|09-09-09, 08:51 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - September 12th, '09
"Warner Bros. had a billion-dollar summer after all." – Carl DiOrio
"This scares me more than anything I have seen using monitoring technology. You don't put children's personal information at risk." – Parry Aftab
"We just didn't think about the vampire thing, I suppose." – Keith Kupferschmid.
September 12th, 2009
Opposition Mounts Against P2P Disconnection Plan
The heads of the UK's largest ISPs have co-signed a letter of protest against the proposal to disconnect suspected illegal file-sharers from their broadband service.
The open letter was sent to The Times on Thursday by the chiefs of TalkTalk, BT, and Orange, as well as representatives of the Open Rights Group and the consumer choice organizations Which and Consumer Focus.
It coincided with a detailed argument against the government's proposals, issued as a statement by the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (Basca) and the Music Producers Guild (MPG).
The signatories of the letter to The Times acknowledged the creative industry's concerns about illegal sharing of copyrighted material. Nevertheless, they said the government's latest proposals on how to reduce this are "misconceived, and threaten broadband consumers' rights and the development of new, attractive services."
"Consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty," the letter read. "We must avoid an extrajudicial 'kangaroo court' process where evidence is not tested properly and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations.
"Without these protections, innocent customers will suffer. Any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression."
The letter's signatories--TalkTalk's Charles Dunstone, BT's Ian Livingston, Orange's Tom Alexander, the Open Rights Group's Jim Killock, Consumer Focus' Ed Mayo, and Which's Deborah Prince--were responding to proposals made by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) in late August.
In those proposals, Lord Mandelson's department called for disconnection to be an option in the case of persistent illegal file-sharers.
The proposal came before the deadline on a consultation--launched in June by BIS--into the issue of copyrighted material being shared online. That consultation was kicked off by Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, which discounted the option of disconnection as being unnecessarily harsh.
BIS's proposal suggested ISPs should pay a large portion of the cost of the monitoring and legal mechanisms needed to establish which file-sharers should be disconnected.
The signatories of the letter to The Times pointed out that these costs would filter down to broadband customers. They described the plan as "grossly unfair, since the vast majority of consumers do not file-share illegally."
Also on Thursday, the FAC, Basca, and MPG issued a joint statement arguing that a system where suspected illegal file-sharers are monitored, sent warning letters, and punished would not lead to a "vibrant, functional, fair, and competitive" market for music.
"As a result, we believe that the specific questions asked by the consultation are not only unanswerable, but indicate a mindset so far removed from that of the general public and music consumer that it seems an extraordinarily negative document," the organizations wrote.
The organizations argued that the consultation's estimate for the damage done to the content industries by file-sharing--about $328 million per year--was based upon the premise that a P2P-downloaded track equals a lost sale. Therefore, the estimate is no more than "'lobbyists' speak' (as) it has little support from logic, and no economist would seek to weave such a number into a metric aimed at quantifying a 'value gap' for the industries challenged by P2P," they said.
The organizations also noted the costs of monitoring for illegal file-sharing, and said the consultation's estimate of $92 million to $139 million was likely to be a gross underestimate due to the complicated nature of the proposed system.
"Looking backward for insight into how we adapt mass-production product models to the digital age of access and services has been a major obstacle to progress over the past decade," they wrote. "We must begin to look forward to business models that we cannot even imagine yet.
"As creators' representatives, we are willing to be partners with government in exploring and navigating the opportunities and challenges brought by digital technologies. What we will not be a party to is any system that alienates our members' existing audience and potential new audiences."
Blur and Radiohead Join Forces to Battle Government Over Proposed Piracy Laws
Blur and Radiohead are among a host of bands calling on the Government to abandon proposals to cut off the internet connections of people who illegally download music.
They said plans announced by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to suspend the internet accounts of those who engage in filesharing will criminalise a whole generation of their fans.
The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a new group set up to represent the interests of recording artists, which also includes musicians from Pink Floyd, argued that despite the damage that file sharing does to sales of their records, it can also encourage people to buy concert tickets and merchandise.
Ed O’Brien, the Radiohead guitarist, said: “My generation grew up with the point of view that you pay for your music. Every generation has a different method.
"File sharing is like a sampler, like taping your mate’s music. You go, ‘I like that, I’ll go and buy the album’. Or, ‘you know what, I’ll go and see them live’. What’s going on is a huge paradigm shift.”
Dave Rowntree, the drummer with Blur, added: “The fact that file sharing goes on, and is as popular as it is, is an incredibly positive thing for the music industry. The fact is that music is so popular that people are willing to break the law to get it."
The musicians said they believed that file sharing is bringing their music to the internet generation who have not been brought up listening to the radio.
Nick Mason, drummer with Pink Floyd, said: “The last thing we want to be doing is going to war with our fan base. File sharing means a new generation of fans for us."
But Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, said: “We could hardly have more legal download services than we already do, and they have not eliminated piracy. It is the peer-to-peer downloading that is holding back investment in more services.
“What Government is proposing in the temporary suspension of accounts as a last resort is a set of measures that are proportional and balanced.”
China Web Sites Seeking Users’ Names
News Web sites in China, complying with secret government orders, are requiring that new users log on under their true identities to post comments, a shift in policy that the country’s Internet users and media have fiercely opposed in the past.
Until recently, users could weigh in on news items on many of the affected sites more anonymously, often without registering at all, though the sites were obligated to screen all posts, and the posts could still be traced via Internet protocol addresses.
But in early August, without notification of a change, news portals like Sina, Netease, Sohu and scores of other sites began asking unregistered users to sign in under their real names and identification numbers, said top editors at two of the major portals affected. A Sina staff member also confirmed the change.
The editors said the sites were putting into effect a confidential directive issued in late July by the State Council Information Office, one of the main government bodies responsible for supervising the Internet in China.
The new step is not foolproof, the editors acknowledged. It was possible for a reporter to register successfully on several major sites under falsified names and ID and cellphone numbers.
But the requirement adds a critical new layer of surveillance to mainstream sites in China, which were already heavily policed. Further regulations of the same nature also appeared to be in the pipeline.
And while the authorities called the measure part of a drive to forge greater “social responsibility” and “civility” among users, they moved forward surreptitiously and suppressed reports about it, said the editors and others in the media industry familiar with the measure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid putting their jobs at risk.
Asked why the policy was pushed through unannounced, the chief editor of one site said, “The influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big.”
Government Internet regulators have been trying to usher in real-name registration controls since 2003, when they ordered Internet cafes around China to demand that customers show identification, nominally to keep out minors. Last year, lawmakers and regulators began discussing legislation on a more extensive “real name system,” as it is known.
But such proposals have aroused heated debate over the purview of the state to restrict China’s online community, which is the largest in the world at about 340 million people and growing.
Proponents, led by officials and state-connected academics in the information security field, argue that mandatory controls are necessary to help subdue inflammatory attacks, misinformation and other illegal activity deemed to endanger social order. They often note registration requirements on large sites in South Korea to support their point.
Critics counter that government regulation represents an incursion on free speech, individual privacy and the watchdog role of the Web in China.
The critics say sites and users should retain the right to discipline themselves. Given the country’s huge population of Internet users and its failure to guarantee freedom of expression, they argue, the case of China is hardly analogous to that of South Korea.
In 2006, Internet users and the news media rebuffed one official proposal to require real-name registration on blog hosting sites. Star bloggers denounced the notion, while ordinary users overwhelmingly rejected it in surveys conducted on sites like Sina.
In another key test of the policy earlier this year, the legislature in Hangzhou, near Shanghai, passed a regulation that would have placed the requirement on users who comment, blog or play games on sites based there. Amid a popular outcry, however, the city shied away from enforcing the regulation.
Central authorities have gone to new lengths to tame online activity in 2009, a year peppered with politically delicate anniversaries.
Government censors have closed thousands of sites in a continuing war on “vulgarity,” closed liberal forums and blogs for spreading “harmful information,” blocked access to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and cut off Internet service where serious unrest has erupted, notably in the Xinjiang region of the west after deadly clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Han in July. Increasingly, officials have defended the Web shutdowns on the grounds of national security.
The government recently set off an international furor when it ordered that all computers sold in China come prepackaged with pornography filtering software that authorities could remotely control. Officials were forced to retreat from the order after international companies and trade bodies protested and Chinese hackers showed that the software was designed to block politically offensive content as well.
The authorities had aimed to avoid a similar showdown over the new real-name requirement. “We had no recourse to challenge it,” said the news editor of another portal.
Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper loyal to Beijing, first leaked news of the State Council edict in late July. But the report was scrubbed from the paper’s Web site within a few days.
Another state newspaper tried to follow up on the Ta Kung Pao report soon thereafter, the paper’s editors said, but they were forced to abort their article because they were warned that the order was a state secret.
The State Council Information Office had yet to respond to a list of submitted questions about the move.
The new mandate did not appear to affect formerly registered users of the portals. Nor did it affect blog hosts, forums or government news sites like People’s Daily or Xinhua.
Whether because it had an impact mainly on rookie users or because of the void of news about it, bloggers in China were unusually slow to recognize the measure. But those who did were critical.
One commentator on the popular forum Tianya wrote, “Not daring to write one’s real name, in truth, is a form of self-protection for the weak.”
There were signals in the state media in recent weeks that more name registration measures would follow.
An influential advocate of the policy, Fang Bingxing, the president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, told a forum in August that the “time was ripe” to roll it out widely to bolster information security, newspapers reported.
A trail of comments on Sina thrashed the report.
Late last month, the Communist Party-run Guangming Daily ran a positive story about a city government portal in western China that imposed the requirement on new bloggers, calling it a “forerunner.”
Hu Yong, a new media specialist at Peking University, said government-enforced registration requirements carried long-term side effects.
“Netizens will have less trust in the government, and to a certain extent, the development of the industry will be impeded,” he said.
From a comparison of the most commented-on articles in July and August on a number of portals it was hard to determine whether the volume of posts had been affected so far.
But both editors at two of the major portals affected said their sites had shown marked drop-offs.
Banned Abortion Site Not Blocked
THE federal opposition is alarmed at being able to access an abortion web page from parliamentary computers despite the site being listed on the government's top-secret blacklist.
Earlier this year, the addition of the web page to the blacklist managed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority made headlines when a Melbourne internet user complained to the regulator that he found the content offensive.
The authority added the site to its list of illegal, prohibited and potentially prohibited web pages.
Opposition staff were able to access the supposedly banned page through Parliament House computers.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the Department of Parliamentary Services was responsible for decisions on the choice and application of internet filters on Parliament House computers.
Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin said the "response was curious" considering the minister's hardline policy on introducing a mandatory national filtering system.
Senator Minchin said having access from Parliament to web pages on ACMA's blacklist was not a good sign for the federal government's plan to censor the internet.
"On one hand Senator Conroy places so much stock in centralised filtering systems based on the ACMA blacklist, yet on the other he is totally indifferent to the fact that the filtering system operating under his own nose in Parliament House doesn't use the blacklist as its basis."
Parliamentary computers use internet filtering software provided by Websense and do not follow the ACMA blacklist. They have their own set of guidelines.
Department of Parliamentary Services secretary Alan Thompson said eight online categories were filtered on parliamentary PCs, including adult material, gambling, racism and hate, violence and weapons.
Some parliamentary service researchers were exempted from the filters.
Websense, like any other corporate internet filter provider, can be configured according to an organisation's policies and requirement, Websense Australia marketing manager David Brophy said.
If an organisation made a request to ban sites according to the ACMA blacklist, the company could do so, it said.
The Rudd Labor government wants to use the ACMA blacklist as the basis to enforce a controversial mandatory internet service provider filtering scheme nationwide.
Web pages that will be banned are those rated RC (refused classification) on the blacklist. This includes child sexual abuse imagery, bestiality, sexual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates a terrorist act.
The program has been slammed by internet users and privacy advocates who say filtering the internet is near-impossible, encroaches on freedom of speech and would slow broadband to a crawl.
‘Anonymous’ Declares War on Australia Over Internet Filtering
“Anonymous” has struck again — this time declaring war on Australia.
Hackers identifying themselves as “Anonymous” launched a denial-of-service attack Wednesday against a web site for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to protest a government proposal to filter internet content, according to the Australian Associated Press.
