January 2006 Archives

Wi-Fi Networking News: MetroFi Switches to All Free

MetroFi offers Wi-Fi-based service across Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara. Its Cupertino and Santa Clara services originally required a monthly fee for mobile or fixed access. When they launched in Sunnyvale, they decided to try whether an advertising-supported model, in which a strip of advertising appears while connected, would provide enough revenue to create a profit on their fixed and per user costs. It did.

CEO Chuck Haas said last week, “Most communications business—and MetroFi is no different—is a high fixed cost, low incremental cost business. Your denominator, how many subscribers you have to amortize that cost, is one of the big drivers of that business.” Haas said that his top three per-user costs were customer acquisition, support (mostly to do with billing), and Internet bandwidth. By removing the first two major factors, it’s cheaper for him to offer free service.

Works for radio and broadcast television (although there are spectrum scarcity and regionality distortions at work there, too). So, I wonder how I would do with an advertising-based music service? Probably pretty well, margin-wise. That would leave more money (at a lower break-even point) to split with the partners).

Not that any of the labels would consent to their content being given away "for free."

Press Conference of the President

Q: On the NSA eavesdropping program, there seems to be growing momentum in Congress to either modify the existing law or write some new law that would give you the latitude to do this, and at the same time, ensure that people's civil liberties are protected. Would you be resistant to the notion of new laws if Congress were to give you what you need to conduct these operations?
An interesting question that raises some important points: is the current law so restrictive that it requires amendment? The FBI can commence a wiretap instantly, as long as it goes to the FISA court for an order within three days, so the administration's protests that the current law slows down their response doesn't appear to make sense.

Perhaps, then, the White House's problem with obeying current law turns on the requirements for a FISA court order. As it stands, the FBI (consulting with the NSA and CIA) has to show probable cause to suspect a wiretap target is involved in terrorist activity. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Gen Hayden has indicated the secret program runs at a much lower threshold: reasonable basis. It's not hair-splitting to guess that when the FBI, NSA, CIA, and DoJ (all parts of the unitary executive) get together to decide reasonable basis, it would largely conform to the White House's worldview.

Just to put this in some context: in 2004, the FISA court appeared to rubber stamp all but 94 of the FBI's wiretap requests. In other words, the government was required to do more than the bare minimum work (three pieces of paperwork) required by the law a measly 5% of the time. Given the high success rate, and the fact that the FBI essentially has a three day grace period to begin to bother with the administrative details, it would seem that the White House isn't overly-constrained by current legislation.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it seems remarkable that legislators are discussing a post facto legalization of the White House's domestic spying program. Their first instinct should be to establish clearly that their constituents, US citizens, are explicitly protected from secret government spying. Instead, there's serious discussion of aiding the executive in lowering the bar from independent approval (if not determination) of probable cause, even in secret, and without recourse, to something far less onerous, and entirely at the discretion of one branch of government. Congress, in other words, seems to resent being left out of the loop more than it does the potential unconstitutional surveillance of American citizens.

What's more frustrating is that it is almost impossible to determine definitively what's in the scope of this spying program. It most surely is not the simplistic "if al Qaeda's calling, we want to listen," line we're being fed by the administration's public relations team, if for no other reason than it would be technically impossible to pinpoint a single communication event with such accuracy. No, a reasonable assumption would be that the surveillance is more like a roaming dragnet, intercepting all international communications between a target and their correspondents. Are all conversations kept and mined? What's the threshold for determining if a conversation is material to an investigation? How long are conversations kept? Are conversations from one US area code to another always off-limits? Answers to these questions would be helpful.

