Archives

You are currently viewing archive for March 2007
03/28 2007 | 09:45 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) held its 16th annual Pioneer Awards Ceremony yesterday in San Diego, with a special treat for all those tired attendees of the Emerging Technology Conference who had been listening to keynotes and presentations all day: Internet billionaire Mark Cuban debated EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann on the legality of YouTube. Continue reading at Newteevee.com.

03/27 2007 | 01:58 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I went down to San Diego today for the sixth annual O'Reilly Emerging Techology Conference. I think it's actually the fourth time I'm attending, and it looks like they have some interesting presentations in store once again.

I won't do much live-blogging - others are much better at that, and I'm fairly busy covering the event for the German IT news website heise.de already. But if you're around and feel like talking about P2P technology, or maybe even showing off some of your projects - by all means drop me a note.

Tags: ,
AddThis Social Bookmark Button


03/25 2007 | 02:14 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Mac fans rejoiced when Apple TV finally hit the shelves this week. Their happiness was shared by a growing number of third-party software vendors whose business models are almost as interesting as their products are colorful.

Want to watch your DivX downloads on your Apple TV? Just get one of the many Apple TV converter solutions. How about YouTube videos? There are online platforms that help you with that as well, complete with RSS syndication no less. And what if you’re a Wii gamer who doesn’t want to spend 300 bucks for yet another white box?

Don’t worry, someone out there is working on a Zelda-themed media center solution as we speak. Welcome to the new online video cottage industry. Continue reading at Newteevee.com.

03/23 2007 | 01:41 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The German Electro / EBM label Dependent Records recently declared that they will go out of business by this summer. Label cofounder Stefan Herwig published a long text about the reasons for giving up, which now got translated into English by one of their acts. It has Herwig saying:

"Money was always tight, and in the future it's only going to get tighter, because even if we were to continue to produce quality CDs, the rate with which they will be purchased legally will continue to decline. Each album released would represent an ever-increasing financial risk."

He points out that a Russian MP3 site recently distributed 5000 downloads of one of their releases in one week while the label only sold about one fith of this in physical discs. Herwig continues:

"A popular claim often seen on Internet maintains that the P2P culture weakens the majors and bolsters the independent labels. This is, we can assure you, 100% bullshit. Even if there are listeners who download first and buy later, they are clearly in the dwindling minority."

The text is a worthwhile reminder that issues like the recent 20 percent downturn in physical disc sales affect everyone in the music industry, not just the major labels. And just like the majors, everyone else is struggling to find answers to these challenges as well. Unfortunately Herwig looks at all the wrong places for a solution:

"It is actually the job of the (German) federal government to insure that musicians and record labels have a platform on which to operate. That platform is known as intellectual property law. (...) After multiple attempts, the federal government has so far failed to modify the 30 year old intellectual property law to insure that it offers those working in today's music industry a reasonable way to make a living. If the law provided even a glimmer of hope that the situation for labels and musicians would improve, then we would keep on fighting. But the outlook for the next few years is bleak."

It seems like a very European notion to assume the government ought to fix your problems - and give up if they can't. Unfortunately the very same notion exists on the other side of the debate as well. European proponents of alternative compensation models regularly invoke ideas of government-regulated taxation, whereas their US counterparts tend to propose voluntary licensing without government intervention.

Both seems far-fetched if you look at the realities of the monolithic market today. But maybe people wouldn't give up if they saw a chance of being eventually able to help themselves, instead of losing fate in relying on the help of others?

03/21 2007 | 07:36 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
I installed a new comment spam plugin the other day, and I was pretty happy with the results. No more spam! Made me feel like Dvorak - until I noticed that I didn't get any legitimate comments anymore, either. Apparently the plugin solved the spam problem by making it impossible to leave any comments at all. Oups.

I've changed plugins, so commenting should be possible again. Feel free to send me a message if your comment happens to dispappear in anti-spam nirvana.

Also: I have two more Joost invites that I have to use up within the next 16 or so hours. Want one? Just drop me a message as well.

Update: The invites are all gone.


03/21 2007 | 01:50 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The US government is secretly mixing chemicals into the water supply that are supposed to make us immune against chemical weapons. What sounds like another crazy conspiracy theory is actually - no, not the truth, but part of an underground marketing campaign for the upcoming Nine Inch Nails (NIN) album Year Zero.

parepin
(Screenshot snippet of the campaign website iamtryingtobelieve.com)

The album is promoted with what viral marketing experts call an Alternative Reality Game. Think of it as an internet-based game of paper-chase, with obscure web sites, answering machines and clues on NIN tour t-shirts all being part of a giant, mysterious puzzle.

