EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 01, 2007 11 comments
Is it possible for the download wars to get any nastier? Having lost its lawsuit against a single mother who refused to settle, the Recording Industry Antichrist of America is now suing her children. Patti Santangelo's son Robert is 16 years old and his sister Michelle is 20. They were five years younger when, according to RIAA allegations, they infringed copyright law by downloading music. The Associated Press sums up the position of Robert's lawyer: "that he never sent copyrighted music to others, that the recording companies promoted file sharing before turning against it, that average computer users were never warned that it was illegal, that the statute of limitations has passed, and that all the music claimed to have been downloaded was actually owned by his sister on store-bought CDs." Attorney Jordan Glass also asserts that the record companies behind the RIAA "have engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud the courts of the United States" by acting as "a cartel collusively in violation of the antitrust laws." Michelle Santangelo has been ordered to pay a default judgment of $30,750 for downloading 41 songs. The RIAA has filed more than 18,000 lawsuits against consumers in recent years. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has undertaken a petition drive: "Copyright law shouldn't make criminals out of more than 60 million Americans--tell Congress that it's time to stop the madness!"
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 31, 2007 0 comments
Google-owned YouTube flunked its first test as a copyright-compliant media company. The Financial Times reported a month ago that a "content identification system" promised for the end of 2006 has failed to materialize. GooTube had been promising the tool to large copyright owners as a first step in converting its often dubious legal status into something sustainable. Instead, Google will be forced to go on making piecemeal deals with whoever threatens to sue. Is GooTube intentionally dragging its feet to prevent a catastrophic exodus from its user base? With hungry and well-funded players like AOL Video charging into the arena, GooTube may be playing for time. For my own part, I spend an impressive chunk of downtime with my armchair pulled up in front of the PC, watching amazing concert videos on YouTube that aren't available on DVD. The future belongs to whoever can deliver that experience while staying on the right side of the law, hitting the sweet spot between legality and comprehensiveness.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 30, 2007 0 comments
Somewhere over the rainbow there's an iPod color we haven't seen before. It's orange. And it's one of four new Apple iPod shuffle color options. The others are already familiar to second-generation nano enthusiasts. They include pink, lime, sky blue, and "silver." Cue Jerry Seinfeld voice: Have you ever noticed that manufacturers say silver when they really mean aluminum or grey? What's up with that? If I can't melt it down and make jewelry out of it, it's not really silver, is it? Noticeably absent is the red used for special-edition nanos. And if you've been holding out for yellow or, ah, "gold," keep dreaming. Capacity remains one gigabyte, price is still $79, and earbuds have been upgraded to the new and supposedly better-sounding ones. Me, I've still got a first-generation nano that's in good health, thank you. But if you're a completist, don't let that stop you from grabbing that new orange shuffle. Mind if I borrow it for a day or two?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 29, 2007 0 comments
Independent music labels are banding together to increase their marketing power in the dawning download era. Say hello to Merlin, a licensing authority that bills itself as a "virtual fifth major" label. It will serve as a single point of contact for download services like iTunes and Rhapsody, giving indies a better shot at getting into the most heavily trafficked online distribution channels. Under a deal with SNOCAP, Shawn Fanning's post-Napster venture, Merlin will also enable artists to sell no-DRM MP3s on MySpace or through their own virtual stores. Members include numerous indies from the United States, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, and the far east. Look out Universal, Sony BMG, EMI, and Warner. You've got some real competition now.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
Analog TVs are obsolete. Yet, shockingly, most major retailers still carry them. Some folks in Congress would like to see archaic displays labeled this way: "This TV has only an analog broadcast tuner and will require a converter box after Feb. 17, 2009, to receive over-the-air broadcasts." If that seems reasonable, then you're in agreement with Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX), Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and Fred Upton (R-MI), who are brewing up legislation to require the warning. I would add something along the lines of "Aren't you a little embarrassed even to be looking at this thing?" but hey, I'm not an elected official. According to TV Week: "Besides the warning, the legislation would require cable and satellite service providers include information in bills notifying customers about the upcoming digital transition, would require broadcasters to file regular reports detailing their consumer education efforts and would require the Federal Communications Commission to create a consumer outreach effort and also file regular updates about how many consumers had redeemed coupons for converter boxes."