Unfortunately, nobody's going to get them. It appears that the administration's stance on this, as it is with almost any decisions the president chooses to make, is that the details are secret. To discuss this spying program in any meaningful way borders on treason:
THE PRESIDENT: The terrorist surveillance program is necessary to protect America from attack. I asked the very questions you asked, John, when we first got going. Let me tell you exactly how this happened. Right after September the 11th, I said to the people, what can we do -- can we do more -- "the people" being the operators, a guy like Mike Hayden -- can we do more to protect the people?
Is it a bad thing that it isn't clear whether he asked Hayden how to protect American citizens or how to protect "the operators?"
There's going to be a lot of investigation and a lot of discussion about connecting dots and we have a responsibility to protect the people, so let's make sure we connect the dots. And so he came forward with this program. In other words, it wasn't designed in the White House, it was designed where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA.
Given the way he threw the words "the people" around, I guess it's fair to say that this program was designed by "the people." Curious, too, that the president believes that telling us the NSA designed this program is somehow more comforting than having the White House do so. Color me paranoid, but having your military spies design a domestic spying program isn't warming the cockles of my heart.
Secondly, I said, before we do anything, I want to make sure it's legal. And so we had our lawyers look at it -- and as part of the debate, discussion with the American people as to the legality of the program.
Whoa, almost missed that one: discussion with the American people? About this? Was I asleep for that debate? Or, by the American people, do you think the president means "the people" (see above)?
Now, my concern has always been that in an attempt to try to pass a law on something that's already legal, we'll show the enemy what we're doing. And we have briefed Congress -- members of Congress. We'll continue to do that, but it's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important, that if information gets out to how it's -- how we do it, or how we operate, it will help the enemy. And so, of course, we'll listen to ideas. But, John, I want to make sure that people understand that if it -- if the attempt to write law makes this program -- is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it. And I think the American people understand that. Why tell the enemy what we're doing if the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy? And it is. And it's legal. And we'll continue to brief Congress. And we review it a lot, and we review not only at the Justice Department, but with a good legal staff inside NSA. [The added emphasis is mine]
Did you catch that? Tucked right behind another "trust me, it's legal," we're told that to even discuss the matter in any detail aids the enemy. Possibly even comforts the enemy. And, trust me it's legal. At least, that's what the guys who designed and run this little operation are telling me.

Broadcast Flag praised, panned in Senate hearing

In the end, a comment from Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) characterized the situation best. Calling the broadcast flag "about the most balanced solution we have," Inouye unwittingly raised a point that I've raised several times: what is this a solution to? As Leslie Harris noted, even the video content industry admits that the broadcast flag will not stop piracy. After two hours of discussion, the Committee still couldn't see the light: this is not going to stop piracy, it's going to cause a lot of frustrations for a lot of honest people, and it's going to discourage companies from doing new and interesting things with technology. If that's the "solution," then I agree with Senator Inouye. It does that very well.
And even if there was a non-destructive technological solution to piracy, is it really the government's place to mandate its use? Wouldn't the beneficiaries of this magical solution simply buy it and implement it en masse? I'm hard pressed to come up with analagous examples of federally-mandated uses of technology in order to force compliance with regulation (after all, copyright infringement is already illegal—there's no regulatory impediment to prosecuting pirates).

Disney Agrees to Acquire Pixar in a $7.4 Billion Deal - New York Times

The Walt Disney Company said Tuesday that it would acquire Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion in a stock deal that not only gives Pixar's chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, a powerful role in Hollywood but also stirs hopes for rekindling the animated storytelling tradition at Disney.
I feel a little disappointed that Pixar isn't going it alone, but one can be forgiven for guessing that, for all their success, Jobs' other company was uncomfortable with the amount of risk they'd have to take to pull a Lucasfilm.

Since Disney held sequel rights to the movies covered under the current contract—they could make Toy Story 3, A Bug's Life 2, Monsters, Inc 2, etc—they had a powerful bargaining chip. Pixar would have had to put cash on the table to compensate Disney. With Disney's sequel rights, Pixar was a much less attractive partner for any other studio (why partner with Pixar when Disney could leverage their brand equity)? Worse still was the prospect of Disney releasing inferior quality sequels, damaging Pixar's reputation.

In the end it looks like Pixar used the leverage they had to their best advantage, securing a distribution partner and the power to control the products issued under their brand names. They've installed Lasseter and Catmull atop the Disney animation organization, and Jobs becomes the company's largest shareholder. In a way, Disney's leverage only succeeded in forcing a reverse-takover of their core animation business by a smaller, more innovative, more successful company.

As for Jobs, he's realized a neat 225x return on his original $10MM investment in 1986. Not bad.


Apple's Head Start

Apple's Head Start

If digital media is to become as much a part of the American living room as the couch and the TV, it may take Apple Computer to get us there.

For years now, technovisionaries have dreamt of a world in which consumers can order a pizza, watch any TV show or movie ever made, or teleconference with family and friends, all over their television sets from the comfort of their couch.  But few Americans have anything like the digital living room envisioned by the digerati and, what's more, it's not clear they even want it.