The hackers also targeted a web site belonging to the Australian Communications and Media Authority and planned to attack a web site for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy as well.
According to a message posted by the purported hacker on a different web site, the government proposal to introduce a mandatory internet filtering plan would amount to China-like censorship.
“Not only will your rights be at stake, our internet speeds will slow down by 70 percent, be mandatory for all Aussies and will not protect us from evil AT ALL.”
The attack began at 7:00 p.m. local time and within 18 minutes the prime minister’s site was down. But it’s unclear if the site’s collapse was a result of the attack, or a defensive move by an administrator.
A note posted by the hacker at 7:11 p.m. read, “we’ve confirmed on site (via a source) that the sites due to be attacked have been taken down from the coordination page, possibly before the raid.”
The Associated Press reported that more than an hour later the prime minister’s site was still down.
Either way, a government spokesman said the attack was misguided since the internet filtering plan only proposed to block content such as child porn and images depicting rape and bestiality.
“The campaign that they’re mounting is erroneous and misinformed,” the spokesman said.
Web-Monitoring Software Gathers Data on Kid Chats
Parents who install a leading brand of software to monitor their kids' online activities may be unwittingly allowing the company to read their children's chat messages — and sell the marketing data gathered.
Software sold under the Sentry and FamilySafe brands can read private chats conducted through Yahoo, MSN, AOL and other services, and send back data on what kids are saying about such things as movies, music or video games. The information is then offered to businesses seeking ways to tailor their marketing messages to kids.
"This scares me more than anything I have seen using monitoring technology," said Parry Aftab, a child-safety advocate. "You don't put children's personal information at risk."
The company that sells the software insists it is not putting kids' information at risk, since the program does not record children's names or addresses. But the software knows how old they are because parents customize its features to be more or less permissive, depending on age.
Five other makers of parental-control software contacted by The Associated Press, including McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., said they do not sell chat data to advertisers.
One competitor, CyberPatrol LLC, said it would never consider such an arrangement. "That's pretty much confidential information," said Barbara Rose, the company's vice president of marketing. "As a parent, I would have a problem with them targeting youngsters."
The software brands in question are developed by EchoMetrix Inc., a company based in Syosset, N.Y.
In June, EchoMetrix unveiled a separate data-mining service called Pulse that taps into the data gathered by Sentry software to give businesses a glimpse of youth chatter online. While other services read publicly available teen chatter, Pulse also can read private chats. It gathers information from instant messages, blogs, social networking sites, forums and chat rooms.
EchoMetrix CEO Jeff Greene said the company complies with U.S. privacy laws and does not collect any identifiable information.
"We never know the name of the kid — it's bobby37 on the house computer," Greene said.
What Pulse will reveal is how "bobby37" and other teens feel about upcoming movies, computer games or clothing trends. Such information can help advertisers craft their marketing messages as buzz builds about a product.
Days before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" opened in theaters on July 15, teen chatter about the movie spiked across the Internet with largely positive reactions.
"Cool" popped up as one of the most heavily used words in teen chats, blogs, forums and on Twitter. The upbeat comments gathered by Pulse foreshadowed a strong opening for the Warner Bros. film.
Parents who don't want the company to share their child's information to businesses can check a box to opt out.
But that option can be found only by visiting the company's Web site, accessible through a control panel that appears after the program has been installed. It was not in the agreement contained in the Sentry Total Home Protection program The Associated Press downloaded and installed Friday.
According to the agreement, the software passes along data to "trusted partners." Confidentiality agreements prohibit those clients from sharing the information with others.
In recognition of federal privacy laws that restrict the collection of data on kids under 13, the agreement states that the company has "a parent's permission to share the information if the user is a child under age 13."
Tech site CNet ranks the EchoMetrix software as one of the three best for parental control. Sales figures were not available.
The Sentry and FamilySafe brands include parental-control software such as Sentry Total Family Protection, Sentry Basic, Sentry Lite and FamilySafe (SentryPC is made by a different company and has no ties with EchoMetrix).
The Lite version is free. Others range from $20 to download and $10 a year for monitoring, to about $48 a year, divided into monthly payments.
The same company also offers software under the brands of partner entities, such as AmberWatch Lookout.
AmberWatch Foundation, a child-protection nonprofit group that licenses its brand to EchoMetrix, said information gathered through the AmberWatch-branded software is not shared with advertisers.
Practically speaking, few people ever read the fine print before they click on a button to agree to the licensing agreement. "Unless it's upfront in neon letters, parents don't know," Aftab said.
EchoMetrix, formerly known as SearchHelp, said companies that have tested the chat data using Pulse include News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting and Dreamworks SKG Inc. Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures recently signed on.
None of those companies would comment when contacted by the AP.
EchoMetrix has been losing money. Its liabilities exceeded its assets by nearly $25 million as of June 30, according to a regulatory filing that said there is "substantial doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern."
To get the marketing data, companies put in keywords, such as the name of a new product, and specify a date range, into Pulse. They get a "word cloud" display of the most commonly used words, as well as snippets of actual chats. Pulse can slice data by age groups, region and even the instant-messaging program used.
Pulse also tracked buzz for Microsoft Corp.'s "Natal," a forthcoming Xbox motion-sensor device that replaces the traditional button-based controller. Microsoft is not a client of Pulse, but EchoMetrix used "Natal" to illustrate how its data can benefit marketers.
Greene said children's conversations about Natal were focused on its price and availability, which suggested that Microsoft should assure teens that there will be enough stock and that ordering ahead can lock in a price.
Competing data-mining companies such as J.D. Power Web Intelligence, a unit of quality ratings firm J.D. Power and Associates, also trolls the Internet for consumer chats. But Vice President Chase Parker said the company does not read any data that's password-protected, such as the instant message sessions that EchoMetrix collects for advertisers.
Suresh Vittal, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said EchoMetrix might have to make its disclosures more apparent to parents.
"Are we in the safeguarding-the-children business or are we in the business of selling data to other people?" he said. If it's the latter, "it should all be done transparently and with the knowledge of the customer."
Key U.S. Lawmaker Seeks Changes to Broadband Rules
A key U.S. lawmaker on Thursday expressed concern that much of the eastern part of the United States could be disqualified from broadband grants because of the way remote communities are considered.
Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, said at a hearing that some rules governing the $7.2 billion program of loans and grants are too restrictive and urged administrators to be flexible.
Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, was specifically concerned about how a community might be considered "remote." For example, some grants are not available to remote communities that are within 50 miles of a city of at least 20,000.
"Almost the entire Eastern U.S. is disqualified from 80 to 100 percent grants by this inappropriate standard, which in mountainous terrain is not a reasonable yardstick for determining need," Boucher said.
In July the departments of Agriculture and Commerce announced it would release $4 billion of loans and grants as part of a $7.2 billion program aimed at expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.
In the first round, the departments received more than 2,200 applications requesting nearly $28 billion in loans and grants for broadband projects in all 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia.
"The fact that applicants requested nearly seven times the total amount of funding available in this one round ... underscores the extent of interest," Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickland said.
Applications came from state, tribal and local governments; nonprofits; industry; and community institutions such as libraries, universities and colleges and hospitals, among others.
Strickland said he has heard complaints concerning how the applications process would affect the eastern portion of the country and will review them.
Strickland and Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the USDA, said the number of application rounds may be reduced to two from three based on the first round of applications.
That way the funds could be distributed faster and save administrative costs, they said.
Winners from the first round of applications are expected to be announced in November.
The departments are also overseeing a broadband mapping program. Officials said data from that project is slated to be available by February 2010 and a complete map is expected by February 17, 2011.
Winners from those mapping applications are expected to be announced by the end of September.
(Reporting by John Poirier, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)
Watch Out: P2P-Worm.Agent.ti Is Coming Your Way!
Millions of files are being shared on the Internet each day. That is how music, games, films, pictures and other files can be easily spread on the web. However, stay extremely alert because not only you like file sharing. Cyber criminals are fond of this phenomenon. The only difference here is that they use file sharing techniques and software not to spread useful data but to bombard your computer with malware. Therefore, be ready to meet P2P-Worm.Agent.ti - a worm spreading via p2p file sharing applications.
It is rather fair to say that the p2p (peer-to-peer) file sharing model is usually used in order to spread files via networks. The main reasresearch.jpgon for the popularity of p2p is probably that there are only 2 requirements for a computer to join a peer-to-peer network; and these are an Internet connection and p2p software. Once connected to the network, p2p software allows you to search for files on other people's computers. Other users on the network can also search for files on your computer. Very simple, isn't it?
As a result, P2P-Worm.Agent.ti can easily sneak into your computer system and perform its malicious activities. It's also important to note that this malware can reach you computer via backdoors or other vulnerabilities created by Trojans. P2P-Worm.Agent.ti could potentially open up your computer to other attacks from remote sources over the internet. All this means that your computer system will be compromised and you will lose both important information and your money.
Once malware enters a system, various files are remotely loaded onto the victims' computer. In this case P2P-Worm.Agent.ti is known to be related to svchost.exe file. The size of this file is 33792 bytes and it comes with the MD5 44f94858aad9732e89de4b5b5495eeb6. P2P-Worm.Agent.ti has numerous alias names, so get acquainted with the list of several alias names listed below:
Therefore, if you don't want to lose important information and have your computer infected with a whole bunch of malware that will eventually crack your entire system, stay extremely alert when sharing files and downloading them via p2p networks. Keep in mind that cyber criminals are always somewhere near waiting for a free access to your PC.
China Sets New Rules For Music Sold Online
China's government ordered a cleanup of the country's online music market that will require music sites to seek approval from censors for all foreign songs they distribute on the Internet.
The Ministry of Culture's measure, which affects music services provided by companies including Google Inc. and Baidu Inc., is the latest effort by the government to try to assert control over the Internet, which has some 338 million users in China, more than in any other country.
In a statement on its Web site, the ministry said the measure is aimed at addressing problems such as "the intermingling ...
XM Canada Owes Musicians' Royalties
XM Canada has reportedly failed to pay music royalties since January 2005 and a Canadian musicians' group says the satcaster should be ordered to stop playing any music until it pays up. The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada #SOCAN# has filed in court, according to Bloomberg, asking that XM be ordered to pay its delinquent royalties.
XM Canada is required to pay out 4.26 percent of its revenue to SOCAN, according to the Canadian copyright board. The royalties cover XM Canada going back to January of 2005.
In a statement, the organization said, "XM’s failure to pay the royalties, which are significant, deprives composers, lyricists, songwriters and music publishers [of compensation]. XM’s nonpayment is also unfair to its competitors."
In April, the Canadian copyright board ruled that XM Canada was to pay its back royalties by July 31, and monthly after that.
XM Canada is owned by Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings, with Sirius XM Radio holding a 23 percent share in CSR.
Authorities Seize Alejandro Fernandez Recordings From Sony Music Mexico
The management office of Mexican singer Alejandro Fernández confirmed that Mexico’s Federal Public Ministry conducted a search of Sony Music’s Mexico offices and seized albums, master recordings and cover art of Fernández.
The search and seizure was authorized Sept. 3 by a federal court in Mexico City. According to the website of Mexico's attorney general, the search was conducted by agents of the Federal Police and the Federal Public Ministry.
Fernández, one of Latin music’s biggest stars, was signed to Sony Music in 1998. When his contract expired last year, the singer signed with Universal Music and has plans to release two albums this fall.
According to Fernández’s attorney, José Luis Caballero, the singer’s contract allowed Sony to release seven studio albums featuring tracks recorded by Fernández. Fernández fulfilled his obligation but in the process also recorded many tracks that were later not included in any of his albums for various reasons.
But a few weeks ago, Sony announced it would release a Fernández album of previously released material called “Diferente.” Fernández and his team immediately objected.
“What Sony did that was wrong and illegal was to assume that they could take those tracks that weren’t part of the previous albums and release them as an eighth album as if it were new material over which they had rights,” says Jose Luis Caballero, Fernández’s attorney in Mexico. “And it’s perfectly clear that the company’s contract is limited to seven albums.”
Caballero says his office sent Sony Mexico a cease and desist letter some two weeks ago but received no response. He then took the matter to court and obtained the search and seizure court order.