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 25, 2007 0 comments
The first review of LG's BH100 Blu-ray and HD DVD combi player is in--from Gizmodo. They paid for the thing! That's not fair! Highlights: The interactive menus on HD DVDs didn't work (as rumored). The interactive video features worked only with difficulty. Load times were 30-40 seconds, better than some, and editor/reviewer Brian Lam loved the chassis though he felt "weird" about saying it out loud. Really, that's perfectly OK. I wish someone would say the same about my chassis. More here. I'm a big Gizmodo fan, read it twice a day.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 24, 2007 0 comments
How much of your download dollar goes to the record companies? They have finally been forced to reveal this "trade secret" to a federal court. And it was their own ongoing litigation against consumers that triggered the confession. The Recording Industry Antichrist of America sued Marie Lindor, as it has done with hundreds of other people, based on information seized via another lawsuit from her Internet access provider. The RIAA demanded $750 per song, but Lindor's attorney argued that damages should be capped lower, and linked to the wholesale price per song. RIAA lawyers begged the judge not to make them divulge the magic number--but finally were forced to admit that the rumored 70 cents per track was "in the correct range." The information will no doubt prove useful to other attorneys, like the ones defending other RIAA-lawsuit victims, not to mention those representing recording artists.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 23, 2007 0 comments
In any other industry, news that sales doubled the previous year would cause dusty bottles of fine champagne to be summoned and quaffed. Not so in the music industry, whose digital download sales doubled in 2006, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. For one thing, the doubling of downloads in 2006 is not as good as the tripling of them 2006. And the growth does not keep pace with the decline in CD sales, at three percent in 2006. Even so, in major markets such as the U.S., U.K., and Japan, legal downloads are just starting to equal the damage done by P2P, piracy, and competition from new media. Driving much of the growth is mobile downloading, which already dominates download sales in Japan, South Korea, India, Italy, and Spain.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 22, 2007 0 comments
YouTube's success has nudged Netflix into video streaming. Install the Windows-only software, browse, hit add, and play. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Initial movie and TV titles from several major studios number only 1000, compared to the 70,000 in Netflix's conventional rental inventory. Subscribers with the most common plan get 18 hours of free viewing per month. Those with cheaper/costlier plans will get less/more. The service will roll out over the next six months.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 19, 2007 0 comments
Coming soon to a computer monitor near you is Joost. Formerly known as the Venice Project, this new mode of video delivery was invented by the founders of Skype and Kazaa. No, it's not a video download service. Nor is it a file-sharing application. Instead, it delivers video in the form of P2P streaming. Among the components of the system are powerful data compression, a global index to coordinate the flow of data, and 40TB of server capacity to augment users' hard-drive cacheing, making this what the inventors describe as a "hybrid" system. Thousands of beta users in several countries are already having fun with it and the service will launch officially in June. The Joosties seem willing to make nice with content producers, with Warner Music in the fold, and you'll even see ads for T-Mobile and Wrigley chewing gum. Eventually the service may move from the Internet to set-top boxes. Official site, Wired feature.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 18, 2007 0 comments
The first pirated material from an HD DVD has been posted on BitTorrent. This latest battle in the digital rights management war began a month ago when a blogger told the world he'd hacked AACS, the DRM that protects both HD DVD and Blu-ray, as a means of getting the player to work with his DVI-in TV. Because AACS involves both firmware in the player and an encryption key in each disc, his BackupHDDVD utility was worthless without the keys. But now people are posting the encryption keys on the net and HD DVD is officially insecure. Blu-ray is not as badly affected, because it adds a second layer of protection called BD+. The news overshadows other recent HD DVD gains, including its first triple-layer 51GB disc and its embrace by the adult video industry.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 17, 2007 0 comments
The battle over the broadcast flag resumes, with the reintroduction of S.256 (the Perform Act) by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Last year it died in committee. Apparently, however, this is going to be an annual occurrence until the entertainment industry and its proxies in Congress get their way. The ostensible aim is to prevent cherrypick recording of satellite, cable, or Internet broadcasts. You could still record by time slot or station, but the bill is widely viewed as a Trojan horse for digital rights management and more draconian future restrictions. As before, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Association are leading the loyal opposition. Also up in arms is Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) who has introduced legislation of his own to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from hoisting the flag without even a figleaf of legislation.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 16, 2007 0 comments
"You want this ... don't you?" asked Geoff in our fab CES coverage. Of course you want LG's BH100 Blu-ray and HD DVD combi player--unless you've already bought into one format or the other, you poor sap. Even at $1199, who wouldn't want it after reading this description on the Best Buy site: "With the ability to play both Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs, in addition to upconverting standard DVDs, this versatile system delivers crisp and clear images with rich layers of sound that will leave you on the edge of your seat." The site says the unit is sold out and mumbles something about in-store pickup though actually the product is not available yet. But judging from the detailed spec list and photos, it looks as though the product development process was well along before news started to leak out just prior to CES.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 15, 2007 0 comments
Are you a fan of Norah Jones? If so, you may be looking to download "Thinking About You," her new single. Best place to go is Yahoo, where you can buy it in the latest, coolest codec ever: MP3! Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can buy the track from iTunes. But if you do, it will be wrapped in FairPlay, Apple's brand of digital rights management (yuck, tooey). Wouldn't you rather pay the same to Yahoo, and enjoy the following advantages of DRM-free downloads, so helpfully enumerated by Yahoo? Oooh, talk DRM-less to me:
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 05, 2007 2 comments
What was the number one item on holiday wish lists in the just-concluded 2006 holiday shopping rush? LCD TVs were the big winner, according to the NPD Group, with $925 million in sales. The flat wonders beat digital cameras ($825 million) and notebook PCs ($810 million). Surprisingly, iPods and other digital media players were relatively distant fourth-place finishers at just $720 million. So it's official: Americans prefer big screens to small ones. NPD declined to comment on how plasmas and other displays figure into their calculations.

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