This whole Real-Networks v. Apple flap over the iPod has me scratching my head. On the surface it's the age-old fight we always see when one company makes money by giving away the razors and selling the blades and another company tries to "free load" and sell their own blades. What confuses me here is that Apple makes most of its profit from selling the razors (iPods), and very little from selling the blades (songs on their iMusic site). (Their Q3 revenue on iPods was 3-4 times their revenue from the iTunes Music Store, and my unfounded guess is that the profit margin is also a lot higher than the estimated ten-cents-on-the-dollar they make on each $0.99 iTunes sale.) That's one of the things I've always liked about Apple's digital-hub strategy — unlike Sony, they don't have to be all schitzo about whether they're an electronics company or a content provider.
So assuming they expect to remain the portable-player market leader based on the merits of the iPod's design rather than format lock-in (bad assumption?) then why get bent out of shape that someone else is trying to make their product better?
Update on JibJab: Fred von Lohmann over at EFF's Deep Links reports that Guthrie lifted the melody for "This Land is Your Land" from the song "When the World's on Fire," recorded by the Carter Family ten years prior. Eugene Volokh (who has had a series of interesting comments on this case) notes that if correct this significantly strengthen's JibJab's fair-use argument, but I think the more interesting take-home message is that This Land is My Land was (and perhaps still is) probably a copyright violation itself. Not that this should surprise anyone — copyright violation is practically a part of the definition of folk music. No doubt the Carter Family didn't mind Guthrie's song any more than Woodie would have minded JibJab, but imagine how much poorer we all would be if a rights-holder like The Richmond Organization had kept This Land is My Land from being recorded?
As Lessig points out, we citizens have the right to change the law. Copyright is a government regulation on the marketplace of ideas, one that restricts some speech in the hope that it will encourage others to produce more. We're all fully aware that the Net has radically shifted how the marketplace of ideas now works and will continue to work in the future. Isn't it about time we reexamined whether this government regulation still makes sense?
Users of the Netscape Calendar service had an unpleasant surprise this morning: a note informing them that the service was no longer available and that Netscape apologizes "for any inconvenience this may cause." Small consolation for my coworker who lost access to all his appointments, upcoming talks and meetings for the coming year. A call to Netscape was equally helpful — they were sorry, but quickly pointed out that this had been a free service and that their Terms of Service agreement clearly stats they can discontinue it at any time without warning. When asked why they didn't warn customers in advance, the support person made some comment about how when they warned people in advance about changes to their email service they got lots of complaints, so this time they didn't want to warn anyone. And no, there isn't any way for him to recover his data. Eit.
I'll leave speculation as to why Netscape took this action and what it means about the health & direction of the company to others — for me there are two lessons to be learned here. One is that even a trustworthy good-guy company like Netscape can be bought up or go bankrupt without warning. In the end our valuable data is our own responsibility, and we need to insist on the ability to keep and store local copies of our data in non-proprietary formats. This is exactly why a friend of mine refused to use her Gmail account until she installed PGtGM, a program that lets her keep local backups of her Gmail archive.
The second lesson is for companies who provide Web services: even if you think of yourself as a good guy company and always have the customer's interests at heart, you won't be trusted — and shouldn't be trusted — without real safeguards in place to insure us in the event that you go belly up or turn to the dark side. Even the nicest Web-service company takes collateral damage when someone in the industry does wrong. You need to assure us that our data is safe and is owned by us, not just through words, but by enacting strong legally-binding assurances in your Terms of Service & Privacy Statement, by giving us the ability to export our data, by embracing open standards, and in many cases by making your software open source so we can still use and modify it if you go away. If you do these things and play right by us, we'll gladly use your service and often either subscribe to your premium service or click on your banner ads. If you don't, we'll equally gladly shift over to your competitors who do.
From the NYTimes, on how the White House scuttled a deal that was being reached between Democrats and Republicans to keep the marriage-penalty, child tax-credit and expanded bottom-10% tax brackets from expiring at the end of the year:
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration was still trying to negotiate. But Republican Congressional officials said the administration did not want a deal that Democratic lawmakers might support, giving them a tax-cutting credential, too.
Nice to know where we all stand in their priorities...
Micro Persuasion has re-posted an interesting article from a public-relations industry newsletter: It's Time to Take Blogs Seriously — and Maybe to Develop One of Your Own.
"To those people who still think that blogs are 'loose cannons,' I'd say that they should embrace the revolution, or become cannon fodder," says [Shift Communications principal Todd] Defren.
Some of the rules [Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble] suggests in his manifesto should be followed by anyone who wants to run a corporate weblog:
- Tell the truth
- Post fast on good news or bad
- Use a human voice
- Have a thick skin
- If you screw up, acknowledge it
- If you don't have the answers, say so
- Never lie
- Never hide information
- Link to your competitors and be nice to them
"The empowering nature of the Internet will allow users to blog with or without corporate permission," Defren says. "The blogger who is encouraged with tools, freedom, and a few simple rules-of-the-road becomes a valuable advocate for the company. The blogger whose ambitions are repudiated simply sets up shop at home and spends their free time gossiping about the company's embarrassing hiccups."
