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Friday, May 31, 2002
Newsbytes vs The Merc: Big Scary Numbers make the difference
[11:56 AM EST - link]

amid the Big Scary Numbers Viant's flogging in "Copyright Crusade II: The Bloodening" (PDF) there is one story from Newsbytes (it's a shame WashPost's putting a bullet in its head) that stands out for its thoughtful professionalism.

Michael Bartlett's piece pays close attention to what Viant's CTO and report author Andrew Frank actually has to say and steers clear of the glib numerology, although the headline "Spidey, Clones Trigger Surge in Online Movie Piracy -- Study" didn't fill me with joy.

the Newsbytes headline is no big deal, though, when competitors like the San Jose Mercury News go to press with screamers like "Online film piracy cuts into industry profit: BOOTLEG COPIES BEING TRADED AT INTERNET SPEED". naturally, the Merc (like the BBC and c|net before them) leads with the Big Scary Numbers but they go one further when they haul Jack Valenti -- Big Content's most richly-rewarded foghorn -- out of cryosleep to proclaim that we are in the middle of what may (or may not) be the end of days: "It's getting clear -- alarmingly clear, I might add -- that we are in the midst of the possibility of Armageddon."

as an aside, i realize that "professional" journalists are supposed to avoid editorializing, but when Jack Valenti's morbid neo-Ludditry has driven him to compare the VCR to the murder of women and the internet to the annihillation of life as we know it in a final battle between the forces of good and evil, shouldn't someone suggest that Mr Valenti should plug the analog hole in his face?

Vying for attention, Viant dials up the FUD
[12:35 AM EST - link]

fast-sinking web consultant Viant knows when it's got a hot item. their 2001 report on file sharing, "The Copyright Crusade" (PDF), has been getting the company some desperately-needed column-inches (although not enough to rescue it from the clutches of .com chop-shop divine -- where marchFIRST went to die). they've recently released an update and are waiting to take your call.

the original report was a thorough survey of file sharing in the internet, designed to give the reader a good handle on the issues and the players. while some estimates of file sharing activity were included, the authors responsibly included this disclaimer:

"It has been our intention to present a balanced and educated view of these phenomena, not to rigorously prove any specific metrics for piracy."

in the hands of Jack Valenti and Mike Eisner, though, the report's been stripped down to the Big Scary Numbers. since Viant's momma didn't raise no fool, the update's just giving the people what they want. "Copyright Crusade II: Bigger and Scarier" (it's a PDF and, actually, i added that last part) leads with the sexy stats -- disclaimer be damned. sure enough, news organizations ranging from the BBC, to c|net, to the Hollywood Reporter, are all blaring that "Movie Piracy Is Up 20%"

it's a shame that what started as a balanced, comprehensive report on the nascent phenomenon of digital distribution has turned into Big Content's weapon of choice.

Wednesday, May 29, 2002
EFF 'toon takes on Big Content
[06:46 PM EST - link]

just doing my bit to move the meme along.

fight the good fight, and have fun while you're doing it!

Tuesday, May 28, 2002
Economist Big Content scorecard
[06:58 PM EST - link]

i was pleased to find this handy Big Content score card in the middle of a typically fine Economist.com article about the difficulties facing global media conglomerates:

Big Content Scorecard of Evil

in terms of the amount of your free time they control, the league table looks like this:


Wednesday, May 22, 2002
power flows from the barrel of a bottle of champagne (and $300K in campaign contributions)
[07:31 PM EST - link]

lineup last Thursday saw Big Content's legislative weenies throw a dismal party on Capitol Hill to celebrate the DMCA and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). thankfully, Politech's Declan McCullagh was there to capture the truly depressing event on film. the gathering of empty suits was ominous enough to attract the attention of noted techno-crank John Dvorak, who summed the whole thing up this way:

The party was to celebrate the DMCA falling in line with the goals of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a global body set up by business interests that hope to make it a felony to do reverse engineering or to even openly discuss how software works....The event looks to have been the typical dreadful gathering of stuffed shirts. The problem is, these are dangerous stuffed shirts that seem to have things their way all the time.

they get their way, of course, because the group of flacks hosting this shindig represent a mere handful of global intellectual property strip-miners, which keeps the message nice and focused.

for example, AOL Time Warner has interests in feature films, publishing, broadcasting, online services, and music. that means that they're represented by four of the seven organizations sponsoring this soiree (well, five, really -- the International Intellectual Property Alliance, in a fantastically rendundant move, represents the other organizations) as is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Disney is a dues-paying member of five of the trade groups behind the DMCA. these three companies have rigged it so that they have nine voices pushing Big Contnent's agenda.

and, last i checked, the Constitution gives the rest of us only one vote.

