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10/30 2006 | 01:37 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Firefox 2.0 is causing quite a stir these days. The browser has been downloaded more than two million times since it was officially released last week - and the debate is heating up about whether the upgrade is worth it or not.

In the shadows of this ruckus another Mozilla offspirng hatched a few days earlier: Songbird version 0.2, called the developer preview, was released a good week before Firefox 2.0. Songbird promises to be an extraordinary media player. Open Source, XUL-based, easily extendable, and with some unique networking features.

Some of these features are already included in the 0.2 release. But of course it's an early preview, mostly targeting developers, so one shouldn't expect CD burning capabilities or anything else too fancy. Early Firefox adopters might remember Phoenix. It's like that, but with music. And a better mascot.

A few weeks ago I had the chance to sit down with Songbird founder Rob Lord and chat with him about his plans for the Open Source player. He told me about his vision of the media web, Songbird's business model and the similarities and differences between Songbird and Firefox.
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10/27 2006 | 01:37 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Are video hosters like Youtube or Bolt.com really infringing copyrights? Universal seems to think so - but Tim Wu begs to differ in an article at Slate.com, where Wu reminds us of the Safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.

safe harbor

Want to know more about what constitues a safe harbor? EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann recently explained that very part of the DMCA that shields Youtube and Co. to his students at the UC Berkeley, and he was so nice to share the paper with the rest of us.

The photo by the way was taken by William Ward (CC) and shows another very safe harbor: The docks of Legoland Miniland.

(via the Pho List)

10/26 2006 | 03:55 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
A Michigan-based software and web developer has published a program that allows music fans to remove dirty words from songs to "protect the mind of a child". From the Safemusic website:

"It allows you with the ease of a point and click interface to remove explicit/unwanted words, lyrics, or sounds from any song or recorded sound."

safemusic

Safemusic also makes use of an internet database to allow user collaboration. Think of it as user-generated content censorship, if you will. The author of Safemusic lets us know why he felt Safemusic was necessary:

"There are some incredible songs out there that are sure to change the world or already have. Sometimes these songs can unfortunately contain one or two words that stop a child from listening to it or worse corrupting their mind."


I can only guess that he is thinking of Eric Idle's ode to the FCC. All dirty jokes aside, there is something really interesting about Safemusic that goes way beyond narrow-minded Midwesterners.

Safesound allows the collaborative editing of copyrighted works, much the same way that DVD editing software like Clearplay allows editing movies. Copyright expert turned expert chef Ernest Miller worte some very clever essays about the Clearplay and Cleanflicks controversy on LawMeme. Here's an excerpt:

"Imagine if Roger Ebert could provide downloadable commentaries for some of his favorite DVD movies - or if a comedy troupe provided an alternative, parodic soundtrack for a pretentious flop. And imagine if a film student produced annotations for Gone With The Wind that intercut images of what slavery on a plantation was really like as opposed to the romantic vision of the film. None of my imagings exist yet, but the technology for creating them does."

Ernie had a point in saying that censorship software could also be used to enhance creative works - quite possibly without violating any copyrights.

Think of the Grey Album: DJ Dangermouse remixed Beatles songs with Jay Z tracks. The result was pure copyright violation, and in fact some people got in trouble for sharing those MP3s. But one could imagine a mashup software and database solution that would allow creating the remix and then just sharing the metadata.

That way someone could use his own copies of the White and the Black Album plus some metadata files to recreate the Dangermouse remix without ever having to acquire illegal MP3s - just the way Safemusic users recreate censored versions of their favoured songs without ever downloading them.

(via Digg)

10/25 2006 | 05:14 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Now that didn't take long: Allofmp3's Music for Masses DRM apparently got hacked already. Music for Masses users can now convert their DRMed Allofmp3 downloads to unprotected MP3 files. The name of this hack? MusicForMe, of course.

Jordan Running from Downloadsquad reported the hack first:

"Now, given that AllOfMP3 is of questionable legality in the first place, using MusicForMe is undoubtedly all kinds of illegal, not to mention of entirely unknown origin and infested with who knows what, so under no circumstances do I recommend that you download it from this link. I did try it out myself, though--in the name of science, of course--and it seems to have worked flawlessly."


One of the Downloadsquad commenters had this to say about the inner workings of MusicForMe:

"This software doesn't "crack" the DRM per se, rather it simply dumps the MP3 files from memory after MusicForMasses has already decrypted it."