Among the material seized were copies of Fernández’ albums as well as the master recordings and the master art of “Diferente.” The album has not been released.
Sony did not return emails seeking comment.
Listening to Radio on the Web? That’s So Last Year
Claire Cain Miller
The next generation of radio listeners might not remember the olden days of scrolling through stations by turning a knob on a car or home stereo. Instead, the radio they listen to could very well be on their mobile phones.
Pandora, which runs a popular streaming radio Web site, on Wednesday released its application for phones running Google’s Android software. It’s available for download in the Android Market. Pandora is now available on the Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm Pre, and most of Pandora’s new listeners are listening on their phones — whether it’s while walking down the street or by plugging their phones into speakers in their cars or homes.
Of the 65,000 people who register for a Pandora account each day, 45,000 do so on mobile phones, said Tim Westergren, Pandora’s founder. Three-quarters of the new mobile listeners are new to Pandora, as opposed to long-time Web listeners downloading the mobile app. “I’m beginning to think that our future is going to be more mobile-centric than I had even thought, and sooner,” he said.
The biggest surprise — and success — of Pandora’s mobile applications has been the way people plug them in to speakers in their homes and cars, Mr. Westergren said. Those two places have historically been where people listen to 80 percent of radio. “It’s giving Pandora access to the two big pieces of the radio market we’ve never been able to reach before,” he said. “It really allows us to become a much more serious and viable alternative to broadcast radio.”
Another surprise has been the way people interact with the mobile ads shown on Pandora. Mr. Westergren said he thought it would take a long time to build up a listener base that was big enough to attract advertisers and that it would be hard to get people to click on ads if their phones were in their pockets.
But it turns out that Pandora’s 11 million registered mobile listeners (compared to the 35 million on the Web) click on mobile ads about twice as often as they do on Web ads.
An advertiser like Beck’s Beer, for instance, runs an ad that pops up at the bottom of the screen like a piece of toast. If the listener clicks on it, Pandora keeps playing music in the background, and if the listener decides to watch a video or make a call from the advertiser’s Web site, Pandora will pause the music.
Taking Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory
LONG before the first big-screen vivisection of a female breast, the novelist H. P. Lovecraft wrote that horror was “supposed to be against the world, against life, against civilization.” But the delight that the genre’s filmmakers, especially those behind the “Saw” franchise and its torture porn kin, take in depicting a steady stream of starlets being strung up, nailed down or splayed open, makes it clear that modern horror is against some more than others.
And yet recent box office receipts show that women have an even bigger appetite for these films than men. Theories straining to address this particular head scratcher have their work cut out for them: Are female fans of “Saw” ironists? Masochists? Or just dying to get closer to their dates?
“Jennifer’s Body” (out on Sept. 18), a high school retro-horror romp — written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) and starring Megan Fox as a satanically possessed sex bomb who literally feeds on boys — offers another, more reassuring explanation for the draw: Audiences love a woman who can take back the knife.
Ms. Cody, 31, whose Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Juno” featured a distinctive female voice, said she gravitated toward horror as a girl because she could see herself represented on screen. “When I watched movies like ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.,’ it was boys having adventures,” she said. “When I watched ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ it was Nancy beating” up Freddy. “It was that simple.”
This basic appeal for female viewers was given a sophisticated reading by the film theorist Carol J. Clover in “Men, Women and Chain Saws” (1992), in which she refers to a lone young woman who either escapes or overthrows a killer as the “final girl.” More comfortable watching a woman in peril than a man, young, male audiences — initially slasher movies’ core viewers — get the best of both worlds, identifying first with the predator and then with the would-be prey. That women also identify with the scrappy heroine is something of a happy accident.
“Jennifer’s Body” was designed with both feminists and 15-year-old boys in mind, a seemingly eccentric blueprint that, as Ms. Kusama points out, is in line with the best movies of the slasher tradition. “It may be one of the best ways for a young male audience to experience a female story without feeling like they have been limited by a female perspective,” she said.
Here that perspective is doubled, with Jennifer and her innocuous shadow, Needy (Amanda Seyfried). The story of the girls’ tormented, toxic relationship is set off by various depictions of Ms. Fox — a combination of brain-locking beauty and recombinant evil — rummaging through some poor guy’s torso. Between Needy’s cautious yearning and Jennifer’s pure, trampling id, the film presents a portrait of female identity in flux.
It was an effort that often bedeviled Ms. Cody and Ms. Kusama, who tried to balance brute violence and lesbian kisses with the film’s more substantial metaphors. “The tricky thing is if you’re going to subvert those tropes, they have to be there,” said Ms. Cody, whose script is a self-described “crazy, chaotic homage” to the horror films of her youth. “We were constantly bobbing and weaving. Karyn and I talk about the film as a kind of Trojan horse. We wanted to package our beliefs in a way that’s appealing to a mainstream audience.”
That audience is not known for its flexibility: the bulletproof formula of screams, skin and death, pioneered when Janet Leigh and half her blood supply went sliding down the Bates Motel’s shower wall in “Psycho,” took hold because it’s easy and it works. Horror films have adapted with Darwinian fortitude over the years, allegorizing everything from cold war paranoia and eco-anxiety to the breakdown of families. And yet the success of slasher movies, which exploded with films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 1974 and came to dominate what we now think of as scary movies, might have stalled cinema’s most resilient genre.
For the most part, except for a few breakouts like “Shaun of the Dead” (and remakes of still-vital foreign horror films), mainstream American horror has become, like pornography, mainly a cinema of graphic escalation. Though often associated with exploitative fare, the director Rob Zombie, whose recent release, “Halloween II,” revamps another 1970s proto-slasher (and one of the original “final girls,” the character Laurie Strode), says the genre’s indulgence has been its undoing.
“The ’80s are the decade that ruined everything for everybody,” he said. “The soul went away, and it became gore for the sake of gore, and kids were cheering at killings and yelling and screaming. It became a roller coaster ride. And of course once something becomes a roller coaster, all you can do is build a bigger, more extreme roller coaster. That’s where I think horror movies really got perverted.”
One feminist who would agree with that is the novelist Rita Mae Brown, who wrote a slasher sendup called “The Slumber Party Massacre” (1982). Under the auspices of the producer Roger Corman, however, the movie was denuded of its satiric trimmings. Ms. Brown, reached at her home in Virginia, is philosophical about the experience. “Horror films are one of the last places where women will make progress,” she said, “because they go to the root of adolescence. They attract adolescence, on some level, even if you’re 50.”
Twenty-seven years later Ms. Cody’s similar attempt at subversion led to pressure simply to tow the slasher line. “That temptation was there,” Ms. Cody said. “I think there were some people involved who would have liked to have made a straight horror film.” Ultimately, however, Ms. Cody’s script prevailed intact. The risk of mixing things up a little was mitigated, it turns out, by the fact that women are currently helping to prop up hard-core horror releases.
It is a development that has confounded even those buying fake blood by the barrel. Mr. Zombie is baffled by the trend. And so is Debbie Liebling, the former president for production at the recently dissolved Fox Atomic, a studio that was dedicated to low-budget, teen-oriented genre films like “Turistas.”
“I’m not sure what the attraction is, psychologically, for females,” she said in a recent interview. “I would love to know why girls are going to see ‘Saw,’ because I have no idea.” (Fox Atomic acquired “Jennifer’s Body,” which is now to be released by Fox.)
Both “Halloween II” and “Jennifer’s Body” suggest that the best way to move past horror’s current fascination with excess is to take the slasher film back to its relatively character-based roots and regrow it in modern soil. “I watch the original ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ and it feels like a political art film in comparison to some of the stuff we’re seeing right now,” Ms. Kusama said.
Perhaps more familiar now with extreme horror films than with the genre’s classics, most test audience members couldn’t name a single movie analogous to “Jennifer’s Body,” a scary, witty film more closely aligned with the pig-blood pranks of Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” than with the wall-to-wall gore of its descendants. For Ms. Cody this was great news, an opportunity to re-educate a jaded audience about what a horror film is.
“Some of us just like that stuff,” she said. “We like suspense, we like to be scared, we like to have visceral reaction in the theater. Maybe I’m starved for adrenaline, but for me watching a horror movie is very pleasurable. So making one was kind of a dream.”
Mixed Returns at Summer Box Office
Hollywood’s crucial summer season delivered near-record revenue, but attendance drooped when an extra week was factored out — confirming fears that this year’s escape-the-recession surge in moviegoing has waned.
For moviedom’s so-called popcorn season, the period between May 1 and Labor Day that typically accounts for 40 percent of annual box office receipts, domestic ticket sales totaled about $4.4 billion on attendance of about 594 million, according to analysts.
But this year’s summer selling period was a week longer than 2008’s, since Labor Day fell so late, skewing seasonal comparisons. When those extra days are lopped off, ticket revenue did climb this year by about 2 percent, to $4.3 billion, but attendance fell, also by about 2 percent, to 572 million.
The mammoth success of the summer’s top five films — “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Up,” “The Hangover” and “Star Trek” — simply couldn’t counter a parade of high-profile disappointments like “Land of the Lost,” “Imagine That” and “Funny People.”
The decline followed a huge surge in winter and spring moviegoing, a phenomenon analysts attributed to a mix of easy, mass-appeal titles like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and the brutal economic downturn. Americans, teetering between bust and bailout, seemed to want escape, and movies, despite climbing ticket prices, are still a very affordable form of entertainment.
But moviegoers, aided by booming social networking services that make word of mouth immediate, started to become more discerning about value: films had to be perceived as worth their leisure-time investment.
“I think it still just comes down to the product,” said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst at Hollywood.com, which tracks box office statistics. “People don’t say, ‘It’s a recession, so I’m going to go see a terrible movie just to get out of the house.’ ” Going into the summer, Hollywood.com said, attendance for the year was up about 16 percent.
The film business now turns its attention to awards season, and the decline in ticket buying bodes poorly for the months ahead. Studios, as usual, have stuffed the fall schedule with sophisticated adult dramas, a genre that has been particularly shaky at the box office this year.
Veteran movie executives caution against reading too much into one batch of movies, but the industry always does it anyway. Among the topics being chewed over this year: whether A-list stars have just had a bad run, or whether their ability to draw big audiences is finally kaput, and to what degree the likes of Twitter are wreaking havoc on studio marketing campaigns.
One clear lesson of summer is that 3-D in general and Imax in particular are no longer a moviegoing afterthought. “Star Trek,” “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and “Transformers” all received boosts from premium-priced 3-D screenings.
“We’re no longer a rounding error,” said Greg Foster, Imax’s chairman of filmed entertainment.
Another take-away from recent months involves the international box office. Certain blockbuster-style movies have long performed better overseas. But two movies this summer heightened that phenomenon.
“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” sold $194 million in tickets in North America, but its foreign gross was enormous: $614 million. Similarly, “Angels & Demons,” the “Da Vinci Code” prequel starring Tom Hanks, was judged a domestic disappointment, with $133 million in sales; overseas, where the film racked up $351 million, it was a different story entirely.
The 2009 summer season ended with its traditional Labor Day whimper. “The Final Destination” was No. 1 for the second week, with about $15.4 million for Friday through Monday, and a cumulative total of $50.6 million. Second place went to Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” with about $15.1 million and a $95.2 million total.
The Sandra Bullock comedy “All About Steve” opened a lukewarm third, with about $13.9 million. Another new offering, the thriller “Gamer,” was a disappointing fourth, with $11.2 million.
The relatively low-budget science-fiction hit “District 9” chugged along in fifth place, selling about $9 million over the long weekend and edging over the $100 million mark to end the holiday weekend with $103.3 million.
Movie Studios See a Threat in Growth of Redbox
In 1982, just as the VHS tape was taking off, a “Star Wars” buff named Mitch Lowe had a radical idea. What about building a vending machine that could rent movies? He called his invention Video Droid.
It failed. People were not yet comfortable using credit cards for casual transactions, the tapes broke easily and the technology involved with manipulating their bulk proved too expensive.
But Mr. Lowe did not give up, and his moment seems to have finally come.
Mr. Lowe, 56, is now the president of Redbox, a fast-growing company in Illinois that rents movies for $1 a day via kiosks. By December, there will be 22,000 Redbox machines in spots like supermarkets, Wal-Mart Stores and fast-food restaurants.
