Wednesday, February 28, 2007

RIAA Opposes New Fair Use Bill

New bill would let customers make limited numbers of copies of copyrighted works
By Grant Gross, IDG News Service

A new bill in the U.S. Congress aimed at protecting the fair use rights for consumers of copyright material would "legalize hacking," the Recording Industry Association of America said.

The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship (FAIR USE) Act, introduced Tuesday by U.S. Representatives Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, and John Doolittle, a California Republican, would allow customers to circumvent digital copy restrictions in six limited areas when copyright owners' business models are not threatened, Boucher said in a press release. So-called fair use doctrine allows customers of copyright works to make limited numbers of copies, particularly for reviews, news reporting, teaching and research.

The bill would allow exemptions to the anticircumvention restrictions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress in 1998. The bill is revamped from similar bills introduced in the last two sessions of Congress, Boucher said.

"The fair use doctrine is threatened today as never before," Boucher said in a statement. "Historically, the nation's copyright laws have reflected a carefully calibrated balanced between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the users of copyrighted material. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act dramatically tilted the copyright balance toward complete copyright protection at the expense of the public's right to fair use."

But the RIAA said the bill would effectively repeal the DMCA. The bill would "allow electronics companies to induce others to break the law for their own profit," it said in a statement. Advances such digital music sales, online games, on-demand movies and e-books can be traced to DMCA protects, the RIAA said.

"The difference between hacking done for non-infringing purposes and hacking done to steal is impossible to determine and enforce," the RIAA said in its statement.

The Boucher bill would limit the availability of statutory damages against individuals and firms who may be found to have engaged in contributory infringement, inducement of infringement, or other indirect infringement. The bill would allow libraries to circumvent digital locks or secure copies of works that have been damaged, lost or stolen.

The Consumer Electronics Association applauded the bill, saying it would give protections to consumers, educators, and libraries. Without fair use protections, consumers couldn't use devices such as VCRs and digital TV recorders, the trade group said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

BitTorrent, Joost Put Download Tech to Legal Use

By Reuters
SAN FRANCISCO—There was a time when the phrase "peer-to-peer" (P2P) was practically a curse word in the music industry.

But in the past month, two new services have emerged to utilize the technology for the legal, protected distribution of content—specifically video.

One of them is BitTorrent, which developed the technology that at one point was used for one-third of all P2P traffic on the Internet. The other is Joost—formerly known as the Venice Project—which was founded by the same developers who created the notorious Kazaa music-swapping community and later the Skype Internet telephone service.

Both BitTorrent and Joost rely on P2P technology to enhance the user experience. The more popular a file is on either network, the easier and faster it will be to download. Whereas the iTunes store shut down last Christmas because of overwhelming demand, services like BitTorrent and Joost are designed to improve as demand increases.

Despite their history with unauthorized digital content distribution, both services are setting themselves up to provide some of the better digital entertainment services available today. The question is: Will their technology credibility be sufficient to lure into a more legitimate environment the millions of downloaders who previously have used their technology to steal content?


More than 135 million people have downloaded the BitTorrent technology worldwide. It basically lets people publish content to the Internet in a way that enables multiple users to quickly download large files by sharing the distribution load. While it has several legitimate uses—game publishers use it to distribute software updates—it also is used by such sites as Pirate Bay to allow illegal downloads of Hollywood movies.

The company hopes to convert these users into legitimate customers through the BitTorrent Entertainment Network, which launches Feb. 26. The new service has compiled the rights to more than 3,000 movies, 1,000 games and 1,000 music videos from 34 participating content providers.

The move makes BitTorrent a distributor—connecting content owners to the technology's users in an attempt to monetize their interest in digital entertainment. Like any authorized digital music service, the challenge is to entice consumers away from a free, pirated environment into a paid, legal one. The strategy aims to offer a better experience than the chaotic pirate sites.

"You never saw an ad that says, 'Use iTunes because it's legal,'" BitTorrent COO Ashwin Navin says. "What users care about is getting their favorite content in a digital format. Only a very small percentage of our users are pirating content because they are anti-establishment or want to fight the man."

Users can rent movies at $4 each, download-to-own TV shows and music videos for $2 and get user-generated content free. The company also plans to add a digital-rights-management-free music download service in the near future.