10/23 2006 | 03:44 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Germans love file sharing more than ever, according to a new study published today by the Leipzig-based Ipoque GmbH. In the daytime about 30 percent of the country's internet traffic is caused by P2P. At night this number goes up to a whopping 70 percent.

p2p protocols in germany

Ipoque believes that more than 90 percent of P2P traffic is caused by two protocols: Edonkey / Emule and Bittorrent. Gnutella only amounts for about two percent of the P2P traffic, and Kazaa is almost completely absent.

bittorrent use in germany

Bittorrent traffic is dominated by movie downloads, but Edonkey traffic seems to be a little more diverse - and naughty. From the Epoque press release:

"By looking at the number of shared files it becomes apparent, that small-volume content types such as e-books are massively shared, too. Music, movies, pornography and TV-series are the most often shared content types for BitTorrent. eDonkey's relative number of pornographic files is at 30% about twice as high as for BitTorrent."

Ipoque analyzed the traffic data of about 100 000 German households in October. Much like Cachelogic, the company hopes to boost sales of their traffic management solutions with this kind of research.

10/21 2006 | 06:18 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
i love P2P

Photo (cc): Manuel González Noriega. Taken in Oviedo, Spain.

(via Flickr)

10/20 2006 | 01:42 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The Guardian published an interview with Bittorrent's CEO Ashwin Navin yesterday. They don't exactly call him a pirate king, but a lot of the questions are going into the same, by now well-known territory. What about Napster? What about piracy? What about content protection?

Navin does however share a few more details about the history of the company and the ongoing negotiations with movie studies. He lets us know that they are "quite successful working with all the other studios" besides Warner. I guess that's all the big ones. Deals might not be announced until the launch of the new content delivery platform, which is scheduled for the end of this year.

My personal highlight from the interview is Navin speaking about commercializing Bittorrent:

"Well, let's just say that before I joined, Bram had a phenomenally successful T-shirt company. It took a certain amount of convincing to actually point him in the direction of a commercial entity."


10/19 2006 | 01:26 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Last.fm has done some experimental visualization of the music listening behaviour of it's team. Take team member Sideb0ard for example. His listening behaviour looks like this:

lastfm visualization

What does that mean, you ask? Well, according to Last.fm, it gives you answers to these questions:

"How frequently do you change your listening habits? How mainstream is your taste?"

Read the copmplete explanation on their website. Would be cool if they offered it for every user as a flash applet that actually showed the atist's names. Kind of like the Digg visualization tool, but for your personal music profile. Right now it's not too intuitive, but still kinda pretty.

(via Duke Listens!)

10/18 2006 | 01:27 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
There was a tiny little detail the folks from Mediaservices forgot to mention during their press conference yesterday. What's that, you ask? Well, only that Allofmp3.com is starting to offer their entire catalogue for free.
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10/17 2006 | 11:56 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Allofmp3.com held it's first online press conference today, catering to 59 journalists from 11 timezones. Bloggers were not invited, but being a journalist by trade I did manage to get my foot in the door, as did Tom Mennecke from Slyck.

The whole setup was a little bit reminiscent to an early nineties web-based text chat. But I guesss it made more sense than a phone conference, since Allofmp3s questions were translated to and then answered by Vadim Mamotin, who was introduced to us as Director General of Allofmp3's parent company Mediaservices.ru.

Allofmp3 stated that the press conference was in direct response to recent remarks of US trade representative Susan Schwab. From the chat conference:

"The company has been unfairly characterized as a pirate website. Nothing could be further from the truth. AllofMP3 is a legitimate business that is incorporated in Russia, pays taxes in Russia and pays royalties to the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society (ROMS)."

Which, of course, is what they have been saying for a long time. A lot of the statements made during the conference weren't new, and they refused to go into specifics about many things. No revenue numbers for example. Many answers also echoed the sentiment that western rights holders could get their money if they would only start a business relationship with the colletive rights management society ROMS or with Allofmp3 directly. Which they will do eventually, if you believe Mediaservices:

"We operate under Russian law, we pay taxes in Russia and we pay royalties to ROMS, the official licensing agent in Russia. ROMS has offered to pay the record companies the royalties they collected but been rebuffed. Clearly, the recording industry is trying to gain additional leverage before entering in to direct negotiations with either us or ROMS."


There were a few more interesting tidbits tho. First of all, Hollywood can relax. Allofmp3 is not thinking about offering video, or any onher digital products beside music for that matter. Allofmp3 gave also a bit of insight into the inner workings of the company. They told us they have a small team of engineers that does most of the work on the site - including the development of the online encoding process, for which Allofmp3 claims to own patents.

