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Posted on Techdirt - 30 June 2005 @ 06:38pm

Historic BBC Programs Rescued From Those Evil Home Copies

The entertainment industry has made a sport of demonizing the perfectly legal act of making personal copies of copyrighted content, from Jack Valenti’s denial of fair use to record labels’ overzealous CD protection schemes. So it’s interesting to see how the BBC has inadvertently given us another reason to appreciate the value of homemade copies. Copyfight notes the story of TV watchers in the UK whose home copies saved lots of early programming the network never kept. Basically, the Beeb reconstructed a historical archive from the collections of old home copies — an allegedly copyright infringing act (the network’s excuse for not paying people for the recovered shows) — and has even profited from it by making a documentary about it and selling some of the old shows on DVDs. So, not only did home copying not destroy the network’s business, it actually (a) made them more money, and (b) preserved valuable content and culture. We might not be so lucky if those who are still pushing for the broadcast flag have their way.

Posted on Techdirt - 30 June 2005 @ 01:04pm

First Federal Spam Conviction Sign Of Things To Come Or Weak Enforcement?

Spammers are getting caught and prosecuted more and more these days, mostly as a result of the efforts of individual states. Now the feds, amazingly, have just chalked up their very first conviction. The lout in question is Peter Moshou, aka the Timeshare Spammer, a guy from (where else?) Florida who sent millions of spam emails through Earthlink. While putting this guy away is nothing short of a public service, it also could be interpreted in one of two ways: it’s either the beginning of a trend toward more prosecutions or highlights the slow and spotty pursuit we can expect to see in the future. We’d pessimistically lean toward the latter for several reasons, including the law’s many flaws and general failure, the limited resources available to enforce the law, and the fact that this recent success involved a fairly egregious and easily nabbed offender. He also didn’t sound too contrite, joking around with lawyers right before his guilty plea. Any bets on whether it will take the feds another year and a half to catch the next one?

Posted on Techdirt - 28 June 2005 @ 03:28pm

Sony Still Hyping (And Suing) On The Way To Delayed, Old-News PSP

Earlier this month, we learned of Sony’s plan to stop gray market retailers from selling the PSP before its September launch in the UK. That plan involved suing people who imported and sold the machines there, despite the obvious futility of this policy in the age of the internet. Now they’ve won an injunction against a one-man shop trying to make a go of imports. While still officially fighting the case on the grounds of trademark infringement (even though another company in the UK already owns the name “PSP”), Sony argued in court that the unauthorized imports disrupt the hype and demand they’re building for the launch. That might make sense, if people in the UK had little connection to the world beyond their borders and were just getting wind of the PSP. Rather, it was probably highly anticipated by gamers there (along with those in other countries) when it was originally supposed to launch in March, then delayed in the UK to September. A thriving gray (and possibly black) market suggest there’s ample demand already. Now, Sony is trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle, which is just as likely to annoy customers as make them eager to buy it. You’d think the marketing hands responsible for the PSP would be wiser to these issues, but considering their track record, maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 June 2005 @ 02:32pm

WB Not Happy About Successful Demonstration Of New Business Model

Talk about timing. Just hours before the Grokster ruling, Wired published a story about a rejected TV pilot that gained a following through (gasp!) a P2P network. The WB passed on the pilot of a show called Global Frequency, but after it was “leaked” (always with suspiciously insider overtones), it now has lots of fans. This sort of thing has happened before, as recently as Sony’s miscalculated snubbing of a new Fiona Apple album, and will probably happen again and again. Of course, the entertainment industry probably thinks it has the upper hand with the Grokster decision and the new Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which (respectively) ban this kind of file sharing and criminalize the act of sharing content before it’s released. The suits at Warner predictably lashed out at the copyright infringement that led to their unintended success. It seems they’d prefer to be in denial about the inevitability of file sharing, which recent events will only drive more underground and make harder to stop, rather than exploiting this medium to do some cheap market testing, build buzz, and make money from consumers who are willing to pay for more good content. Listen to Global Frequency’s producer — that’s exactly what he’d do if he owned the full rights to the show. “I would put my pilot out on the internet in a heartbeat. Want five more? Come buy the boxed set.” This is not rocket science.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 June 2005 @ 01:32pm

Pennsylvania Confuses High School Student High Jinks With Felonies

High school authority figures notoriously overreact to students’ use of new technology, typically out of fear that the overuse of these newfangled devices will have a harmful effect on young minds. In another example of how this misguided fear has gone too far, a Pennsylvania high school turned over 13 students to local police, and now the kids are facing felony charges for computer trespass. Apparently, the students got ahold of an ill-kept administrator password, reconfigured their school-issued laptops, and downloaded music and “inappropriate” images. Sneaky, perhaps even rule-breaking, but felonious? It’s not like these students did anything overtly bad, like changing their grades or committing an actual crime. Even the superintendent admits that they didn’t compromise the school’s server or anyone’s private information. You’d think just giving them detention, revoking their laptop privileges, or grounding them would be sufficient, but maybe those acts have been outlawed in this town too. Rather than fairly punishing students, this case merely wastes resources that could be spent on real problems and, more unfortunately, discourages intellectual curiosity.