Redbox’s growth — it started with 12 kiosks in 2004 and now processes about 80 transactions a second on Friday nights — has Hollywood’s blood boiling. Furious about a potential cannibalization of DVD sales and a broader price devaluation of their product, three studios (20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal) are refusing to sell DVDs to Redbox until at least 28 days after they arrive in stores.
Redbox is suing them on antitrust grounds. Leery of waging their own battles, two other studios, Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, have signed distribution deals with the vending company. Walt Disney permits third-party distributors to sell to Redbox but has so far shunned a direct relationship.
Redbox and its vending rivals now have 19 percent of the rental market, compared with 36 percent for rent-by-mail services (Netflix) and 45 percent for traditional stores, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. NPD estimates that vending will grow to a 30 percent share by the end of next year, at the expense of traditional stores.
Studios, aware that consumers are unlikely to pity their plight and muzzled by the lawsuits, are keeping quiet. Fox, Universal, Warner and Disney each declined to comment for this article. But Hollywood’s powerful public relations machinery is in motion behind the scenes to connect the news media with a group that is equally threatened by Redbox but much more relatable: mom and pop rental store owners.
“These machines are to the video industry what the Internet was to the music business — disaster,” said Ted Engen, president of the Video Buyers Group, a trade organization for 1,700 local rental stores.
Mr. Engen is enlisting lawmakers to attack Redbox for renting R-rated movies to underage viewers — the machines simply ask customers to confirm that they are 18 or older by pressing a button — and trying to rally the Screen Actors Guild and other unions.
“It’s going to kill the industry,” said Gary Cook, business manager for UA Local 78, which represents studio plumbers.
Mr. Lowe, meanwhile, is portraying the studios as greedy giants scheming to trample the little guy. “Don’t let a few movie studios prevent you from seeing the latest DVDs for an affordable price,” reads a headline on a new Redbox Web site, savelowcostdvds.com.
Redbox, formerly owned by McDonald’s and now part of Coinstar, is only the biggest of a host of DVD vending companies. DVDPlay, whose kiosks are also red, has been aggressive in California, while MovieCube is big in Canada.
Blockbuster is scrambling to introduce its own rental kiosks. There are now about 500 Blockbuster Express machines, and plans call for 2,500 more by the end of the year; the company expects to open 7,000 in 2010, a spokesman said.
The kiosk boom is fed by several consumer and business currents, all related to the recession.
For starters, the dismal economy has made people think twice about buying DVDs, especially as the likes of Redbox have made renting easier. Consumers are also tiring of the clutter: The average American household with a DVD player now has a library of 70 DVDs, according to Adams Media Research.
Over all, DVD sales are down 13.5 percent for the first half of 2009 compared to the first half of 2008, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, a trade organization. Studios say some new titles are selling 25 percent fewer copies than expected. Rental revenue is up about 8 percent over the same period, according to the group.
Retailers, struggling to keep people shopping, have realized that having a DVD kiosk in a store creates foot traffic, making it easier for companies like Redbox to sign wide-ranging installation agreements. Some partners, like Walgreens, have offered discounts that essentially make rentals free.
Redbox is also getting a hand because of Hollywood’s troubles. Analysts say Sony and Paramount signed agreements with the company in part because their home entertainment units are under pressure to meet financial targets, set before the DVD decline.
Sony’s five-year deal is worth about $460 million in DVD sales to Redbox. Paramount’s deal starts with a four-month test; if the studio decides Redbox represents a net gain to its home entertainment business, it can extend its relationship for five years and a guaranteed $575 million.
Paramount’s deal involves revenue-sharing, a rarity for Redbox. The kiosk operator primarily follows the mom and pop model: it seeks to buy discs wholesale and makes a profit with repeat rentals. (Revenue-sharing deals typically allow a rental store to buy discs for half the wholesale cost or less.) Redbox can price rentals at $1 and still make money because its machines eliminate so much overhead.
The $1 price is not the main issue for the studios, although they do not like that, either; it is the timing. New DVDs sell for about $25. Video-on-demand services price them at about $5. Multiday rentals of new titles cost $4.99 at Blockbuster.
Now there is a $1 option at the same time. That could put downward pressure on the industry’s price structure.
“Anyone whose business involves selling movies should be enormously concerned,” said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Research.
Analysts also see a threat to studios in Redbox’s practice of selling about half of its DVDs into the used market (after renting them about 15 times at an average of $2 a transaction). By signing deals with Redbox, Paramount and Sony got the kiosk operator to agree to destroy their discs rather than resell them.
“Our position is that this is a strong consumer trend, and we figured out a way to minimize the negative aspects and maximize the positive ones,” said David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, said, “This trial gives us access to information that will allow us to make an informed decision about Redbox’s impact on our home entertainment business.”
Mr. Lowe dismissed worries about the cannibalization of sales. He cited internal research indicating that 20 percent of Redbox’s volume is additive — people who did not previously buy or rent DVDs — and that partners like Wal-Mart have had only a 1 percent decline in sales after Redbox machines have been installed at their entrances.
The kiosks hold about 500 DVDs and focus on new mainstream releases.
Customers follow a series of touch-screen prompts to use the kiosks, which vend from slots on the side. Once a selection is made, the customer swipes a credit card through the reader. The card is charged a dollar (and tax) for each DVD rented; the charges for additional days, if any, are added when discs are returned. The charge for lost DVDs is $25.
“If you make renting affordable and fun, people are going to watch a whole lot more movies than they did before,” Mr. Lowe said.
Like Apple, TV Explores Must-Have Applications
The cable and satellite TV business has a big case of iPhone envy.
Apple has been able to popularize its cellphone in a crowded field by giving away or selling specialized applications that make the phone more useful. So far, independent developers have written more than 65,000 apps.
DirecTV and the FiOS service from Verizon Communications have recently announced app stores modeled directly on Apple’s App Store. Just a few applications have shown up so far, but already these few — Bible verses, Facebook updates and fantasy sports team updates — suggest that people may not be content to sit back while watching TV but rather want to lean forward and interact and customize their TVs.
Most of the other cable, satellite and phone companies are also developing technology that will let their set-top boxes run more complex applications, including those written by outside developers.
But the companies are still wrestling with how open they want their systems to be to outside developers, what business arrangement to make with developers and what sorts of things people want to do while watching their TV from their couches.
TV systems, after all, have long been tightly controlled by their operators, who send squadrons of lawyers to negotiate deals with even the most obscure channel. To them, the prospect of emulating Apple’s sprawling marketplace is frightening, yet still increasingly appealing.
“The beauty of the iPhone is that there are a lot of applications that Apple would not have imagined people want,” said Sree Kotay, chief software architect for Comcast. “We want people engaged with television in ways we haven’t thought of yet.”
The apps idea goes beyond interactive television.
For years, many cable and satellite customers have been able to get news articles, weather forecasts and sports scores through their set-top boxes. Some boxes also insert on-screen messages during some commercials, urging viewers to use their remote to get more information on screen.
But very little of this interactivity actually engaged customers, leading many in the industry to conclude that all most people want to do with their TVs is watch.
With people getting used to sophisticated electronic interactions, not just on computer screens but on devices used all day — car dashboards, cameras and especially cellphones — the industry is rethinking that theory.
While viewers remain passive most of the time, they increasingly want the capabilities and information they come to depend on from one gadget with a screen to be available to them on all the other screens they use every day.
On FiOS, the Facebook application lets people see photos on their television screens that have been shared by their friends. The Twitter application shows a running stream of tweets about the show being viewed on the left side of the screen.
“The shows become a lot more fun to watch because there is a whole conversation going on,” said Shadman Zafar, Verizon’s senior vice president for product development. “For sports, it’s like bringing the rest of the sports bar into your home.”
The Twitter service has been a hit, with more than a million FiOS customers using it within the first three days. But Mr. Zafar mistakenly believed that people wanted to read tweets on the TV and use their computers to send them.
“We didn’t allow people to send tweets from their remotes,” he said. “We thought you mostly lean back and want to see what other people say. In four hours after the product went live, we had hundreds of requests, ‘Can I tweet on the TV now?’ ”
Within two days, Verizon added that feature; users tap out messages on the number pad on the remote as if they were sending a text message on an older cellphone.
Another lesson learned: one of the biggest impediments to adding more features to televisions is the remote control. It is difficult to enter text or even move quickly through complex menus.
So the cable industry would have to redesign and replace old remotes as well as old set-top boxes that have limited memory and processing capabilities in tens of millions of homes.
“The lowest end set-top box is the equivalent of a Mac II from 1991,” said Mr. Kotay of Comcast. Even recent models are hardly able to handle all the interactive tasks that developers have started to imagine, especially combining text, graphics and video from cable channels and the Internet. And the next generation will go further.
For example, a box Echostar plans to introduce this year will have a full Internet browser that can play video from nearly any site on the Web.
AT&T and Verizon, which only recently began competing directly with Comcast and Time Warner Cable, have the benefit of a technical fresh start. Their boxes have more computerlike features and faster Internet connections. AT&T’s U-verse service, for example, recently offered an interactive version of the Professional Golfers Association golf tournament that lets users switch between cameras aimed at different parts of the course.
Comcast, Time Warner Cable and most of the other major cable companies are countering the phone companies by backing a standard called the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format. When it is put into place next year, it will allow all but the oldest set-top boxes to display simple interactive applications that are set off by certain programs and advertisements. One of the first uses of this software is to put the caller ID information on the TV screen when the phone rings.
In theory, this standard will also let outside developers write applications that could run in tens of millions of homes. But the cable companies have not figured out how developers will submit applications and what sort of business models it will support. (Even Verizon has not published the terms of its new app store yet, but it hopes to split ad revenue or app purchase fees with developers.)
Cable companies are betting that viewers may well want to see information and photographs related to the programs they watch and the actors in them. Other areas discussed include casual games, sports information and online shopping.
Steve Necessary, the vice president for video product development at Cox Communications, said the company is wary of opening up too far because that would put the burden on the cable companies to make sure that applications do not display things that children should not see.
“We want to provide tools to make sure parents can provide he proper level of monitoring,” Mr. Necessary said. “By no means do we want to be the troll under the bridge keeping applications from coming in.”
Some people, however, wonder if one difference in the use of cellphones, which usually have a single user, and TVs, which are more often shared among family members, might create problems.
Jeffrey G. Weber, AT&T’s vice president for video products, worries that opening the TV to applications like e-mail might encourage domestic disputes.
“E-mail is a private thing,” he said. “What happens when the wife wants to read e-mail from her mother on the set when you want to watch the game?”
Entelligence: 3D May Fall Flat
The big theme that stood out for me last week at IFA was the idea of 3D driving sales of new TVs. Both Sony and Panasonic made strong plays for 3D at their press conferences, although Sony did a much better job, giving the audience 3D glasses and showing the trailer for "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" along with footage of FIFA Soccer and Gran Turismo running on the PS3 -- the cockpit view in GT was particularly impressive. Panasonic's presentation was a little odder, with the audience being asked to "imagine" what 3D would look like during a slideshow of still images of various events like boxing matches. It was kind of like introducing color TV by showing off a black and white screen and asking the audience to imagine it in color.
I understand the need to drive new sales of TV sets and find some sort of purchase driver. Let's face it. Screens have gotten large enough, perhaps even too large -- if I offered you a 150-inch TV, where would you put it? Resolutions have maxed out and it's hard to make sets much thinner. OLED displays could be a great purchase driver but are a few years off. So something new needs to drive the market. I'm just not convinced that 3D will really help move things forward.
The problem is there's a huge difficulty involved in launching new formats, especially one like 3D. We've seen this time and again. First, you need broad hardware support, and 3D doesn't have it. Sony and Panasonic are taking two different approaches to the 3D market, meaning they'll both be selling incompatible equipment at high price points -- yep, another format war is brewing, and consumers just love when that happens. It's one reason why vendors like Philips are staying out of 3D for the time being.
Second, you need deep content support. At the moment, there's far more content available on good old HD than there will be in either 3D format and that's not going to change very fast. Unless you're a really big fan of a particular title that's available in 3D, you're likely to sit this out for a while.
