January 5, 2007
Studios OK Downloading Films to Disk Via Kiosks
Sonic Solutions, manufacturers of the Roxio brand of burning software, has come up with a technology that allows the creation of DVDs from downloaded films. Moreover, the resultant DVDs will play on any machine. This means consumers should be able to buy DVDs of films not normally available on the shelves of retailers limited to the currently popular. All that's necessary is a kiosk (Walgreen's is already planning on installing them), a new disc format, a new burner that can handle the new disc format, and consumer faith in the concept.
And, oh yes, a marketing plan that appeals to consumers. That last one has always been a stumbling block for studios and marketers alike. The lack of burning capability has been a big turn-off to consumers who actually wanted something permanent for the money. Speaking of money, that's been the other sticking point, as the content has usually been limited to films in stereo with no extra features at a higher price than standard DVDs. The studios have long been happy to accept that minor revenue stream provided it did not interfere with their regular unit marketing.
The new system, called Qflix, also avoids the lack of easy portability which also dogged downloads. Views were typically limited to the single computer. Most consumers wanted television viewing. That was accomplished by buying somewhat expensive add-on hardware to home networks dedicated to that purpose. Still, that equipment never got around the issue of paying the same price or more for an inferior product.
Qflix comes with a lot of promise to provide sales opportunities and give consumers what they want. The studios went for it because it uses the same CSS DRM system that standard DVDs use. They believe this will limit piracy opportunities which was their stumbling block. This one is a little curious as the standard DVD copy protection system was broken years ago and the software is in wide circulation. If nothing else, this development represents a breakthrough in the mindset of studios hostile to digital downloads. Let's hope they don't bog it down with lousy features and a price point to ignore. After all, downloads are competing with formats from the same source. The studios and download services seem not to have figured that one out.
January 4, 2007
Brazilian Judge Orders YouTube to Shut Down
Brazil and Google have this thing. Whenever Google gets involved in a legal dispute that drags it into the Brazilian legal system things tend to get a little wacky. There was that problem with Orkut, Google's social convergence site which has minuscule popularity everywhere except Brazil, where it is wildly popular. Brazilian prosecutors and the courts tried to get all kinds of membership and personal information about users for criminal investigations into child pornography and copyright violation. Laudable attempts to prevent crime, yes, but the demands made on Orkut would not pass muster in U.S. Courts. Google told them all that if Brazil wanted the information, then it should sue in the U.S. where the servers were located. Orkut was still humming at last report.
Now comes Brazilian model Daniela Cicarelli and her boyfriend, Tato Malzoni, to court over a sex tape that keeps popping up on YouTube. Google keeps taking it down, but members keep uploading the item. The Brazilian judge ruled the efforts not good enough and ordered YouTube shut down. As if. That's not going to happen unless a United States court gets involved. Given the overreaching effect that would have on other content the remedy seems...draconian. A court may award damages, but shutting down YouTube? To paraphrase Daffy Duck, it is to laugh.
If nothing else, this highlights the problems with an international communications network that is semi-regulated. Law is jurisdictional and it's hard to control stuff that happens across the border. Brazil would be as pressed to stop people from talking about the video over the phone system in Iceland. Curtailing YouTube would not stop the video from being circulated over other sites, or by hand. Ask any band who has ever been bootlegged. Music and video has been circulated long before the Internet ever existed.
One suggestion to the offended couple is to take some responsibility for this tawdry affair. If you film something like that, keep it private. And if you can't, then perhaps you should take the route used by Pam, Tommy, Paris, and the rest of their ilk: license the content and make some money off of it. As for the Brazilian judge, you might as well stand at the shores of the Atlantic and command the Internet content to stop there. That idea didn't work for the last guy who tried something like that.
LG Dual Format High Definition Players Add New Wrinkle in DVD Format War
News items are appearing that claim the end to the format war between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray high definition discs. The claim is based on the announcement by LG Electronics that it will present a new player at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. This was predicted last year even before players for either format were released. Comments at the time, though, suggested that while technically possible, the cost in electronics and licensing would drive the price of a dual format player way up there. This player is expected to run about $1,200 or higher. If that sounds scary for a DVD player consider that the price tag is somewhere between the highest and lowest priced machines for either format.
