Archive for April, 2007

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Where digital rights went wrong

April 30, 2007

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Economist.com, the online version of the magazine The Economist, has released an article about digital rights and the recent ruling by a Californian judge on DVD copying for personal use.

But the article “Criminalising the consumer” raises many issues that aplynot only to DVD but to all our digital media and the way we copy it to other devices, be it to be able to carry it with us everywhere or simply to enhance that content’s experience.

If you own an iPod, you probably do it all the time, ripping CDs so you can listen to them anywhere. But is it a copyright infringement? Is copying you digital media to a media center illegal?

Read the article and tell us: what is your view on digital rights?

Criminalising the consumer

Is it legal to make a copy of that DVD you’ve just bought so the family can watch it around the home or in the car? In one of the most watched copyright cases in recent years, a judge in northern California ruled last month that copying DVDs for personal use was legal, given the terms of the industry’s licence and the way the copies were made.

The wider implication of the ruling remains clouded—not least because the DVD Copy Control Association, the loser in the case, has 60 days to appeal. But whatever the video industry may like to think, the writing is on the wall for copy protection.

Copyright is a tricky thing. It protects only the way that an author, designer, photographer, film-maker or composer has expressed himself. It does not cover the ideas or the factual information conveyed in the work.

What constitutes fair use or an infringement is trickier still. Much depends on the purpose and character of the borrowed material’s use. Limited reproduction for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research is considered fair game. But the wholesale repackaging of the content for commercial use is a flagrant infringement.

In America, the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 made it legal for people to record copyrighted radio broadcasts for personal use. But while the act said nothing about making digital recordings, ripping copyrighted music tracks off CDs and storing them on an iPod has become an everyday occurrence. Despite the number of iTunes downloaded for a fee, Apple would be in trouble if people were prevented from transferring legitimately owned CDs to their iPods. The software Apple gives away to iPod customers is designed to let them do just that.

Most people think it ludicrous that they can’t do the same with the DVDs they own. Now it seems, despite squeals from the movie industry, the law is finally moving in the video fan’s favour.

The issue in the recent case was whether Kaleidescape, a maker of digital “jukeboxes” that store a person’s video and music collections and distribute the entertainment around the home, had breached the terms of the DVD Content Control Association’s CSS (content scrambling system) licence.

A Kaleidescape server stores digital content ripped from CDs and DVDs on its hard drive. The content is then encrypted and fed to various screens and speakers around the home by a secure cable. Kaleidescape claimed that content distributed this way was even safer than it was on the original polycarbonate disks. The judge not only agreed, but couldn’t find any breach of the copy-protection licence either.

If the case ends there, to all intents and purposes the notion of fair use would appear to apply to DVDs as well as CDs. The movie industry, which nowadays depends as much on DVD sales as on box-office receipts, still seems to think that making life difficult for its customers is a recipe for success.

After likewise shooting itself in the foot for ages, the record industry is now falling over itself to abandon DRM (digital rights management) on CDs. A number of online music stores such as eMusic, Audio Lunchbox and Anthology have given up using DRM altogether. In a recent survey by Jupiter Research, two out of three music industry executives in Europe reckoned that dropping DRM would improve sales.

The latest music publisher to do so is EMI, which announced in January that it had stopped producing CDs with DRM protection. “The costs of DRM,” it declared, “do not measure up to the results.”

In an open letter entitled “Thoughts on Music”, even Steve Jobs, Apple’s charismatic boss and chief evangelist, recently called for the elimination of DRM. From this month, Apple’s iTunes will sell EMI’s highest quality recordings (those with sampling rates of 256 kilobits per second) without DRM for a small premium.

Belatedly, music executives have come to realise that DRM simply doesn’t work. It is supposed to stop unauthorised copying, but no copy-protection system has yet been devised that cannot be easily defeated. All it does is make life difficult for paying customers, while having little or no effect on clandestine copying plants that churn out pirate copies.

Now the copy protection on DVDs is proving just as easy to bypass. The biggest flop has been the CSS technology featured in the recent Kaleidescape case. It was first cracked back in 1999 by a Norwegian programmer called Jon Lech Johansen, who showed, in a few short lines of elegant code called DeCSS, just how trivial such lauded protection systems really were. Since then, even the DRM used to protect the new high-definition video disks (the Blu-ray format from the Sony camp and its HD-DVD rival from the Toshiba alliance) have been cracked wide open.

While most of today’s DRM schemes that come embedded on CDs and DVDs are likely to disappear over the next year or two, the need to protect copyrighted music and video will remain. Fortunately, there are better ways of doing this than treating customers as if they were criminals.

One of the most promising is Audible Magic’s content protection technology. Google is currently testing this to find the “fingerprints” of miscreants who have posted unauthorised television or movie clips on YouTube.