NIN fans and Alternative Reality Games players alike have been forming global, spontaneous collaborations to figure out what the game really is about. They have been exchanging clues on literally thousands of message board postings. They have been scouring the bathrooms of clubs hosting NIN gigs after mysterious flash drives started appearing, containing MP3s from the upcoming album along with additional clues. And they have been swapping these MP3s online after they discovered that some of the audio files contain hidden messages themselves.

A German blogger by the name of Christoph Boecken wanted to take part in the game as well. He didn't want to get accused of spreading unauthorized MP3s though, which is why he posted a Flash player on his blog that allowed streaming, but not downloading one of the songs.

A few days later Boecken received a letter from a well-known German law firm that handles piracy cases for NIN's label Universal Music, accusing him of copyright infringement. The letter didn't only demand him taking down the MP3 file in question, but also paying 500 Euro (about 675 USD) to cover the expenses for sending this letter. Invoices like this are regularly part of cease and desist letters in Germany.

Boecken felt betrayed by Universal. After all, he had helped them with their marketing - and now he was supposed to pay for his efforts? He wrote a couple of frustrated rants on his blog, but eventually decided to pay the money because hiring a lawyer and dragging out the case could have been much more expensive.

By last week a growing number of German bloggers became aware of his case. They started spreading the word, writing emails to Universal and calling up the label in person. Finally they must have gotten through to someone who realized that lawyers aren't supposed to be part of your marketing. Universal Germany got in touch with Boecken over the weekend. They apologized to him, promised to pay back his expenses and give him a chance to meet the Nine Inch Nails backstage.

Ende gut, alles gut, as they say in Germany. A happy end for everyone. Universal Germany definitely made up for it's mistakes, and Boecken made peace with a band that he - while still being a big fan - started to have mixed feelings about.

But unfortunately this isn't the end of the story. It looks like the efforts to clear the blogosphere from NIN MP3s may have been internationally coordinated. The music and entertainment gossip blog Idolator got an email from the RIAA, demanding to take down one of the virally marketed NIN MP3s, just about at the same time when Boecken got his costly C&D letter. Idolator didn't have to pay up, but they were pissed nonetheless:

"Are they just working at cross-purposes with Nine Inch Nails' marketing consultants, or is this whole scheme yet another attempt to simultaneously make music bloggers look dumb and exploit their ability to get songs "out there"? We're sort of disgusted either way, which means that everyone loses."

Of course there is another explanation for this whole mess: Alternative Reality Games tend to be surrounded by secrecy. Companies regularly don't disclose their involvement to participating players out of the fear of spoiling the game. Maybe in this case they should have at least told the RIAA.



03/20 2007 | 09:04 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Liz over at Newteevee is reporting that Bram Cohen used his keynote at the VON New Video Summit to diss Joost. Newteevee quotes him saying:

"Joost is kind of a quirky thing, it’s fundamentally based on the channels concept, which, like I’ve said, is kind of an old media way of doing things…"

Bittorrent VP Eric Patterson on the other hand seems to like the old media ways of doing things. Patterson announced that Bitorrent will start to distribute ad-supported TV content in a couple of months, according to Mediapost.com, who has him saying:

"We see us moving to an advertising-supported model at the end of the year so people can consume TV shows in the same way they consume programs on television."

Finally, Cohen also bashed Windows Media DRM, according to Informationweek, who quotes him with the following:

"We are using Windows DRM because it is the only solution that has been vetted widely, but we are not happy with how it affects playback from a technology point of view. It sometimes makes playback not work."

Of course that's not too good from a consumer point of view either - especially considering the fact that some users might experience playback problems with about 25 percent of their catalogue. But I guess that's just the new media way of doing things.

03/20 2007 | 02:37 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Allofmp3.com still hasn't shut down - but it isn't exactly getting easier for rogue Russian MP3 sites either. The French collective licensing bodies SACEM and SDRM have sued Allofmp3 and MP3Sugar.com, demanding an end of their business operations and the payment of damages for the unauthorized use of French musicians' works.

Guess the Allofmp3 team won't travel to France anytime soon. Of course they don't have a lot of money for travel expenses these days anyway: Visa and Mastercard stopped processing payments for the website last year.

Now one of the last remaining payment operators for Allofmp3 and Alltunes threatens to cut off the sites as well. CNews.ru is reporting that Chronopay plans to cease business releations with any website that is licensed by the controversial Russian collective licensing society ROMS.ru by April 1st.