That's because today's entertainment systems "just work," according to Robert Acker, vice president of digital music services at RealNetworks, at a business conference last month.

"Part of our challenge as an industry is to create something that's just as easy to use as what we want them to replace -- in a way that doesn't require any [time] investment on their part," Acker said.

Although Acker would likely dispute the notion, that may be where Apple comes in. From the PC to the digital music player, the company has been a key player over the last 30 years in making digital technology user-friendly -- and mainstream.

Of all the companies that could lead Americans into the digital living room, "Apple's in the best position," says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, an industry research firm. "Whether it takes advantage of it is a totally separate question."
A viewpoint that echoes Michael Gartenberg at Jupiter Research:

It's not about music or video, it's about information flow and where that information flows to and from. As we've said before, Apple controls one endpoint in the home and that already begins to change how content flows. It's helped Apple get a proprietary connector as an option on 40% of new cars sold in the US (making the Mercedes your neighbor bought the ultimate iPod accessory). That's an amazing task (ask anyone who covers auto how hard it is to get auto makers to put your stuff on their cars in a short period of time. Ask Microsoft's Auto group that's been trying to get USB on board for years with little success). Microsoft certainly can not allow Apple to control another one and still deliver on their vision of the digital home.

In other words, Apple's strength is their ability to deliver an end-to-end serivce that's simple to use (as opposed to Microsoft's "federated" approach to delivering a digital music experience).

In the PC business, especially addressing the enterprise market, this closed platform approach has been seen as a liability and some industry analysts believe that Apple's repeating past mistakes with the iPod. Setting aside for a second the fact that I believe Apple's reluctance to license the Mac OS was not the major factor in their marginalization in the PC industry (I actually think Apple never stood  a chance with the enterprise customer), I think these analyses ignore the only mature(ish) crossover (from computer technology to consumer electronics) successes in the living room: game consoles.

Nobody could possibly argue that either the PlayStation or Xbox are open platforms. Sony and Microsoft are aggressive gatekeepers in both cases, and they control their ecosystems tightly. What Apple has managed to do is create a similar model (release a hardware/software platform where the value is determined by third party software) where they're profitable on the hardware quickly, as opposed to absorbing years of losses for each unit sold, and recouping their investment in licensing and manufacturing fees to the software developers and publishers.

I haven't fully thought this through, but it would seem that the parallel is worth investigating further. If so, Microsoft had better decide quickly to enter the hardware business (just as it did with the Xbox) in the hopes that it can deliver the seamless experience that Apple has with the iPod, iTunes, and iTunes Music Store.

EFF: DeepLinks

You say you want the power to time-shift and space-shift TV and radio? You say you want tomorrow's innovators to invent new TV and radio gizmos you haven't thought of yet, the same way the pioneers behind the VCR, TiVo, and the iPod did?

Well, that's not what the entertainment industry has in mind. According to them, here's all tomorrow's innovators should be allowed to offer you:
"customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law."
In other words, Big Content would like their lapdogs in Congress to literally freeze time and halt any change in technology, business models, or regulatory environment that might cause them to change one iota of the way they do business. The grumpy old men in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, London, Washington, and Guetersloh like things just the way they are, thank you very much.

Freedom to Tinker » Blog Archive » Analog Hole Bill Would Impose a Secret Law

So I emailed the company that sells VEIL [technology to embed watermarks in broadcast content] and asked for a copy of the specification. I figured I would be able to get it. After all, the bill would make compliance with the VEIL spec mandatory — the spec would in effect be part of the law. Surely, I thought, they’re not proposing passing a secret law. Surely they’re not going to say that the citizenry isn’t allowed to know what’s in the law that Congress is considering. We’re talking about television here, not national security.

After some discussion, the company helpfully explained that I could get the spec, if I first signed their license agreement. The agreement requires me (a) to pay them $10,000, and (b) to promise not to talk to anybody about what is in the spec. In other words, I can know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay $10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.

Worse yet, this license covers only half of the technology: the VEIL decoder, which detects VEIL signals. There is no way you or I can find out about the encoder technology that puts VEIL signals into video.
This is brilliant.

Not only is it offensive from a legal, regulatory, and political transparency perspective (why are lawmakers from Wisconsin and Michigan creating laws that reference technology protected by trade secret? To protect Big Content from technology and business model changes?), but it's also remarkably stupid security practice.