Allofmp3 didn't go into much details about the recent changes in Russia's copyright law. They acknowledged that authors can now exclude their works from collective licensing - but said that none of them have done so yet. Maybe because there is no easy way to opt out and no information about this process on the Allofmp3 website.

They also didn't completely rule out using DRM in the future, but don't seem to have any immediate plans to abandon the MP3 format either.

Speaking of future: Allofmp3 seems to evision dealing with artists directly in the future as record labels are becoming less and less important. Their own philosophy of the music business reads like this:

"Let's start with the fact that the record companies have little regard for the majority of musicians. They are concerned with making money for themselves, not the artists. In our opinion, we and the artists would be better off dealing directly with each other. In fact, we believe that is the future of the music industry. We think labels will fade, not disappear but fade, and that artists will have much greater freedom to actually control their work, which they don't the minute they sign their contract.
"

Artists will have more freedom, record companies will fade away. So I guess there is only one question left. Will Allofmp3 get to see this promised land, or will they be shut down in the months to come?

"Of course, we will survive. The music industry is rapidly changing and we will change with it."

10/16 2006 | 02:34 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The debate whether there is a difference between streams and downloads is as old as ... well, streams and downloads, I guess.

One side tends to argue that streams are equivalent to radio transmission whereas downloads equal record sales. Or lost record sales, if you will. The other side counters that bits are bits and that streaming or downloading are merely two different ways to use the same type of data.

And then there are the kids on Myspace. They couldn't care less about such debates - and just fish around in their browser cache directories for the MP3s their computer just downloaded while streaming some Eminem track.

(via Digg)

10/15 2006 | 03:09 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Techcrunch linked to Janus Friis' blog today, where the Kazaaa and Skype cofounder just wrote a few mysterious lines about his new venture, the Venice Project.

Friis apparently started blogging in July - if you call publishing headshots blogging. Anyway, he seems to enjoy the the whole thing so far. In his own words:

"I blog because I can… I have been wanting to for a long time. Meanwhile my life — like most entrepreneurs’ — has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Well, it still is, but now blogging is part of the ride. I see blogging as a chance to speak my part directly without interpretation from anyone."

This isn't the first time for Friis to try himself at blogging, tho. He set up a blog at Janus.tv in early 2003. Which in retrospect is quite a telling domain by the way. But just when things started to become interesting he stopped posting and erased all traces.

I wonder why he didn't feel like speaking his part directly back then? Oh yeah, right.

10/13 2006 | 04:45 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I know, I know. Alexa stats are guesstimates at best. Still, it's the only measurement publicly available, so people will continue to play around with Alexa and it's illegitimate cousin Alexaholic. Today I asked the Alexaholic oracle about Digg, Netscape.com and Reddit - and the result was quite interesting.

It seems like that Netscape.com is continuing to lose ground and traffic. Not only to Digg, but also to Reddit. Take a look for yourself:


Digg vs Netscape vs Reddit

Note how Netscape.com (red) is spiking when they introduced the collaborative filtering model in June - only to be set off by a much higher spike when Digg introduced new categories a few days later.

Reddit on the other hand is growing slow but steady and might be able to pass Netscape soon. The site has been getting almost as many pageviews (amongst Alexa toolbar users) as Netscape for the last few weeks:

Netscape vs. Reddit

The one thing that I don't understand is the big slump in Digg traffic in the beginning of September. It's somewhat mirrored in the Reddit numbers, but the Netscape curve is much smoother. Maybe it's back to school - and Netscape users are just older than the people who frequent Digg and Reddit?

10/13 2006 | 02:32 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
It's that time fo the year again - and no, I don't mean the christmas shwag creeping into department stores prematurely. Creative Commons is doing it's annual fundraiser, and I would urge you to consider contributing.

Support The Commons
I myself have profited a lot from Creative Commons so far. Not only do I have two blogs that are CC licensed, but I also published my book as a free download under a CC license the day the German licenses came out two years ago.

The book has since been downloaded some ten thousand times. I really don't know the exact number because we did a bad job of tracking downloads in the beginning. I do know however that negotiating a free PDF download with my publisher without the Creative Commons licensing framework would have been much harder, if not impossible.

10/12 2006 | 08:01 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Starfrosch is a relatively successful Swiss podcast for Creative Commons licensed / netlabel music.

Now the Starfrosch team has started a new project: Brit. Brit. Britney. is a collaborative music platform that allows Digg-like posting and filtering of net music. Nice.

