat themselves to the prized possession of a Dominus?
“It’s expensive in-world,” said Daniel Terdiman, author of the forthcoming book “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Second Life.” “You don’t think of how much things cost in real dollars; you think in Linden dollars. When something is expensive, even though it comes out to a few dollars, a lot of people don’t want to spend that much money.”
Although Linden dollars can be bought with a credit card, there is evidence that the in-world economy is self-sustaining, with many players compelled to earn a living in-world and live on a budget.
Surprisingly, many take on low-paying jobs. They work as nightclub bouncers, hostesses, sales clerks and exotic dancers for typical wages of 50 to 150 Linden dollars an hour, the equivalent of 19 to 56 cents. A recent classified ad stated: “I am looking for a good job in SL. I am sick of working off just tips.” This job seeker listed potential occupations as landscaper, personal assistant, actor, waitress and talent scout.
Second Life players are evidently discovering what inheritors have struggled with for generations: It’s not as much fun to spend money you haven’t earned. Apparently, despite the common lottery-winning fantasies, all play and no work is a dull game, after all.
“People don’t take jobs just for the money,” said Dan Siciliano, who teaches finance at Stanford Law School and has studied the economies of virtual worlds. “They do it to feel important and be rewarded.”
And to buy more things. “A lot of exotic dancers want to become models, so they can earn more money to buy more clothes,” Ms. Hawkins said.
It’s not just vanity that drives people to dress up in Second Life. It’s also seen as good for business. Ms. Fitzpatrick, the landlady, says she doesn’t really care about how her avatar looks. But she cares about what prospective tenants think. “I felt I had to go, finally, and buy the hair and the suit,” she said, “or my customers might think I’m too weird.”
Appearances count in Second Life’s financial world, too. Banks and stock exchanges are housed in huge, formal structures draped in marble and glass. “People in the banking industry wear shiny silver suits and are absurdly tall and have hired a couple people to walk behind them in black suits with ear bugs and shoulder holsters,” said Benjamin Duranske, a lawyer who blogs about legal issues related to the virtual world.
THE stock exchanges and banks in SL are imposing, but they are unregulated and unmonitored. Investors fed Linden dollars into savings accounts at Ginko Financial bank, hoping to earn the promised double-digit interest. Some did, but in July there was a run on the bank and panic spread as Ginko A.T.M.’s eventually stopped giving depositors their money back. The bank has since vanished. With no official law and order in Second Life, investors have little recourse.
Robert J. Bloomfield, a behavioral economist at Cornell University, studies investor behavior in the real world and recently became interested in how investors behave similarly in Second Life. “We know the little guy makes lots of dumb mistakes,” Professor Bloomfield said. “They tend to be overly impressed by the trappings of success. We see that magnified in Second Life.”
Some Second Life residents are calling for in-world regulatory agencies — the user-run Second Life Exchange Commission has just begun operating — and some expect real-world institutions to become involved as the Second Life population and economy expands. “It’s a horse race as to whether the I.R.S. or S.E.C. will start noticing first,” Mr. Duranske said.
FCC to Cable: You Must Support Analog TVs Until 2012
Cue the scary music. According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, "If the cable companies had their way, you, your mother and father, or your next door neighbor could go to sleep one night after watching their favorite channel and wake up the next morning to a dark fuzzy screen."
Martin's talking about the digital TV transition that will happen in February 2009. While the federal government has worked out a plan to help buy digital-to-analog converter boxes for Americans who rely on over-the-air broadcasts and still have analog TV sets, the rules for cable operators were not finalized until yesterday. The FCC voted 5-0 to require that cable operators must continue to make all local broadcasts available to their users, even those with analog televisions.
After broadcasters stop transmitting in analog, cable operators will have two signals to work with: digital standard definition (SD) and digital high definition (HD). Neither will work with analog TV sets, which the FCC estimates are still in use in 40 million American homes. After yesterday's ruling, cable operators will have two choices come February 2009. They can either convert the digital SD signal to analog SD and pipe it across their lines (which means using more bandwidth and carrying three versions of a single channel) or they can offer digital SD only and roll out converter boxes to all their subscribers (which could be expensive).
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association applauded the decision, thanking the FCC for "engaging so constructively and fairly with our industry." It did express worries about "the special circumstances of very small systems," which could face severe cost pressures by complying. The FCC will allow small operators (with a capacity of 552MHz or less) to request a waiver from the must-carry rules.
Thanks to the various FCC actions, analog TV owners are guaranteed a few more years of life out their TVs, though the new cable rules only last until 2012. At that point, the FCC will review them again and decide if they need to be renewed.
US Online Video Popularity Keeps Climbing
Juan Carlos Perez,
People in the U.S. have steadily increased the amount of time they spend watching videos online, as Google’s YouTube remains by far their preferred video site, according to a study.
In July, almost 75 percent of U.S. Internet users watched videos online, up from 71.4 percent in March, according to comScore Networks.
The monthly time spent watching videos went up to an average of 181 minutes per viewer in July from 145 minutes per viewer in March, according to comScore.
People in the U.S. are also watching more video clips. In July, the average user watched 68 clips, up from 55 clips in March.
Overall, almost 134 million U.S. Internet users watched a little over 9 billion video clips in July, up from 126.6 million people and a little over 7 billion clips in March.
In July, Google ranked as the top provider of video clips, serving up 27 percent of the total — almost 2.5 billion clips — most of them via YouTube, comScore said.
Yahoo nabbed a distant second place, serving up 4.3 percent of the clips. Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. Internet division that includes MySpace.com, came in third with 3.3 percent. Viacom (3.1 percent) and Disney (2 percent) rounded out the top five.
Google also ranked first in July in unique video viewers with almost 68 million, followed by Fox Interactive (35.8 million), Yahoo (35.3 million), Time Warner Inc. (26.6 million) and Viacom (22.6 million), comScore said.
After years of unfulfilled promises, online video has taken off in a big way in the past year and a half, rapidly accelerating its momentum across a wide variety of sites.
The revolution is widely credited to YouTube and its video-sharing format, but now companies are prominently featuring videos in portals, news sites, blogs, social networks, online stores and film and television industry sites.
YouTube’s popularity can be attributed to several factors, including its ease of use — both for viewers and uploaders —, a strong community of millions of people who submit, view and share personal videos and an abundance of commercial clips from movies and television.
It is this last component of its popularity — the commercial clips — that have put YouTube at the center of the Internet industry’s struggle with video copyright protection, because many of those videos are copied and uploaded without their owners’ permission. A landmark legal action is currently under way, as Viacom pursues a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Google over the unauthorized appearance of its clips on YouTube.
In addition to copyright, other technical and operational issues are in flux, such as the options for generating revenue from video content, the best ways to use video for online advertising and the different alternatives of delivering the clips to viewers.
Another area of interest are video search engines, as well as alternate devices for online video beyond the PC, from small ones like cell phones to large ones like living-room home entertainment centers.
For example, currently the Web seems a vehicle primarily for short video clips, as evidenced by comScore’s finding that the average video clip duration in July was 2.7 minutes.
Small New Steps Toward Fulfilling the Promise of PC-TV Links
LIVE in a Digital Home! Connect All Your Devices! Control Your Media Through a Single Appliance!
In recent years, computer and consumer electronics companies have exclaimed the imminent nirvana that would be a networked union of TV-Internet-stereo-DVD-cable box-speakers-video projector-personal computer. And only one remote control!
Here’s the reality: laboriously hook your computer to your TV; watch low-definition photos of the family vacation. (The lack of an exclamation point is deliberate.)
At no risk of hyperbole, the promise of the digital home has fallen desperately short. Hewlett-Packard, for example, says it has independent research indicating that more than half of consumers are interested in using a television to watch the digital content stored on their personal computers — and the Internet. But the consumers connecting their devices still aren’t connecting all of them, and those who do are more likely to be the same folks who have advanced engineering degrees and still like to read user manuals at dinner.
And so more modest proposals are upon us. One set of solutions revolves around boxes made by the likes of Apple and Netgear that allow you to store digital media and watch it on your televisions. There are also personal computers, called Media Center PCs, designed to be a conduit between the Internet and the television.
Enter a new set of players: the television makers themselves, like Sony and H.P., who also happen to make PCs. The latest connected-home innovations are televisions designed to pick up a signal from the Internet or personal computers to display videos and pictures.
Instead of set-top boxes, they might be called in-set boxes, or, in the case of Sony’s newest device, a set-back box.