This watermarking technology is like encryption in the sense that its effectiveness depends on remaining uncompromised. After all, if someone figures out how to create phony, but legitimate looking watermarks, the system fails. If someone figures out how to remove watermarks without seriously degrading the underlying content, the system fails. There's no question of this technology being unbreakable -- it couldn't be. But the only way to know it's reliable (reliable enough for, say, a federal government to incorporate it into law by reference) is to have it kicked around. And not just by people willing and able to shell out $10K, but by all comers.

Is it possible that there isn't a single technology-savvy legislative assistant in all of DC?

Watching Workday

Workday

Workday™ will provide a revolutionary application platform and the next generation of business applications to drive your enterprise's performance. Our applications will be dramatically easy to use, be responsive to your organization’s changing needs and will significantly lower your total cost of ownership.
Sure sounds like David Duffield (ex of PeopleSoft) intends to deliver enterprise apps as loosely-coupled capabilities, with rich-but-thin user experiences (AJAX), over public networks (SaaS), and built on open source components wherever feasible. Maybe I'm projecting, because this is exactly the way I'd go to market in this business, too.

Say what you will about Duffield, he did build a successful company in PeopleSoft.

Public Knowledge - "New and Improved" Draft Broadcast Flag Bill: This Time for TV and Radio

Remember the “Hollings bill” back from 2002? It was a bill that would essentially put a copyright cop in your consumer electronics and PCs—to ensure you didn’t do anything with content that wasn’t authorized by the content industry. The bill put copyright owners in control of innovation. Here’s the US Senate Draft of the “Digital Content Protection Act of 2006.” Look familiar? It may go about it differently—but the DCPA is essentially the Hollings bill, only in pieces-parts. Instead of saying “one mandate to rule them all,” the controls split into different proceedings at the FCC:

* One that requires the FCC to adopt the broadcast flag, and amend it in anyway it sees fit (including total reconsideration and rewrite of the rules!!!)

* Another that requires the FCC to adopt a radio flag for both over the air and satellite digital radio transmissions…”to prevent the indiscriminate unauthorized copying of copyrighted digital audio content transmitted by its licensees and the redistribution of such copyrighted content over digital networks.”
Oh my god, it's back. How many times do we have to kill this thing?

Kirkville - The iTunes MiniStore Debacle: What Apple Did Wrong

So the problem here is two-fold: first, Apple added a feature (which many people may appreciate) designed to increase their revenue stream. However, they did not tell users what type of information is being sent and where (at least the song name and artist are being sent when you click on a song, but there is also a cookie being sent, and no one has yet explained the purpose and content of this cookie). A simple warning dialog at first launch might have resolved this problem. (And, since the license does not even grant Apple the right to "obtain" this information from users' computers, there may be legal issues that should have been addressed.)

Second, this information is being processed by another company, Omniture, which is a marketing company, and no one knows what they do with it. While Apple claims to not "collect" any information, what does Omniture do with this information, and why is some information sent to metrics.apple.com?
Like Cory, Kirk correctly identifies Apple's big mistake here: not telling customers what the MiniStore was doing (ie, collecting data about clicks on songs in your personal iTunes library), where that data was going, and how to opt out.

Kirk also voices a suspicion of the whole Omniture thing, and that's understandable. It's almost more nefarious-appearing when he casts Ominture as a "marketing" company. Omniture's just a web analytics firm; they collect clickstream data on behalf of clients (like Apple -- your visits to Apple, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart sites are tracked by Omniture). Having worked for an Omniture competitor, I can tell you that web analytics firms don't do anything with that data except make it available to the customer. For instance, the company I worked for used to collect web analytics data for MTV, United Airlines, Fox News, and the Economist. There was never any sharing of data between the companies, nor did we ever mine that data for any reason. That data was for the exclusive use of our customers.

metrics.apple.com seems to be the iTMS metrics collection engine, passing clickstream and download data from users' clicks in the iTMS. Since iTunes is essentially a customized browser designed to work with the iTMS servers, I suppose Apple had to create their own method of collecting behavioral data for iTMS sessions, rather than just rolling out a standard web analytics service.

