April 5, 2007
New Scanner For Pirated Multimedia
A new software scanner is available to copyright holders that can detect audio and video signatures, and consequently detect infringing web content. It's called ACID, and the details are here. Would a product such as this work in favor of Google in the Viacom/YouTube litigation? Viacom is complaining that the burden should be on YouTube to police copyrighted material even though the statutory scheme nominally places the burden on the copyright holder. Would a tool such as this make it easier for the holder to identify clips? Would that undermine Viacom's arguments? Stay tuned.
Microsoft Clairfies What Vista Capable Means
The lawsuit over Windows Vista Capable machines has prompted Microsoft to clarify what is, in fact, a Windows Vista Capable machine. Read more in the Seattle Times.
English Deploy Talking Surveillance Cameras
The BBC is reporting on a program in Britain involving talking surveillance cameras. The point of the story is that the program will be expanded to 20 regions in the country. The sub-point is that Big Brother is not only watching, but holding conversations with his people. If, for example, someone is littering, the camera will call that person on the conduct and tell them where the trash bin is located. Then it thanks them for using the bin. As of now the cameras do not order the offender to litter re-education camps. Home Secretary John Reid said this was not secret surveillance, but "very public, it's interactive." Yes, indeed.
Read more at the BBC.
April 4, 2007
Microsoft Patches the Animated Cursor Flaw Early
Speaking of Microsoft, the company issued 7 patches on Tuesday which is one week early for the monthly patch cycle. The most critical of the critical patches addressed the animated cursor hole that was publicized over the last several weeks. This affected multiple versions of Windows including Vista, probably the most secure version of Windows yet. Two other patches affected Vista as well. The move was prompted over reports that hackers were heavily exploiting the flaw. One trick was an email promising nude photos of Britney Spears. Click a link, compromise your machine. Patches are available through Windows Update. Get yours today.
Microsoft Sued Over Vista Ads
Microsoft was hit by a lawsuit from consumer Dianne Kelley over her machine's ability to run Vista. She's apparently upset because she has one marked "Vista capable" and can't run a full version of the OS. Recall that Microsoft came out with multiple flavors of the operating system, from the lowly Home Basic to Ultimate. All six versions include more features the higher up on the price chain. More features means more power required from the machine.
It's not that Kelley can't run Vista at all, just that she can't run one that looks like the ads. To her, that is false advertising. I don't buy it because as clumsy as Microsoft was with creating multiple versions, they put out an upgrade adviser that helped pinpoint which version of Vista was appropriate for a particular machine. Moreover, the machine specs on each boxes version spell out a bare minimum power needed to run the system. This practice goes back to prehistoric Windows. You would think Microsoft would have been nailed by someone over this by now in our litigious society. More than that, are we so naive to think Microsoft is going to place ads that say buy the crappy version of Vista? This suit will go nowhere.
Here's the complaint courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
April 3, 2007
Husband's Electronic Spying Not Actionable Under ECPA in Divorce Case
An interesting case came out of the Southern District of Ohio on Valentine's day. It involves divorce and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, specifically 18 USC 2511. The defendant in this case is Jeffery Havlicek, who used keylogging and screen capture software on the home computer to retrieve personal communications of his wife Amy. The plaintiff is Christina Potter, some of whose mail and communications were intercepted by Jeffrey. Christina applied to the court for a preliminary injunction to prevent Jeffery from introducing captured communications as evidence in the divorce proceeding between Jeffery and Amy.
The court analyzed the conduct under ECPA and concluded that the suppression provision covers illegally intercepted wire and oral communications from the courtroom, but does not mention electronic communications. Citing other decisions which note that the act has been amended in several places to include electronic communication but not in the suppression section, the court conclude that Congress intentionally omitted this category from suppression. This point and a potential suppression of defendant's free speech rights led the court to deny the issuance of the injunction. The judge did allow, however, that defendant may be liable under other civil and criminal laws.
There are a few other twists to the case, such as the attempt by defendant suggesting his wife consented to the surveillance by using the remember this password feature. The court said no to that one. The court also ordered the defendant to turn over copies of the collected evidence he intended to use in the divorce proceedings to plaintiff. This is probably something Havlicek wanted to prevent to get maximum use at his trial in Ohio state court.
The case is Potter v. Havlicek, Docket 3:06-cv-211, Southern District of Ohio, February 14, 2007. The Westlaw citation is 2007 WL 539534. The opinion is listed as a slip copy with no designation as to whether it will be published.
EU Hits Apple and Labels over Territorial and Price Differences in Music Downloads
The European Union has sent a Statement of Objections to Apple and the major record labels over the territorial restrictions and price differences in the iTunes store. Consumers in various member states must buy songs from an iTunes store set up for their country rather than a pan-European version of the store. Surveys of prices across iTunes shows that the same music has different price points depending on the location.
The EU pointed out that this investigation has nothing to do with Apple being the dominant seller or the use of DRM. Norway and other countries have chided Apple over DRM restrictions. Apple has said that it would like to operate a single store for Europe but that the labels insisted on country by country sales.
The EU Press Release (English version) is here.
April 2, 2007
EMI Abandons DRM, But No Beatles For Sale
So, the big announcement was the removal of DRM from EMI tracks on sale at online stores, including Apple's iTunes store. The price per track goes up to $1.29 per track. For that 30 cents the consumer gets convenience and a higher quality download. The bit rate for files will be doubled to 256 KB, which is CD quality or close to it. Consumers will be able to upgrade their existing music collections for the incremental cost.