Monday, May 20, 2002
the cluefull and the clueless
[08:08 PM EST - link]

last week gave us two contrasting mainstream reports on the battle over digital civil liberties and free speech -- a genuinely cluefull piece ("A Bad, Sad Hollywood Ending?") from BusinessWeek (a unit of the McGraw-Hill Companies) and a totally clueless missive ("This Is War") from Fortune (a publication of the AOL Time Warner empire).

BusinessWeek manages to highlight a truly disturbing side-effect of Big Content's efforts to dictate the innovation in technology (not that the overt agenda -- controlling culture right to the "edge of the network" -- is all that benign): it's going to to wall-off open source development, pushing it to the fringe of the technology business. the DeCSS case is a perfect example of the genuine hostility with which Big Content views the free software/open source world.

Big Content isn't the type of business to learn from history, though, and DeCSS v 2.0 (or is that "DeCSS II: The Big Mistake"?) is headed to the airwaves in the guise of the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG). Hollywood is desperate to embed control into digital television broadcasts (much the way DVDs carry region and content-control) and they're determined to avoid the mistakes made with CDs and DVD: they're going to force hardware and software manufacturers to cripple technology to better suit their antiquated business model. they're dealing with realities inconvenient to their bottom line the same way they deal with a difficult actress -- tell her she'll "never work in this town again" and threaten to escort her off the set.

BusinessWeek deserves to be applauded for their work if only because it's surrounded by the kind of crap you'll find in the current edition of Fortune.

i've held off on the by-now-well-bloggerized "This Is War" article (it seems that citizens in my own corner of the Distributed Republic of Blogistan have trampled it underfoot). in reflecting further on it, however, i realized the article was even worse than i initially realized.

Fortune magazine has managed to take the struggle that's rapidly becoming the key battle for a citizen's free speech and fair use rights for the future, and has blithely cast it as a mere pissing contest between plutocrats and their pet legislators.

Fortune faithfully parrots the Big Content party line:

Global music sales declined last year by 5%, largely because you can get any song you want on the Internet these days free[1]. In a recent survey, 23% of music fans told the Recording Industry Association of America that they were buying less music because they were downloading it free from the Web or burning copies of other people's CDs[2]....Viant, a Boston consulting firm, has estimated that feature films already are being swapped on the Internet at a rate of 300,000 to 500,000 times a day.[3]

[1] the drop in music sales can largely be attributed to widespread price-fixing, the death of the CD single, and the crumpling economy.

[2] the RIAA survey was conducted by a polling firm with strong ties to Big Content's favorite politicos.

[3] the Viant numbers are deeply flawed -- even the report's author cautions against citing them as authoritative figures.


the article is filled, in the main, with the shopworn arguments of the MPAA and the RIAA. shockingly, despite the massive civil liberties implications of this issue, Fortune barely nods in the citizens' direction. this side of the story is covered in a throwaway sentence from Disney's chief lobbyist in DC: "This isn't 1984. We don't want to violate anybody's privacy." this comes right after he suggests the CPU would be a good place to check every bit for a watermark.

that the terms "fair use" and "free speech" appear nowhere in this 3,300-word article is a disappointing indication that much of the mainstream media is ignoring the most important aspect of this issue.

Thursday, May 16, 2002
Creative Commons online
[12:51 PM EST - link]

you can now visit the Creative Commons site for a preview of their technology and an introduction to the project.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002
"your public domain content's in my peer-to-peer distribution network!"
[06:52 PM EST - link]

sometimes life kindly sends you a signal that, yes, things are going in the right direction.

those of you who have been paying attention will recall that, on Monday, i singled out the Creative Commons project and Onion Networks' Open Content Network (OCN) as two important initiatives being announced at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. the San Jose Mercury News' Dan Gillmor seems to feel much the same way. he devotes today's column to Onion Networks/OCN as a worthy descendent of the past two years of feverish P2P development (ie, clever, elegant, and totally destabilizing) and Creative Commons as a natural extension of the copyleft ideal into all forms of content.

i think they're two great tastes that taste great together.

write a script. get some friends. make a movie. add a soundtrack. license it to be shared freely using the Creative Commons service. throw it onto the Open Content Network to be distributed. if you've done a good job, you'll have thousands upon thousands of people who've seen your work. maybe next time, you do it form money (nothing wrong with that). maybe next time you do it just for fun. the point is, you couldn't really do it before.