Just rolling into stores now from Sony is its Bravia Internet Video Link, a $299 slender black box that attaches to the back of the company’s 2007 line of high-definition televisions.
The device has an Ethernet cable port for Internet access. Once plugged in, the set then lets you watch a selection of hundreds of clips from a handful of Sony’s Internet partners: Yahoo, AOL and Crackle, Sony’s YouTube challenger. It also provides access to Sony movies and music videos.
Sony says hundreds of videos are available, but among the limited selection shown on the in-store sets are short how-to cooking videos, joke-a-day segments, commentary from firefighters, random clips from overseas television and animated shows; in short, the same random assortment of snippets you would find browsing through many online video sites.
But don’t expect to get free-range access to the Internet’s wealth of user-generated content. YouTube? You won’t get it. That limits the service to a tiny fraction of Internet programming.
“This is your grandfather’s Internet,” said Richard Doherty, who analyzes consumer electronics industry trends at Envisioneering, a consulting firm. Or, he said, compared with cable or satellite programming: “It’s like the television from the ’50s and ‘60s when you only had a handful of channels.”
Sony says the severe limitations are by design, for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it asserts, it is tough to ensure picture quality and user experience if it allows its customers to download content willy-nilly. Plus, the television maker has not figured out how to create an Internet browser that is easily navigable with the television remote.
Sony says that to get ideal picture quality, a consumer should have an Internet connection that is at least 3 megabits per second, a relatively high speed in most homes, and that could be viewed as yet another drawback to the Bravia Link.
Making the experience as much as possible like television, rather than computing, is a central goal, said Edgar Tu, senior vice president for engineering and TV operations at Sony. He said the company’s research indicates consumers do not want to read on the screen or browse text-heavy sites.
“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “Television is about one thing: video.”
Sony still has a lot to learn about what it wants from a connected TV, Mr. Tu said. That is why, he said, the Bravia Link is also a research tool for Sony; the gadget will communicate through the Internet to Sony, telling the company what model of television people are attaching the device to.
Also, Sony said, its Internet partners will be able to tell it what kinds of shows people are watching, much as they do when people browse the Web.
Another plan for Internet-connected television with access to certain videos is coming from Sharp, according to Bob Scaglione, the company’s senior vice president for marketing in the United States. He said that set could be on the market next year.
“All of the L.C.D. and plasma makers are going to release these types of features,” said Jonathan Weitz, an industry analyst with IBB Consulting. He said that TV manufacturers are doing so partly to cater to consumer tastes, but partly out of fear that they need to add value to televisions to keep their prices up, along with their profit margins.
Hewlett-Packard’s desire to differentiate itself is the reason it is moving to a new generation of connected televisions, called MediaSmart TVs. The latest versions, which came out in late August, are 42-inch ($2,099) and 47-inch ($2,499) L.C.D. sets that let users connect through cables, or wirelessly, to a personal computer.
Through that connection, the television can display video or photos stored on the computer, or it can use it as a conduit to download pay-per-view movies from Cinema Now. Eventually, H.P. says, it plans to offer music and video from other content partners.
Some buyers may find it tricky to configure the MediaSmart depending on their computer. H.P. says consumers who have the Vista operating system and the latest Windows Media software should have little configuring to do, while people with less advanced systems may have to install extra software.
Perhaps as an admission that challenges remain, H.P. said it was negotiating with its retail partners to offer a free $200 in-home installation (not including mounting the TV on the wall). That deal would offset about half of the price difference between the MediaSmart TV and like-size H.P. televisions.
The installation deal also “removes any doubt that this will add any more pain than you’ll get with a regular television,” said Alex Thatcher, senior product manager for the MediaSmart TV.
If the case for why consumers should buy a connected TV now is not compelling, it is much clearer why such TVs offer a potentially lucrative business model for the TV makers.
The new sets allow manufacturers to play a bigger role in the distribution of content. That, in turn, would give them another profit stream after the sale. For instance, the television makers could demand a share of advertising or subscription revenue from content partners who are given access to the viewers of their TVs.
That concept, while still in its infancy, is potentially powerful as broadband speeds increase, allowing easier streaming of more data-dense images like HDTV movies or TV programs.
But first, Mr. Tu said, come the baby steps of building a connected home in a way that begins to meet some of the as-yet unmet promise.
“Like every other company, we are trying to figure out how we are going to attack the connected home.”
Internet Streaming: Five U.S. Television Networks Compared
The good news: Major U.S. television networks continue to embrace Internet technology and are putting their shows on the Web for online viewing, just like they did last year.
The bad news: Their online offerings remain sporadic; their Internet strategies feel like “we have to” rather than “we want to”; and — worst of all — they still haven’t embraced the idea that we are living in a new digital world, with different rules, participants, and expectations all around.
We’ve looked at the online offerings of the five major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and The CW — and sadly no one is blowing the game wide open, although they’re trying. To their credit, the networks are offering some of their top-rated shows online, viewable on their own websites.
But to their discredit, the networks don’t provide streaming for all of their shows, prime time or not, and streaming schedules vary widely. While video quality continues to improve, many networks have crowded and difficult to use interfaces, which detracts from the fun of watching a favorite TV show. Sometimes it’s just not worth the effort.
Here’s our journey through the land of network streaming.
The Bigger the Better
Streaming should be integral to the networks’ new digital strategies, but the networks might be slow to coming around because of technology. For the best streaming experience it helps if you have the latest and greatest everything.
While standard definition programs will stream fine over regular broadband connections like DSL and cable, high definition programs require more bandwidth, so it’s best to use upper-end DSL, cable, or fiber optic options.
I tested streams from the networks using a last generation Mac Powerbook and a Dell laptop. In each scenario, the video was choppy and the audio track was sometimes off. When I closed out of programs I was not using, the video performance improved but I couldn’t work or surf while watching.
Like everything with computers, the more processor, the more RAM, the better video capabilities, the more you will enjoy your streaming experience.
Streaming is handy because if I miss a show, or I fail to record it, I can still view the program the following day on the network’s website. I may have to endure a few embedded ads, but it’s a small price to pay to keep up to date. And it’s cheaper than buying the show from iTunes or Amazon and a heck of a lot more convenient than illegally downloading it over BitTorrent, which the average viewer doesn’t mess with anyway, no matter what Hollywood and TV Land say.
So what’s available? The best way to find out is to poke around each network’s website because streaming schedules vary, just like like season premiers. To get a quick at-a-glance view of the networks’ upcoming season and which programs are available for streaming, check out our handy guide.
What’s most frustrating about the networks’ streaming schedules is inconsistency and a lack of a TV guide-like index. Some networks leave programs up indefinitely. Others take shows down after a few weeks or once the season is completed. If you plan to follow a show on the Internet, it’s best to find out the program’s streaming schedule in advance so you know when it will first appear and when it will disappear. My wife is still frustrated that episodes of CBS’ “New Adventures of Old Christine” are no longer available, even though the show is scheduled to return this season.
With that in mind, what is available from each network?
ABC offers five of its top shows for streaming — “Ugly Betty”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Men in Trees”, “Desperate Housewives”, and “Brothers & Sisters”. Other, older shows are also available, including “According to Jim”, “The Bronx is Burning”, “Day Break”, “Fashionista Diaries”, “Fat March”, “Knights of Prosperity”, “The Nine”, “GH Nightshift”, “October Road”, “Six Degrees”, “Voicemail”, and “What About Brian”.
ABC’s Flash-based player, is slick and by far the best of any network. It’s video quality, for full screen, big, normal and mini-mode, is very good to excellent. ABC also offers high definition streaming.
ABC, which is owned by Disney, who happens to have a board member from Apple named Steve Jobs, extends its digital presence beyond streaming by offering a fair mixture of new and older shows for purchase through the iTunes Store, a relationship that’s expected to continue.
ABC seems to be on path of traditional distribution mixed with a strong ABC.com streaming portal mixed with making certain shows available through the iTunes.
CBS’ chief Internet strategist, Quincy Smith, said the network’s video presence on the Web should be “CBS.com/nobodycomeshere.” Its player, known as Innertube, is available through the Website and is based on RealPlayer’s RealVideo technology.
CBS offers more of its top programs than any other network, including “Big Brother”, “CSI”, “CSI: Miami”, “CSI: NY”, “How I Met Your Mother”, “Jericho”, “NCIS”, “Numb3rs”, the “Power of 10”, “Rules of Engagement”, “Shark”, “Survivor”, and “The Unit”. Other shows are available, particularly soap operas such as “As the World Turns”, “The Guiding Light”, and “The Young and the Restless”.
