September 29, 2007

NPR Covers RIAA Folly; VCL Plans Entering the Mainstream

September 22, 2007


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For years now, EFF has been arguing against the strongarm tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and its vain attempt to stop filesharing by dragging music fans into court. At the same time, we’ve also been tirelessly promoting the idea of Voluntary Collective Licensing (VCL) as a solution that could give fans what they want, while ensuring that musicians get paid. Lately, these formerly fringe ideas are garnering broader respect after a few mainstream stories about the RIAA lawsuits and VCL.


Take the excellent series on the RIAA lawsuits from American Public Media's Marketplace (heard on NPR stations around the country). While responsibly airing perspectives from several major players, the show nevertheless presents an unflattering portrait of the music industry’s tactics. RIAA lawsuit victim Tanya Anderson, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred Von Lohmann and RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol are each featured in extensive interviews, and the simple facts of the story are allowed to speak for themselves. The RIAA’s effort to intimidate fans by randomly targeting a few individuals is clearly futile, and unnecessarily punitive.

Have a listen to all three shows: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3.


Meanwhile, VCL schemes are beginning to attract interest from some influential music industry players. The new co-chief executive of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin, has been talking about subscription-based music services. “You would subscribe to music," Rubin told the New York Times Magazine. "You'd pay, say, $19.95 a month, and the music will come anywhere you'd like. In this new world, there will be a virtual library that will be accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere.” And Rubin isn’t the only one. Music industry insider and gadfly Bob Lefsetz has recently been talking up VCLs as well.


In addition, Universal Music Group has reportedly been circulating a proposal for a subscription service under the name "TotalMusic." Details are vague, but would likely include an agreement between Universal and ISPs that would require all of the ISP’s subscribers to opt in, in which case subscribers’ service rates would increase whether they downloaded Universal’s music or not. An improvement to this plan would be to allow people to opt in on an individual basis — this would generate immediate cash flow, and demonstrate the public interest in this sort of service.


Clearly, the music industry is awakening to reasonable, immediate solutions that can bring us all more music, at better quality, while generating more money for artists and their labels. The only question is how long the music industry will delay the inevitable.


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MySpace and Facebook Plan to Use Personal Data for “Targeted Advertising”

September 20, 2007


Personal data is a hot commodity. All sorts of businesses trade in data concerning what we buy, how much credit we have, where we live, what our interests are. This information is sold to advertisers, who then eagerly use it to more precisely target people that they hope will branded cialis drugstore be interested in their products — leading to all those annoying catalogs that litter your doorstep, for example, or the junk emails that choke your inbox every day.


Luckily for the advertising industry, modern web users have begun voluntarily providing all their personal details on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Users of these sites happily upload all sorts of personal information about what books and music they like, where they shop, who their friends are, and where they live. While users of these sites may imagine that they control the information on their profile pages, advertisers are salivating at the thought of all that personal data just waiting to be processed, analyzed, and turned into profit.


Recently, both Facebook and MySpace have announced plans to do just that. The president of Fox Interactive Media, which owns MySpace, tells potential clients that “We have an opportunity to provide advertisers with a completely new paradigm.” The personal data of MySpace users will be used to generate “targeted advertising” that is tailored to each individual account, using algorithms that assign members to one of 10 main consumer categories.


Not one to be left behind, Facebook has a similar program. They now slip targeted ads into the “news feed,” along with updates about the user’s friends on Facebook, where they are sure not to miss them.


Google, which has access to some of the most coveted personal data on the Internet — your search logs — has recently acquired DoubleClick, a company that uses browser cookies to track what sites Internet users visit and what commercial advertisements they click while browsing. Google’s senior policy counsel finds it all quite innocent: “Simply put, advertising is information,” he said.


While none of this may be illegal, it does have ominous implications, as Cory Doctorow humorously points out in his recent short story, Scroogled. The personal data we now use to keep in touch with friends will soon help corporations target us more effectively. What’s to stop this wealth of data from creeping into law enforcement activities?


While it may seem odd to object to potential privacy violations of people who voluntarily share their own info, the bottom line is that users need to know what is being done with their information, and should have the opportunity to opt out of marketing schemes if they choose. Last year, when changes to Facebook's interface made it easier for users to track each other's changes, protests were loud and angry, leading to some changes in policy. Let’s hope a similar uproar greets social networking sites’ latest decisions to treat their users like products on the open market.


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Newsweek: The secret lobbying campaign your phone company doesn’t want you to know about

September 20, 2007


Newsweek's top story today exposes the desperation of the telecommunications companies in light of cases like EFF's class-action lawsuit against AT&T, which accuses the telecom giant of assisting in the illegal surveillance of millions of Americans. The telecoms and the Administration are heaping pressure on Congress to get a 'get out of jail free' card for their role in helping the government spy on their customers:


The campaign—which involves some of Washington's most prominent lobbying and law firms—has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.


If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community—or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant.


The telecom's worries are telling. Our case is representing a class of U.S. residential customers, and does not include any terrorists – just ordinary folks who use the phone and email. The per person penalties are quite reasonable – If the telecoms were not spying on millions of innocent Americans, there is no way for the liability to become "crippling."


