August 17, 2007
Does the Government Edit Wikipedia?
There are lots of reports about a new piece of software called WikiScanner that tells someone where the edits on Wikipedia are coming from. Reports are that the FBI and the CIA are involved in edits. Hard to believe those organization have agendas when it comes to shaping a truth (as opposed to "the" truth). An interesting take on government manipulating the message in Wikipedia comes from Dan Froomkin, the Washington Post blogger covering the White House. Well worth reading.
Star Office Free Again Via Google
Star Office 8 is now available free from Google as part of the Google Pack software bundle. Or you can spend $69.95 and buy it directly from Sun, the current owner. Or you can ignore it completely as so much of humanity has and continue working with Microsoft Office. Star Office along with its free cousin Open Office has never seriously challenged (Microsoft) Office as a popular productivity suite any more than has WordPerfect Office. But it's there. If you want it.
Music Industry Loses Russian Copyright Suit
The music industry lost an important case in Russia when the former head of Allofmp3.com was acquitted of copyright violation. The court ruled against Universal, Warners and others, noting that the defendant did not violate copyright under Russian laws in effect at the time the allegations took place. The judge also said that the prosecutors were sloppy in collecting evidence and presenting their case. An appeal is likely.
The CD is 25 Years Old Today
The format that revolutionized the music industry in 1982 turned 25 today. The promise at the time was that mass produced CDs would ultimately be cheaper than vinyl. That has turned out not to be the case through most of the format's existence. Now that the format is challenged by digital downloads and other compressed formats suitable to portable players, the labels may discount product enough to keep the format afloat. Then again, there's always used disc stores where the real market is at work. The fear back then was that CDs wouldn't last 10 years without going bad. Most of the discs I bought in the 1980s are still going strong save for a few badly manufactured titles. Still, with the constant re-release of product, we can always replace dead discs. With common computer technology, we can exercise our fair use rights and make a legal back up. Happy birthday CD, and many more.
August 15, 2007
FTC Has One of Those Ooops Moments
The agency is challenging the purchase of Wild Oats Markets by Whole Foods Market in federal court. The Washington Post is reporting that the documents that were submitted detailing evidence amounting to trade secrets was improperly redacted. That is, the hidden material was easily unhidden. The agency corrected the mistake with a subsequent posting. But, as we all know, faster than you can say Shazzan, once the genie is out of the bottle, he's not going back in.
The Associated Press managed to get copies of the compromised documents before they were withdrawn. According to the Post report, the document revealed (and we quote):
- The opening of a Whole Foods store can cut revenue 30 percent or more in nearby Wild Oats stores.
- Whole Foods set "ground rules" barring suppliers from selling directly to Wal-Mart. "It wants Wal-Mart to have to go through distributors because that raises Wal-Mart's costs," the document said.
- Company documents labeled "Project Goldmine" predicted that buying Wild Oats and shutting down certain stores would increase revenue 85 to 90 percent at nearby Whole Foods stores.
- The takeover will send as many as 80 to 90 percent of Wild Oats shoppers to Whole Foods stores, according to Whole Foods documents cited by the government. "As a result, they will unambiguously be worse off," because of increased prices, the FTC argued.
The unfortunate disclosure only reinforces the concept that those who use software should know how it really works. Otherwise bad things can happen. It also sheds a little light on corporate methods that affect consumers. What candor.
First Sale Doctrine at Issue in Promo CD Sale Suit
Used CDs are the bane of the music industry. Once consumers buy a CD they can do whatever they want with it, give it away, resell it, all without the producer's permission. It's called the first sale doctrine, and it's been around for a long time. Without it, used book and CD stores wouldn't exist. In theory, at least, no one could have burned Beatle records over John Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" comment if not for the doctrine.
Used CD stores are a way of life, especially in college towns. In Chicago we have stores such as Reckless Records and Disc Replay selling used CDs and DVDs at a fraction of their original cost. The catalog at Reckless tends to be fairly eclectic which makes them more interesting than, say, mega sellers such as Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Some consumers like the pricing and selection. The labels don't because they don't get a cut of the resale.
One of the items often found in resale shops is a promotional copy of a disc. They usually have a deliberately damaged bar code to prevent commercial sale and a legend that says something like "Promotion copy, not for resale. This disc is licensed from the content owner and may not be sold, given away, or redistributed in any way without permission of the content owner." Or words to that effect. It's not exactly a secret that no one pays attention to these licenses. Reviewers frequently dump promo product to make quick cash. There's hardly been any reports (read none) of companies asking for copies back once a title has hit its peak. The net effect is that this "license" is generally not enforced. Until now.
Universal Music Group has decided to challenge the first sale doctrine in a case where an individual put up promo product for resale on eBay. That will get you noticed. UMG has decided to put the promotional license to the legal test by suing one Troy Augustino, the alleged violator of the license. Interesting that he's the defendant given that he is likely not the one who got the product directly from Universal. Still, anything that UMG can do to limit the first sale doctrine is in their interest and not that of the consumer. On the other hand, it's a lot more comfortable to pay $4.99 for a used Elvis Costello CD than $18.99. (Sorry Elvis, but that's your going rate these days on the low end.) Imagine if UMG won this case that they would attempt to license content through the sale rather than an outright sale of the music. Would the first sale doctrine apply in that situation?
