October 6, 2006
Google Buying YouTube?
It's in the Chicago Tribune. And now reports are showing up in various other places. The price would be about $1.6 billion. Google and YouTube decline to comment. Discussions are supposed to be in the "sensitive" stage. Let's hope they get this right. Brad Greenspan, founder of MySpace is complaining that stockholders were ripped off by News Corp. when they bought that site.
Check out the AP story in the Washington Post on the Google/YouTube sale.
Google Looks to MS, Yahoo for Support on Digitization Project
Actually, they are sending subpoenas to both Microsoft and Yahoo for confidential documents that would support Google's efforts to defend itself against copyright violation as they digitize significant book collections held in major research libraries. Microsoft and Yahoo have similar projects that are part of the Open Content Alliance. The plaintiffs in Google's case support that project as the scanning entities must seek explicit permission from copyright holders. Google requires aggrieved authors to opt out of their scanning project. Others Google plans to subpoena include Random House Inc., HarperCollins Publishers Inc., Holtzbrink Publishers, The Association of American Publishers (the plaintiff in the Google case), and Amazon.
The judge issued an order limiting the use of the documents to the litigation at hand and also limited who can actually see the documents. Protective orders or not, Google's competitors can't be too thrilled to share confidential business information even in this context.
In a somewhat related note, Oxford University Press noted that there was a significant uptick in sales due to readers encountering titles through Google Books. No one is saying what the numbers are, but press reports indicate that Oxford is happy with sales figures. That development may give Google some leverage in negotiating future deals with publishers.
The Oxford angle is in a Reuters report here. The link may not last, so here is one quote from the story from Oxford:
"Google Book Search has helped us turn searchers into consumers," said Colleen Scollans, the director of online sales for Oxford University Press
She declined to provide specific figures, but said that sales growth has been "significant". Scollans estimated that 1 million customers have viewed 12,000 Oxford titles using the Google program.
October 5, 2006
Interior Department Employees Surf for Porn, Games, Auctions
Here's the first, and with luck, the last Mark Foley reference on this blog. Former Congressman Foley's indiscreet email and instant messages are notable beyond the outrage generated over prurient communications to a 16 year old boy by the fact that they used current technology as the medium for the messages. Usually members of congress are among the least tech savvy of humans, especially if Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska is a measure. The Senator,chairs the Commerce Committee and is currently considering, if that's the word for it, the latest overhaul of telecommunication laws. He did describe the Internet as a series of tubes at one point, probably a Monty Burns-esque reference to pneumatic tubes of, oh, say Senator Stevens day. In that sense, ex-Congressman Foley is way ahead of him in understanding the (ab)uses of the Internet.
But now that Mr. Foley is out of a job, he might find that he could feel right at home at the Department of the Interior. Employees of that department seemed to have caught on to the possibilities of the Web. The Inspector General for Interior, Earl E. Devaney, studied the Internet habits of the Department's employees. What did he find? In his words:
We discovered that computer users at the Department have continued to access sexually explicit gambling web sites due to lack of consistency in Department controls over Internet use. While not specifically prohibited, we also discovered that computer users spent significant time at Internet auction and on-line gaming web sites, costing an estimated 104,221 hours in potential lost productivity over the course of a year.
That's the equivalent of 2605 and a half work weeks at 40 hours per week. To be fair, those hours are spread over 80,000 employees, some of whom are probably not wasting tax dollars while homing from work. The sex and gambling sites apparently do violate government policy, although the shopping and game sites only interfere with work productivity. A department employee normally works 2,080 hours per year, and the lost time due to auction and games sites is the equivalent of 50 FTE.
Other notes from the report:
* A number of computers accessed sexually explicit websites for approximately 30 minutes to nearly 1 hour;
* One computer had 2,369 computer log entries at two Internet game sites for approximately 14 hours;
* 406 computer log entries indicating another computer accessed an Internet game for approximately 12 hours;
* 2,949 computer log entries indicating a third computer accessed an Internet game site for nearly 10 hours; and,
* 12,597 computer log entries indicating a fourth computer accessed an Internet auction for nearly 8 hours.
In a review of OIG investigative files, we found that our investigators routinely discover evidence that employees access sexually explicit websites. Pornography, and in some cases child pornography, have been discovered during forensic examinations of Department computers. Often, the discovery of pornography is incidental to the purpose of the forensic examination. For example:
* A DOI employee was sentenced to 8 years in prison for possession of approximately 30,000 images of child pornography, which was discovered on his government computer during an examination for a computer virus.
So, come on down Mr. Foley. Once the scandal clears, you may be the right person to work at Interior.
The OIG's web site (which is not part of the Interior site) is here. The report is available in text and PDF from the main page.