Rather than rely solely on its website like ABC and the other networks, CBS — to its credit — is drastically revising its digital strategy through a new initiative called CBS Interactive. Its goal is to syndicate as much of its content as possible through through iTunes and sites such as AOL and Yahoo and new media venues such as YouTube, Joost, Veoh, and Brightcove.
“We can’t expect consumers to come to us,” Smith told the Wall Street Journal in May. “It’s arrogant for any media company to assume that.”
CBS seems to be mixing its traditional distribution with a strong presence on the Internet, through Innertube and the web syndication network. It’s nice to see at least one network exploring options beyond the usual distribution means and a web video portal.
NBC offers a pitiful lineup of top shows — “30 Rock” and “Friday Night Lights” — to go with an offering of mostly fringe shows or programs in need of an audience like “Andy Barker, P.I.” and “Raines”.
NBC’s player, which is based on Flash, wasn’t bad. It offers normal, large, and full screen viewing and the ability to navigate by chapter, which no other network has.
Despite its paltry streaming offerings, NBC was still considered an influential network player because of its involvement with the iTunes Store. NBC made available to iTunes some of its best shows, including “Heroes”, “My Name is Earl”, “The Office”, “Scrubs,” and the “Law & Order” franchise.
But this past month NBC and Apple got into a public spat during contract negotiations and the two split. NBC is now offering its shows through Amazon’s Unbox, which is designed to run on PCs and not Macs. The iTunes Store will no longer carry any new NBC programs.
Another part of NBC’s digital strategy is to team up with News Corp., owner of Fox, to form what they hope is a YouTube killer. The new site, known as Hulu, is in private beta and will be online in October. Hulu will partner with other destination sites including AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace, and Yahoo.
NBC’s strategy beyond its traditional network appears to be greed oriented: You like our shows, pay us to download them or buy them on DVD. It also appears that NBC is holding back streaming content so you will go to Hula.com.
The quality of Fox’s video player, also based on Flash, is good, although the interface is crowded. Its Fox on Demand website, where the player can be found, is wretched because of its clunky usability and weird graphic design.
Even so, Fox offers a fair amount of its top shows, including “24”, “Prison Break”, “The Loop”, “K-Ville”, “Bones”, “American Dad” for streaming and/or purchasing from the iTunes Store. Since Fox is a part of Hulu, it’s unknown whether the network and its shows will remain for sale on iTunes.
Like CBS, Fox seems to be moving toward an improved Internet presence for its shows through a web portal and through making some of them available on Hulu.
“It is critical that we embrace the Internet as a distributed medium that promotes engagement with users, wherever they are on the Web,” said Fox’s William Bradford, senior vice president, content strategy. “This approach reinforces the importance of involving fans to assist with marketing the show through word of mouth and discussion forums across the Internet.”
The CW doesn’t have as many programs to offer as the other networks. Yet it understands the importance of availability and building an audience. It’s streaming experience isn’t bad but isn’t great, either, although video quality is good (The CW also uses a Flash-based player).
Nearly every show is available for streaming, including “Everybody Hates Chris”, “Girlfriends”, “All of Us”, “The Game”, “Pussycat Dolls Research Next Doll”, “America’s Next Top Model”, “Beauty and the Geek”, “Supernatural”, and “One Tree Hill”. The CW also makes some current and older programs available on iTunes.
Watching TV shows through a network’s web site, for me, is good in a pinch, but overall the experience is flat. Maybe it’s that the technology hasn’t fully evolved for a pleasant viewing experience.
Or maybe it’s that the networks continue to tip-toe. They’re dabbling in online streaming but not pushing the envelope as far as they can. They’re toying with selling their shows through the iTunes Store and Unbox. In addition, mobile operators like Verizon are offering some television content through services such as V-Cast.
But it’s not enough. I expect more from the networks. They’re the all powerful ones. They own the content. They order it. They pay for it. They distribute it. They could be out front, yet they’re not using their power to reshape an industry.
TV Torrents: When 'Piracy' is Easier than Legal Purchase
NBC's recent withdraw from the iTunes store leaves the millions of users of Apple iPods without a legitimate way to purchase and watch NBC's content. Could this be the push that brings easy-to-use 'piracy' to the masses? This article discusses the issues, and then provides step-by-step instructions to setup a computer to automatically download any of hundreds of TV shows as soon as they are broadcast and put online.
With Apple's recent lovers's spat with NBC making the headlines, it seems like a good opportunity to examine the state of the online TV downloads, be they paid or 'pirated'. The end result of the dispute between the companies is that NBC's shows, which currently count for approximately one third of iTunes' TV show sales will no longer be available for sale at Apple's iTunes store. Customers wishing to purchase NBC's shows will now need to go through Amazon's Unbox service. While Unbox supports users of Windows and TiVo, Mac users, as well as those millions of iPod users are left out in the cold. Linux geeks, and those customers who have purchased divx/avi capable portable music players are also excluded, but this small subset of the market were equally ignored by Apple.
The Apple/NBC dispute, of course, only affects US based consumers. Foreigners, due to the lengthy delay between a show airing in the US in markets abroad, have already been driven to illegal file sharing. In Australia, where the broadcast of US shows is typically delayed between 22-30 months, many viewers have given up on waiting for their favorite shows to appear on the tube, and have instead turned to BitTorrent. According to a report published in 2006, "Australians are responsible for 15.6 percent of all online TV piracy, bested only by Britain, which accounts for 38.4 percent. The US lags behind in third position at 7.3 percent."
The legitimate and legal online media stores cannot compete with file sharing on price. Furthermore, as iTunes, Amazon, Walmart and the other stores all wrap their media in restrictive Digitial Rights Management (DRM), they cannot compete on freedom, flexibility and the ability to transfer purchased media to other devices. The only areas where they have the upper hand are in quality, and ease of use.
Warner Brothers' China division, in a rare act of intelligence on the part of a major media company, demonstrated significant savvy last year when they began selling cheap, legitimate, high quality DVDs of movies within days of the theatrical release. By pricing the discs at around 12 yuan (approximately US$1.50), Warner is hoping to make cost a non-issue, thus allowing them to compete in one area where they hold the upper hand: Quality. Instead of taking a chance with on a low quality, shaky-camcorder copy of a film, Chinese consumers can get a high quality copy of the movie at a reasonable price, all while enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling that you can get knowing that you've helped to pay for some small portion of a a Hollywood star's private jet.
Apple's iPod makes up more than 70 percent of the overall mobile player market. With those customers now completely cut-off from NBC's offerings, the ease-of-use advantage of legitimate purchase has been lost. While camcorder copies of films still make up a decent portion of movies on file sharing networks, the widespread availability of digital television and TV tuners in PCs means that it is trivially easy to find high-quality copies of TV shows on BitTorrent sites such as The Pirate Bay.
It's taken some time, but the 'piracy' path has finally gotten to be more user-friendly and easy to use than iTunes and the other pay-services. Miro, a multi-platform RSS and BitTorrent enabled media client is now very stable, polished and fast. Using a tool such as this, and a couple minutes of configuration to subscribe to your favorite shows, it's now possible for users worldwide to wake up to the latest episode of The Daily Show, without paying a penny, or being locked into a restrictive DRM scheme. It's still illegal of course, but that hasn't stopped the millions of file sharers who have made BitTorrent responsible for more than 25% of all Internet traffic.
It's worth noting at this point, that for people in India, the Middle East and other markets ignored by the major players, Linux users (for which iTunes, Amazon and Walmart's media stores do not work), Apple customers who wish to watch shows made by NBC or another network that won't play ball with Apple, or Windows users who are simply not willing to submit themselves to the shackles of DRM, illegal downloads are the only way to watch TV shows on their computers and portable media players. I'm not advocating illegal activity, but merely stating the facts.
If a user wishes to break the law (or they live in a country that doesn't respect US copyright law), lets see exactly how they could go about setting up their computer to auto-download their favorite TV shows. This information is, of course, for educational purposes only and I in no way encourage anyone to violate copyright laws.
Step 1: Download and install the Miro media player, which is available for Linux, Mac and Windows.
Step 2: Locate an RSS feed for a TV show you want to watch. One fantastic source of these is the website tvRSS.net
Navigate through the list of TV shows on the tvRSS website, and find a desired show.
On the web-page for the show, right click on the link to the RSS feed of that show, and copy the URL location.
Step 3: Open up Miro, and go to the Channels menu, and select Add Channel. The RSS address that was copied previously should already be displayed. If it's not, paste it.