All sounds like good advice — and much nicer for those of us on the receiving end of their messages than the alternative "always be sincere, whether you mean it or not" line we sometimes get.
I've been meaning to blog about the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (S.2560, previously known as INDUCE), but between Ernie Miller's great blog posts about it and now The LawMeme Reader's Guide to Ernie Miller's Guide to the INDUCE Act I can just be lazy and point to their stuff. Summary of the summary: the usual suspects who brought us the DMCA are trying to give the Content Cartel yet another bludgeon they can use to shut down anyone that threatens their monopoly, and if they're lucky finally do away with the Sony v. Betamax decision that kept them from declaring the VCR illegal.
BTW, here's the current list of co-sponsors: Orrin Hatch [UT] (primary sponsor), Lamar Alexander [TN], Barbara Boxer [CA], Hillary Rodham Clinton [NY], Tom Daschle [SD], Bill Frist [TN], Lindsey Graham [SC], Patrick Leahy [VT], Paul Sarbanes [MD], Debbie Stabenow [MI].
Tom Ridge has declared that CAPS-II is dead:
Asked Wednesday whether the program could be considered dead, Ridge jokingly gestured as if he were driving a stake through its heart and said, ''Yes.''
He cited the privacy concerns, particularly those arising from recently proposed regulations that would have required airlines to hand over information about passengers as part of a test of the program. Critics in Congress also complained that terrorists using fake identities could easily evade the system.
...but beside the fact that it was horribly susceptible to abuse, wouldn't do anything to make our skies more secure and made even the most government-trusting citizien start looking for the jack-booted thugs, what wasn't to like?
After interminable waiting, Verizon has finally officially announced they're going to start carrying the Treo 600.
LOS ANGELES, July 14 (PRNewswire) -- IBM, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Panasonic (Matsushita Electric), Sony, Toshiba, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Studios today announced the formation of Advanced Access Content System License Administrator (AACS LA), a cross-industry effort that develops, promotes and licenses technology designed to enhance digital entertainment experiences. This technology will facilitate the ability to enjoy exciting, new, flexible entertainment experiences for consumers in stand-alone, networked home and portable devices.
By "enhance digital entertainment experiences," of course, they mean "have enough DRM that we're willing to release our content at all, preferably without alienating all our legitimate customers." Not clear how they intend to achieve this DRM equivalent of the Philosopher's Stone, but they've got a lot of heavy-hitters involved...
More details are promised in coming days at http://www.aacsla.com/.
The New York Times Magazine's How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary article about the production of Outfoxed has everything you could ask for in a story about Internet-era guerrilla media: footage gathered by recording Fox News 24/7 for six months straight, volunteer watchdogs identifying and categorizing clips via email, simultaneous editing by five different editors coordinated over a secure Web site, even the risk of being sued for Copyright infringement as a way of silencing the work. Throw in Web distribution, coast-to-coast kick-off house parties organized by MoveOn.org, and commentary clips available for download over BitTorrent and what do you get? A hard-hitting political documentary, produced in only four and a half months for only $300,000.
What does it say about our president that, the day before the Senate votes on an historic amendment to the US Constitution that, after being pushed through as a vital campaign wedge issue without allowing even debate in committee, the president's email system doesn't even list the issue as an acceptable subject for discussion in his menu of valid email subjects for dissenting views?
I submitted my letter under "Hate Crimes." That seems the most appropriate given the nature of the bill.
Dear President Bush, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, and Representative Eshoo:
We are a young nation, full of idealism and zeal and well-deserved pride. As is always true of the young, we have made many mistakes in our brief 228 years. In the end we must all reflect on the moments we were at our worst with the clarity of hindsight, and like a growing boy we pray we will be judged by future generations not by our missteps, but by how much we learned from them.
Our Constitution is our record of that growth. The nation our fathers brought forth in 1787 was a remarkable experiment, conceived in the radical notion that all men are created equal. But that nation still denied women and Negroes the vote, enshrined slavery as an inalienable right, and accepted a nation that, while lacking an aristocracy, still promoted a system strongly divided by class. If the morality of such institutions seems clear and obvious today, it is only because previous generations struggled to clear the fog of ignorance and prejudice that passed for common wisdom in their own time. To read the amendments to our Constitution is to read the record of how we struggle to face our human weaknesses and, on seeing them for what they are, how we then have the courage to put things right.