No word yet as to whether the machine will play other discs such as CDs, VCDs, DivX, or other encoded formats. There are still a lot of legacy discs out there along with the convenience of current players that do display content. Some new high definition machines reportedly don't touch those formats, although that's likely to change as more imaginative equipment is released at more modest prices.
This development may signal some bridge in the format war, but it's not going to end it. Sony has invested too much money in their technology and marketing to add HD-DVD capability to their equipment. The same goes for Toshiba and their licensees. What remains to be seen is whether enough third party manufacturers can produce dual format machines at a price point that will create a demand which forces the opposing manufacturers to compromise. If it were that easy then Sony et al. and Toshiba et al. would have simply joined forces early on and walked away with bushels of money as most distributors would have preferred. But no. Each company may still get licensing fees for their respective formats but they can't be happy with the idea that there may not be total victory for their single format.
The dual format machine from LG and future equipment like it may favor the confused consumer not sure which format to buy. It still comes down to who produces what equipment, with what features, what studios release what content in what format, and at what price point. People are still going to have to figure it out for themselves.
January 3, 2007
Bluetooth Subject of Patent Suit
Bluetooth technology is the subject of a lawsuit filed against three of the largest electronics companies. Nokia, Matsushita, and Samsung are alleged to violate patents held by the Washington Research Foundation that cover Bluetooth technology. The WRF represents Washington state educational institutions in regard to patents they hold and attempts to commercialize that technology. It claims that the three companies use University of Washington patented technology without paying royalties.
Bluetooth is big bucks these days, with over a billion devices out there. UW should be adding lots of money to its endowment if this goes forward.
RIAA Sues AllofMP3.com
Catching up on the news from the holidays, we find the RIAA pursuing an infringement lawsuit against AllofMP3.com reportedly seeking damages for $1.65 trillion. Actually, the Association says that it's seeking $15,000 per song and with 11 million songs downloaded, well, the math is staggering. Nonetheless, it is the press, they say, floating the figure, not the Association. AllofMP3.com, for its part, says the suit is unjustified as the Russian based web site complies with Russian law and pays royalties to the Russian performing arts organization, which, coincidentally, the RIAA refuses to recognize.
AllofMP3.com operates as a music store under license in Russia and sells music at significantly lower prices than U.S. download stores. It prices songs by the megabyte (3 cents per) rather than title (99 cents, or 99 points if you're a Microsoft customer, or 79 cents if you cheap out and go the Wal-Mart route). The license in this case is not from the American and European labels but rather from Russian entities. Adding to the outrage is the songs are distributed in non-DRM format.
We'll see how far this suit gets, or even if the defendants show up. The RIAA may or may not get any money, but might try to get the AllofMP3 web address pulled as attempted in the Spamhaus case.
January 2, 2007
Saddam's Execution Caught by Camera Phone
Another year, another technology twist, so to speak. The execution of Saddam Hussein was apparently recorded on a cell phone camera by someone who witnessed and taunted the former dictator moments before his death. The Iraqi government is not pleased.
The story in the San Francisco Chronicle. There are at least three versions on YouTube, at least as of now. Just search for "Saddam Hussein," or a misspelling of "Hussien" and it shows up in the first three hits.
Government Says Email is Same as e-Postcard
It was Robert Burns, I think, who wrote the poetic line "My love is like a red, red rose." Now the government is saying your email is like an e-postcard, and easily gathered for prosecuting a case. This is the news about a curious argument government lawyers are making in the case of FTC v. Steve Warshack et al. Warshack is the man behind the Enzyte commercials ("Meet Bob...") that claim the product is an effective alternative to Viagra and other pharmaceuticals. The FTC disagrees with that claim, among others, and filed suit against Warshack and his companies.
Part of the proof the government needs is apparently in Warshack's email. They got a court order to get access to his accounts and Warshack challenged the order, saying the government should have used a search warrant instead. The government counters that the mail in question is similar to an e-postcard that doesn't require any effort to open. Warshack's email is on Yahoo and the claim is that the content is held by a third party rather than on one of Warshack's own machine, meaning there is less of a privacy expectation under these circumstances.
No ruling on the motion yet. An adverse ruling for Warshack may send lots of people back to downloading webmail via Pop 3 clients, or whatever. Somehow I've never thought of my mail as an e-postcard as free as the proverbial bird for anyone to glance at. While it would be nice to put (alleged) scam artists out of business, how hard would it have been to get a search warrant and avoid this mess