Miro should now automatically download the latest episode of that show, which it will continue to do every time a new episode appears online.
For ease of use, a user will probably want to rename the channel to something recognizable. This can be done by going to the Channels menu and selecting Rename.
By following these three steps, its possible for a user to wake up to their favorite TV shows already downloaded to their computer, waiting to be watched and without the restrictions of DRM. Users of Apple's iPods will need to re-encode them into Apple's proprietary Quicktime format, while those users with a Linux based Nokia N800 or one of the many low-cost .avi compatible portable media players should be able to transfer the files with little to no additional work.
As I said before, this is all totally illegal under US copyright laws, and most other western countries that have agreed to adopt similar rules. In addition to the standard risks of file sharing, US based users should take special care not to download any leaked pre-broadcast episodes of TV shows, which occasionally show up online. The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act passed in 2005 makes mere possession of such media a felony. First time offenders can face up to three years in jail. Caveat emptor.
News Corp Expects Contentious Apple Negotiations
News Corp's president and chief operating officer said on Friday he expected to have contentious negotiations with Apple over showing its television programmes on iTunes.
"We have a pretty limited relationship with Apple and we'll see how it goes," Peter Chernin told the UK's Royal Television Society convention.
"I assume it will be prickly and dicey and contentious like all negotiations are and like all negotiations should be."
Chernin said News Corp currently licensed some TV shows to be sold through iTunes but not movies. A source familiar with the matter has told Reuters that News Corp's contract with Apple is not up for renewal discussions at any time soon.
NBC Universal said in August it did not intend to renew its contract to sell television shows on iTunes although the two sides are still in talks, and analysts expect Apple to face a tougher time in filling its iTunes store with shows and movies.
Show Series to Originate on MySpace
Hollywood has been dipping its toe in original online content. Two seasoned producers are about to take a full plunge.
Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick — who have made films like “Blood Diamond” and “The Last Samurai” and whose ABC series “Thirtysomething” helped to define television drama in the 1980s — have made a deal with MySpace, the online social network owned by the News Corporation, to produce an original Web series called “Quarterlife.”
Mr. Herskovitz described “Quarterlife” as a regular television series, made by network-caliber writers, directors and production crews. Each hourlong episode — about young people struggling to find their way after college — will be broken into six shorter segments, with a new one posted on MySpace TV each Sunday and Thursday night, beginning Nov. 11.
The producers also announced plans for quarterlife.com, a related Internet site separate from MySpace, to start next month. It is intended to promote the show, while becoming a portal for viewers in their 20s who are trying to find points of entry in creative and professional worlds.
A day after their original MySpace posting, the episodes will be available on quarterlife.com. A week later, they will be generally available on the Web. And, if all goes as planned, they will eventually find their way onto conventional television screens.
Networks and studios have been scrambling to find their footing on the Web, even as artists like Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of “South Park,” are making lucrative deals to receive payment when their shows hit the Web. Filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen and stars like Will Ferrell, meanwhile, are feeding original material to Web-based companies like the newly formed 60Frames Entertainment or FunnyOrDie.com.
Amid the rush, the new series from Mr. Herskovitz and Mr. Zwick stands out for its willingness to spend what the principals say will be relatively large amounts of money. Mr. Herskovitz declined to provide an exact budget, but said it would be substantially more than the $50,000 or $100,000 an hour that many higher-end Web series spend. He said the goal was to make shows that based on their hourlong pilot, were comparable in tone and presentation to network shows.
“This is the single best-produced piece of serialized content for the Internet, ever,” said Jeff Berman, general manager of MySpace TV. Mr. Berman’s division, organized in June, has already offered shows like the science-fiction program “Afterworld” and “Prom Queen” from Michael D. Eisner.
The “Quarterlife” series is based on a pilot Mr. Herskovitz and Mr. Zwick created several years ago called “1/4 Life,” which was rejected by ABC. (Mr. Herskovitz rewrote it; it still was not accepted.) “In television, you are regularly humbled by your own work,” Mr. Herskovitz said.
By creating programs for the Web, Mr. Zwick and Mr. Herskovitz can take advantage of union agreements that allow actors and writers to work on terms more favorable to producers than those governing network programs.
The stars of “Quarterlife” are relative unknowns: Bitsie Tulloch (“The West Wing,” “Lonelygirl 15”) and Scott M. Foster (“Greek,” “Teenage Dirtbag”), among others. In addition to Mr. Zwick and Mr. Herskovitz, writers will include the actor Devon Gummersall, whom they worked with on the series “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again.”
The producers will operate their site separately from MySpace, using it not only to help users build and circulate portfolios of their creative work, but also to capture thoughts about story lines, to be fully credited, or even find actors for the series.
Mr. Herskovitz said the decision to stay apart from MySpace — perhaps making it easier to value or sell later — was subject to long negotiation. Still, Chris DeWolfe, the MySpace co-founder and chief executive, said he was not concerned about seeing that element of the enterprise remain discrete.
“That’s just how MySpace works,” he said.
According to Mr. Herskovitz, who is also president of the Producers Guild of America, the series is trying to reverse a cycle by bringing shows to the online world before they reach television sets. He said that would put producers like himself back in a more powerful position.
As a group, those independent producers lost financial and creative footing in the 1990s when the big networks took advantage of a change in federal regulations to make themselves the owners of shows that once might have belonged to companies like Bedford Falls, the company owned by Mr. Zwick and Mr. Herskovitz.
Before 1995, the big networks were prevented by the federal government’s so-called financial interest and syndication rules from actually owning the programs they distributed.
Mr. Herskovitz said Creative Artists Agency helped organize his new venture and owned a stake in it. MySpace does not pay a license fee for the shows, but brings a pipeline to its 110 million viewers, and will be involved in selling advertising. According to one person involved with the project, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss its financial terms, backing will come from private investors under deals that have yet to be completed.
Mr. Zwick, 54, acknowledged that he and Mr. Herskovitz, who is 55, would be forced to learn not just a new medium, but also the attitudes of a new generation that may have more in common with the producers’ children than with themselves.
“I pick up a sense of diminished resources and opportunity and a fear that the culture has been ruled too long” by an older generation, Mr. Zwick said, speaking by phone from Lithuania, where he is directing a World War II drama called “Defiance,” with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber.
But, Mr. Zwick said that he also recognized many of the same tensions he and others faced when young. And he is ready to get to work on the new show.
“I don’t see how I can avoid it,” he said.
HBO to Track Pirated Reviewer Copies
Pay-TV Network Will Use Thomson Watermarking Technology to Embed Digital IDs Into Screeners
Hoping to prevent its original shows from making the leap to the Internet before they’re aired, HBO will use digital-watermarking technology from Paris-based Thomson to embed unique IDs into copies of screeners provided to reviewers.
Thomson’s Shield Forensic system inserts an invisible barcode identifier into every frame of a piece of video. The ID, which is associated with the intended recipient, can then be read if the video surfaces, say, on an Internet file-sharing service -- allowing HBO to trace the illicit video back to its source.
A year ago, HBO was caught off guard when the entire fourth season of crime drama The Wire was discovered being sold in East Coast nightclubs and on Internet auction sites before the 13-episode series had finished its run. DVDs of the Peabody Award-winning series, a critical success if not a ratings smash, had been widely distributed to reviewers earlier in the summer.
Watermarking technology won’t prevent copying or restrict playback as digital-rights management tools do, but it will allow HBO to track down violators.
“They want to track the misuse of this content,” said Eric Serre, product manager for content security at Thomson’s Grass Valley division. “It’s program content that has never been aired, so they’re very anxious that copies are not made before the air date.”
The Thomson system, Serre claimed, is resistant to traditional attacks like rotating, cropping or compressing video intended to circumvent identification technologies.
HBO vice president of corporate affairs Jeff Cusson said the network does not currently embed watermarks in its broadcast signals. Otherwise, he declined to comment on the project beyond information included in the press release issued with Thomson.
Other programmers have selectively used similar watermarking techniques, including NBC Universal for certain movie and TV content and FX, which used the technology in distributing prerelease copies of the new Glenn Close series Damages. Showtime Networks does not currently use watermarking but has plans to, VP of corporate public relations Stuart Zakim said.
HBO will install the Thomson system initially at three sites, including its main playout facility in Hauppauge, N.Y.
At each location, the system will include a database server to synchronize and manage each watermarking platform; DVD-marking stations with built-in DVD burners; systems to watermark high-definition and standard-definition content in real time to tape; an “investigator platform” to track down pirated content; and other components.