Third, you need a clear and visible consumer value proposition. CDs and DVDs both offered obvious value propositions to consumers. There was a noticeable difference in the experience that was easily grasped, and both were marked by moving from an analog tape format to optical disk, which was more reliable and offered novel features such as random access to content. What's more, both offered clear quality improvements over what had come before -- except to my six friends who still swear by their vinyl LPs and tube amps [and your editor! -- ed.], the upgrade in quality was far more than just noticeable. But when I look at the best content on 3D it just doesn't offer that much more relative to standard HD, especially on smaller screens in regular homes. On top of that, 3D in movie theaters is still mostly a gimmick, and the content that we've seen to date doesn't quite have a compelling feel to it.
With cheap HDTVs and plenty of HD content, the savvy consumer who holds off on a 3D purchase is clearly going to be the winner in 2010 -- and consumers who've already invested in HD screens over the last few years are not likely to upgrade. In the long run, there may be no winner. The last time two formats fought a battle like this over incremental quality was in the audio arena, when it was SACD against DVD-Audio, and both sides lost to the convenience of less-than-CD-quality MP3s and the iPod. In this case, while we wait for large OLED screens to come to market, these efforts in 3D may just fall flat.
United States Box Office
Issued Tue Sep 8, 2009 Title/Distributor Wknd. Gross Total Gross # Theaters Last Wk. Days Released
1 THE FINAL DESTINATION
WARNER BROS. $27408309 $27408309 3121 0 3
2 INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY $19303653 $73022841 3165 1 10
3 HALLOWEEN II
THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY $16349565 $16349565 3025 0 3
4 DISTRICT 9
SONY PICTURES $10270435 $90383712 3180 2 17
5 G.I. JOE: RISE OF COBRA
PARAMOUNT $7715572 $132151954 3467 3 24
6 JULIE & JULIA
SONY PICTURES $7035675 $70628063 2503 5 24
7 THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE
WARNER BROS. $6452270 $47900418 2961 4 17
WARNER BROS. $4511345 $13206697 3105 6 10
9 TAKING WOODSTOCK
FOCUS FEATURES $3457760 $3478335 1393 0 5
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $2824808 $111780350 1926 7 38
11 HARRY POTTER HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
WARNER BROS. $2466423 $294258075 1508 8 47
12 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
FOX SEARCHLIGHT $2008956 $25203886 909 13 45
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $1887921 $11033256 880 12 17
14 THE UGLY TRUTH
SONY PICTURES $1587710 $85747932 1252 9 38
15 POST GRAD
FOX SEARCHLIGHT $1467947 $5307922 1959 11 10
16 THE HANGOVER
WARNER BROS. $1340141 $270237753 801 14 87
17 THE GOODS:LIVE HARD, SELL HARD
PARAMOUNT VANTAGE $1188109 $13817928 1426 10 17
18 THE PROPOSAL
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $664375 $160154402 520 21 73
WALT DISNEY STUDIOS $649188 $289639811 392 25 94
20 TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE..
PARAMOUNT $575531 $399416040 622 16 68
Warner Bros. Hits Billion Mark
Strong final weekend propels studio past mark by $10,269
Warner Bros. had a billion-dollar summer after all.
Against all odds, the studio hit the magical milestone with an unexpectedly strong finish during the season-concluding Labor Day weekend. A week earlier, Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman had said it was highly unlikely its industry-leading domestic summer tally would top $1 billion.
As things turned out, the studio did -- by $10,269.
Warners was helped by its 3D horror pic "The Final Destination," which topped the North American boxoffice for a second consecutive weekend to arrive at a $50.4 million cume through 10 days of release.
Warners missed matching its industry-record performance from summer 2008, a period fattened by historically strong grosses from Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight," by less than $20 million. The studio has topped market-share rankings the past two summers, corralling 23% of domestic boxoffice during the latest swimsuit season with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "The Hangover" and other recent releases.
"To do it two years in a row is an exceptional feat, considering that in '08 we had one movie that grossed over $500 million," Fellman said Tuesday. "It should be noted that so far this year, we had eight movies that opened No. 1, and we were No. 1 for 10 weekends."
Five of the 10 chart-topping frames came with pics produced by Warners' New Line unit.
Paramount came in second in the summer boxoffice derby with a 21% share ($885 million), led by the season's top-grossing release: the DreamWorks-produced "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," a $400 million grosser. Disney was third with almost 15% ($610 million) of boxoffice from "Up" and others.
Industrywide, summer '09 notched a 4% uptick in boxoffice to a record $4.3 billion. Admissions dipped 1.5% to 570 million.
The industry's new boxoffice high also was powered by a strong kick down the season's backstretch. Hollywood closed the summer with six consecutive year-over-year weekend upticks.
Microsoft Rejoices: Windows XP Use Drops
The biggest danger to Windows 7 and Windows Vista isn't Mac OS X or Linux --- it's Windows XP, whose hard-core fans refuse to give up the aging operating system. But it looks as if XP may finally be on the way out, which is good news for Microsoft.
Computeworld reports that according to the Web measurement company Net Applications
Windows XP's share of the OS usage market fell 1.1 percentage points during August, tying its November 2008 record drop.
At the same time, Vista and Windows 7 use was up, Vista by 0.9 percent, and Windows 7 by 0.3 percent. Windows XP is still dominant, though, with 71.8 percent use, compared to 18.8 percent for Vista, and 1.2 percent for Windows 7. Mac OS X use has stalled, with 4.9 percent share.
As I've written before, in Microsoft's biggest enemies: Windows XP and IE 6, XP's continuing dominance presents a serious problem for Microsoft. Enterprises staying with XP means they're not paying for upgrades to Vista or Windows 7. As for consumers who opt to stay with XP, the problem isn't really upgrade revenue, because consumer upgrades are a drop in the bucket. The real problem is that XP users don't buy new PCs, and so Microsoft is losing out on new sales.
I think that Windows 7 will go a long way towards solving the problem for Microsoft. It's gotten a far batter reception than Windows Vista did, so enterprises won't shy away from it. And XP PCs are starting to look long in the tooth, so consumers will most likely be ready to get new hardware -- and new versions of Windows.
Microsoft Sued Over XP's "Spyware" Copy Protection
Microsoft this week was sued in a Washington district court for allegedly violating privacy laws through Windows XP's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) copy protection scheme. Similar to cases filed in 2006, the new class action case accuses Microsoft of falsely representing what information WGA would send to verify the authenticity of Windows and that it would send back information that could be traced back to individual users. Although the company has claimed no personal information is sent, the authentication system is said to provide daily information on the user's IP address and other details that could be used to trace information back to an individual home.
The complaint further argued that Microsoft portrayed WGA as a necessary security update rather than acknowledge its copy protection nature in the update. WGA's implementation also prevented users from purging the protection from their PCs without completely reformatting a computer's system drive, leaving many with no real choice but to accept WGA after it was installed.
In its official stance, Microsoft has only said it provides system data and has denied that any identifying information would be sent. It has long since acknowledged WGA's main role, which among other things has blocked important updates like service packs and Internet Explorer upgrades for copies believed to be pirated.
The lawsuit is specific and would ask for at least $5 million in compensation for the affected class of all Windows XP users in the US.
WGA has been controversial as it has also been embedded in Vista and is periodically known to falsely flag users as pirates, although such incidents have generally become rarer over time.
The approach contrasts sharply with that of Apple, which even with Mac OS X Snow Leopard has declined to add copy protection to its OS releases. The company is helped by its control over hardware, which reduces the impact of piracy on its business, but nonetheless continues to rely on trust alone for a significant amount of its OS revenues.
Google Plans to Offer Micropayments Service to Media Owners
Google is promoting a payments system to the newspaper industry that would let Web surfers pay a small amount for individual news stories, an idea that could help publishers struggling with the impact of the Internet.
The plans were revealed in a document Google submitted to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), which had solicited ideas for how to monetize content online, something some publishers have had difficulty with.
In the next year, Google plans to launch a "micropayments" feature as part of its Checkout online payments service, it said in the document. The system could allow consumers to buy a package subscription to several publications and then pay for other stories on an a la carte basis. In a separate statement, Google said on Thursday it had no specific products to announce. But in a separate statement on Thursday, Google said it had no specific products to announce yet.
"The idea is to allow viable payments of a penny to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants," Google said in the document.
Checkout isn't quite fully baked yet for the publishing industry. "Managing subscriptions from the merchant side is fairly rudimentary right now but could be improved to be more relevant for news and media companies," Google said.
Google also has ideas for how its search engine can be modified to deal with content behind a pay wall. One of those issues is ensuring that for-sale content is indexed so users can find it but also doesn't give it away.
A search engine should be able to know if the reader has a subscription. If so, "the full content should be available and exposed within one click from the search results page." If not, a reader will see a preview of it, how much the story costs and then have the option to buy it, Google said.
The a la carte system will likely work best with special content, such as exclusive interviews and enterprise reporting, as users are "unlikely" to pay for basic news reporting covered by multiple sources, Google said. Publishers can entice readers by offering one premium story for free.
Google Checkout, which competes with eBay's PayPal service, stores a user's payment information. Users would be able to use a login and password to use Checkout at multiple vendors, a "single sign-on" system, the company said. A percentage of each sale would go to Google, which would cover maintenance, bandwidth, processing charges and profit.
Google also promoted its range of advertising and ad-serving products, such as its DoubleClick platform. "We believe the increased advertising opportunities will likely exceed total revenue from subscriptions," the document said.
Despite quarrels with Google over how it indexes and aggregates content, the publishing industry might do well to cooperate with the Internet giant.
The U.S. newspaper industry had it worst year since at least 1950, according to figures published in March by the NAA. Print and online advertising revenues plunged 16.6% to $37.8 billion, a $7.5 billion drop from 2007.
Overall, however, online advertising revenue has steadily climbed since 2002, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. In the U.S., Internet advertising revenues came in at $23.4 billion in 2008, about $2.2 billion or 10.6% more than 2007.
Google wasn't the only IT company to respond to the NAA's request for information. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and others also replied with suggestions for how they could help publishers make money from content.
A Copyright Black Hole Swallows Our Culture
Librarians call it the 20th-century black hole. The overwhelming force is not gravity but copyright law, sucking our collective culture into a vortex from which it can never escape.
That culture includes millions of books Google wants to make available online. But many are concerned. The European Commission will hold hearings on Monday, while a US judge has extended the deadline for objections to a proposed US legal settlement.
A little background is in order.
Once upon a time, three things held true. Copyrights were relatively short. You had to renew them (most people did not.) You didn’t get one unless you asked. Now none of those hold true. Copyright can last for more than 100 years. The result is that the world’s libraries are full of books that are still under copyright, commercially unavailable and, in many cases, “orphan works” with no known copyright holder. Copyright has exhausted its function, yet the works remain trapped in the cultural black hole.
Enter Google. Google began digitising some of the great libraries, with their permission. Copyright holders who did not want their work indexed could opt out. Now those libraries could be searched. Google made the out-of-copyright books available in full for free. (Your own Library of Alexandria on the desktop.) The copyrighted works are only shown in snippets, with a few pages around the searched-for item. If the book was what you wanted you could try to buy it or find it in a library.
Some publishers’ and authors’ representatives objected and a lawsuit was filed. In my view, Google had a good argument that the scanning was “fair use”, allowed by law. We may never know because, before the trial, a proposed settlement was reached with a group of publishers and with the Authors Guild. It still allows copyright holders to opt out of being included in the index. Those works that remain will now be available for digital reading online – on payment of a fee. A portion of the money from sales and advertising will be put into a central fund and distributed to authors and publishers that register. We would have a way to get access to books lost in the 20th-century black hole – to search and read commercially unavailable or orphan works. Authors would get paid for books that otherwise could not be bought. Libraries would get free access on one machine in each library. That agreement now has to be okayed by a Federal judge. Not everyone is happy.
The settlement is long and complex. The objections are, too. Some authors wanted an opt-in system, rather than an opt out. But an opt-in system would not include all the orphans – no one is there to speak for them. Others, rightly, cast doubt on whether the organisations that brought the suit actually represent all the interests involved. Other objections came from Google’s competitors in the search business, including Microsoft.
Germany has filed an objection with the US court, too, concerned that the deal could hurt German authors both within the US and globally, since it is easy to get round restrictions on non-US access to the online library.