You, our representatives, are now debating whether by banning gay marriage our generation should take a stand to reverse this slow and steady march towards tolerance, respect, and equal protection under the law for all men and women. A decision to change course after so many years should not be made lightly, nor for political gain. Regardless of the outcome of individual votes, our future children and grandchildren will study this moment in school just as today's children study our progress from the dark days of slavery to emancipation, integration of the Army and the Civil Rights Act. I trust you will give them every reason to be proud.
Dr. Bradley Rhodes
275 Hawthorne Ave. #106
Palo Alto, CA 94301
HP's Multi-user 411 Desktop computer is a cute idea: one Linux box with four monitors and four keyboards, sold to cash-strapped schools. It's a perfect match really — the typical school computer lab is lots of seats close together, with low CPU needs but a tight budget. Currently they're only selling them in South Africa, though there's certainly interest elsewhere.
The strange part is all the nay-saying industry analysts in the Reuters article, with quotes like "As interest in the machine grows, the limited supply has turned a well-intentioned product into a source of confusion among educators and a point of debate among industry analysts, who question whether a major computer maker has an interest in bringing a low-cost alternative to a wider mass market." Out here in Silicon Valley, that's the kind of quote we like to put on the gravestones of large companies who refuse to eat their young.
The hardware is nothing special — it's just a regular Intel box running Mandrake, with 4 NVIDIA Qdro4 100NVS 64MB DH cards (one AGP, three PCI), one PS/2 keyboard and three US keyboards, one audio card and three Telex P-500 USB Digital Audio Converters. Sounds like they've done a little bit of software coding to make it all smooth and there's clearly value in buying from a brand-name company like HP, but if they decide it's too risky I bet someone else could be producing near-identical machines within a week. Heck, make it a school project and kill two birds with one stone!
I was at the Marin County Fair yesterday, and chatted with the woman at the John Kerry campaign booth for a while. As I donated a dollar and donned a button I noticed her life-sized Howard Dean cardboard cut-out in the back, and with pride she talked about how she'd never been political before in her life till nine months ago she quit her job and started working for the Dean campaign. In my case, I both voted for Dean in the primary and made my first campaign contribution ever to him — both after he'd already dropped out of the race. Unlike what you always hear on the news it wasn't his anti-war rhetoric; as anyone who's read here for a while knows I actually supported the idea of war with Iraq (though not the way it was implemented). It was his plain-talk pragmatism and his willingness to stand up for the American people, but most of all it was his message that we the American people can and should also stand up next to him and help carry our own burdens. This woman was a tribute to that message.
As I wore my Kerry button yesterday I mused about what I felt the campaign was missing. Kerry is competent and experienced, something I miss the most in the current administration, but doesn't connect with me the way Edwards or Dean does. I still wore the button with pride, and I've even given a pretty sizable donation to the Kerry campaign already, but at least in part it was because Kerry isn't Bush.
As of this morning, I'm feeling a lot better about the Democratic team. The Kerry/Edwards ticket fills in the message and human touch Kerry alone lacks, as well as the practical populism I've been missing. As for the message that we should stand up on our own, we don't need that message to come from our candidates directly (that's the whole point, no?). Dean continues to empower Americans through his new Democracy For America, large organizations like MoveOn.org and smaller communities like OB4 give another focal point, and here in California Schwarzenegger has been doing a good job breathing life back into the idea that government is of, by and for the people.
I'll be wearing my new Kerry/Edwards button with pride. More importantly, I'm once again inspired to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to the issues important to me.
The Living Room Candidate site is a great browse. The best part it's not just a repository — they also provide commentary, how the vote played out, and the ability to browse through different types of ads, like Backfire (using the candidates own words against him later) and the ever-popular Fear.
I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 last Sunday, and to my surprise I wasn't all that impressed. It was still good, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I liked Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine.
To some extent I think it's that I had already heard most of this story already. I've been following the play-by-play through the various Congressional hearings, 9/11 commissions, and tell-all books so the only big surprises was in seeing all the video Moore dug up. But the big problem was that the movie lacked the solid focus that Roger and Columbine had.
Roger & Me tells the "simple" story of a city's economic decline and the distant decision-makers who cause it. Columbine wanders around more, but every turn still asks the same question: why are our children dying? Perhaps it's because the story kept shifting as he was making the film, but Fahrenheit 9/11 feels more like a montage. It starts with the story of an incompetent president used to getting whatever he wants from his Daddy's connections, turning to the deep connections between the Bushes and the House of Saud (and for that matter, the Bin Ladens), shifting again to talk about how the rich reap the spoils of wars fought with the blood of the poor, and ending with an Orwellian moral that the only way the haves can keep the have-nots from demanding equality and justice is to keep them frightened by war eternal. These are all solid themes and the movie follows them all reasonably well (though sometimes it got a little too sophomoric for my taste) but when the lights came up I didn't feel like he'd tied them together.
I'll probably see it again before it leaves the theaters and see if I feel the same way the second time. Anyone else feel the same way after seeing it?