Watermarking technologies can also be used in cable set-top boxes to embed IDs in video streams. That way, operators and programmers can identify a specific subscriber who illegally uploads cable shows to the Internet, Serre said. Thomson currently has two set-top watermarking trials underway in different parts of the world.
“We have a solution to get the subscriber details and watermark [video] for each individual viewer,” he said.
Disney Backs Star After Her Apology for Nude Photo
Gina Keating and Sue Zeidler
Vanessa Hudgens, the star of the wholesome, made-for-kids TV movie hit "High School Musical," apologized Friday for a nude photo of her on the Web and Walt Disney Co. said it was sticking by the performer.
Some parents of her young fans voiced dismay over the photo, which shows Hudgens, 18, smiling and standing naked directly in front of the camera.
"I want to apologize to my fans, whose support and trust means the world to me," Hudgens said in a statement issued about a day after the photo surfaced. "I am embarrassed over this situation and regret having ever taken these photos. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends."
In a statement, Disney said it hoped Hudgens had learned a valuable lesson. "Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment."
A Disney representative said the photo would not affect its decision to cast Hudgens in the third film of the "High School Musical" franchise and that negotiations for the cast and creative team were continuing.
Earlier Friday, a representative for Hudgens confirmed the image was of Hudgens but said it "was taken privately."
"It is a personal matter and it is unfortunate that this has become public," the representative said in a statement.
Hudgens has starred in "High School Musical" and "High School Musical 2" as Gabriella, the sweet, innocent science geek whose romance with athlete Troy, played by Zac Efron, is chronicled in the two hugely popular made-for-television movies on the squeaky-clean Disney Channel.
Hudgens and Efron, who date in real life, were so chaste on screen they did not even kiss until the end of the second film, a climactic moment marked by fireworks going off behind them.
The two movies form the cornerstone of one of Disney's most lucrative franchises for preteen girls and a third is planned for release to theaters next year. The second film debuts on Disney Channels in other countries this weekend.
'Very Private Person'
In a Teen magazine interview released earlier this week, Hudgens described herself as "a very private person" with "very good morals" who enjoyed serving as a role model.
"I've been brought up with very good morals and I'm not going to go out and do something I don't want other kids to do," she said in the article.
But some parents of young fans were outraged by the photo, saying it tarnished Hudgens' image.
"She's damaged," Renee Rollins-Greenberg, a Los Angeles mother of two, told Reuters. "She's got this teeny-bop audience, young preteens and younger, who are admiring her and thinking she's this wonderful, pure innocent person. Eighteen is awfully young for this kind of display."
"I'm devastated because I have an 8-year-old for which I now have to have an explanation," said another Los Angeles-area mother, Rosie Konkel. "She's always looked at this character as a very smart and proper young lady."
"High School Musical 2" debuted on Disney Channel last month to a record audience of 17.2 million viewers to become the most-watched individual program in cable TV history.
The show's soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on national album sales charts, where it has remained for the past three weeks, selling nearly 1.2 million copies.
Disney Hates Machine Head and Metal Music
Did you know the House of Blues in Anaheim, CA is on Disney's property? Neither did I. But they forced the cancellation of a Machine Head show scheduled for tonight[09/07] at the venue, due to "violent imagery, undesirable fans and inflammatory lyrics." The band, whose show had been on sale for two months before the Disney hammer went down on the show had quite the statement about the situation.
On their official site, the band wrote:
In a stunning last-minute move, Walt Disney Properties have pressured promoter Live Nation into canceling Machine Head's performance tomorrow night at the House of Blues venue in Anaheim (on their Disneyland property). Citing violent imagery, undesirable fans and inflammatory lyrics as the reason, the diversity-impaired corporation began pressuring the promoter on Saturday to cancel all upcoming heavy metal concerts, placing Machine Head under an internal "review process" that took 5 days before bothering to convey their alarming decision to the band late yesterday - less than 48 hours before their Black Tyranny Tour was to kick off at House of Blues Anaheim on Friday night.
While the enactment of this new blanket rule applies to all upcoming heavy metal shows at the House Of Blues Anaheim (with some metal bands having been banned from performing on name alone), Machine Head is the first band to actually have tickets go on sale, and remain on sale for 2 months, before intense pressure and vague threats of liability from the Corporation left the promoter with no choice but to remove the show from the venue.
As a result, Live Nation's Paul McGuigan did the honorable thing and incredibly, on one days notice, managed to salvage the tour's opening night by moving the first date of The Black Tyranny tour (featuring Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Throwdown, and Sanctity) to The Glass House in Pomona, CA (located at 200 W. Second Street). All existing tickets will be redeemable for entry at The Glass House, and all Will Call pickups will now be available for pickup at the new venue.
Any fans unable to make the 70-mile trip to The Glass House as a result of this ridiculous turn of events will be able to have their money refunded in full. Strangely, all other Black Tyranny dates at House Of Blues venues on Disney property will remain unaffected. On behalf of all four bands on the bill, Machine Head wish to extend their gratitude to promoter Paul McGuigan and Live Nation for finding an alternate venue for tomorrow night's show on such short notice.
Of course, I can't help but think "it's Disney's property, they can do whatever they want on it." But at the same time... I have to wonder -- why have a rock club on your property at all, if a band like Machine Head is too offensive for you? Why not get rid of it all together, or at least stop booking real bands there, instead sticking to the noise pollution "teen pop" they endorse so wholeheartedly?
XM, Sirius Release Merger Report, NAB Responds
A new study backed by Sirius and XM unsurprisingly finds "overwhelming support" for the proposed a la carte programming that could happen if the satcaster merger is approved. However, the NAB disagrees with the results, calling the study "loaded."
According to the survey results, 77 percent of respondents said that the a la carte option, where listeners would choose individual channels for $6.99/month, would be good for consumers. Also, 72 percent said a $14.99 a la carte option, where subscribers choose channels from one service plus selections from another, would also be good for consumers. Other a la carte package options were also described as "good for consumers" by the majority of respondents, including a "family friendly" option.
The survey also showed support for the satellite merger, with 57 percent agreeing that the a la carte plans show that the merger was good for consumers and the public interest.
Of course, the NAB had a bone to pick with the study's results. In a statement, EVP of Media Relations Dennis Wharton said, "Here's what XM and Sirius conveniently did not ask poll participants: Do you like monopolies? Does competition restrain a monopolist's price-gouging? Should government reward two companies that routinely violate FCC rules with a monopoly? Did you know you will have to buy a new radio that costs $200 or more to get the alleged benefits of a la carte programming? Did you know that Howard Stern and other 'talent' will cost consumers more – not less – under a la carte? Did you know that under a la carte, the per-channel price of a merged XM-Sirius will rise by 40 percent to 188 percent? Today's poll signals the lengths to which XM and Sirius will game the system in order to achieve monopoly status."
Hanson Wins Over Fans By Going Anonymous
It's tough to win over new fans when you're forever tied to a teen-pop image. This is the case with Hanson, the former child stars known for the 1997 smash hit "MMMBop." The guys have grown up and are making new, mature music. But whatever they do, people still remember them for "MMMBop."
To combat this, one Chicago radio programmer tried something drastic. Spike, the director for Chicago alternative station Q101, has been a Hanson fan since the 90s, and wanted to get some airplay for the band's latest single, "The Great Divide." However, he knew that the group wouldn't go over well with listeners. So Spike put "The Great Divide" into Q101's rotation, but told DJ's not to reveal the artist. For weeks, the station played the record, which was introduced as "The Great Divide" by "a mystery artist."
As you've probably already guessed, the song became a hit. In fact, it became the most-requested song on the station. By the time the scheme was revealed a couple weeks ago, people were already hooked and the public reaction was positive.
"I've always liked Hanson and kept listening to them after 'MMMBop,' and after seeing them a while ago I realized they had become a different band," Spike told Billboard. "It really hit me how good they were. I told all the DJs, 'I want you to hear this song before I tell you who it is,' and when they heard the song, they all dug it. They were initially nervous to play it, but they were blown away by the positive reaction."
It just goes to show the effect that image has on music sales. Nearly everyone takes image into account when determining their musical tastes, whether intentionally or unintentionally. How many Q101 listeners would've admitted to liking a song by Hanson before this scheme? Many of them would never have given it a chance.