While BitTorrent works a rental download model, Joost is an ad-supported streaming video service currently in beta testing. Of the many sources providing video at this time, Warner Music Group (WMG), Nettwerk, MusicNation, Voy and now Viacom are all contributing music videos and other music-themed programming.

Joost takes streaming video to a new level, with TiVo-like user controls and a high-quality full-screen display that captured the attention of content partners. Like BitTorrent, it uses P2P technology to optimize the streaming process.

But what really sets Joost apart is its ability to add widgets, or plug-ins—small applications that run atop the streaming video screen, enabling a degree of interactivity.

For instance, a chat tool allows users viewing the same video to discuss it with one another in real time. Joost not only allows but encourages content providers to create their own plug-ins customized for their video.

MusicNation is one such provider. The company conducts an online battle-of-the-bands competition on its Web site and will be providing exclusive content to Joost. It plans to create a live voting plug-in as part of that process.

"It wasn't just about the display," MusicNation founder and chief marketing officer Lucas Mann says, "it was about building a dynamic experience."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Microsoft releases list of verified Vista applications

But some notable apps are conspicuously missing
Eric Lai (Computerworld)

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday released a list of 800 applications it has officially verified so far to run bug-free on Windows Vista.

The list is notable for both its brevity and the absence of many applications popular on Windows XP, although Microsoft and analysts said that the majority of XP software can run, albeit with hiccups, on Vista.

Popular Windows software that is conspicuously missing from Microsoft's list includes Adobe Systems Inc.'s entire line of graphics and multimedia software, Symantec Corp.'s security products, as well as the Mozilla Foundation's open-source Firefox Web browser, Skype Ltd.'s free voice-over-IP software and the alternative to Microsoft Office.

Software that has been tested as part of Microsoft's Vista certification program to run on all 32- and 64-bit versions of Vista include CorelDraw and WordPerfect from Corel Corp., PowerDVD from Cyberlink, Nero 7 Premium, Trend Micro AntiVirus and PC-Cillin, AutoCad 2008, QuickBooks 2007 from Intuit Inc., Microsoft Office 2007 and many other Microsoft applications.

In addition, Google Inc.'s Desktop Search and its Toolbar for Internet Explorer have earned Microsoft's approval.

Windows' extensive software ecosystem has long been one of the operating system's chief attractions. But Vista's long beta program last year allowed users to start compiling their own lists of applications that they claimed were broken or problematic on Vista.

Many of those were graphics-intensive games, which was the result of a new rendering engine, DirectX 10, introduced for Vista. But there are also a number of business and utility applications that have not been updated to ensure Vista compatibility. For instance, the latest version of Skype doesn't work on Vista. Firefox does work, though Mozilla has documented known issues


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A More Personalized Internet?

Yahoo Pipes lets people make highly customized feeds that combine information from multiple sources and weed out the junk.

By Kate Greene

Last week, Yahoo announced the release of an early version of a tool designed to help users personalize the Internet. The tool, called Pipes, lets people combine all sorts of oft-updated Internet information, known as feeds. Pipes could, for instance, enable a feed that includes New York Times articles featuring the phrase "plasma TV," Flickr-posted pictures taken in a specific neighborhood, and traffic updates along a commute. So, instead of drowning in headlines from standard feed aggregators, the user gets information that is winnowed down and personal.

There are some early examples of Pipes on Yahoo's site. One allows a person to search for an apartment near "something," such as a park, library, or school. Another Pipe extracts keywords, such as "snow," from the New York Times news feed and displays Flickr photos that have a matching tag.

The basic idea behind Pipes, says Yahoo, is to give software developers and motivated nondevelopers a simple programming tool to mix and match collections of data on the Web, says Pasha Sadri, principal software engineer at Yahoo and developer of Pipes. "The goal of Pipes," he says, "is to significantly lower the barrier to writing simple applications by eliminating the need to write code and by hosting the application for you."

In fact, no knowledge of a programming language such as C++ or Java is needed to build a Pipe. When you begin to build a new Pipe, you select a set of programming instructions that are premade and packaged as an icon, called a module. A Pipe is made by dragging and dropping these modules, stringing them together, and adding a few extra instructions. A similar approach is employed to program Lego Mindstorm robots. "This simplifies the process and means that more people will be able to write programs for very specific tasks," says Sadri.

