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EARS ON

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 12, 2007 2 comments
Just in case you've been living in a cave for the past week--or perhaps just live a normal healthy life, in which case I envy you--then you've heard about the Steve Jobs DRM manifesto. Jobs wants to have his DRM and denounce it too. His adroit repositioning of himself in the public eye bodes well for the continued vigor of iPod sales. The first and most amusing reaction came from the Recording Industry Antichrist of America, which enthused: "Apple's offer to license FairPlay to other technology companies is a welcome breakthrough and would be a real victory for fans, artists and labels." It would also mollify various European regulators who object to the binding of iTunes downloads to iPods. Only problem is, Apple offered to do no such thing. The emailed missive has not appeared on the RIAA site. More relevant, perhaps, was EMI's announcement that a large percentage of its catalogue would become available via no-DRM MP3 downloads. Apparently the Norah Jones experiment was a success. Warning: While MP3 is immune to DRM, it is not immune to watermarking that would embed purchase information in the track metadata. If a download with your name on it ends up in the P2P moshpit, you could be in big trouble.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 09, 2007 1 comments
Following threats from the National Football League, the Fall Creek Baptist Church of Indianapolis was forced to cancel its Super Bowl Bash, triggering a wave of cancellations in churches across the country. The Indianapolis church party would have involved a 12-foot projection system. No more than 55 inches are permissible, said the NFL, and you can't charge admission. However, the NFL admitted making exceptions for sports bars, leading to an interesting situation: If you're serving jello shots to the demimonde, you're an honored member of the NFL audience, but if you're serving tuna casseroles to raise money for new altar decorations, you're a copyright criminal. The initial news report from the Indianapolis Star brought the newspaper more than 1000 emails and 100 phone calls. Fall Creek's senior pastor, Dr. John Newland, thanked his church's supporters and offered "heartfelt congratulations" to both the Colts and the Bears. Meanwhile columnist Dan Carpenter had a field day: "Forgive us, Football, for we have sinned, and we beseech Thee to show mercy and not visit a pestilence of lawyers upon us. Nor forsake us when we seek to prepare our house for your XLV Coming.... Yea, verily, a state that prides itself on praying in public and legislating chastity got a revelatory taste last week of what America's true religion is.... The bald presumption! To raise a craven [sic] image on the big screen of the holiest occasion on the nation's calendar without a dispensation from on high?! Who do these people think they are, Hooters?" Unfortunately, few of the many commentaries noted that the jaw-droppingly lucrative telecast, festooned with multi-million-dollar ads, occurred over the public airwaves, which are owned by the public and regulated in the public interest. Since when has the NFL usurped the function of the FCC?
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 08, 2007 1 comments
What's remarkable about Wal-Mart's just-unveiled Video Downloads is not that America's number one retailer is venturing into online distribution of movies and teevee. The real story is that Wal-Mart has convinced all six major motion picture studios and at least some of the networks to pour a total of 3000 titles into the fledgling service. Wal-Mart tells you how to enjoy its downloads on TV, PC, or portable player. Pricing ranges from $1.96 for a TV episode to $19.88 for a fresh movie title. Shop around and you'll find movie titles well under the maximum. For example, Rugrats Go Wild for a mere $7.50. Still, even that's not much of a bargain compared to your basic Blockbuster movie rental fee of less than $5--so much for the "always low prices" slogan. Moreover, there's no mention of HD, compatible portables do not include iPods, and Wal-Mart's web developer is guilty, guilty, guilty of a major gaffe: The service seems to have been optimized for Internet Explorer (I used version 7). In Firefox 1.5, it's an unusable mess. Any Safari or Opera users having trouble with this page? Let me know. In fairness, the service is in beta, and improvements may follow.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 07, 2007 2 comments
A federal judge has ordered DirecTV to suspend TV ads claiming that its HDTV is of higher quality than that of cable. For years, videophiles have complained that DirecTV's signal--HD or otherwise--is overcompressed, pixellated, and full of video artifacts. But this is the first time the satellite operator has been rebuked in court. The triggering event was a lawsuit by Time Warner Cable in response to ads starring William Shatner and Jessica Simpson with the slogan: "For picture quality that beats cable, you've got to get DirecTV." Has Captain Kirk steered us wrong? How the mighty have fallen. TWC also objected to claims that its subscribers weren't able to receive certain NFL football games. While TWC (and Cablevision) don't carry the NFL Network, the eight specific games in question were aired by broadcast stations available on cable. In addition to the TWC suit, filed in December, DirecTV is also fighting a class-action suit filed in California three months earlier. That one alleges inferior HD picture quality on HBO HD, HDNet Movies, Bravo HD, Showtime HD and DirecTV HDTV pay-per-view. Attorney Philip K. Cohen claims DirecTV sends HD at a data rate of 6.6 megabits per second, versus the industry-standard 19.4mbps.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 06, 2007 0 comments
China may be just starting to lose the momentum that has made it the world's biggest manufacturing economy. True, Chinese factories make tremendous quantities of stuff, and some of it is of very high quality. But as China's booming coastal factories move up the ladder, costs are rising too, including wages, office rents, and utilities. That leaves manufacturers looking to stay on the leading edge of cost-effectiveness with two options: either move deeper into the Chinese mainland, or move to other nations with seaport access. The Economist reports that Intel has raised a previously announced $350 million investment in a Vietnamese chip-making plant to a cool billion. Mark Schifter of Onix tells me he's moved some (though not all) of his company's loudspeaker production to Cali, Colombia, where labor costs more but MDF and veneers cost less. His Chinese factories have to import those things. Also contributing to corporate unrest: recurring concerns over China's wild-west attitude toward intellectual property.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 05, 2007 1 comments
Which would you prefer: To buy a new PC with Windows Vista, or go on using your iPod? You can't have both unless you're extremely careful. Apple Computer--oops! sorry! Apple Inc.--has issued an advisory with a couple of warnings. First, when ejecting your iPod from a Vista-loaded PC, use the eject command in iTunes, not the one in the Vista system tray. Otherwise the PC "may corrupt your iPod," Apple says. Other potential problems: Songs purchased on iTunes may not play in the iTunes software, and since the DRM-wrapped tracks won't play in any other software, that means they won't play, period. Contacts and calendars won't sync. And adjustments can't be made to some settings. Apple explains and offers a patch, but you might want to wait for the next full version of iTunes ("available in the next few weeks") before letting iTunes and Vista butt heads.
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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 02, 2007 0 comments
Somewhere back in the dusty corridors of time, in a house in New Jersey, a child found an old radio in the basement. It was a Sears Silvertone with a dark brown plastic chassis. No FM, just AM, and therefore not of much interest to the increasingly music-aware child. But he--oh, all right, I--was fascinated by the tubes inside. Unlike all the other radios in the house, which immediately started blaring when turned on, this one took time to warm up. When ready to play, its single speaker emitted a rich tone. Not exactly a silver tone. More of a chocolate tone. But I did love it, and was sorry when it suddenly disappeared from the house, as so many artifacts of my childhood did in those days.
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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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