And how many other artists are affected by their image? If Ashlee Simpson put out the greatest album of the decade, would anyone give her credit? Or would they just dismiss it based on her image as the girl who lip-synched on "SNL" and got booed out of the Orange Bowl? What if Skee-Lo made a comeback and put out the most progressive rap album of the year? Would anyone buy it? Or would they complain that it didn't include an "I Wish" remix? The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. One of the prime examples of this idea is My Chemical Romance. Their album, The Black Parade, is as straight-up rock as you'll find these days, yet they get dismissed by many as a lame emo/teeny-bopper band because they dress in black and wear eyeliner. That's just one example; there are plenty of other artists that get screwed over (and many who are helped) by their image. Choosing image over music is something pop fans often get criticized for, but this experiment proves that rock fans can be just as bad.
Here is "The Great Divide" by Hanson.
Spears’s Awards Fiasco Stirs Speculation About Her Future
Long before Britney Spears’s dazed performance on the MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas on Sunday, her comeback effort looked out of sync.
It started in May, when the erstwhile pop queen marked her tentative return to public performance after a long hiatus with a string of haphazard club gigs that lasted for as little as 15 minutes, during which she lip-synched old hits like “... Baby One More Time.” But no one was prepared for Sunday night’s fiasco, in which a listless Ms. Spears teetered through her dance steps and mouthed only occasional words in a wan attempt to lip-synch her new single, “Gimme More.”
Endlessly mocked in the mainstream news media and the blogosphere, it has left her fans and her handlers bewildered. The show also left raw nerves: Ms. Spears’s label, Jive Records, sent a note to MTV chastising the network over the comments of the comedian Sarah Silverman, who took the stage immediately after Ms. Spears and referred to her children as “mistakes.”
With her first studio album in four years scheduled for release on Nov. 13, the music industry is debating whether Ms. Spears’s career can recover.
“Is she going to be the next Michael Jackson?” wondered Jay Marose, a former publicist for teen-pop acts like the Backstreet Boys. “She’s been on her own for so long, calling the shots in this bubble.”
Her predicament illustrates the hazards that await pop stars who depart the spotlight and then try to return where they left off. Ms. Spears all but suspended her career three years ago when she married a backup dancer, Kevin Federline, and fired her longtime manager. More recently, she has expressed a desire to run her own career, even while devoting time to a messy divorce with Mr. Federline and a child-custody battle.
Little wonder that the question of how to breathe new life into her career was a polarizing one — particularly when MTV, where Ms. Spears had been a mainstay, extended an offer for her to perform at its annual gala.
The idea received a mostly cool reception from Ms. Spears’s principal advisers at Jive. But Ms. Spears’s entertainment lawyer, Gary Stiffelman, figured she could benefit from MTV exposure, and pressed her to sign on. Mr. Stiffelman also helped steer Ms. Spears to a new manager, Jeff Kwatinetz, about a month ago to guide her through preparations for the appearance. Mr. Stiffelman and Mr. Kwatinetz declined to comment.
Ms. Spears began a program of fitness training and choreography sessions to get ready, with executives from MTV and Jive receiving updates on her progress from her management. Shortly after the preparations began, though, Ms. Spears jolted the team by shaking up her coterie of advisers, ousting Mr. Stiffelman.
Members of Ms. Spears’s camp say that although she expressed jitters about performing on television again, she showed a semblance of sticking to her regimen. But once Ms. Spears arrived in Las Vegas for the awards show weekend, everything ran off the rails. For starters, she was photographed partying with celebrities like Diddy until the wee hours.
Roughly an hour before showtime, Ms. Spears insisted on a series of changes. She clashed with Ken Paves, the high-end hairstylist chosen to do her hair extensions. She also decided not to wear the custom-fitted corset designed for the performance, opting for a black bikini-style costume that revealed more of her body. Her physical appearance during her set also faced a barrage of criticism.
Her performance is the second recent public embarrassment for one of Mr. Kwatinetz’s clients. A few months ago he was fired by the singer Kelly Clarkson amid a public battle she was waging with her label.
For all the buzz about her televised missteps, Ms. Spears appears to be on solid footing in one sense: she has a hot song. Since “Gimme More” surfaced on the New York pop station Z100 two weeks ago, it has quickly earned a spot on the playlists of pop stations nationwide and turned into a hit on Web sites like YouTube.
“So far, in the first two weeks, the reaction has been bigger than anyone expected,” said Sharon Dastur, the program director for Z100. She said that some listeners call to make negative comments about Ms. Spears, “but then they say, ‘When are you guys going to play the song again?’ ”
Two ringtones based on the single can be bought exclusively on mtv.com; initially, demand was so heavy that the servers handling the orders crashed for several hours. And for better or worse, the performance has also prompted loose defenses of Ms. Spears online, where one fan created a Zapruder-like slow-motion replay video that laid the blame for her awkward dancing on a broken boot heel.
It is not clear how far a hit song will take Ms. Spears, however, in the absence of other marketing efforts. Her advisers may be reluctant to risk further setbacks by pushing her to do additional performances or interviews.
A spokeswoman for Jive Records said the company “is committed to releasing Britney Spears’s album on Nov. 13 and we’re excited about the new material.” Her last album, “In the Zone,” sold more than 2.9 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Ms. Spears’s team is also eager to release a music video to counter the impressions left by the MTV debacle. But that may prove tricky, too: Ms. Spears oversaw her production of a gritty, stripper-themed clip for “Gimme More” that may jolt fans who are more accustomed to the slick, tightly choreographed videos that made her an MTV staple. The video is being tweaked with input from her advisers.
Only a week before the awards show, there had been talk among Ms. Spears’s handlers of booking her to play a string of intimate theater performances to promote her new album. But after Las Vegas, all bets are off. Given Ms. Spears’s independent streak, the biggest challenge may be convincing her to commit to a supervised makeover.
“The train wreck can’t be her shtick,” said Mr. Marose. He added, “So many people are pulling for her; they want to love her and she’s making it tough.”
Music Industry Betting on 'Ringle' Format
As the recording industry wakes up from its summer slumber and starts thinking about what will motivate the consumer for the holiday selling season, the major labels are getting ready to launch the "ringle," which combines the mostly defunct single format with ringtones.
Each ringle is expected to contain three songs -- one hit and maybe one remix and an older track -- and one ringtone, on a CD with a slip-sleeve cover. The idea is that if consumers in the digital age can download any tracks they want individually, why not let them buy singles in the store as well? It also enables stores to get involved in the ringtone phenomenon.
Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which came up with the ringle idea, and Universal Music Group are going to be the first out of the box with ringles. The former will unleash 50 titles during October and November, while UMG will have anywhere from 10 to 20 titles ready. The Recording Industry Association of America has approved the "ringle" name, and there is an industrywide logo to help brand it. But except for Sony, each major still needs to cut a deal with a digital aggregator to allow consumers to redeem the ringtone.
Meanwhile, label profit margins for the format are considered slim. The majors are gambling that the ringle can instill in consumers the mind-set to connect to the Internet via the CD.
Sources suggest the ringle will carry either a $5.98 or $6.98 list price, while the wholesale cost to retailers will be less than $4. If it's $5.98, ringles will have a 31 percent gross margin, shy of the 35 percent profit margin that CD albums carry nowadays; if it's $6.98, that would give retail a 42.7 percent gross margin, similar to the profit margin cassette and vinyl albums enjoyed back in the day.
On the plus side, big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Amazon have agreed to support the configuration, although all of them may not be ready to do so at launch date, sources say.
How to: 8 Ways to Get Ringtones Onto Your iPhone
Purchasable iPhone Ringtones are officially here. However, with the discovery of free iPhone ringtones from inside iTunes 7.4 (and the rediscovery of them in iTunes 7.4.1), most of you won't want to pay $0.99 for the privilege of using a 30-second version of a song you've already purchased. Here are eight alternative ways to get ringtones onto your iPhone.
Options that require Jailbreak
• SSH/File Transfer: All you have to do is drop an iPhone's iPod-compatible ringtone into the /Library/Ringtones directory, meaning you can use MP3s, AACs (protected and unprotected), or M4As. Anything that your iPhone's iPod supports will work.
• iBrickr (Windows): iBrickr actually transcodes your sound files for you, so if you're looking up old WAV sound pages from 1999, iBrickr can convert them into something that the iPhone understands before syncing. [iBrickr]
• iFuntastic (Mac): Same as the SSH/File Transfer option. Just drag them into the correct /Library/Ringtones folder. [iFuntastic]
• Sendsong: Allows you to pick any song from your iPod and move it into the Ringtones section. Install this with AppTapp.