What's more interesting is that iTunes MiniStore seems to be passing your Apple ID/iTMS account along with your library click behavior. This means that Apple could potentially relate your clicks within your library to your purchasing data, your address (in as much as you've given Apple a billing address), and whatever other information they can associate with your Apple ID. A question comes to mind: what happens if you're not logged into your iTMS account while clicking around your library? Does the MiniStore pass the click data back anyway?

Boing Boing: iTunes update spies on your listening and sends it to Apple?

I love iTunes because it's a clean music player. But no amount of clean UI is worth surrendering my privacy for -- I wouldn't buy a stereo that phoned home to Panasonic and told it what I was listening to; I wouldn't buy a shower radio that delivered my tuning preferences to Blaupunkt. I certainly am not comfortable with Apple shoulder-surfing me while I listen to digital music, particularly if they're doing so without my meaningful, informed consent and without disclosing what they intend on doing with that data.

At very least, Apple must deliver information about whether iTunes gathers and transmits your data when the Mini-Store is switched off, and about what it does with the data the Mini-Store transmits when it's loaded.
Picking up where Cory leaves off, I agree: Apple should have found some way to let customers know what it was doing with iTunes, rather than go the secret opt-in route.

Turning to the actual feature itself, I'm not sure that there's much of a privacy issue with a "people who bought this song also bought X." Is this any different than the recommendation engine featured on the pages of Amazon.com? I suppose until I know whether or not Apple's keeping a persistent history of my clicks (and associating it, somehow, with personally identifiable information) there's no way of telling. Frankly, anything that helps me discover new stuff I might like would be an improvement over the way the iTunes Music Store sells music and video.

The few clues people have picked up, like the fact that iTunes makes a call to Omniture's web analytics servers, don't really bother me. I used to work in the web analytics and web ad serving business (competing with the likes of Omniture and DoubleClick), and the worst these services do is drop a persistent cookie on your machine that tracks your clicks on a given web site. They have your IP address, your browser/OS combo, some information about your browser setup (Java or JavaScript support, etc) and they may possibly also use geolocation services to establish your rough whereabouts. I suppose there's the remote chance that Omniture may correlate your clicks on Apple.com properties with clicks on other site where they're the analytics tool of choice (such as eBay), but that would depend on whether Apple was interested in sharing that information, and I can't see why that would be the case.

Where this may get a little tricky is when you're logged in to the iTunes Music Store. They could possibly relate a cookie (which in turn relates to a browsing or clickstream history over time) to an account ID. This means your clicks could be cross referenced against your purchases, and tied to a name, address, email, and phone number. IIRC this iTunes account ID is also your Apple ID, which means that Apple could relate iTMS purchase and clickstream data to Apple Store online purchases, product registrations, posts to their support discussion groups, .Mac activity. Seems far-fetched, though.

Sony's CEO seeks balance for copy-protection | InfoWorld | News | 2006-01-09 | By Martyn Williams, IDG News Service

"We have to walk the line at Sony between the needs and technology of the customer and the rights of the artist, which we feel fairly strongly about," he said referring to Sony's dual role as a major consumer electronics and a major music and movie publisher.

Stringer also said he was worried about the negative impact the controversy could have had on Sony as a whole because of Sony BMG's actions. Sony BMG is a joint venture with Bertelsmann.

"Every headline was about Sony, as if Sony Electronics was behind all of this and we took quite a beating but it was a Sony BMG copyright protection tradition and this was a bad situation. We obviously retreated from that position."

"Sony as a company took a bit of a beating for it, which was somewhat unfair," he said.
Makes perfect sense—you only own 50% of the record label, and it's called "Sony BMG;" how could anyone think Sony was responsible? Perhaps the only way this has been unfair to Sony is that Bertelsmann hasn't taken the same kind of public bollocking that Sir Howard's company has.

Still, this was an underwhelming, mealy-mouthed performance by Sony's CEO. He didn't appear to understand the gravity of the situation: a subsidiary unit of his company effectively vandalized its customers property, opening people and companies to serious security risks. Stringer's focus on the "perception" element of the problem is troubling when you consider that he's the effective head of a major PC maker. Instead of an abject apology, we get more Big Content party line about "protecting the rights of the artist" (about as convincing as hearing the fox discuss how he's protecting the rights of the hens in the henhouse). I expect Sony will continue to trip over its own feet in the name of synergy between the content and technology sides of the house.