October 4, 2006
My Sharona Creators Sue Apple, Yahoo for Infringment Over Run-DMC Sampling
The wacky world of music sampling has spawned any number of lawsuits and law review articles and led to a licensing regime where artists and record companies buy off other companies to use their work. The guys who wrote My Sharona have sued not only Run-DMC who they claim incorporated samples of the song into the rapper's "It's Tricky," but also Yahoo, Apple, Amazon, and others for distributing it online. Brick and mortar stores were left out. The trick here is online infringement because these distributors make a copy of the song every time they sell it. Stores such as Best Buy and the bankruptcy challenged Tower Records only sell copies.
Douglas Fieger and Berton Averre of the Knack claim they never heard the Run-DMC tune until August, 2005. My Sharona was published in 1978 while there is a three year statute of limitations on copyright actions. Expect more lawsuits of this nature if this one ever gets past the motion to dismiss stage.
The case was filed in federal court in the Central District of California, docket number CV 06-5887.
Details are in eWeek.
Supreme Court Considers Patent Dispute With Tech Implications
The Supreme Court heard arguments today on a case that has implications for the technology industry and beyond. The Court heard the case of MedImmune v. Genentech which involves challenging patents under license. MedImmune licensed a drug patent from Genentech "under protest." MedImmune wants to challenge the patent but that would violate the license agreement and leave them subject to potential damages. The U.S. Government intervened on the side of MedImmune. The Supreme Court is essentially deciding whether these challenges are valid even under a license agreement.
Universities who hold large stores of patents said the cost of licensing would go up if they had to defend the validity of their intellectual property. It's no secret that the Patent Office cannot review patents at the same pace as litigation in the federal courts. That was obvious in the Research In Motion Blackberry case that concluded with a settlement over the summer. Technology companies also use patents as sources or revenue as well as ways to lock up methods to distinguish their products from those of other companies.
Even though the Court heard arguments in the case today, the transcript is available on the Court's web site. This is a new feature by the Court to make electronic transcripts available on the same day arguments are heard. Congratulations to the court for making another step to the 21st century.
October 2, 2006
FTC Goes After Online Check Site for Fraud
The FTC has shut down a check scam operation on the Internet. From the Commission's press release:
Qchex, an Internet-based check creation and delivery service, has agreed to a temporary restraining order to halt its unfair business practices. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the Federal Trade Commission charged that Qchex creates and sends checks drawn on any bank account identified by a Qchex customer without verifying that the customer has authority to write checks drawn on that account. As a result, con artists have used the Qchex service to draw checks on bank accounts that belong to others. According to the FTC, Qchex’s practices have harmed both innocent account holders whose bank accounts have been debited, and individuals and businesses who received fraudulent Qchex checks as payment for goods and services. The agency alleges the practices violate federal law, and has asked the court to order a permanent halt to the illegal operation, and to order the defendants to give up their ill-gotten gains.
FTC filings are linked from a sidebar on the press release page.
DVD Jon Tackles Apple's FairPlay DRM
DVD Jon is at it again. His last exploit was to create 15 lines of code that broke CSS copy protection on DVDs. The movie industry sued Jon in Norwegian courts and he was acquitted of charges. He's now worked out a way to replicate Apple's FairPlay DRM scheme. This means there is a way to place media on the iPod that didn't come from the iTunes store. Apple has long resisted licensing FairPlay to other online music stores, essentially locking them out of the iPod. Jon's efforts will surely get the attention of Apple as he intends to license the technology to other media companies. He says that what he's doing is legal. Apple will probably dispute that in court, although if they lose there will be severe implications for Apple's closed universe of player and content, and probably Microsoft's planned closed Zune universe. Jon better not use the syllable "pod" in his trade name. That will really frost Apple. This is going to get really interesting really fast.
U.S. to Give Up Control of ICANN in 2009
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has been under the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce since its inception. European, South American and other governments have chaffed over what they see as U.S. government interference in the operation of ICANN. The most recent example was the failure of ICANN to approve a .xxx domain that would handle pornographic sites and content. The U.s. had applied political pressure to slow down and ultimately kill the proposal. The government was accused of pandering to its most loyal voter bloc, conservative and religious individuals who oppose pornography. The United States government firmly resisted calls at that time to open ICANN to any international governance.
News reports now indicate that the U.S. government has renewed its oversight agreement with ICANN, but with less of a grip than under previous agreements. ICANN will report its activities to the Internet community once per year rather than twice a year to the U.S. ICANN should be under the control of the market once the agreement expires in three years. European authorities have hailed the move towards ICANN independence although they plan to carefully monitor the situation. Even though the U.S. is giving up direct control of ICANN, it is sure to bear political pressure when its interests are at stake. By the time ICANN is free in 2009, however, the Bush administration will be safely out of office.