Options that don't require Jailbreak
• iTunes Music Store: You can manually place AAC files into the correct iTunes Ringtones folder as long as it has the right file extension. Works with purchased iTunes songs or songs you've converted to AAC format. [JoeMaller]
• Rogue Ameoba's MakeiPhoneRingtone (Mac): This takes advantage of the iTunes 7.4 and iTunes 7.4.1 ringtone file compatibility workaround to get the Ringtones show up in iTunes. All you have to do is drop in an AAC file, which can be one of your songs purchased from iTunes. [MakeiPhoneRingtone]
• iToner (Mac): Copies ringtones to your iPhone, bypassing iTunes, should be guaranteed to work with future iPhone updates. Costs $15. [iToner]
• iPhoneRingToneMaker (Windows): Transfers ringtones to your iPhone, but lets you edit them beforehand in its editor so you can chop down long songs to a manageable clip. [efksoft]
We recommend you use one of the free methods, since they're actually quite easy to do. Even if you don't want to jailbreak your phone, the iTunes Music Store manual method and Rogue Amoeba's MakeiPhoneRingtone can take care of this for free. But if you want to make sure your ringtones don't get deleted when a new version of iTunes or iPhone Firmware comes out, you may want to try jailbreaking and placing the songs into the ringtones folder manually.
iUnlock Released: The First Free, Open Source iPhone SIM Unlock Software
It looks like the battle's officially over between iPhoneSIMfree and the numerous unique groups of open source hackers trying to software SIM unlock the iPhone. As we've been following in our previous post on the topic, earlier this afternoon iUnlock, the first free, open source iPhone SIM unlock app, was released to the underground just 74 days after the iPhone's release. Developed by the iPhone Dev Team, it's not (yet) for the faint of heart and it takes a little longer to do its magic than iPhoneSIMfree's method, but it works.
To pull this off you'll need iUnlock + nor + the .fls file, which is available in ZIPs all over. We've got the app here, but this package doesn't include all of the files necessary. Good list of links here, or try here, here, here, here, and here.
For the how-to, just hit up one of those guides down below. Naturally, we offer zero guarantees that any of this will work. (Read: don't whine to us if your iPhone gets bricked.) Big ups to the iphone.unlock crew, Draken, and, of course, the iPhone Dev Team. Let us know in comments if this technique works for you.
Update: We've confirmed the hack! Yes, it's fully restore-resistant, too, which is great news. We'll get you all the juicy proof in a few, but we have indeed managed to software unlock an iPhone with iUnlock. Also, HaRRo says the app should be out "very soon" to make this easier on the noobs.
Update 2: Depending on activation method, YouTube might not be working after the unlock -- ours isn't. This is, of course, expected behavior. There's a Windows script here that should hopefully fix you up (again, we don't make any guarantees), but Mac users will have to look elsewhere. Also, alongside the Mac GUI iUnlock app in the works, the iPhone Dev Team is prepping a Windows version, a simple bash script and an iPhone app -- and eventually an all-in-one app that can do everything from the Jailbreak to the unlock.
Update 3: We've posted our terminal output from using the hack after the break. Go ahead. Nerd out. Also, the graphical version isn't out quiet yet, but we've got the first image of it above. Check it out.
Update 5: Ok, the graphical unlock app still isn't yet out, but we've tested an early build, and it definitely works! Check it out here.
Read - Official unlock guide
Read - Unofficial unlock guide
Terminal session for iUnlock
-sh-3.2# cd /usr/bin
-sh-3.2# chmod +x iUnlock
-sh-3.2# chmod +x minicom
-sh-3.2# launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.CommCenter.plist
-sh-3.2# iUnlock ICE03.14.08_G.fls nor
iUnlock v42.PROPER -- Copyright 2007 The dev team
Credits: Daeken, Darkmen, guest184, gray, iZsh, pytey, roxfan, Sam, uns, Zappaz, Zf
* Leet Hax not for commercial uses
Punishment: Monkeys coming out of your ass Bruce Almighty style.
Sending Begin Secpack command
Sending Erase command
Waiting For Erase Completion...
Sending Write command
Sending End Secpack command
Validating the write command
FW are equal!
-sh-3.2# bbupdater -v
pinging the baseband...
eep version: EEP_VERSION:207
eep revision: EEP_REVISION:7
"", line 2331, terminal 'hpansi': exit_am_mode but no enter_am_mode
"", line 2385, terminal 'iris-ansi': save_cursor but no restore_cursor
"", line 2403, terminal 'iris-ansi-ap': save_cursor but no restore_cursor
"", line 4359, terminal 'vi603': enter_insert_mode but no exit_insert_mode
"", line 8138, terminal 'dg+ccc': set_color_pair but no initialize_pair
"", line 8508, terminal 'd430c-dg-ccc': set_color_pair but no initialize_pair
"", line 9587, terminal 'hp+color': set_color_pair but no initialize_pair
"", line 9595, terminal 'hp2397a': set_color_pair but no initialize_pair
Welcome to minicom 2.2
Compiled on Jul 21 2007, 05:09:51.
Press CTRL-A Z for help on special keys
AT S7=45 S0=0 L1 V1 X4 &c1 E1 Q0
launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.CommCenter.plist
Put in the SIM and voila!
Mobile System Promises Free Calls
A new way of making calls directly between phones, for free, is being trialled by a Swedish company.
It is hoping to dramatically improve communications in the developing world.
Swedish company TerraNet has developed the idea using peer-to-peer technology that enables users to speak on its handsets without the need for a mobile phone base station.
The technology is designed for remote areas of the countryside or desert where base stations are unfeasible.
Projects backed by TerraNet recently launched in Tanzania and Ecuador.
TerraNet founder Anders Carlius told the BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme that the idea for TerraNet came when he was on safari in Tanzania in 2002, and found that poor connectivity meant he could not ring friends riding in another jeep only a few metres away.
"I started thinking, 'couldn't we get phone-to-phone without needing any other equipment, and actually have real voice communication, like a telephone call, between units?'" he said.
The TerraNet technology works using handsets adapted to work as peers that can route data or calls for other phones in the network.
The handsets also serve as nodes between other handsets, extending the reach of the entire system. Each handset has an effective range of about one kilometre.
This collaborative routing of calls means there is no cost to talk between handsets.
When a TerraNet phone is switched on, it begins to look for other phones within range. If it finds them, it starts to connect and extend the radio network.
When a number is dialled a handset checks to see if the person being called is within range. If they are, the call goes through.
While individually the phones only have a maximum range of 1km, any phone in between two others can forward calls, allowing the distance to double. This principle applied many times creates a mini network.
However, Mr Carlius admitted that this has created big problems with having enough available frequencies.
The system can also be used to make calls to other TerraNet mesh networks via a net-connected PC fitted with an inexpensive USB dongle.
"If you look at places like Africa, South America, India, China, we're really for the first time giving people a digital identity," he added.
"People are able to talk to other people using a phone number.
"With our stuff, we are giving the low-end man or woman the chance to talk locally for free."
And TerraNet phones currently only work with a special handset - although Mr Carlius said he hopes that it will eventually be a feature available on all phones, like Bluetooth.
He said that were this to happen, it could potentially spell the end for the current Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications model. About 70% of all mobile phones use this technology.
Mr Carlius said large mobile firms did not like the idea of using a peer-to-peer model to make calls.
"One of the biggest things against us is that the big operators and technology providers are really pushing against us, saying this technology doesn't work and it doesn't have a business model," he said.
"This is fine - just join us in Lund and see how the technology works, and ask our customers how our business model works."
Mr Carlius said that mobile phone manufacturer Ericsson had invested around £3m in TerraNet, and this indicated that the business model for the network is sound.
Update: Worm Circulating Through Skype
Skype Ltd. warned its users today that a worm targeting Windows PCs is spreading through the service's instant messenger, making the Voice over IP (VoIP)'s chat software the latest to come under the hacker gun.
Dubbed Ramex.a by Skype spokesman Villu Arak -- but pegged Pykspa.d by Symantec Corp. -- the worm takes a typical instant messenger (IM) line of attack: After hijacking contacts from an infected machine's Skype software, it sends messages to those people that include a live link. Recipients who blithely click on the URL -- which poses as a JPG image but is actually a download to a file with the .scr extension -- wind up infected.
"The chat message, of which there are several versions, is cleverly written and may appear to be a legitimate chat message, which may fool some users into clicking on the link," said Arak in an alert on the Skype site.