(Via Netzpolitik.org)

10/11 2006 | 06:05 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Paidcontent published an "interview with the pirate king" today, the king being Bittorrent CEO Ashwin Navin. In the text writer Jeremia Kiss reported that Bittorrent is employing 32 people now and that their new content distribution platform will launch at the end of the year.

One detail Kiss mentioned was previously unreported tho. From the text:

"There will be plenty of changes to improve the user experience and the new service will no longer be open source."

This caused a bit of a stir in the P2P world, with P2Pnet rumbling about "BT's relegation to the dark realm of closed systems". It's also a bit surprising because much of the success of Bittorrent is based on it's Open Source license, which allowed software deveopers from Azureus to Opera to develop their own clients.

P2P Blog asked Bittorrent Inc. for a clarification, and the company's Director of Communications Lily Lin replied:

"We are committed to maintaining an open-source reference implementation of BitTorrent. That hasn't changed. To power our new retail marketplace and for other technology implementations, there will be an enhanced, closed-source version of the BitTorrent client."


This certainly makes more sense than going closed source completely. One can assume that the "technology implementations" have to do with the previously announced cooperation with Cachelogic, allowing Bittorrent to maintain localized superseeds of licensed / commercial content.

It's hard to tell yet which, if any, effect the development of an improved but closed source client will have on Bittorrent's client market share. But it's probably safe to say that it won't help to improve the already strained relations between Bittorrent and other vendors.
10/11 2006 | 03:23 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Well-known spyware expert Ben Edelman has been doing some research on fraudulent Google Adsense ads lately. This is obviously a big problem in the P2P space as well. Many websites promise people access to programs like Edonkey or Kazaa and then charge them bogus membership dues just to forward them to worthless download sites.

Edelman thinks there is some serious money being made with such frauds. From his website:

"In January I estimated that Google and Yahoo make $2 million per year on ads for "screensavers" that ultimately give users spyware. Add in all the other terms with dubious ads -- all the ringtone ads, the for-free software downloads, ads making false statements of product origin, and various other scams -- and I wouldn't be surprised if the payments at issue total one to two orders of magnitude higher."

He believes Google should react by screening ads that promise free goods and services. But Edelman doesn't want to rely on singular complaints. He started a registry that allows anyone to submit and review rogue ads.

It's obvious that this problem is not only afffecting Google, but also other ad services. But that can't be an excuse for Google, says Edelman.

"As the largest search engine, and as a self-proclaimed leader on ethics issues, I look to Google first and foremost for leadership and improvement."

(via Crunchgear)

10/10 2006 | 02:25 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
While everyone is talking about the Youtube sale, one should note that the site's growing list of arrangements with record labels and TV networks is interesting as well.

Ars Technica even calls yesterday's announcements "a watershed moment", and quotes Anne Sweeney from ABC with the words:

"So we understand piracy now as a business model. It exists to serve a need in the marketplace specifically for consumers who want TV content on demand and it competes for consumers the same way we do, through high-quality, price and availability."

Looks like the TV networks might be leapfrogging the music business after all.

10/10 2006 | 12:50 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Kazaa, Skype and Venice project cofounder Niklas Zennstrom may have paid for his file sharing past, but he still thinks Kazaa was a good idea.

The International Herald Tribune quotes him with the following words:

"Kazaa came five years too early, but without that and Napster we would never have seen the transformation we're seeing in the music industry."

I'm the last person to dispute that file sharing systems have advanced digital media distribution. But five years to early? Really?

10/09 2006 | 01:33 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Anyone who ever had a hard disk failure knows: Digital archiving is tough. Of course you promise yourself to do regular backups. Maybe you even have a complicated system in place that secures all your files every day. But when Murphy strikes, chances are that all of this won't help you and you'll end up with some digital memory loss.

Losing files sucks - but at least you're not the only one that struggles with this problem. Libraries, broadcasters and other types of archivivists increasingly fight an uphill battle anaginst data loss. Some even preseve technology itself in order to presevere data, as the LA Times reported recently:

"The difficulty and cost of the process prompted WGBH, Boston's public broadcasting television station, to hedge its bets. It purchased 6-foot-tall, 1960s-era video recorders and shrink-wrapped them in cold storage to ensure a way to play back a unique collection of Boston Symphony concerts from 1955 and an interview series hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt, featuring such luminaries as then-Sen. John F. Kennedy."