time to buy a TiBook and a Canon XL1s. i know you can do it for less, but i have technolust.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002
debunking the DMCA
[06:24 PM EST - link]

i've had very little time to post here today because i've been posting to the EFF's Debunking DMCA blog (think of this as a sneak-peek -- i don't think they've announced its existence yet).

i took care of a little catching up with posts about three years under the DMCA, a case of instant karma and DMCA nastygrammery, and Big Content's little party for WIPO.

to Xserve man
[03:43 PM EST - link]

i have no need for one of these, but i would like one very much. perhaps i can rack up a half-dozen or so next to the home theater.

Monday, May 13, 2002
Ad-hoc-amai: the Content Addressible Web and the Open Conent Network
[05:28 PM EST - link]

speaking of cool things happening at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, another buddy of mine, former OpenColan Justin Chapweske, is dead-set on disrupting the world of content delivery over the internet.

he's putting his devious ideas about a Content-Addressible Web into practice with the Open Content Network (OCN) -- which aims to be the CDN of choice for redistributable (eg, open source, public domain) software, movies, and music. he'll be presenting some of the details behind the design and implementation of the OCN on Wednesday.

Creative Commons gets play in the NY Times
[05:04 PM EST - link]

the Larry Lessig-led Creative Commons project's about to have a big week. first, the New York Times Technology section has a quick story on the initiative. next, the project's going to have its coming out party at this week's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (my friend Lisa Rein's the technical architect of the project -- she's one of the people presenting).

Creative Commons (which is actually a non-profit corporation) is trying to become both a clearinghouse for non-restrictive intellectual property licenses -- where creators can pick or create a suitable license for their work -- and a repository of public-domain content.

Friday, May 10, 2002
music cartel disses analyst: flogs homegrown figures
[06:06 PM EST - link]

the RIAA took aim at a report from Jupiter MediaMetrix, blasting it as "flawed".

the Jupiter report suggested that music swapping on the internet led to increased music buying behavior. naturally, this conclusion was at odds with the Big Content party line that file sharing was responsible for millions/billions/zillions of dollars in lost revenue.

the RIAA has issued a counter-survey of its own. the survey was comissioned from long-time Democratic Party pollsters Peter D Hart Research, whose clients include Sen Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings. you'll also find Big Content titans like AOL Time Warner among their non-politico clientele. of course, Hart's results were much more to the RIAA's liking.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002
study suggests PVRs make TV advertising more effective
[02:52 PM EST - link]

in yet another example of technology and its users involuntarily conspiring to save Big Content from themselves (see the VCR, television, and audio cassettes for previous examples), an independent survey is suggesting that personal video recorders (PVRs), like those from TiVo and ReplayTV, increase the amount of TV their users watch.

overall, PVR users are happier with their TV-viewing experience and more than half of them watch more TV (broadcast and premium) than they did before. because they can timeshift, a majority of users watch a greater variety of programming on more channels than they used to.

the numbers i'd personally like to tattoo on Jamie Kellner's forehead are, while PVR users skip commercials at the same rate regular TV viewers do, 92% of PVR users will stop to watch ad spots they find entertaining, and 69% will watch commercials if they're interested in the product. that's stunning -- PVRs help advertising reach the audience it's supposed to find: interested buyers. and all of this is happening in the context of more overall TV viewing. (via LawMeme)

fair use not part of Big Content's plans
[10:44 AM EST - link]

in the same BusinessWeek special report on e-business with an interview with Larry Lessig, Big Content emissary Cary Sherman flogs the RIAA's party line.

there are the occasional funny moments. for example, Sherman manages to claim (without irony) that the RIAA are "big believers in the marketplace", while at the same time suggesting the RIAA supports Sen Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings' digital media copylock legislation because "the marketplace may not be working here." well, as long as it may not be working, might as well get some federal legislation rolling...

the tone turns from light entertainment to sheer terror, though, when we get to Big Content's vision of fair use in the digital world.

The alarmists refer to concerns about fair use on the theory that all future content will be locked up and will only be made available on a pay-per-use basis. There's simply no evidence to support that kind of fear.....CDs will be around for decades more, since there are hundreds of millions of CD players in the world. That ensures there will always be fair use.

in other words, no fair use rights for digital content -- just be happy that you can still rip your Beatles CDs on existing hardware (you "alarmist"). as for evidence that all future content will be locked up -- what use would we have for the DMCA, CBDTPA, and the BPDG otherwise?