To me, the most powerful objections came from those with an undoubted commitment to breaking free of the black hole, from some of the pioneers of digital libraries and from civil libertarians. While they were delighted by the promise of greater access, they pointed out numerous troubling aspects. Google would have a monopoly over the index and over commercially unavailable works. No publisher could compete – since they cannot find the copyright holder to allow republishing – and no other search company would have negotiated Google’s immunity from legal action.
Furthermore, since you cannot download the copyrighted books, only read them online, Google holds the keys to your library and can monitor your reading. The privacy protections it promised did not satisfy everyone. A series of thoughtful briefs have been filed objecting to the settlement and proposing extensive revisions.
I agree with a lot of the criticism. The privacy protections could be improved, the monopoly point is a real one and the rights of libraries should be expanded. Some of those points might be fixed before the agreement is ratified. Others may need subsequent scrutiny by privacy and competition law regulators.
Google has responded, persuasively, that many of the problems could be resolved if we had a rational copyright law in the first place, with protection for the use of orphan works.
What if the critics prevail and no settlement is reached? I would prefer us to fix copyright law so these issues disappear. But if we cannot do that, we need a second-best solution. Google’s escape module has flaws, lots of them, but it is better than staying in the black hole.
The Last Library Is Greater than Google
The other day a short news item about a conference held at Berkeley on the Google Book Search settlement included a phrase that caught my eye. Geoffrey Nunberg, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information and a specialist on language and new technologies, said of the Google project, "this is the last library." [See "Google, 'The Last Library,' and Millions of Metadata Mistakes" for more on Nunberg's comments and the response from Google Book Search engineers.]
The terms of the settlement raise all kinds of issues. Will the Google orphanage unfairly require payments for books that are actually in the public domain? Will there be any privacy provisions for users, or will the Last Library conduct surveillance on your reading habits in order to match your interests to advertising? How expensive will it be to enter the library? Will academic libraries have to sacrifice their book budget so they can subscribe to the One and Only library? And will Google's special relationship with the class of authors and publishers mean we'll never have a second crack at building a digital library that functions differently?
The last library? Really?
I was interested to read an expanded idea of what Nunberg meant by that phrase, "the last library," in an essay published this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars." (Though a subscription is required, chances are you can find it in one of your library's databases.)
He argues that Google's project to digitize books is the largest ever and, because nobody else will be in a position to do what they've done, it will essentially be the final word. But what really bothers him (as perhaps befits a linguist) is how mangled that final word is. Google lets you type in a phrase and come into a book "sideways"—landing in the middle of any text where the exact phrase is found. But when it comes to the kind of research scholars do, the metadata is "a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess."
He goes on to catalog (no pun intended) some of the characteristic errors that make the Google library so frustrating for a scholar who wants to compare editions or search by subject. (Examples are available in his conference presentation slides.) The confusion he describes is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borge's short story, "The Library of Babel" in which an infinite library offers everything, an exhilarating prospect until you discover its vastness means it's impossible to find anything. "To locate book A, consult first book B which indicates A's position; to locate book B, consult first a book C, and so on to infinity…."
The library is full of imperfect copies, and even professional searchers are defeated by its chaotic vastness. "If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order)."
Though Nunberg says Google blames the poor metadata on the publishers and libraries that provide the books they scan, he finds examples that suggest otherwise, describing books with strange metadata published before the metadata schemes used to describe them existed. And some of the metadata from publishers does, indeed, seem decidedly odd.
The Cat Lover's Book of Fascinating Facts is given a BISAC code placing it in Technology & Engineering / General; in the Library of Congress catalog it has the subject heading: cats—miscellanea. Dates are another area of confusion. Google might seize on a date mentioned in the book and assume it is the publication date. It has over 500 books in its collection that mention the Internet supposedly published before 1950.
In spite of all this, Nunberg seems quirkily optimistic that, given time, Google will manage to import good cataloging data, match accurate metadata to the right books, and clear up the date glitches. I'm not so sure, knowing how complicated database cleanup can be for even a smallish academic library. Nunberg makes the assumption that Google has a responsibility to make Google Book Search accurate enough for scholarly research.
If it's going to be the Last Library, and therefore the one that scholars will rely on, they are obligated to get it right. By claiming it's a public good, Google is duty bound to make it good, but what's good enough for Google isn't good enough for scholarship.
Libraries have limits, and it's a good thing, too
I think Nunberg is closer to the mark when he says that Google simply underestimated what's involved in searching for information in books. Books are not like blog posts or web pages. In some ways, Google's massive digitization is like any library that contains millions of books that are poorly cataloged. It's wonderful to have such a lot of information, but frustrating when you actually need to find something and you're not quite sure what it is.
The Google library is handy when you have a precise need. It's not much good when you're doing what students typically do in libraries: explore an unfamiliar idea, get a sense of the landscape, and once oriented, home in on a promising area. As a friend of mine once said, they're not seeking answers in a library; they're learning how to ask good questions.
There is no doubt that a lot is riding on getting the settlement right. The nature of the electronic library is up for grabs—whether each use of a book in the future will be expected to generate a revenue stream, whether privacy will be a luxury we can no longer afford, whether instant access to all books will become a necessity that every library will have to pay for, regardless of the cost. It may be that Google has created the first library with such enormous reach, and the terms of the agreement are ones we'll be stuck with for a long, long time.
But it won't be the last library. We will still need libraries that are more than digitized caches of information. We'll still need places that serve a local community, that curate a collection, that organize it by both subjects and classes, making it approachable from multiple directions. We'll still have to help students learn how to formulate questions, examine the possibilities, and gain a sense of the infinite possibilities encompassed in a library that is not infinite.
Google's Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars
Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google's book search is clearly on track to becoming the world's largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one. Google's five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else—Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it's safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google's servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.
That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement —about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?
Doing it right depends on what exactly "it" is. Google has been something of a shape-shifter in describing the project. The company likes to refer to Google's book search as a "library," but it generally talks about books as just another kind of information resource to be incorporated into Greater Google. As Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, puts it: "We just feel this is part of our core mission. There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site."
Seen in that light, the quality of Google's book search will be measured by how well it supports the familiar activity that we have come to think of as "googling," in tribute to the company's specialty: entering in a string of keywords in an effort to locate specific information, like the dates of the Franco-Prussian War. For those purposes, we don't really care about metadata—the whos, whats, wheres, and whens provided by a library catalog. It's enough just to find a chunk of a book that answers our needs and barrel into it sideways.
But we're sometimes interested in finding a book for reasons that have nothing to do with the information it contains, and for those purposes googling is not a very efficient way to search. If you're looking for a particular edition of Leaves of Grass and simply punch in, "I contain multitudes," that's what you'll get. For those purposes, you want to be able to come in via the book's metadata, the same way you do if you're trying to assemble all the French editions of Rousseau's Social Contract published before 1800 or books of Victorian sermons that talk about profanity.
Or you may be interested in books simply as records of the language as it was used in various periods or genres. Not surprisingly, that's what gets linguists and assorted wordinistas adrenalized at the thought of all the big historical corpora that are coming online. But it also raises alluring possibilities for social, political, and intellectual historians and for all the strains of literary philology, old and new. With the vast collection of published books at hand, you can track the way happiness replaced felicity in the 17th century, quantify the rise and fall of propaganda or industrial democracy over the course of the 20th century, or pluck out all the Victorian novels that contain the phrase "gentle reader."
But to pose those questions, you need reliable metadata about dates and categories, which is why it's so disappointing that the book search's metadata are a train wreck: a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess.
Start with publication dates. To take Google's word for it, 1899 was a literary annus mirabilis, which saw the publication of Raymond Chandler's Killer in the Rain, The Portable Dorothy Parker, André Malraux's La Condition Humaine, Stephen King's Christine, The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams's Culture and Society 1780-1950, and Robert Shelton's biography of Bob Dylan, to name just a few. And while there may be particular reasons why 1899 comes up so often, such misdatings are spread out across the centuries. A book on Peter F. Drucker is dated 1905, four years before the management consultant was even born; a book of Virginia Woolf's letters is dated 1900, when she would have been 8 years old. Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities is dated 1888, and an edition of Henry James's What Maisie Knew is dated 1848.
Of course, there are bound to be occasional howlers in a corpus as extensive as Google's book search, but these errors are endemic. A search on "Internet" in books published before 1950 produces 527 results; "Medicare" for the same period gets almost 1,600. Or you can simply enter the names of famous writers or public figures and restrict your search to works published before the year of their birth. "Charles Dickens" turns up 182 results for publications before 1812, the vast majority of them referring to the writer. The same type of search turns up 81 hits for Rudyard Kipling, 115 for Greta Garbo, 325 for Woody Allen, and 29 for Barack Obama. (Or maybe that was another Barack Obama.)
How frequent are such errors? A search on books published before 1920 mentioning "candy bar" turns up 66 hits, of which 46—70 percent—are misdated. I don't think that's representative of the overall proportion of metadata errors, though they are much more common in older works than for the recent titles Google received directly from publishers. But even if the proportion of misdatings is only 5 percent, the corpus is riddled with hundreds of thousands of erroneous publication dates.
Google acknowledges the incorrect dates but says they came from the providers. It's true that Google has received some groups of books that are systematically misdated, like a collection of Portuguese-language works all dated 1899. But a very large proportion of the errors are clearly Google's own doing. A lot of them arise from uneven efforts to automatically extract a publication date from a scanned text. A 1901 history of bookplates from the Harvard University Library is correctly dated in the library's catalog. Google's incorrect date of 1574 for the volume is drawn from an Elizabethan armorial bookplate displayed on the frontispiece. An 1890 guidebook called London of To-Day is correctly dated in the Harvard catalog, but Google assigns it a date of 1774, which is taken from a front-matter advertisement for a shirt-and-hosiery manufacturer that boasts it was established in that year.
Then there are the classification errors, which taken together can make for a kind of absurdist poetry. H.L. Mencken's The American Language is classified as Family & Relationships. A French edition of Hamlet and a Japanese edition of Madame Bovary are both classified as Antiques and Collectibles (a 1930 English edition of Flaubert's novel is classified under Physicians, which I suppose makes a bit more sense.) An edition of Moby Dick is labeled Computers; The Cat Lover's Book of Fascinating Facts falls under Technology & Engineering. And a catalog of copyright entries from the Library of Congress is listed under Drama (for a moment I wondered if maybe that one was just Google's little joke).
You can see how pervasive those misclassifications are when you look at all the labels assigned to a single famous work. Of the first 10 results for Tristram Shandy, four are classified as Fiction, four as Family & Relationships, one as Biography & Autobiography, and one is not classified. Other editions of the novel are classified as 'Literary Collections, History, and Music. The first 10 hits for Leaves of Grass are variously classified as Poetry, 'Juvenile Nonfiction, Fiction, Literary Criticism, Biography & Autobiography, and, mystifyingly, Counterfeits and Counterfeiting. And various editions of Jane Eyre are classified as History, Governesses, Love Stories, Architecture, and Antiques & Collectibles (as in, "Reader, I marketed him.").
Here, too, Google has blamed the errors on the libraries and publishers who provided the books. But the libraries can't be responsible for books mislabeled as Health and Fitness and Antiques and Collectibles, for the simple reason that those categories are drawn from the Book Industry Standards and Communications codes, which are used by the publishers to tell booksellers where to put books on the shelves, not from any of the classification systems used by libraries. And BISAC classifications weren't in wide use before the last decade or two, so only Google can be responsible for their misapplications on numerous books published earlier than that: the 1919 edition of Robinson Crusoe assigned to Crafts & Hobbies or the 1907 edition of Sir Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia: Urne-Buriall, which has been assigned to Gardening.
Google's fine algorithmic hand is also evident in a lot of classifications of recent works. The 2003 edition of Susan Bordo's Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (misdated 1899) is assigned to Health & Fitness—not a labeling you could imagine coming from its publisher, the University of California Press, but one a classifier might come up with on the basis of the title, like the Religion tag that Google assigns to a 2001 biography of Mae West that's subtitled An Icon in Black and White or the Health & Fitness label on a 1962 number of the medievalist journal Speculum.