US libraries now started using P2P technology for digital archiving. Some researchers at the Stanford University developed a system called LOCKSS - an acronym that pretty much explains it all: "Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe"

LOCKSS essentially works as a web proxy and distrubuted archive for scientific journals that are published online. Once a user of a library computer that has LOCKSS installed accesses a participating journal, the content is stored locally and then distributed over the LOCKSS network.

Interesting about this process is that LOCKSS uses some kind of quality control. The different machines of the network compare their version of a document and then vote on the integrity of the archived material. Incomplete or damaged copies are then replaced by the version that is voted best.

This picture from the LOCKSS website illustrates this process:

LOCKSS quality control

Obviously LOCKSS has tpo deal with copyright issues. Digital versions of scientific magazines are oftentimes very expensive, and most pulishers wouldn't be too happy about a free distributed archive of their content. LOCKSS ues the original login mechanisms of the publishers to deal with these aspects.

However, makers of LOCKSS also prepare for a time when publishers might not be available to grant access to their content. They are in the early stages of building a much bigger archive called CLOCKSS, that would be free to everyone under certain circumstances. From the website:

"Content archived in CLOCKSS nodes will be made available following a “trigger event” that could result in long-term disruption of availability from the publisher. Upon such a trigger event, the publishers and librarians decide collaboratively whether stored materials should be made available for a limited or an indefinite period. Materials, when available, will be available to all."


The idea apparently is to build a dark archive that will only be made available once the original archives are destroyed or inaccessible due to natural disasters - kind of like a last-resort P2P network.

10/06 2006 | 07:29 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
My colleague Mario Sixtus started a great German video blog called Elektrischer Reporter (electric reporter) a few weeks ago. This week's edition features an interview with The Scene author and director Mitchell Reichgut, who talks a little bit about the origins of the show, various conspiracy theories, the second season of The Scene and his vision for the future of TV.

Fortunately the interview is not dubbed but just subtitled, so it's great for an English speaking audience interested in the subject as well. Fast forward to 1:50 if you just want to watch the interview - or enjoy the whole show, complete with black-and-white retro futurism and a charismatic anchor speaking in weird tongues. German, that is.

Elektrischer Reporter is available on Youtube for streaming as well as downloadable in various video formats on the show's website.

10/06 2006 | 01:53 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The collaborative CD database FreeDB has been bought by the German software maker Magix. From the FreeDB website:

"The decision in favour of MAGIX has given us a new prospect of further development, offered a congenial and comfortable atmosphere during difficult negotiations, and provided the newly implemented hardware with generous capacities."

FreeDB was in a bit of a shakeup this summer when most of the developers left due to disagreements over the future of the service. Now Magix vows to continue the development of the database under the terms of the GPL.

Magix is well known in Germany. Initally the company didn't have the best reputation because of many cheap music programs that targeted the teen market. Magix has diversified substantially during the last couple of years tho and now also owns and markets professional audio software like Samplitude.

The acquisition definitely makes sense for Magix. It saves them licensing costs for Gracenote, and at the same time there is a possibility of advancing quality control at FreeDB. We'll see how this will affect Gracenote, Musicbrainz and the FreeDB2 project.

(via /.)

10/05 2006 | 12:05 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Om Malik did an interesting interview with Skype and Kazaa co-founder Janus Friis about his and his partners new venture The Venice Project. Essentially the Venice Project will be P2P-based TV streaming. Here's what Friis has to say about the way the project uses P2P technology:

"Kazaa and Skype were based on a piece of technology called the “Global Index.” Skype basically built a communication layer on top of that. That technology has evolved since then, and the Venice Project, is built on that global index and we have developed a P2P video streaming layer on top of that core technology."

My understanding has alwys been that Global Index is Skype's flavor of a DHT overlay network, and I wasn't aware that this was ever completely introduced into the Fasttrack network. Not that this would matter too much anymore, of course.

10/02 2006 | 12:20 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Gigaom has an intersting story today about Jon Johansen's new company Doubletwist Ventures. The company is working on reverse engineering proprietary rights management technologies as well as social networking applications.

One of the first products will apparently be some sort of emulation for Apple's Fairplay DRM system. Customers will be able to use Fairplay without licensing it from Apple - which is good for them, because Apple is known for not letting any other children play in its own walled garden.

The real goal for this seems to be movies, not music. From Gigaom:

"(Johansen) and Farantzos were giddy about the prospect of Apple’s iTV, hoping companies will pay up to get movies on the set-top box when it comes out, after seeing the ill effects of being shut off the iPod."

Oh, and they already have one so far anonymous customer - so expect some results soon.