Lessig: "Dominant media is a huge threat"
[10:14 AM EST - link]

a BusinessWeek special report on e-business has a great interview with Stanford Law professor (and prominent digital intellectual property thinker) Larry Lessig.

Lessig succinctly argues his main themes: that Big Content seeks to erode people's freedoms to aid their businesses; that government is actively aiding Big Content and abandoning its citizens; that we need to do something about it, before Big Content become the government-appointed gatekeepers to innovation.

We don't need a new vision [of copyright]. We just need to recognize what the traditional vision has been. The traditional vision protects copyright owners from unfair competition. It has never been a way to give copyright holders perfect control over how consumers use content.

Monday, May 06, 2002
O'Reilly to hold Mac OS X fall conflab
[01:11 PM EST - link]

in a neet-0 indication that Mac OS X has started to come into its own, alpha-geek barometer O'Reilly & Associates has announced a Mac OS X conference for later this year (Sept 30-Oct 3).

O'Reilly's been paying a lot of attention to Mac OS X, and their Mac DevCenter (now with a shiny new URL!) is one of the best resources for Mac OS X developers, admins, and power users.

Biden/Hollings counterfeit bill to aid Big Content brownshirts
[11:41 AM EST - link]

i was halfway through writing a post on Sen Joe Biden's amendments to the US Code governing "phonorecords, copies of computer programs or computer program documentation or packaging, and copies of motion pictures or other audio visual works, and trafficking in counterfeit computer program documentation or packaging" when i noticed that the good people at the Reg had done the work for me:

Current law under Title 18, Section 2318 criminalizes the counterfeiting of packaging materials and logos, but the Biden amendment, we're told, merely adds such items as holograms to the list. And if that were the case, we'd have little to criticize here, in spite of the suspicious facts that Senator Fritz 'Hollywood' Hollings (Democrat, South Carolina) is a co-sponsor of the bill, and Microsoft Corporation heartily approves of it.

But of course with connections like those, it really couldn't be a straight-up piece of fair legislation, now could it?

Sen Biden's no stranger to using other people's words, so you have to wonder if the amendment's use of the term "verify" was suggested by a concerned contributorconstituent (like, oh, i don't know, Microsoft's attorneys at Sullivan & Cromwell)? (via the Reg)

Friday, May 03, 2002
Jamie Kellner, PR Whizkid
[03:55 PM EST - link]

i've never seen a network honcho get so famous, so fast (check out the "Related Links" sidebar). i guess that's what happens when you equate skipping commercials with theft (at least he didn't call it un-American).

perhaps they'll replace the "CNN" logo on the bottom-right of your TV screen with a little Kellner-head saying "I'm Watching You".

Big Content strong-arms SonicBlue into spying on customers
[01:29 PM EST - link]

Big Content moves from triumph to triumph. fresh from declaring the fast-forward button an aid to theft, the cartel has gotten a federal court magistrate to order ReplayTV-maker SonicBlue to rat out their users.

the studios suing SonicBlue want to know what programs ReplayTV users are watching, what commercials they skip, and what programs are sent to ReplayTV-using friends, and they want the data to be keyed to unique user IDs. neither the federal court nor Big Content are allowing users to opt out of this little study.

"It's an incredible invasion of privacy,'' said Fred von Lohmann, an intellectual property expert for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "But second -- and equally important -- [this] is what the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have been saying was going to happen now for some time. Basically, under the guise of copyright laws, courts are going to be put in a position of telling technology companies how to build their products.''

Wednesday, May 01, 2002
schizo Sony
[01:53 PM EST - link]

not huge news, but an R&D and equity deal between Sony and RealNetworks shows just how complicated life is getting for Big Content.

the deal gives Sony a 1% stake in RealNetworks, and cements an already deep relationship -- Sony's PlayStation 2 features a RealNetworks media client and Real, in turn, has integrated support for Sony's ATRAC3 and OpenMG media technologies in their software. it would appear that Sony's strengthening its hand against competitive pressure from übersynergist Microsoft.

of course, this puts Sony in direct competition with Sony. Sony is one half of the pressplay duet (along with Vivendi Universal), one of two Big Content-sanctioned digital music services. pressplay's service is built on Microsoft's Windows Media platform and is in direct competition for licensees with rival MusicNet, a joint-venture between EMI, Bertelsmann, AOL Time Warner, and RealNetworks. (via Reuters)