October 4, 2007
New Study Looks at Google IP as Analog to Company Aims
For those in the corporate world who either love and/or fear Google, a new study is available that examines Google through the patents the company owns. Google 2.0, The Calculating Predator by Stephen Arnold details an analysis of the company's business strategies by viewing the patents it holds. Google, apparently, doesn't file for patents under its own name which makes the search that much harder. The book is not for the casual reader but priced for the corporate world where similar studies are in the several hundred to several thousand dollar range. This book (electronic form only) is no exception ($640 US for 270 pages). Still, the premise of studying Google's aims by analyzing its IP portfolio is interesting.
News articles speculating on Google's appetite for technology offerings that go beyond search and advertising certainly put a scare into a wide variety of competitors. The potential for Google to operate a fiber and/or wireless network coupled with an Google phone (or maybe down the line, an variant of the iPhone?) has certainly but AT&T and Verizon in a tizzy. Microsoft certainly must feel some competitive heat from Google Apps in spite of their public statements. What must scare these companies most is not that Google will compete with them, but that Google has a different mindset when it comes to offering and valuing competing services.
If, for example, Google offers phone service that is low cost or free in return for ads on a wireless phone, than what is the real value of phone service to AT&T and Verizon, et al.? Or especially to their customers? But the moment a company such as Google gives away a service where another company earns a decent financial return because that second company defines the market, well, big changes will be coming. These may not be pleasant changes for the incumbents. Just ask Netscape about how that works.
Details about the study are here.
File Sharing Trial Ends With Defendant Liable
The jury in the RIAA-Jammie Thomas file sharing case found Miss Thomas liable for copyright infringement. The damages were assessed at $9,250 per song, with 24 songs at issue in the trial. The total damages came to $222,000. Thomas and her lawyer made no comment after the verdict was announced. An appeal is expected.
October 3, 2007
First RIAA Piracy Suit That Goes to Trial Starts
The much anticipated civil trial where industry members of the RIAA sued a Minnesota woman for file sharing began today in Duluth. Jammie Thomas is accused of sharing music over the KaZaA network under the user name "tereastarr (at) KaZaA." This is the first case to go to trial out of the 26,000 or so offenders sued by the RIAA. Virtually everyone sued had settled or had their cases dismissed when it looked as if the RIAA would lose.
Some interesting revelations came out in testimony. The first is that the lawsuits are not very cost-effective. The labels actually lose money by pursuing this course of action, even when the case results in a settlement. Jennifer Pariser, Sony BMG's head of litigation, admitted this as a witness. She also noted that the labels have no idea how much money they are losing to file sharing or even what are their actual damages. Of course, the copyright act specifies statutory damages for infringement which is what these plaintiffs use as their baseline.
The Washington Post is reporting today on a new study prepared by the Institute for Policy Innovation that the theft of music, movies, video games and software impacts the U.S. economy to the tune of $58 billion per year. This includes international piracy and not merely illegal downloading. The story notes that the segment dealing with the music industry created estimates using proprietary industry data, sales data, and other documents created by the industry. This suggests that the labels can value their loss, but that value is hard to pin down given Pariser's sworn testimony. There are some caveats on the valuation in that the study admits that some goods valued would not ring up a sale if piracy were non-existent. The study also says that piracy is going up. Between 2005 and 2007 people who admitted they bought a song or CD they knew wasn't genuine rose from 5% TO 9%.
Pariser also took the view that someone ripping a song from a CD that they owned should be considered piracy. This has never been tested in court, but it's a safe bet that many people see this practice as fair use. She said that the ability to back up a CD does not mean the labels authorize the activity.
The evidence listed in the various stories on the trial suggests that the RIAA is likely going to prove its file sharing case against Thomas. Though legally correct, the music industry may find more embarrassing details about its operation coming out. That's hardly a win-win situation for anyone.
October 2, 2007
AT&T New Terms of Service for DSL Raise Questions
Ars Technica is reporting on a slick move by AT&T. The story highlights AT&T's new Terms of Service which give the company the power to terminate the DSL service of anyone who "tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries." As the story and other commentators have pointed out, there doesn't have to be any actual damage. The word "tends" suggests that the interpretation is theirs rather than the customer's.