But the case doesn't seem to be too clear cut: Chronopay will continue to work with sites that are signed up with ROMS competitor FAIR - a similiar licensing body that licenses collective rights for MP3 downloads - rights that aren't theirs to sell in the first place, according to record companies. From the aricle:

'“FAIR is not any better in this case than ROMS”, said Sergei Bobza, Deputy Director on procedural and institutional questions of the Stile-Records company. “We are not content with the fact somebody is defending our rights without our permission. The recent move to disconnect sites not having FAIR licenses is just an attempt to restructure the market.”'


Still, it could be dangerous for Allofmp3.com. Right now Chronopay is the only payment operator still working with Allomp3 affiliate Alltunes.com - a site that is supposedly licensed by ROMS.ru. Cutting this off woud take away the last remaining payment option for Allofmp3.com music downloads.



03/16 2007 | 02:33 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The German c't magazine recently published an interesting article about a local company called Promedia which is at the center stage of the German lawsuits against file sharers.

Promedia's founder Clemens Rasch used to be the head counsel for the German IFPI branch. He left the industry association in 2003 to start his own law firm, which coincidentally also handles the lawsuits against P2P users for which Promedia is providing the IP addresses. It's a family affair.

The c't article contains some interesting details about the inner workings of Promedia that help to understand differences to US-based companies like BayTSP. US companies reportedly make heavy use of automated scanning of P2P networks - a process that has been know for producing somewhat embarrassing errors every now and then.

Promedia seems to prefer German Gruendlichkeit to automation. They employ 86 people to manually search for file sharing sinners. 30 additional P2P PIs work for the company on a freelance basis. That makes a total of almost 120 people scanning networks like Fasttrack / Kazaa and Soulseek for infringing MP3s.

According to c't, the results of this efforts are 150 to 200 prospective lawsuits per day. This means that a typical Promedia employee spends almost a whole work day of eight hours to catch just a single file sharer and document the evidence necessary for a lawsuit.

The evidence gathered by the company has led to 3500 out of court settlements and 50 judgements against file sharers. 15.000 cases are still pending. Promedia prides itself on not having erred once, meaning that there haven't been any documented mistakes in terms of the recorded IP address. But of course that's easy to say if you are on the right side of the seesaw: Just as in the US, settling is the only option for many people because fighting a lawsuit would takes substantial financial means.

There is another parallel to the United States: Promedia's work seems to have fairly little effect on file sharing overall. P2P still accounts for 50 to 80 percent of all internet traffic in Germany.

03/14 2007 | 10:49 AM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Yahoo’s Pipes platform has been generating lots of buzz in the blogosphere since it launched a few weeks ago. But after the initial excitement waned, people inevitably started asking: What can you actually do with it?

Discover tons of online video content, for one thing. Yahoo calls Pipes “an interactive feed aggregator and manipulator.” And since RSS feeds are starting to play a bigger and bigger role in online video, it’s only natural that some folks would use Pipes to develop video mashups that combine YouTube with music playlists help to automatize BitTorrent downloads.

Here’s a list of the ten of the most useful video mashups to date. Continue reading at Newteevee.com.

03/12 2007 | 02:32 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The 463 blog found an awesome gem from a recent House sub-committee hearing about the future of radio. Congressman Mike Doyle apparently used the hearing to give his fellow house members a lesson in music, mashups and copyright. 463 is quoting Doyle with the following words:

"Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. (...)

The same cannot be said for Atlanta-based, hop-hop, mix-tape king DJ Drama. Mix-tapes, actually made on CDs, are sold at Best Buys and local record shops across the country and they are seen as crucial in making or breaking new acts in hip-hop. But even though artists on major labels are paying DJ Drama to get their next mixed-tape, the major record labels are leading raids and sending people like him to jail."

(via Pho)

03/07 2007 | 01:14 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Bittorrent president Ashwin Navin made some headlines last year when he came out against DRM, telling IDG News Service that "DRM is bad for the content provider and it's bad for the consumer".

Last week Navin's company was back in the headlines for opening their own download store, selling DRM-protected movie and TV show downloads. In what seems like an odd twist of faith Navin can now experience first hand that DRM isn't too great for platform operators either, since Bittorrent.com has run into some major problems with their own copy protection scheme.

bittorrent.com

The first time I got aware of these problems was early last week when I tested the Bittorent.com download store. I downloaded an episode of the FX show 30 Days, which sells for 1.99 USD per episode. My Windows Media Player had no problems acquiring the license for the episode. But when I tried to play the show the screen stayed black, and a generic error message directed me to an even more generic Microsoft.com page.