High quality albums will still cost only $9.99, the same price as the low quality protected version. Offering a bulk discount for a higher quality album set is another marketing attempt to preserve the format. EMI and Apple would like to sell full albums and are willing to eat the price difference to do this.
This deal has done something no other arrangement has ever done before, to get Steve Jobs to vary the prices of songs at the iTunes store. This was a point of bitterness at the last contract negotiations between Apple and the labels. They wanted to sell newer tracks at a higher price and older tracks at a lower price. Jobs called them greedy and held the line at 99 cents. That position got something from the labels to justify a higher price. The deal also means that EMI tracks coming from the iTunes store could play (with a little help) on players other than the iPod.
The EMI decision abandoning DRM may not stem the tide of piracy, but it will likely incur more sales of EMI tracks. Consumers love convenience and are willing to pay for it. EMI also said that this move will not change their position on filing suits against infringers.
What was not present at the announcement was any mention of the Beatles' recordings coming out in any legitimate digital download. Jobs will have to keep chasing that one. And the rest of us will have to wistfully wait for that press conference and that announcement.
April 1, 2007
Beatles on iTunes and the Album Offer
Apple and EMI are primed for an "exciting" announcement on Monday. Speculation ranges from Beatle tracks to finally make it to iTunes, to a Yellow Submarine-like iPod that will contain Beatle music, to EMI announcing the end of digital rights management controls on songs. Any of this would be welcome, particularly the latter. Selling music online has changed the the manufacturing and distribution of music, and most of the time the labels simply don't get it. Of course they're afraid of piracy, but most of the tracks that wind up on the file sharing sites do not likely come from previously protected songs from online stores. Or at least until someone has burned them to CD and effective destroyed the copy protection. There is that little matter of the billions of CDs sold in the last 20 years or so as a good source of most of the illegal product. Could this be the source for some of the file sharers?
Beatle music is reputed to be some of the most downloaded music on the web even though none of it has been available legally for that purpose. It seems odd that after so many years EMI and the Beatles (at least the still living ones) never seemed to capitalize (no pun intended) in a market where clear demand exists. It's not unlike how bootlegs of unreleased Beatles music drove the company and the group to issue the Anthology CDs. And even those were done with sort of a wink and nod to the collectors. A good number of the unreleased tracks in circulation were covered by the anthologies but not to the point of being replaced by the official releases. Take One of Strawberry Fields on the Anthology release is missing the background vocals that were apparently overdubbed, and which appear on countless bootlegs of the Take One version. It was almost as if the Beatles were saying, here's our version, which is not the same one you bought before.
Now the possibility exists, courtesy of Apple and Apple, that consumers will have the opportunity to purchase these songs online. And, as with the Anthology releases compared to the bootlegs, there may be some surprises. This was alluded to by Neil Aspinall when the most recent trademark litigation was going on. He said that there were new masters being made of all the albums. One wonders if there will be extra tracks of song versions yet to be heard from sources legal or otherwise. Remastered tracks also offer the opportunity to have a product that competes with the existing albums that are already on the market. In other words, there's a reason to buy the music again, even for the ninth and tenth time: better editing and sound quality. Now that's marketing.
And marketing is what relates to Apple/iTunes' latest musical offer. The company announced a new program in the past week where consumers can buy the rest of an album with credit for songs already purchased. Albums generally sell for $9.99 on iTunes, but do not sell nearly as well as individual tracks. Why spend $10 when $3 gets you the three good songs off the record. Apple is trying to spur sales for the full records now with this offer. There are catches. The album has to be purchased within 180 days of the original song purchases. Other restrictions also apply for some titles.
Artists have complained that albums are more than a collection of songs, and for some that is true. Dark Side Of The Moon is like that, where the music is integrated as a concept. Can the same thing be said of anything by David Lee Roth, the Rolling Stones (Satanic Majesties excepted), or Franz Ferdinand, to name a few disparate musicians? No one doubts that Eric Clapton is a great guitar player and performer. After Layla and a few others, everything seems to sound the same. That's the real problem with music sales, online or physical.
Music is now a commodity and less of an art it once was. Iggy Pop's Lust For Life is used in more than a few commercials. The song has been monetized to sell cruise ship slots with its carefully edited out references to "liquor and drugs" among other naughty references. How does this use of the song sell copies of the Lust For Life, the source album for the song? It doesn't.
Record companies need to understand that this digital marketplace prevents them from doing certain things they couldn't do in the physical world. They can't sell special editions of the product online: no more greatest hits collections; no more outtakes added to a previously released record (just buy the outtakes); no more special packaging such as color vinyl (as back in the day) to sell the same music again and again. It's all singles now. Maybe Apple is on to something with their album offer to boost sales, but I suspect the sales bump will be marginal. When a record company has 20 albums by an artist that represent 12 albums of unique performances, it's pretty hard to get consumers to buy the other 8. In order to sell the same music over again in the new market, music labels will have to offer better sound (remastered tracks, lossless formats), alternative performances, or some other variation to generate sales. Either that, or kill digital sales outright and stick with CDs. As odd as that sounds, labels have more control over their product when they control the manufacturing and distribution. A lack of control is what they seem to lament the most these days.