The tool consists of two major components: an interface, called an editor, where a Pipe is put together; and an execution engine that runs the Pipe instructions. Once a project is saved in the editor, the instructions are saved as a special kind of document on the engine. To run the Pipe, the engine reads the document and then accesses anywhere from dozens to hundreds of Web services--from feeds supplied by Craigslist to geography data on Yahoo Maps. To optimize the response time, says Sadri, the engine parallelizes as much of the execution as possible, breaking up the instructions into chunks that run simultaneously.

Almost immediately after its release, Pipes garnered a lot of attention from bloggers, software developers, and experts on Web-based applications. Perhaps the most glowing endorsement it received was from Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media, a computer-book, magazine, and online publisher. On his blog O'Reilly wrote that the tool is a "milestone in the history of the Internet." He added that while it's still a bit "rough around the edges," Pipes has "enormous potential to turn the Web into a programmable environment for everyone."

Next »

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mozilla updates Firefox 3.0 preview

It's looking to get the browser into users' hands by year's end
Gregg Keizer

Mozilla Corp. yesterday released the second alpha version of what will become its Firefox 3.0 Web browser. The release is the latest milestone in a plan to put the open-source browser in users' hands during the second half of the year.

Dubbed "Gran Paradiso," the preview is still geared toward "Web application developers and our testing community," according to release notes on the Mozilla site. The company warned general users to steer clear and stick with the 2.0.x and 1.5.x production versions.

Among the changes to the second alpha are enhancements in the way Web pages render incrementally -- while images load or dynamic changes are made to a page, for example. Other changes include improvements in the browser's interaction with Mac OS X widgets and the addition of full support for ACID2 test compliance.

Firefox 3.0, which is based on the new Gecko 1.9 layout engine, will be the first Mozilla browser to drop support for Windows 95, 98 and Millennium, as well as for Mac OS X 10.2 and earlier.

Alpha 2 can be downloaded in Windows, Mac OS X and Linux versions from the Mozilla Web site.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Windows Vista: The 'Huh?' starts now

Microsoft is confusing everyone with its new OS; here's what you need to know
Mike Elgan

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Don't buy Vista yet. But if you really must, consider only two of the 10 versions: Nontechnical consumers should buy the full version of Windows Vista Home Premium, and power users should buy the full version of Windows Vista Ultimate.

Microsoft is losing consumer operating system market share to Apple for many reasons, but most of those reasons can be oversimplified thus: Mac OS is simple, and Windows is complicated.

That's why it may be such a costly error for Microsoft to make the Vista upgrade such a confusing mess.

Until today, even experts couldn't tell you off the top of their heads the differences between each of the many Vista versions -- or even how many versions there are -- or what the basic requirements are for the Upgrade versions. Ordinary consumers are baffled to the point of paralysis.

I'm going to clear all this up in a minute. First, however, let's recall the fiasco that is the Windows Vista launch.

The Upgrade version mess

News organizations have been writing about Vista for years. In the past few months, the media addressed Upgrade versions (less expensive versions of the operating system available to users who already have a recent version of Windows), and the process Microsoft would impose for proving that you own a legitimate copy of Windows XP or 2000.

At first, some news outlets reported that Upgrade versions of Vista would require the user to enter an XP key -- the long combination of letters and numbers you need to install XP in the first place. Then, we were told you didn't need the key, but instead would be required to insert an XP disk during the Vista install. Earlier this week, some sites reported that the requirement was that XP had to be installed on your PC, and that a clean install -- installing Vista only on a reformatted disk -- would be impossible.

Don't feel bad if you still don't know which of the Upgrade proof policies above is the real one -- few outside Microsoft do. (In fact, none of them is correct.)

Microsoft created this confusion by failing to tell anyone what the proof requirement would be for using an Upgrade version of Vista.

Meanwhile, the Upgrade versions are poison:

* Windows power users know that if you want Windows to work well over the long haul, it helps to reformat and perform a clean install once in a while. The Upgrade version requires you to install both XP/2000 and Vista every time, doubling the already massive amount of time it takes to do a reformat/reinstall.

* The Upgrade versions require you to keep track of your original Windows XP/2000 disks. Most people have these in the form of "recovery CDs" from the PC vendor, which can include multiple disks full of junk applications.