BEA Chief Downplays Open-Source Alternatives

I think the marketplace so wants to believe there's a transition that everything is going to become open source. They are believing in something that really doesn't exist. Will JBoss work? I think yes. Only if the J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] APIs become obsolete. If they become a commodity and nobody programs to J2EE anymore, then people will use JBoss. Because then you can pop JBoss and put it on WebLogic on the fly. We're not there yet. JBoss is not Linux, and Linux is not free.
Call me dense, but I don't understand a single word of this. While puzzling over it, I also realized that I don't particularly care: whever Alfred Chuang thinks is unique about the app server, middleware, or portal space, it probably isn't unique enough to be shielded from the slow commoditizing forces of free and open source software.

Eventually enough people will have a need for unrestricted software to perform the same functions that IBM's WebSphere and BEA's WebLogic perform today. As soon as that core platform is stable enough for production use at scale, it's the beginning of the long goodbye for the proprietary solutions, with the weaker players disappearing first.

FORTUNE: Iger's new model - Jan. 10, 2006

None of that will matter if Disney can't keep making content that people really want to consume. One consequence of the digital world is that viewers will reject second-tier content -- you know, like that TV show hammocked between two hits that people watched because nothing else was on. Now there will always be something else on. "That might be a good thing," muses Iger. "We'd weed out some of the chaff."

Ask him what he worries about, and he does not talk about broadband take-up rates or piracy or cannibalization. He worries about creating hits. Tech, shmeck. Some things never change.
I worry that the article is too foamy—painting Iger in a far-too-tech-savvy light—but that last graf is heartening. It's exactly how Big Content should think about the change in distribution and marketing. They should worry about creating compelling stories and music that customers will want to obtain, rather than "plugging analog holes" or outlawing reverse engineering.

WSJ.com - Phone Companies Set Off A Battle Over Internet Fees

Verizon Communications Inc. Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg yesterday said he might favor reaching deals with companies to do the same. "We have to make sure they don't sit on our network and chew up our capacity," Mr. Seidenberg told reporters.

[T]he telecom companies argue that they have spent billions of dollars through the years to upgrade their networks so that users can effortlessly download content from Web sites such as Google and Yahoo -- with little benefit to the phone companies themselves. "During the hurricanes, Google didn't pay to have the DSL restored," said BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher. "We're paying all that money."
This logic, of course, doesn't pass the laugh test. Did BellSouth or Verizon send checks to Google or Yahoo! to pay for their data centers, developers, or marketing? Why are their customers interested in broadband (and paying a premium for it) anyway? As I've mentioned before, the value of a telco's network without services like Google is approximately zero.

I suggest BellSouth take up the cost of restoring DSL to the Gulf Coast with their insurance companies.

Anti-Apple DRM sentiment rising | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com

Brad King who writes about emerging technology and culture for MIT's Technology Review is speaking out against Apple's digital restrictions [sic] management (DRM) strategy

What's unfortunate about King's original post is that he had to start off by apologizing because he knew his opinion wouldn't be very popular with the Apple crowd. What's even more unfortunate is that due to the comments he received, he apparently had to update his entry with an even more fleshed out defense of his position. It's proof to me that a lot of people are so star-struck by Apple's offerings (or Jobs, or Bono) that they're willing to do more than just turn a blind eye to the havoc being wrought on consumers. In a merger of forces with the dark side, they're willing to defend it too. How sad.
I got my anti-DRM bona fides too, guys, but let's call Brad's article (any article, really, that singles out Apple for their approach to DRM) for what it is: Apple-baiting for pageviews.

Last I checked, the iPod played MP3 files, and AAC-encoded, non-DRMed files just fine. Last I checked, there was nothing about iTunes or Mac OS X that prevented you from downloading or ripping said files. Hell, you can even buy them from eMusic if you'd like. In addition to all these restriction-free choices, you also have the choice of buying tracks from the iTunes Music Store, encumbred with Big Content-approved DRM. Convenient, to be sure, but restrictive nevertheless. Did Jobs make a deal with the devil? Perhaps, but he took the only option open to him. Big Content has yet to show that they'll play ball without DRM on the table.

Has Apple, then, sold out its customers? That's a mighty big leap. Apple's added a Big Content-friendly option to their lineup of music and video services. Perhaps they've thrown a short lifeline to Big Content, allowing them to believe that DRM-encumbered product has a long future, but they certainly haven't foreclosed on anybody else's shiny new non-DRM business model.