Posted on Techdirt - 27 June 2005 @ 12:40pm

Which Came First, The Extremist Chicken Or The Media Egg?

The interrelationship between political extremism and media consumption is one of those topics that everyone has opinion on, but no one really understands. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering that the question itself involves the nature of opinions. A new study by the University of Missouri’s journalism school tries to shed light on this issue, looking at which forms of media are the most polarizing and concluding that radio listeners are most likely to have extreme views and newspaper readers are least likely. Internet news consumers are somewhere toward the less-extreme side of the equation as well. As the E-Media Tidbits item suggests, this could mean that people who get their news from radical radio personalities are prone to developing similar viewpoints, while the more balanced info presented in newspapers (and the sea of info on the internet) tempers that tendency. But we wonder whether it works the other way around: People with extreme ideas gravitate toward the media that support them, while people more open to various viewpoints will seek out media that lets them collect more information. Of course, there’s a raft of partisan blather online too, and extremists sometimes take in opposing views simply to trash them. But that’s probably a loud minority, rather than the silent info-gathering majority.

Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2005 @ 06:16pm

FTC Starting To See Through Hollywood's Anti-P2P Excuses

Not that long ago, lawmakers were showing their misunderstanding of file sharing by blaming the delivery mechanism for their concerns with the content. The entertainment industry still does this today in its attacks on file sharing networks and related technologies like BitTorrent, but at least some government types are starting to catch on. Among the conclusions of a report issued by the FTC today: The risks associated with P2P file sharing (viruses, spyware, porn, etc.) also exist with pretty much any other internet-related activity. Moreover, P2P opponents have not adequately shown that the hazards of file sharing networks are any different than elsewhere on the internet. Perhaps now Hollywood will fall back on the argument that file sharing is ruining its business. Oh wait, the FTC report said that’s unclear too. Maybe the agency really is starting to get it.

Posted on Techdirt - 23 June 2005 @ 06:03pm

Europeans Amazingly Not Interested In Less Capable XP For Same Old Price

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Microsoft won’t play along nicely with the EU’s antitrust remedies. Today’s story involves the release of a separate version of Windows XP sans Windows Media Player, aka Windows XP N — the N stands for Not With Media Player. The name is actually an improvement, as Microsoft originally named it Windows XP Reduced Media Edition (perhaps Windows XP Crummier Version didn’t do well in focus groups). The EU nixed the name realizing the effect it would have on sales, so what does Microsoft do? They price it exactly the same as the version that includes the media player. Now computer makers and distributors are refraining from offering the new version on computers and in stores. You mean, people won’t be clamoring for an XP bundle that costs the same as and contains fewer products than the original? Granted, Microsoft has a knack for tweaking regulators, but you’d think that EU bureaucrats would have at least figured this one out ahead of time.

Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2005 @ 08:00pm

It's Not Censorship As Long As We Don't Call It Censorship

Looks like the porn police have kicked into high gear in Malaysia. The government there has just said that all cyber cafes must use web porn filters. We assume this is being done for the sake of the children, as all earnest anti-porn measures are, though the story doesn’t quite make clear what the real intention is. Still, as many people pointed out when the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of mandatory filtering in libraries, the filters will cause many more problems than they’ll fix. Namely, they’ll do a bad job of actually blocking porn sites, they’ll inadvertently block many reasonable and useful non-porn sites, and they’ll be very costly to implement. Even worse, the Malaysian mandate will be forced on private businesses, not on free public computers in libraries. One service provider quoted in the story says that it’s only censorship if filtering is done by the ISP, rather than software on the PCs — where the owner of the PCs gets to pick what filters to use. However, since those filters are mandatory, it certainly seems to qualify as censorship under most definitions we know. The really unfortunate part is that, unlike millions of people in the US, many Malaysians probably don’t have a home computer they can fall back on when the government goes overboard with useless filtering on publicly accessible computers.

Posted on Techdirt - 21 June 2005 @ 05:56pm

Happy News Site Has Potential To Be Just Plain Sad

Collaborative “citizen reported” news sites are all the rage these days, so some bizarre take on the trend was surely inevitable. The development in question is the imminent launch of HappyNews.com, which will focus only on — you guessed it — happy news. As opposed to the various wiki-style sites that get ordinary people to voluntarily write stories, HappyNews will operate more like Ohmynews, which pays people for their efforts. The paid-submission approach sounds worthwhile and ripe for testing in the US, but that’s where the logic ends. The focus on only good news — which apparently has been tried before — is just a problematic premise. We’re all for reforming the media’s tendency to harp on the worst news possible and we wish HappyNews luck in their goal of supplementing traditional news, but perhaps there’s a reason there haven’t been any successful “happy news” outlets: happy isn’t news. If a story with a positive angle is at all newsworthy, it will mostly likely either be: 1) picked up by traditional media, 2) a feel-good ditty typically relegated the end of local newscasts along with the one about the waterskiing squirrel, or 3) all of the above.

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