The implications go beyond what Universal sells. The promo product license is a lot like shrink wrap licenses. Lose a case over music and the free flow of used software might show up in resale shops. Not a pretty concept for the software industry. Note that people offer unregistered software licenses on eBay. Some of these sales likely violate the no transfer provision of some manufacturers.
The transition to a non-physical format may be the best attempt to stifle the practice of selling used music. Who, after all, ever heard of a used mp3 store. Wait, some enterprising start-up will probably try to set up an online store.
See the story in Ars Technica for more details on the Augustino case.
August 14, 2007
Imagine John Lennon on iTunes
It's easy if you try. The music of John Lennon is now available on iTunes. The late Beatle joins the remaining living members of the group with music that can be bought through Apple's music store. No Beatles though. Keep on hoping.
Yahoo Edges Google in Satisfaction Survey
Maybe all those yodeling commercials for Yahoo paid off. The University of Michigan survey on customer satisfaction placed Yahoo at 79 points out of 100, one point higher than Google. Microsoft and Ask came in a 75, while AOL rounded out the bottom at 67. The numbers showed that Google dropped below 80 for the first time, that Ask jumped 6% in the ratings, and that AOL dropped around 10%.
Pundits attributed Google's low key approach to publicizing its services. The main Google page has changed only slightly since its inception. Maybe there's something to be said for the cluttered, huckster-like pages on other search engines. Still, Google has around 50% of searches, and that's where the money is. I'm sure Yahoo, Microsoft, and others would trade customer satisfaction for a bigger piece of the search action.
August 13, 2007
UMG Snubs iTunes in DRM-free Sales
Universal Music is set to sell DRM-free tracks on several music stores with one notable exception: iTunes. The "experiment" starts on August 21 of this year for a limited amount of time. Universal will be looking to see if there is an up-tick in piracy before they make the program permanent. The snub of iTunes comes sharply on the heels of Universal's refusal to sign another contract with Apple. The iTunes store continues to sell Universal tracks, though Universal can pull them at any time. None of the other music stores out there are serious competition to Apple. That lack of leverage with the market leader in getting its own sale terms has the two companies on frosty terms.
The move looks to take Steve Job's idea of DRM free music stores and put it everywhere but Apple. Universal will sell through Real Network's Rhapsody, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon. There will also be ad supported links in Google to Universal music tracks, speculating that Google may open a store at some point. Google is about the only major force on the Internet that isn't selling music. Whether this experiment to sell more music or create more competition for Apple is successful remains to be seen. It's good for consumers, if no one else.
Judge Rules Novell Owns Unix Copyrigts, not SCO
The bombshell news over the weekend is the Friday ruling that SCO does not own the copyrights in Unix property they bought from Novell. Novell, in fact, retains copyright due to the dual reading of sections 1.1(a) and sections 1.1(b) of the original Asset Purchase Agreement (APA) executed between the two companies on September 19, 1995. Section 1.1(a) delineated what assets were part of the agreement while 1.1(b) did the same for excluded assets. One of those excluded assets is copyright.
Judge Dale A. Kimball of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah wrote a 102 page opinion that analyzed the agreement and the various subsequent amendments and concluded that SCO misread the agreement as to exactly what it owned. One thread that runs through the opinion is that Novell clearly knew what it was keeping and what it was selling. SCO, on the other hand, seemed to be justifying its belief of copyright ownership through sloppy or selective interpretation. SCO's lawyers urged the court to accept a very broad reading of the agreement and in the alternative different readings of the APA that were not necessarily consistent.
SCO's approach to this case is similar to its case against IBM for copying UNIX code into its Linux product. SCO would make claims, change them, and refuse to offer detail or evidence for those claims. At one point, SCO insisted that it was IBM's duty to sift through its own code and prove SCO's case against the company. Friday's ruling knocks out the basis of SCO's suit against IBM and others. It also questions of the value of licenses SCO issued to Microsoft and Sun Microsystems over their use of Unix code in their products.
Microsoft most likely viewed SCO as a proxy in the war against Linux. The twin suits against Novell and IBM may have slowed down adoption of Linux by some corporations, but the end of doubt is near. Microsoft will now have to rely on its own patent litigation threats instead of a company that stamps its feet a lot but can't deliver the goods. SCO says it will appeal. If its actions at the appellate level are similar to the way it conducted its trial, Judge Kimball's ruling will likely be upheld.
The place to get information on this suit, its history and its impact is groklaw. There is plenty of news coverage on the significance of this latest ruling, but the best is going to be at groklaw. The excellent site is run by Pamela Jones, and she links to all of the documents publicly available in the case along with detailed insightful analysis and community comment. A copy of this latest ruling is available there. The only thing left is to settle the last details of the litigation and for someone to buy this pathetic company and put it out of its misery. Only lawyers (and their investment bankers) would cry if that happened.