The beauty of such schemes is that they don’t actually prevent anyone from making copies of original content. Their purpose is simply to collect royalties when a breach of copyright has occurred. By being reactive rather than pre-emptive, normal law-abiding consumers are then left in peace to enjoy their music and video collections in any way they choose. Why couldn’t we have thought of that in the beginning?

in: Economist.com

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Bluffing your way

April 27, 2007

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You can always renegotiate a record contract. You just go in and say, ‘You know, I think my next project will be a country-and-western album.’

Prince

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Music lyrics available by Yahoo and Gracenote

April 26, 2007

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Yahoo! Music and Gracenote have announced a new licensing deal allowing Yahoo! Music to offer the largest catalog of legal, licensed song lyrics from Gracenote to Yahoo! Music’s consumers. Beginning today, song lyrics for hundreds of thousands of songs from all five major publishers will be incorporated into Yahoo! Music through Gracenote’s growing database. The agreement with Gracenote makes Yahoo! Music the first mass-market Web service to make licensed song lyrics available to consumers.

Through the agreement, consumers can search for song lyrics from the Yahoo! Music Search bar, simply by entering even a partial lyric from the song. Consumers will have viewing access to lyrics from nearly 100 music publishers, including the top five: BMG Music Publishing, EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, and dozens of prominent independent publishers. The addition of a comprehensive lyrics library complements existing Yahoo! Music products and services such as radio, music videos and on-demand music offerings, while reaffirming Yahoo! Music’s reputation for providing its consumers with the most innovative, robust and complete music experience on the Web.

“You mean Bob Dylan isn’t actually saying ‘The ants, my friend, are in a bowling pin?’” asks Ian Rogers, general manager of Yahoo! Music. “Finally, a free, legal and definitive way to settle a bet with the guy sitting next to you at the bar who is certain the Ramones’ most famous anthem declares, ‘I wanna piece of bacon.’”

Gracenote began developing its Lyrics program more than two years ago, with the goal of building the first and most comprehensive database of legal, accurate song lyrics for consumers. The deal between Yahoo! Music and Gracenote is an important step toward enhancing the digital music experience of the consumer while protecting the legal and artistic rights of songwriters and music publishers.

“Song lyrics are continually among the top 10 searches performed on major search engines, though the results often provide consumers a frustrating experience filled with inconsistent and incomplete lyrics, and annoying pop-ups,” said Craig Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Gracenote. “With Gracenote and Yahoo!, consumers will have access to the largest database of high quality lyrics linked directly to the rich album and artist content available throughout Yahoo! Music.”

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Other Music launches digital music store

April 25, 2007


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Other Music, the independent New York retailer from Manhattan’s East Village, has launched its digital download music store on Monday.

The online store has hundreds of labels and thousands of artists available in DRM-free MP3 format and you can find albums in the $8.99 to $14.99 range and individual songs for $1.11. Among the indie labels featured on the site on launch day were Beggars Banquet, Domino, Mush Records, Paw Tracks, Thrill Jockey Records and many others.

Thus far, the Other Music site is only enabled for North American sales, but the retailer states in an email blast to customers that it soon hopes to sell its downloads internationally.

“Times are changing in the record business, and Other Music is not afraid of the change,” reads an announcement from the store. “It is very important to us that in this new era, real record stores run by real music fans can still survive and thrive. We are a real record store going digital and we are open for business.”

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iPod tax approved by Iowa Senate

April 24, 2007

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A new bill approved by the Iowa Senate last Thursday, known as the “iPod tax”, will impose the state sales tax on the sale of digital downloads – including songs, cell phone ring tones, software, audio books and other electronic products.

Although the tax would be required, it would be collected on the honor system, meaning it would be up to consumers to send payment to the state, right after they finish loading their iPod with new tunes.

Backers of the move insist digital consumers should play by the same rules as shoppers at traditional stores who must pay sales tax on audio CDs and other items. The tax could bring in $4.8 million annually. But Sen. Jeff Angelo said the bill is proof that government will tax anything. “This tax is impractical. It’s unenforceable. And it’s highly unpopular,” Angelo said.

All 20 Senate Republicans voted no. Passage sends the bill to the House.

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Napster to power Circuit City music site

April 23, 2007

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Napster and retail chain Circuit City announced their new a subscription service with millions of songs ready to launch on April 29. The subscription will have a cost of $14.95 per month but consumers will also be able to buy individual songs at 99 cents each.

Following iTunes’ example, many U.S. electronics chains are teaming up with web music services to try and compete in a world where the Apple’s store has more than 80 percent of the market. Just last year, in October, Best Buy Co. introduced a music player and subscription service with partners SanDisk Corp. and RealNetworks Inc.

Napster’s share price has got a boost in recent weeks from its renewed focus on building a customer base through partnerships with third parties. Earlier this month, Napster said it would beat revenue expectations after integrating more than 225,000 AOL Music Now paid subscribers into its service. That acquisition brought Napster’s total subscriber base to 830,000.

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Wallpaper – Jennifer Lopez

April 22, 2007

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