Moreover, the Administration obtained prospective immunity in the so-called Protect America Act earlier this year. If the telecoms are only operating under the extremely broad parameters of the PAA, there is no liability reason to stop cooperating moving forward. And yet they are so worried about liability, they threaten to terminate their cooperation.


To achieve in Congress what they could not achieve in court, the telecoms are not holding back:


Among those coordinating the industry’s effort are two well-connected capital players who both worked for President George H.W. Bush: Verizon general counsel William Barr, who served as attorney general under 41, and AT&T senior executive vice president James Cicconi, who was the elder Bush's deputy chief of staff.


Working with them are a battery of major D.C. lobbyists and lawyers who are providing "strategic advice" to the companies on the issue, according to sources familiar with the campaign who asked not to be identified talking about it. Among the players, these sources said: powerhouse Republican lobbyists Charlie Black and Wayne Berman (who represent AT&T and Verizon, respectively), former GOP senator and U.S. ambassador to Germany Dan Coats (a lawyer at King & Spaulding who is representing Sprint), former Democratic Party strategist and one-time assistant secretary of State Tom Donilon (who represents Verizon), former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick (whose law firm also represents Verizon) and Brad Berenson, a former assistant White House counsel under President George W. Bush who now represents AT&T.


Against these lobbyist Goliaths, we need as much grassroots support as we can muster. Join EFF, and call Congress today to help stop the spying.


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Read Newsweek's report:


For more on EFF's case against AT&T:





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September 28, 2007

Is Windows XP too good for Microsoft’s own good?

Posted by Mary Jo Foley @ 8:45 pm On September 27, 2007


Microsoft has extended the cut-off as to when PC makers will be allowed to continue to sell Windows XP with new machines.


Until now, January 30, 2008, was the Microsoft-imposed deadline for system vendors to cease offering Windows XP on all new OEM machines. (System builders, a k a white-box vendors, had a longer deadline: January 30, 2009.) But as a result of feedback from customers and partners, Microsoft best price for cialis style=”color: blue”>has extended the OEM and retailer cut-off date for XP to June 30, 2008. That gives consumers five more months to buy XP with new Windows PCs before being required to provide Vista.


The system-builder cut-off date for XP stays at 2009. Vendors selling XP Starter Edition on “ultra-low-cost” machines get a longer reprieve and can sell XP through 2010. And, in spite of the later cutover date for OEMs, nothing changes, in terms of how long Microsoft will support Windows Vista: Microsoft will provide mainstream support through 2012 and extended support through 2017.


Microsoft began paving the way for a longer Vista ramp-up in July, when it began simplifying the process by which its top-tier PC partners could downgrade Vista users to XP.


Microsoft officials insist Vista is selling well and the push back of the cutover deadline shouldn’t be interpreted as Microsoft lessening its commitment to Vista. The company will continue to spend its Windows marketing and support dollars on Vista, not XP.


“The one-year XP transition just turned out to be a little too ambitious,” acknowledged Kevin Kutz, a director in the Windows client unit. Traditionally, Microsoft has given OEMs two years to transition to a new operating system release, Kutz said.


Some industry watchers see the move as evidence of Microsoft is being responsive to customers and partners. Others see it as Microsoft going with the lesser of two evils by giving users not ready to move to Vista a choice other than defecting to Mac OSX or Linux. Even though Microsoft is likely making a few less dollars per copy of XP sold to OEMs than it makes on a copy of Vista, a Windows sale is still a Windows sale.


For my part, I can’t help but wonder if Vista finally and irrevocably pushed Windows into the same category as Microsoft Office, meaning that the cost and potential risks of upgrading have come to outweigh the benefit of new features in the eyes of many customers.


What’s your take? Did Microsoft make XP Service Pack (SP) 2 too good for its own good? Or is Vista just an off release that Microsoft should hurry up and replace — and definitely sooner than 2010, when it is slated to roll out Windows 7?


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September 16, 2007

Two-tier internet could damage future growth


Two-tier internet could damage future growth



Neon Kelly, Computing 13 Sep 2007



A ‘two-tier’ internet where content providers pay a premium to guarantee a speedy web site will damage the future growth of the web, according to search giant Google.


The net neutrality principle ­ which argues that everyone should have equal access to data on the internet ­ is the key to ensuring fair competition online, Google director of research Peter Norvig told Computing.


‘The net has grown far beyond the original perception bounds because it is open and because services can be launched without being fettered by higher-level control,’ said Norvig.

‘At Google, best price cialis we think it is good for competition to try to keep services this way, and that is what we are going to push for,’ he said.


The net neutrality debate is taking off in the US. Google is asking the communications regulator to ensure the winner of the current wireless spectrum auctions will act as a wholesaler, guaranteeing competition.


And last week the US Department of Justice entered the dispute with claims that network operators such as AT&T and Verizon should be allowed to charge contact providers for access to high-bandwidth services.


Increased regulation of internet traffic may be inevitable because of technological rather than regulatory limitations, according to the ISP Association (ISPA).


‘If there is not some form of traffic management by internet companies, then services such as video and voice could be degraded to a point where they are unusable,’ said an ISPA spokesman.


But while Google is concerned that restrictions could eat into its profits, developments are unlikely to infringe on the freedom of individuals surfing the web.


Norvig spoke at last week’s annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology.


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