But even when it gets the BISAC categories roughly right, the more important question is why Google would want to use those headings in the first place. People from Google have told me they weren't included at the publishers' request, and it may be that someone thought they'd be helpful for ad placement. (The ad placement on Google's book search right now is often comical, as when a search for Leaves of Grass brings up ads for plant and sod retailers—though that's strictly Google's problem, and one, you'd imagine, that they're already on top of.) But it's a disastrous choice for the book search. The BISAC scheme is well-suited for a chain bookstore or a small public library, where consumers or patrons browse for books on the shelves. But it's of little use when you're flying blind in a library with several million titles, including scholarly works, foreign works, and vast quantities of books from earlier periods. For example the BISAC Juvenile Nonfiction subject heading has almost 300 subheadings, like New Baby, Skateboarding, and Deer, Moose, and Caribou. By contrast the Poetry subject heading has just 20 subheadings. That means that Bambi and Bullwinkle get a full shelf to themselves, while Leopardi, Schiller, and Verlaine have to scrunch together in the single subheading reserved for Poetry/Continental European. In short, Google has taken a group of the world's great research collections and returned them in the form of a suburban-mall bookstore.
Such examples don't exhaust Google's metadata errors by any means. In addition to the occasionally quizzical renamings of works (Moby Dick: or the White Wall), there are a number of mismatches of titles and texts. Click on the link for the 1818 Théorie de l'Univers, a work on cosmology by the Napoleonic mathematician and general Jacques Alexander François Allix, and it takes you to Barbara Taylor Bradford's 1983 novel Voice of the Heart, while the link on a misdated number of Dickens's Household Words takes you to a 1742 Histoire de l'Académie Royale des Sciences. Numerous entries mix up the names of authors, editors, and writers of introductions, so that the "about this book" page for an edition of one French novel shows the striking attribution, "Madame Bovary By Henry James." More mysterious is the entry for a book called The Mosaic Navigator: The Essential Guide to the Internet Interface, which is dated 1939 and attributed to Sigmund Freud and Katherine Jones. The only connection I can come up with is that Jones was the translator of Freud's Moses and Monotheism, which must have somehow triggered the other sense of the word "mosaic," though the details of the process leave me baffled.
For the present, then, scholars will have to put on hold their visions of tracking the 19th-century fortunes of liberalism or quantifying the shift of "United States" from a plural to singular noun phrase over the first century of the republic: The metadata simply aren't up to it. It's true that Google is aware of a lot of these problems and they've pledged to fix them. (Indeed, since I presented some of these errors at a conference last week, Google has already rushed to correct many of them.) But it isn't clear whether they plan to go about this in the same way they're addressing the scanning errors that riddle the texts, correcting them as (and if) they're reported. That isn't adequate here: There are simply too many errors. And while Google's machine classification system will certainly improve, extracting metadata mechanically isn't sufficient for scholarly purposes. After first seeming indifferent, Google decided it did want to acquire the library records for scanned books along with the scans themselves, but as of now the company hasn't licensed them for display or use—hence, presumably, those stabs at automatically recovering publication dates from the scanned texts.
Some of the slack may be picked up by other organizations such as the Internet Archive or HathiTrust, a consortium of participating libraries that is planning to make available several million of the public-domain books from their collections that Google scanned, along with their bibliographic records. But for now those sources can only provide access to books in the public domain, about 15 percent of the scanned collections; only Google will have the right to display the orphan works published since 1923.
In any case, none of that should relieve Google of the responsibility of making its collections an adequate resource for scholarly research. That means, at a minimum, licensing the catalogs of the Library of Congress and OCLC Online Computer Library Center and incorporating them into the search engine so that users can get accurate results when they search on various combinations of dates, keywords, subject headings, and the like. ("Adequate" means a lot more than that, as well, from improving the quality of scanning to improving Google's very flaky hit-count algorithms and rationalizing the resulting rankings, which now make no sense at all and often lead with inferior or shoddy editions of classic works.) Whether or not a guarantee of quality is a contractual obligation, it's implicit in the project itself. Google has, justifiably, described its book-scanning program as a public good. But as Pamela Samuelson, a director of the Center for Law & Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, has said, every great public good implies a great public trust.
I'm actually more optimistic than some of my colleagues who have criticized the settlement. Not that I'm counting on selfless public-spiritedness to motivate Google to invest the time and resources in getting this right. But I have the sense that a lot of the initial problems are due to Google's slightly clueless fumbling as it tried master a domain that turned out to be a lot more complex than the company first realized. It's clear that Google designed the system without giving much thought to the need for reliable metadata. In fact, Google's great achievement as a Web search engine was to demonstrate how easy it could be to locate useful information without attending to metadata or resorting to Yahoo-like schemes of classification. But books aren't simply vehicles for communicating information, and managing a vast library collection requires different skills, approaches, and data than those that enabled Google to dominate Web searching.
That makes for a steep learning curve, all the more so because of Google's haste to complete the project so that potential competitors would be confronted with a fait accompli. But whether or not the needs of scholars are a priority, the company doesn't want Google's book search to become a running scholarly joke. And it may be responsive to pressure from its university library partners—who weren't particularly attentive to questions of quality when they signed on with Google—particularly if they are urged (or if necessary, prodded) to make noise about shoddy metadata by the scholars whose interests they represent. If recent history teaches us anything, it's that Google is a very quick study.
For the Smarter Kind of Bookworm
Asus, inventors of the netbook, is about to shake up the ebook world with the arrival of the world's cheapest digital reader
If the final version of the device has a foldable spine, it will open like a traditional book and close so it can be read in tablet form
The world of ebooks is about to start a new chapter with the arrival of the cheapest digital reader on the market. Asus, one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics businesses, confirmed last week that it is planning to shake up the market in the same way it did when it launched the first netbook — the low-cost alternative to the laptop.
Asus claims its ebook reader will be cleverer and more versatile than the current crop available from companies such as Sony and Amazon. It aims to unveil the device before the end of the year, according to Jerry Shen, the company’s president — and it may not be just one device, either.
The company is looking at a budget and a premium version, according to a spokesman for Asus in the UK. Details are scarce but the more expensive device is expected to follow closely a prototype dreamt up by the firm’s research and development team earlier this year.
Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.
Such features would move the device squarely into laptop territory. “Our ethos is innovation — as our brand is less well known, we have to run faster than the competition to develop new types of products,” said Asus. “Any such product — including an ereader — has to have the right combination of functionality and price. No one is going to buy one for £1,000.”
The budget version of the Asus ereader will be more in keeping with the Taiwanese company’s reputation for producing cut-price gadgets. Dubbed the Eee Reader, after Asus’s cheap-as-chips Eee PC netbook range, it is likely to take on the competition on price rather than features. The cheapest rival on the market is the Cool-er, which costs £189. Asus is thought to be aiming nearer the £100 mark.
Typically about the size of a standard paperback, ebook readers are able to store hundreds of digital books and convey the appearance of paper far better than a laptop screen does. The ability of some newer devices to access the internet and download digital versions of newspapers and magazines has widened their appeal beyond tech-savvy early adopters and towards the mainstream.
So far, the more sophisticated devices have taken some time to reach Britain. Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Daily Edition, for example, both of which contain a 3G mobile-phone Sim card, are on sale in the US but not here. That is about to change. Irex is about to release a 3G ereader, currently known as the DR 800, in America. Both that and the Kindle are expected to go on sale in Britain in the next few months.
The arrival of a new rival from Asus could give the industry a much-needed shot in arm: to date fewer than 80,000 ereader devices have been sold in the UK, according to GfK, the retail analyst.
Goodbye, DRM; Hello "Stealable" Digital Personal Property
People hate DRM, but one IEEE study group has a possible fix for many of its problems: make digital content easy to steal from others. The moment that happens, consumers can be trusted with content.
Consumers hate DRM—all that "phoning home," the outside control over one's behavior, the fact that you can't resell encrypted digital media, the worries about activation servers dying. But what if digital rights management could be turned into "consumer rights management" and people could actually own and fully control the digital content they purchase? That's the dream of Paul Sweazey, who's heading up a new study group on "digital personal property" at the IEEE.
Selling unencrypted downloads would certainly make this possible, as it has in the music industry, but movie makers and other rightsholders have shown no inclination to offer such open copies of their work to the public. In Sweazey's view, most people understand why rightsholders want some limits on copying, but they can't abide the electronic tethers that DRM currently requires. They don't want to be told what to do and who to share their content with; what they want, he tells Ars, is for digital property to "complete the emulation of the physical world."
Digital personal property (DPP) is an attempt to make consumers treat digital media like physical objects. For instance, you might loan your car to a friend, a family member, or a neighbor. You might do so on many different occasions and for different lengths of time. But you are unlikely to leave the car out front of your house with the keys in it and a sign on it saying, "Take me!" If you did, you might never see the vehicle again.
It's that the ability to lose control over property that is central to the DPP system. DPP files are encrypted. They can be freely copied and distributed to anyone, but here's the trick: anyone who can view your content can also "steal" it irrevocably. The simple addition of a way to lose content instantly leads consumers to set up a "circle of trust" that can be as wide as they like but will not extend to total strangers on the Internet.
How it works
Digital content lends itself easily to the creation of identical copies, so crafting a system in which digital content can be "stolen" is trickier than it might sound. The idea is to make it a "rivalrous good," one that, after being taken, deprives someone else of something.
DPP hopes to do this by relying on two major pieces: a title folder and a playkey. The title folder contains the content in question, it's encrypted, and it can be copied and passed around freely. To access the content inside, however, you'll need the playkey, which is delivered to the buyer of a digital media file and lives within "tamper-protected circuit" inside some device (computer, cell phone, router) or online at a playkey bank account. Controlling the playkey means that you control the media, and you truly own it, since no part of the system needs to phone home, and it imposes no restrictions on copying (except for those that arise naturally from fear of loss).
The playkey, unlike the title folder, can't be copied—but it can be moved. To give your friends and family access to the file in question, you can send them a copy but must also provide a link to the playkey. Under the DPP system, though, anyone who can access the playkey can also decide to move it to their own digital vault—in essence, anyone can take the content from you, and you would no longer have access to the media files in question if they did so.
To Sweazey, this system solves most consumer problems with DRM: no Internet tether on files, no online authentication servers that could go dark, and the unlimited ability to backup files and share them with others. Want to send a song to fifty friends? You can. Want to back it up online, on DVD, on your NAS, and on 3.5" floppy disks? Knock yourself out. Want to resell DPP files by transferring the playkey to a new owner? You can. You just can't share with the entire world—or someone will steal your purchase.
Kinder, gentler DRM
"Deep down inside, I'm just a regular guy consumer," says Sweazey, who argues that DPP has to be a single unified standard. What it can't turn into is "another DRM, another single company making a solution."
That's why he's chairing the IEEE study group, hoping to drum up enough interest to start work on a standard. Under IEEE rules, the group has six months to decide if it's worth pursuing the project and if the entire idea is technologically feasible. They also must decide if it is politically feasible, since the DPP scheme relies on support from hardware and software vendors for the tamper-proof digital vaults and the playback decryption apps.
Given that digital content just isn't like physical content, I ask Sweazey why we might want to force it back into that model; why not provide truly open files for download, perhaps reserving traditional tethered DRM for rentals and streaming? His answer is that such freely-copiable goods breaks the basic business model of human commerce by making goods nonrivalrous; it no longer has aspects of a private good, and this makes it difficult to sell.
The study group's mission statement makes the same point, saying that it wants to give consumers true ownership of content while still "preserving business models based on the sale of private goods where the number of items in circulation equals the number sold and the number of users of each item is naturally, reasonably, and unavoidably limited."
But not even a full DPP implementation would suddenly make content rivalrous. The scheme will be cracked, and once it is—even if only a few technically-savvy people can do the necessary work—content will flood P2P networks. Barring that, there's always streamrippers and screen recorders. Barring those, people can always record movies using a video camera pointed at a screen (as the MPAA helpfully suggests).
There's simply no way to truly control the distribution of media material anymore. If you can watch it or listen to it, a copy can be made; if you can't watch or listen to it, there's no point in paying for it in the first place. And once it's out on the P2P networks, we'll find ourselves in the same situation we have now, where DRM inconveniences the lawful users and doesn't stop the pirates. Making DPP much kinder and gentler doesn't appear to change this basic dynamic, though the scheme does sound less noxious than some of the DRM systems out there at the moment.