Many people have a dim view of AT&T over its alleged collusion with the government by turning over customer data without the benefit of a warrant or court order. The view was dim enough to spawn a lawsuit in San Francisco. So far the company and the government haven't been able to get the courts to halt the suit on state secret grounds. AT&T is lobbying Congress to get retroactive immunity for it's conduct which kind of implies that something fishy is going on. But that's for the courts to decide, if they actually get the opportunity.
There are other positions or actions the company takes that rankle individuals. There's the whole net neutrality thing where AT&T suggested less than subtly that the big web sites such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and other content centers should be paying them to use the network. This is not unlike cell phone service where both customers pay for the same call. When the FTC, FCC, and the Justice Department came out against net regulations as premature, the company promptly censored anti-Bush comments made by Pearl Jam during the webcast of the most recent Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago. That was due an overzealous subcontractor managing the broadcast. Sorry, our bad.
And then there's the hostility to Google over the latter's interest in a prime chunk of wireless real estate coming up for auction in January. If Google ever got hold of that spectrum, it could have a negative affect on AT&T's business model. AT&T famously told Google to put up or shut up. The old phrase "be careful what you wish for" comes to mind. Either way, Google is getting good publicity out of the process as being more consumer oriented than any of the telcos. And the irony is that nothing has happened yet.
Once the new terms were reported, AT&T responded that it doesn't casually disconnect corporate critics. The terms are meant to disassociate the company from bad stuff, like hate sites or content that threatened children. Nonetheless, as Ars points out, they never said never. I wonder if Eddie Vedder gets his Internet access through AT&T/Yahoo. There might be some fallout there. And while we're at it, check out this story on how the company plans to sniff out pirate media.
October 1, 2007
XP To Stick Around Longer, Office Goes To The Web, Sort Of, And The New Zune
Lots of news coming out of Microsoft these days. The company announced at the end of last week that XP will be around 5 months longer than originally stated. The cutoff date for OEMs was January 31, 2008. Now it's June 30, with the bare bones starter edition for overseas markets going a full two years beyond than to June 2010. The stated reason is to give customers more time to transition to Vista. Commentary suggests that Vista is not selling as well as expected and this move keeps the money flowing into MS until they can figure out a way to gain more Vista acceptance.
The reaction from pundits on this move can be summarized as a) Vista's horrible, get a Mac; b) XP works fine, why do I need to upgrade; c) you're all wrong, Vista is fine; and d) everybody's crazy if they don't make the switch to Linux.
In reality, Microsoft runs about 90% or so of the world's desktops. The company is not going to dump Vista for fear that number will drop. Rather, expect a marketing push and maybe some incentives to get balky customers on board.
The next bit of significant news is that a version of Office is coming to Windows Live Services. It will be called Office Live Workspace. What it amounts to, however, is essentially what its name implies, an Internet based storage system for web documents. One can view or share documents but no editing is possible without an installed copy of Office. Microsoft suggests that editing capabilities are possible for a later implementation. This sounds more like a value-added approach to existing Office customers rather than an attempt to match Google Apps. The later, of course, does allow edits along with shared storage (and no ads, yet). Whether Office Live Workspace without editing garners an audience remains to be seen. The opinion here is that it won't. Shared space is no big deal, as plenty of sites offer it. The view and share is not enough for most people to care about even with client editing. Can we just please skip to version 2 of this service?
And finally, there's the Zune, or in this case Zune 2.0. Microsoft's challenge to the iPod managed a 10% share of hard drive based music players and a 3% over all market share for all players. Most of that came from Microsoft partners in the Plays For Sure program rather than from Apple. Microsoft said they were in this game for the long haul and they are proving it by updating the product. Word is a thinner design and some flash models will make it to the product line. A more useful implementation of Wi-Fi access is also part of the feature mix. Considering that the iPod Touch has a browser with Wi-Fi capability and access to the iTunes store, Microsoft certainly has to at least meet these features if not one-up Apple. That hasn't exactly been their history. The announcement is rumored for Tuesday.