WSJ.com - Google to Offer Video Downloads, Software That Rivals Microsoft's

Under the major upgrade to Google's video-search service, consumers will be able to pay to download and view videos, such as television shows, on their computers from Google content partners such as TV companies, people familiar with the matter say. Google plans to announce partnerships with some major players tomorrow, including CBS Corp. and the National Basketball Association, these people say. By virtue of Google's huge presence online, the move could place Google in competition with other emerging powers in Internet distribution of video such as Apple Computer Inc.

Some details of Google's online video service remain unclear, such as how much content owners might charge consumers to download their videos. Google last year had said it planned to allow content owners to charge for videos, but it hadn't activated that feature. Interest in delivering video over the Internet has surged since October, when Apple began offering downloads of popular TV shows through a partnership with Walt Disney Co. Google has developed its own digital-rights-management software to protect downloaded videos from piracy.
Also in the mix, a software bundle that includes the various Google downloads (Picasa, Google Talk, Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, and Google Earth) along with anti-malware tools, and the odd utility.

It would be silly for production companies to limit distribution of their shows to exclusive deals with a single network partner. It would limit their reach and hamper their ability to measure various business models against one another. Google and Yahoo!, for example, don't have the iPod angle that Apple does, but Apple has yet to incorporate advertising into their revenue model. The different models carry different strategic implications for the way value gets passed back through the chain from customer to distributor to producer.

How will these services evolve to take us beyond buy, download, and watch? Will Google and Apple bring their massive infrastructure into play and allow customers to store their shows online, to be viewed whenever they have a broadband connection? Does Apple have a hardware advantage, allowing them to give their customers an easy option to take shows, movies, and music off the network and watch it in the living room? How can Google (or Yahoo! or Microsoft) respond?

Interesting times, indeed. It would be a shame if Big Content manages to kill all this excitement.

Apple, Google, and Yahoo! are the new TV networks.

Digital Transition Content Security Act

History has repeatedly shown that everybody wins when laws and technology make media more, not less, accessible to consumers. When compulsory licensing was put in place forcing all record labels to license their music for playback on radio, consumers lives were enriched immeasurably and content providers and consumer electronics companies reaped great profits. The same was true for all involved when the Courts legalized the VCR and later the portable MP3 player.

We believe that preserving the ability for companies like ours to develop the entertainment technologies of tomorrow is as much in the long-term best interests of Hollywood as it is for consumers, the American economy, and our own company. Although such a strategic view of the future has never been embraced by Big Media, history has shown that if they are once again unsuccessful in holding back the tide of advancing technology, they will once again be the beneficiaries of their own failure.
I've lost count of the number of times technology has saved Big Content from themselves (and their IP lawyers), but the CEO of Neuros Technology is exactly right. Neuros may or may not become a huge, successful company (if their technology isn't summarily outlawed), but Big Content stands to unlock billions of dollars of new revenue by making their content more network-friendly (and thus more customer-friendly).

Congressional copycats - Los Angeles Times

The bill aims to prevent pirates from slipping through the analog hole to copy movies or television programs, then converting them into digital files that could be swapped on the Internet or burned onto DVDs. It would require any new device that receives an analog video signal — including TV tuners, computers and TiVos — to be equipped with technology to limit copying and redistribution online.

The measure, which is expected to draw fire from some computer and consumer-electronics companies, would give Hollywood unprecedented control over what people do with the programs that come into their homes. Studios could force TiVos and other digital recorders to erase pay-per-view or on-demand movies stored for more than 90 minutes. New computers could be prevented from showing copyprotected programs, such as a movie downloaded from an online store, in high definition.
What IP crypto-pinko-commies wrote this? The LA Times, the hometown paper for Big Content. When the paper in a company town thinks it's a bad idea, it's a bad idea.

Chirac urges change to law on French colonial past - Yahoo! News

"I will be uncompromising on the respect of the Republic's values: the fight against racism, against anti-Semitism, against discrimination," [Chirac] said.
Funny, I thought racism, discrimination, and anti-Semitism were the Republic's values.

When your colonial legacy consists of encumbring imoverished nations with the runner up in world languages (the lingua franca ain't even franca) and the Napoleonic Code, I guess you need a law demanding your imperial past be portrayed in a positive light.