Arak also listed instructions for removing the worm from infected PCs, but they included changes to the Windows registry, a chore most users are hesitant to try.
Ramex.a/Pykspa.d injects code into the Explorer.exe process to force it to run the actual malware -- a file named wndrivsd32.exe -- periodically, wrote an infected user on a Skype message forum today. The worm also plugs in bogus entries in the Windows hosts file so that installed security software won't be able to retrieve updates.
It may also modify the list of programs allowed to call up Skype, according to a moderator on Skype's Windows support forum. "You may additionally need to check your approved programs that work with Skype," said the user identified as TheUberOverlord. "If you see something that looks strange REMOVE it," he added. The list of approved programs can be found under Tools/Options/Privacy/Related Tasks in Skype 3.0.
As of early today, detailed information from anti-virus vendors was scanty. Symantec, for instance, while listing Pykspa.d as a new threat, said in its write-up only that it is investigating. Several security companies, however, including Symantec, F-Secure Corp. and Kaspersky Lab Inc., have already updated their signature definitions to detect and delete the new malware.
Skype is only the latest IM client to feel the heat from hackers. Both Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN/Live Messenger have been struck this summer. Exploit code designed to hijack Windows PCs running Yahoo Messenger appeared as early as June, and Yahoo has been forced to patch the IM client several times since. Microsoft, meanwhile, has scheduled fixes for its MSN Messenger and Windows Live Messenger software for tomorrow, presumably to quash a webcam bug that was disclosed late last month.
How the Porn Industry Plans to Wipe Out BitTorrent
With all the negative reporting about BitTorrent in the mainstream media, you could be forgiven for thinking that an anti-piracy crackdown against torrent sites would be a depressing issue. On the contrary, the porn industry’s approach to dealing with BitTorrent raises more than a few smiles.
Yesterday we reported on a porn-industry meeting where they decided to take on BitTorrent and tackle the piracy menace. Today we take a look at some of the pre-meeting arrangements and discussions leading up to the ’round table’ meeting. A message on the GoFuckYourself forums (which sent this writer’s Firefox ‘suspicious site‘ plugin crazy) made by ServerGenius (an 8000+ post veteran and member since 2002) sounded quite urgent:
Plan A: Starve the Internet of Pirate Porn
ALL Major Content Producers / Studios / Big Brand names IN HERE NOW!!!!
Hit me up, I have extremely important information regarding content theft, distribution of both Interactive Online Media as well as DVD movie releases. I’m onto a major site that is one of the main sources in distributing new fresh stolen content on a daily basis on usenet but also most torrent sites grab their content from this source to add it to the torrent networks. I not only have info but also everything needed to legally deal with them and to get them permanently shutdown. I’m not joking, I’m not bullshitting I already have taken all the steps needed to get them shutdown…..but want to collect as much evidence from companies who their content is listed before getting them closed down. Doing so will ensure they’ll stay down…..I will assist every step that’s required to get this done properly I need you to confirm on the content that’s yours and your approval to include that info in the documentation to be used to whipe them out.
ServerGenius (SG) reveals the plan to stop porn piracy and starve torrent sites:
I’m after a forum which is very active releasing adult content by using usenet…..The site offers .nzb downloads for its users to download everything without having to look for it……..it’s a usenet for dummies kinda thing as well as a community for quite a few of the bigger release teams that do porn.
The forum is also used a LOT for the torrentsite owners as their main source for new releases……example: Shane’s World releases a new DVD today……it’s ripped, uploaded and added with all the info, screen shots and full dvd-rip tomorrow…..same day or day after…..same content is listed on sites like: puretna.com, empornium.us and many others.
Do I make this up? No I don’t, are you sure about that? Yes I am…… I have logs and any other info that will backup everything I claim….how did you get all this info? Believe it or not, they gave it themselves to me…….but more about that later…..
So the plan seems to revolve around taking down a single NZB site (a site which simplifies UseNet downloading) so that adult trackers immediately lose their source material, just like that. The problem with this plan is - well, everything really. 1) Taking down an NZB site doesn’t remove the content from Usenet. 2) There are lots of other NZB sites and sites which enable you to make your own NZBs. 3) Experienced Usenet users don’t need NZB sites. 4) Releasers have multiple sources, not just Usenet. 5) They’re discussing their take-down plans on the open internet. People read and report on such things.
Plan B: The Solutions to BitTorrent Sites
Ron Cadwell CEO of CCBill (processer of credit card transactions for porn sites) weighs in with some ideas of his own:
I was reading a post that Raw Alex (very smart guy) made in another tread that got me thinking on how you could stop the Torrent sites. You need to attack them like the Spam Groups did on spammers. They went after the backbone providers (Level 3, Sprint, ATT etc). If you could get 7 out of 10 of the major providers to blackhole them they are dead.
The question is how do you do that? Simple.
1. You get a group of adult webmasters to file DMCA notices by the truck load or allow you to file them on their behalf to the backbone providers. The laws are very specific on Damages and what an ISP must do if a proper DMCA notice is files. (Be Very Annoying Here)
2. You start sending them URL’s like what Raw Alex showed about Child Porn. This is a HOT topic and no backbone provider that is a PUBLIC COMPANY would want to be associated with Child Porn Traffic?
3. Each of the large adult hosting companies have a good relationship with 1 if not more major backbone providers. We can also put pressure on their Abuse Departments to blackhole them also due to the complaints?
I am not sure if it will work but if you put enough pressure on them and the fear of newspapers/major companies finding out about it they will want to distance themselves very quickly from these sites.
Bingo Problem Solved
Not even the mighty MPAA/RIAA with their gargantuan anti-piracy budgets seem to have thought of this plan, however Ron Cadwell felt that spamming DMCA notices is the way to go:
With a little programming I am sure A1R3K’s new group could put an online system that could make it very easy to send hundreds of complaints a day to each backbone provider and really put the pressure on them to black hole the sites.
Drunkspringbreakgirls sees no complications and is eager to get on with it:
We need to make a list of all the torrents, which backbone they are using and then we can all start contacting their abuse departments of the providers.
RawAlex steps in with his way to take down The PirateBay:
Swedish embassies based in the US are great places to drop off DMCA notices. Their government not wanting to take action on obvious copyright violation is a real issue, and raising this issue to this level may in fact make a difference.
…with due respect, 90% of the companies providing the actual connectivity are either based in the US or are owned by US companies. As such, to a greater or less extent, they can be touched by a DMCA because they have responsibilities as good corporate citizens in the US.
Example, is piratebay.org - “hosted” by p80.net, which is (shock) registered at Directnic. That would be a good place to send a DMCA.
P80.net is getting their connectivity (the route I get) from sprintlink. Spring comes up with an address in Kansas.
There are all sorts of fun places to deal with on this issue. If P80 / port80 / rix internet is not going to remove connectivity from pirate bay (and like pirate bay will try to hide behind lax swedish laws) then you get the US based companies that provide their connectivity to take the action that US law obliges them to take……
…Piratebay is hiding in Sweden because they know pretty much anywhere else they would get escorted to a cell with Bubba for recreation for the next few years. Again, shows a consciousness of guilt. If they thought they were right, they wouldn’t be hiding under the ice in Sweden.
….unless the guys from PirateBay happened to be a) Swedish and b) not hiding and c) not breaking any Swedish law.
Brokep, one of the founders of The Pirate Bay is not really impressed by these plans. He told TorrentFreak in a response: “We welcome the porn industry to contact us, we need more updates for the legal page, hasn’t been any fun legal threats for a while - and the porn industry have a good sense of humor, just look at the movie names they copy and remake.”
The porn industry certainly isn’t getting much sympathy from the guys on Digg either. Kikkomann felt that torrents provided great publicity for their stars while str3ama felt that the adult industry had some infringement issues of it’s own to deal with.
homesickalien couldn’t understand how the porn movie business could ever lose any money: “it’s not like they’re shelling out millions to some a-list actors or spending loads on CG effects” he said. “All you need is a $50 hooker, a dv camcorder and a dvdburner. the porn industry couldn’t lose money if it tried to.”
However, the industry maintains that it loses 4% of its total worldwide revenue to piracy. ButterBuddha feels they should proceed with caution:
“The fight for that 4% will ruin the industry…”
The full discussions on GFY can be found here and here.
Barbie Gets the Chair
Can this be the end of the comely con?
This is a science fair project that I did in middle school and completely disgusted the entire female staff of Benton Middle.
This is perhaps not the most politically correct science fair project…
Until next week,
Current Week In Review
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