First I thought something was wrong with my test system. It's a slightly older notebook after all, even though it still passes the Bittorrent.com system requirements. But then I read that other folks were struggling with the very same issues - and I got curious. Finally I found a possible explanation in the Bittorrent.com support section:

"The reason for this is an issue with Windows DRM, the rights management tool BitTorrent uses to authorize your viewing of the file you downloaded. Some of our content (like those from Fox and MGM for example) has tighter playback restrictions than others. In this case it is seeing your display settings as not allowed by the license."


The site goes on by saying that this is an issue that can be solved by updating your graphics driver:

"If you have older video drivers (pre-July 2005) and are using a laptop and/or a VGA output device there is a chance Windows Media Player will think there is something wrong."

So the obvious solution would be to do a system update and just get going, right? Well, if it only was that easy. First you have to figure out the release date of the driver you are using, and then you'll have to manually find a newer version:

"The Update Driver button in the window is unlikely to do this properly. You should go to your computer manufacturer's web site to download the latest drivers, or to the site of your video adaptor manufacturer."


Looks like watching a TV show on your computer just got really, really complicated. Especially in my case, since I'm using a four year old Sony notebook for all my Windows needs - and Sony lists the newest video driver being from 2003. Chipset manufacturer ATI apparently doesn't even remember they ever made such a chip. Seems like I'm out of luck.

Or am I? Just when I'm about to give up an email from Bittorrent's support folks comes in. They suggest to use some third party tool to modify and install ATI's drivers. Sounds adventurous, but it's supposed to work. Says the support guy whoose name I won't mention here:

"I had the same issue you had and used this tool to update my laptop's graphics card."

You know your download shop is in deep trouble when even your own support folks can't play your movies because of flawed DRM. And trouble it is for Bittorrent.com. The website confirms that content from Fox and MGM is affected, but some test reports also mention problems with rentals from Paramount. (Note: I've been trying to get an official response about this from Bittorrent for a week now. I've been told that they are still working on the issue, and I'll update this post as soon as their response comes in.)

Judging from a quick tally of the site's catalogue this means that some 800 titles may cause major playback problems for anyone who happens to own a notebook with a graphics driver that is more than 20 months old. That's about 25 percent of their total video catalogue.

But there is an upside, too. All of this will soon be over - at least if we believe Aswin Navin. Bittorrent's president wrote in his blog last year that we'll soon see the dawn of a new, DRM-free era. Maybe we should just wait things out until then and get our TV shows via The Pirate Bay Tivo like we used to. At least then we won't have waste our time with complicated driver updates.


03/03 2007 | 02:40 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
Bittorrent downloads are either illegal or DRM-infected, right? Wrong. There are plenty of websites out there that offer free and legal Torrent downloads to save bandwidth and make file sharers happy at the same time. Continue reading at Newteevee.com.


Update: Apparently lots of people liked the story and in turn promoted it onto the front pages of Digg and Del.icio.us today. Thanks!

I especially enjoyed this comment of a Del.icio.us user: "Classic linkbait title, but it's a good reference for some interesting downloads." Also interesting: The article pushed Legaltorrents.com back onto the Del.icio.us front page ...
03/02 2007 | 08:25 PM
Posted by: Janko Roettgers
The music industry's new campaign to scare students away from P2P networks while at the same time minimizing their own legal costs has been getting lots of press this week.

p2plawsuits settlement procedure

Essentially the industry is sending letters to universities that these are supposed to forward to the alleged infringers. These letters announce plans for a lawsuit and then offer a pre-lawsuit settlement, complete with an e-commerce like website that makes settling such matters as easy as shopping on Ebay. The Consumerist blog features the letter in question as a PDF download.

I took a look at the settlement website today and stumbled upon a rather odd entry in the FAQ:

"If the record companies negotiated a settlement with the P2P service I used, can they still sue me?

Yes. You are still responsible for your actions and the harm that you have caused."


There have been quite a few P2P companies that have settled their lawsuits. iMesh, Bearshare and Grokster come to mind. But in all of these cases the settlement involved switching to a licensed P2P model that involves content filtering, like the one in place for users of the new iMesh service.

So why would the industry want to sue users of these supposedly legal services? Maybe because no filters are perfect. iMesh is still part of the Gnutella network, and there is a high likelyhood that the copyright cops of the music industry will sooner or later find an iMesh user sharing unlicensed MP3s that made it through the filter.

P2Plawsuits.com makes it clear that such a user won't necessarily be spared, even if he thought what he did was completely legal - after all, he was using a program that had the blessings of the music industry. From the website:

"Does it matter that I did not know my activity was illegal?

Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. But it is also important to note that the music community has for years undertaken vigorous educational efforts to inform people about the laws."