Password Hackers Are Slippery To Collar
When Elaine Cioni found out that her married boyfriend had other girlfriends, she became obsessed, federal prosecutors say. So she turned to YourHackerz.com.
And for only $100, YourHackerz.com provided Cioni, then living in Northern Virginia, with the password to her boyfriend's AOL e-mail account, court records show. For another $100, she got her boyfriend's wife's e-mail password. And then the passwords of at least one other girlfriend and the boyfriend's two children. None had any clue what Cioni was doing, they would later testify.
Cioni, however, went further and began making harassing phone calls to her boyfriend and his family, using a "spoofing" service to disguise her voice as a man's. This attracted the attention of federal authorities, who prosecuted Cioni, 53, in Alexandria last year for unauthorized access to computers, among other crimes. She was convicted and is serving a 15-month sentence.
But such services as YourHackerz.com are still active and plentiful, with clever names like "piratecrackers.com" and "hackmail.net." They boast of having little trouble hacking into such Web-based e-mail systems as AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook and Hotmail, and they advertise openly.
And, experts said, there doesn't appear to be much anyone can do about it.
"This is an important point that people haven't grasped," said Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "We've been using e-mail for years, and it's been insecure all that time. . . . If you have any hacker who is competent and spends the time and targets you, he's going to get you."
Federal law prohibits hacking into e-mail, but without further illegal activity, it's only a misdemeanor, noted Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former trial attorney in the Justice Department's computer crime section.
"The feds usually don't have the resources to investigate and prosecute misdemeanors," Kerr said. "And part of the reason is that normally it's hard to know when an account has been compromised, because e-mail snooping doesn't leave a trace."
Every state has laws roughly similar to the federal computer laws, Kerr said, and rate the offenses as misdemeanors.
Not long after Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska was named the Republican nominee for vice president last year, someone hacked into her personal Yahoo e-mail accounts. And as the election neared, someone at George Mason University hacked into the e-mail of the school's provost and sent a schoolwide e-mail saying the election date had been changed.
"Web Based email password hacking or cracking is one of our all time favourite and unique hobby," write the folks at YourHackerz.com. It's not clear where YourHackerz.com is located, but experts suspect that most of the businesses are based overseas. "We will provide you with the original Passwords. No questions asked whatsoever. Payment only after you are CONVINCED. 100% guarantee of Cracking. Total privacy of your information. No legal hassles."
At SlickHackers.com, they boast, "We are professionals interested in helping serious people for whom an email password would mean saving their marriage, knowing the truth, preventing a fraud, protecting their family/job/interests only when conventional ways and normal procedures do not work."
All the services advertise that they will e-mail a screenshot of the target's in-box or even send an e-mail from the target's e-mail as proof that they've cracked the password. The customer then sends payment. One service, whose fee is only 20 British pounds (about $33), then responds with the script from a scene from a Shakespeare play, with the stolen password hidden in the copy.
E-mail inquiries to several of these services did not elicit any responses.
The FBI cannot police the Internet, a spokesman said. "The FBI is aware of these illegal services," spokesman Paul Bresson said, "and we have been successful in the past in identifying criminal activity and working with prosecutors to bring indictments. Users of these services should know that just because a product is marketed on the Internet doesn't mean it's legal."
But agents must be made aware of specific illegal acts occurring in this country before they can pursue a provider, Bresson said. They can't investigate an online service without evidence of a particular crime in the United States.
"This kind of thing has been on the radar of law enforcement already," said Alissa Cooper of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. But with many of the hackers overseas, "in practice it takes a lot of resources and time to build up relationships with [law enforcement] in other countries. They're starting to do that in the cybersecurity realm."
Experts said there are numerous ways to steal someone's e-mail password, from simply guessing at family names or pet names to high-tech infiltration. The most common way is to send the target a link to a greeting card or something else they might specifically be interested in. When the target opens the link, software is installed on his or her computer that snatches the password the next time it's typed in and sends it to the hacker. Web-based e-mail, such as Google's gmail and Yahoo, can also be attacked through bugs in the Web browser, Eckersley said.
"The unfortunate news is there's rather less of computer security than we would want," Eckersley said. "We think of a computer as being incredibly sophisticated. But as it does more, it actually becomes less secure."
Another problem is that many computer users are not terribly computer savvy. "As human beings, we don't have good intuitions about the internal workings of computers. Ninety percent of us make the wrong decision when something pops up about accepting an unauthorized certificate. It's really saying, 'Do you want to be hacked?' "
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a brochure this summer for people wanting to avoid government detection in international hot spots, including Iran and Burma, but the tips apply universally, Eckersley said. Beware of malware, such as viruses, worms and keystroke loggers. Choose the least risky communication channels. Use encryption. Use different passwords for everything. Eckersley said changing operating systems and carrying all important data on portable disks is another step, if a burdensome one.
The tips are available on the EFF's Web site.
But "if you're an ordinary person and afraid you have an ex-lover who wants to hack you," Eckersley advised, "you're probably better off not using computers for the kinds of communications you want to keep secret."
Once authorities decide to follow a hacker, it's not difficult to determine the source. An FBI agent investigating Cioni simply subpoenaed her phone and e-mail records from the various providers, which showed that she had used e-mail and PayPal to enlist YourHackerz in her quest. A search of her computer found fragments of her targets' e-mail in-boxes.
Then, according to testimony at her trial, when she called her boyfriend, she mentioned material that could be known only by those who had read her boyfriend's e-mail.
Obama Warns Teens of Perils of Facebook
President Barack Obama warned American teenagers on Tuesday of the dangers of putting too much personal information on Internet social networking sites, saying it could come back to haunt them in later life.
The presidential words of advice follow recent studies that suggest U.S. employers are increasingly turning to sites such as Facebook and News Corp's MySpace to conduct background checks on job applicants.
Taking part in a question-and-answer session with a group of 14- and 15-year-old school students, Obama was asked by one pupil for some advice on becoming U.S. president.
"Well, let me give you some very practical tips. First of all, I want everybody here to be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life," Obama said.
"And when you're young, you make mistakes and you do some stupid stuff. And I've been hearing a lot about young people who -- you know, they're posting stuff on Facebook, and then suddenly they go apply for a job and somebody has done a search."
Obama referred several times to "mistakes" he had made when he was at school but offered no specifics. He has previously admitted to drug use when he was younger.
A survey in June by careerbuilder.com found that 45 percent of employers used social network sites to research job candidates and that Facebook, which says it has 250 million users worldwide, was their site of choice.
Some 35 percent of the employers surveyed said they had found content on the sites that had influenced them to reject a candidate. Examples included inappropriate photographs, information about the applicants' drinking or drug use, or bad mouthing of previous employers, co-workers or clients.
The Obama White House frequently uses Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites to bypass the media and communicate directly to Americans.
(Editing by Phil Stewart)
Teenager Invents £23 Solar Panel that Could be Solution to Developing World's Energy Needs ... Made from Human Hair
A new type of solar panel using human hair could provide the world with cheap, green electricity, believes its teenage inventor.
Milan Karki, 18, who comes from a village in rural Nepal, believes he has found the solution to the developing world's energy needs.
The young inventor says hair is easy to use as a conductor in solar panels and could revolutionise renewable energy.
'First I wanted to provide electricity for my home, then my village. Now I am thinking for the whole world,' said Milan, who attends school in the capital, Kathmandu.
The hair replaces silicon, a pricey component typically used in solar panels, and means the panels can be produced at a low cost for those with no access to power, he explained.
In Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, many rural areas lack access to electricity and even in areas connected to power lines, users face shortages of up to 16 hours a day.
Milan and four classmates initially made the solar panel as an experiment but the teens are convinced it has wide applicability and commercial viability.
'I'm trying to produce commercially and distribute to the districts. We've already sent a couple out to the districts to test for feasibility,' he said.
The solar panel, which produces 9 V (18 W) of energy, costs around £23 to make from raw materials.
But if they were mass-produced, Milan says they could be sold for less than half that price, which could make them a quarter of the price of those already on the market.
Melanin, a pigment that gives hair its colour, is light sensitive and also acts as a type of conductor. Because hair is far cheaper than silicon the appliance is less costly.
The solar panel can charge a mobile phone or a pack of batteries capable of providing light all evening.
Milan began his quest to create electricity when he was a boy living in Khotang, a remote district of Nepal completely unconnected to electricity. According to him, villagers were skeptical of his invention at first.
'They believe in superstitions, they don't believe in science. But now they believe,' he said.
He first tried to use water currents hydro power on a small scale, but said the experiment became too expensive.
'I searched for new, other renewable, affordable sources. People in these places are living the life of the stone age even in the 21st century,' he said.
Milan, whose hero is the inventor Thomas Eddison, describes himself as lucky because his family could afford for him to receive a proper education while many other villagers are forced to work from an early age. Most of those from his village are illiterate.
He was originally inspired after reading a book by physicist Stephen Hawking, which discussed ways of creating static energy from hair.
It's got the power: A digital multimeter shows the voltage generated by the innovative panel
'I realised that Melanin was one of the factors in conversion of energy,' he said.
Half a kilo of hair can be bought for only 16p in Nepal and lasts a few months, whereas a pack of batteries would cost 50p and last a few nights.
People can replace the hair easily themselves, says Milan, meaning his solar panels need little servicing.
Three years after first coming up with the idea, Milan says the idea is more important than ever because of the crucial need for renewable energies in the face of finite power sources and global warming.
'Slowly, natural resources are degrading so it is necessary to think about the future," he said.
'One day we will be in a great crisis regarding this fuel so it is a good thing to do today.
'This is an easy solution for the crisis we are having today. We have begun the long walk to save the planet.'
Pigeon Transfers Data Faster than South Africa's Telkom
A South African information technology company on Wednesday proved it was faster for them to transmit data with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom , the country's leading internet service provider.
Internet speed and connectivity in Africa's largest economy are poor because of a bandwidth shortage. It is also expensive.
Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km (50 miles) from Unlimited IT's offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.
Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds -- the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.
SAPA said Unlimited IT performed the stunt after becoming frustrated with slow internet transmission times.
The company has 11 call-centers around the country and regularly sends data to its other branches.
Telkom could not immediately be reached for comment.
Internet speed is expected to improve once a new 17,000 km underwater fiber optic cable linking southern and East Africa to other networks becomes operational before South Africa hosts the soccer World Cup next year.
Local service providers are currently negotiating deals for more bandwidth.
(Reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Jon Hemming)
Why Rap, Klingons, and Jailhouse-Rape-by-Broomstick Aren't the Best Way To Teach Kids About Piracy
Have you seen the new antipiracy video from the software industry? It is execrable! Outdated, kinda offensive, and embarrassingly unhip, the clip has a zero percent chance of achieving its goal of deterring illegal downloads on campus. One young person I shared it with said the video made him want to go pirate something, anything, out of spite.
Keith Kupferschmid, the Software & Information Industry Association's policy director, was magnanimous enough to answer my sputtering questions about some of the video's inexplicable choices. Like: why rap, in 2009? (That's like sending a disco star to lecture a '90s classroom to get its "groove thang on" by respecting copyrights.) If you're referencing a videogame, why choose Doom, which dates to 1993? Why Klingons, instead of teenage vampires or wizards?
"We just didn't think about the vampire thing, I suppose," says Kupferschmid.
It's possible to be so blinded by the creative failures of Don't Copy That 2 that you don't notice its failures on the merits. The software industry keeps repeating to students the fiction that if they violate copyrights online, they will be fined and go to jail. (In the video, a mom in curlers is hauled away by a SWAT team, and a young man is threatened by older black inmates wielding broomsticks in a federal prison.) Students have long since learned that that only a rare few are fined; they're comfortable with their odds of getting away scot-free. Kupferschmid's group would be better off talking about the much realer risk of getting a PC virus through an illegal download.
It is possible to make good videos on young people's terms. Just look at the wildly successful "Truth" anti-smoking campaigns─effective because they're authentic and genuinely funny. Students know that infringing copyright is a crime, yet they do it anyway; spending "credibility capital" on a video this terrible isn't going to change their minds in the slightest.
Until next week,
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