February 24, 2007
Apple and Cisco Make Up, and is there an Audience for the iPhone?
Apple and Cisco settled their dispute over the iPhone trademark, and the settlement turned out to be a big yawn compared to the possibilities. Here are two tech giants ready to go corporate toe to toe involving potentially vast sums of money. The outcome? Cisco and Apple both get to use the iPhone trademark, Apple for it's smart phone and Cisco for its Internet telephony product. No money changed hands and no other details were announced. What was the point of Cisco filing a suit and this is the result? Only the possibility of making money from each other in a collaborative project. That is the suggestion of some commentators.
Speaking of the Apple iPhone, and online survey conducted by Compete Inc. suggests that consumers might not want to pay $499 for an iPhone. Of the 379 respondents, only 26% were willing to buy the product at all, and only 1% were willing to shell out that kind of money for the product. Will the iPod married to a smart phone win over consumers the way the iPod alone did? Ah, the Newton does music and phone calls at a price only an Apple stockholder could love. Did I mention you can't replace the battery by yourself? And you can only use it with AT&T (the old Cingular) cell service? Details are in Ars Technica. Maybe someone should do a more comprehensive survey.
Gracenote uncovers Alleged Musical Plagiarism
An odd story appears in the Washington Post about alleged musical plagiarism. Gracenote's track identification technology apparently identified a musical performance of a Franz Liszt composition on a CD by an artist different from the attributed performer. A reader of the venerable British magazine Gramophone loaded a disc by the late Joyce Hatto into his computer and Gracenote via iTunes identified the music as a performance by Laszlo Simon.
The magazine investigated the situation, comparing performances side by side and finding them to be identical. More Hatto recordings were compared and at least a dozen of the recordings were found to be those of other performers. Her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, publishes her performances on the label Concert Artist. He is quoted in the article as saying that sound waves don't prove anything. Sound engineers, however, disagree, noting that when the wave files are displayed side by side, they are identical. One Hatto recording was purportedly a slowed down version of another performance that when sped up 15.112% (yes, that precise) also showed an identical wave display to an unrelated recording. This gives the impression that the alleged plagiarism was deliberate.
One thing the article mentions is how recording conduction's affect the the wave recording properties. The timbre of the room, the microphones used, their placement, the noise inherent in the recording system, the use of limiters and other effects all will make a recording unique. These factors are significant in the digital fingerprint that Gracenote technology uses to determine the different performances of the same piece. Similar performances by the same artist will even hold differences that are detectable.
The details of the various recordings are available in an abbreviated story on the Gramophone's web site. The report on the story is in the Washington Post. Pristine Audio's web site offering the technical details of recording comparison is here. The pages include comparative audio samples. You be the judge.
Both stories are amazed at the discovery but do not allude to the likely outcome, which is multiple lawsuits for copyright infringement. The defense arguments countering the likely technical evidence should be interesting.
February 22, 2007
Microsoft Hit With $1.52 Billion Patent Infringement Damages
Microsoft found itself on the wrong end of a patent dispute with another industry heavyweight, Alcatel-Lucent. This one involves two patents held by Alcatel-Lucent relating to MP3s. A jury found that Microsoft infringed on these patents and awarded $1.52 billion in damages. Cue spit take by Brad Smith, Microsoft General Counsel. The damages are based on the number of Windows systems sold on a world-wide basis since May of 2003 times PC selling price. Microsoft says the damages are out of line considering they paid only $16 million for the MP3 license from Fraunhofer, the German research entity that helped develop the format. Fraunhofer probably thinks they sold the rights too low based on this verdict. Microsoft vows to appeal the award, first at the trial court and then the appellate courts.
Microsoft just argued another case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could have significant outcome on the Alcatel-Lucent case. The second case involves AT&T, the subject matter being the calculation of damages for patent infringement on a world-wide basis. AT&T is claiming damages for components included in Windows from foreign distribution of the operating system. Federal law prohibits the distribution of parts to foreign jurisdictions that would infringe domestically. Blueprints are OK, however. Microsoft is claiming that all they did was distribute master discs of Windows, and that the fabricators there made the duplication. AT&T is arguing that the mechanics of the software business make it impractical for Microsoft to distribute hundreds of thousands of copies of the OS and that the master disc is designed to be the essential component. Microsoft says no, it's a blueprint.
In any event, the case was argued by heavyweights, Ted Olson for Microsoft and Seth Waxman for AT&T. Both are former Solicitor Generals for the United States and know their way around a Supreme Court argument or two.
Google To Open Screening Software To All
Google apparently is rethinking its policy of offering copyright screening to licensing partners only. A Reuters article suggests that they will offer such technology to all copyright holders over a range of Google properties. But it will take time, hence the statement about starting with partners.
February 21, 2007
YouTube Gains Screening Software, Loses Distribution Deals
The buzz lately is over the latest anti-piracy tools that can be used by sites to clean out unauthorized music and video. Gracenote has their digital fingerprinting software that can identify music tracks reliably and replace missing tags for consumers. The software and associated database can also help sites identify copyrighted files and prevent them from uploading.
Now Audible Magic has a system that can fingerprint video clips even when they have degraded through multiple copies or processing. Google is under pressure from various content providers to eliminate commercial clips from YouTube that have been uploaded illegally. They have decided to do that, though only with companies that have worked a licensing deal with Google. The problem with the current practice is that once removed, the videos tend to show up again. Policing the site is a never ended battle.
But policing a site is not just a battle against illegal content. It's also a business tactic, at least for Google when it comes to YouTube. The company announced that it would implement software that scans for copyrighted material, but would only use it for media companies that entered into a licensing deal with YouTube. What would be the point of that other than to have YouTube take the initiative to get rid of unlicensed material? As of now, copyright holders have to make the demand to have material removed, material that often gets posted again and again after removal.
What seemed like a licensing avalanche at one time for YouTube now looks like the exact opposite. Major media companies are beating up on YouTube by demanding that clips be removed. Viacom, Universal, CBS, the National Hockey League are all demanding YouTube take down copyrighted videos. Not that partnering is dead for any of these companies. CBS announced a deal with Joost, which is a new video distribution site created by the people who gave us Skype (now owned by eBay).
Maybe it was another announcement that Google made, that they would share ad revenue with uploaders. Where's the cut for the content producers? That may be the reason along with the possibility of creating a situation where YouTube is the Apple/iTunes of video. Either way, it's all about the money and much less about the creativity that generates it.
February 19, 2007
Sirius and XM Satellite to Merge
That assumes the government will let them. The precedent for DirecTV and Dish Network having a merger rejected by the Justice Department looms large. There was concern at the time that there would be only one satellite television provider even though that delivery method competed with cable and the nascent telco offerings. The only difference from television compared to radio offerings is that there were more than two satellite companies around. PrimeStar was purchase by DirecTV years before the proposed DirecTV-Dish Network merger.
The radio side may be a bit more complicated as there are only two, with no immediate prospect for any additional competition. Is it better to have two weak providers or one strong provider? What is the market definition? Is it just radio satellite or is it satellite including terrestrial stations? The Justice Department will weigh in on this one soon enough.
The story is in the Washington Post.