RIAA Wants U.S. ISPs to Offer Discounted Settlements to Alleged P2P Users

  Text of RIAA Letter to ISPs (February 2007)
Following the receipt of applicable subpoenas, U.S. ISPs currently provide the RIAA with personally identifying information about alleged P2P users with sufficient detail to bring legal proceedings against them.

The Recording Industry vs The People has obtained the letter linked-to above allegedly used by the RIAA in an attempt to obtain further voluntary assistance from ISPs. The RIAA is asking ISPs to retain  log files for at least 180 days and to send out letters to users offering $1,000 settlement discounts if alleged infringers settle before the RIAA has to initiate costly court proceedings. 

Dale's Comment: One wonders why U.S. ISPs would comply with such a request given that they fought (and won) at least one court case in the past where the RIAA sought to compel their assistance without subpoenas. Such voluntary assistance would certainly assist the RIAA. 

Source: Recording Industry vs The People |Ars Technica | TechDirt | Wired | P2PNet | Digital Citizen

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Steve Jobs Calls for the End of DRM for Online Music Sales

Steve Jobs has posted an open letter entitled "Thoughts on Music" on the Apple website and, in doing so, joins Yahoo! Music in calling upon the major record labels to abandon DRM for online music sales. He rightly points out that while 90% of music sales are on CD's without DRM, the growth of online music sales is inhibited by the saddling of electronically distributes music with consumer unfriendly DRM. In his open letter Steve discusses the status quo, the problems associated with licensing its "FairPlay" DRM system and, ultimately, concludes that DRM-free music sales is the best way forward.

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

Continue reading “Steve Jobs Calls for the End of DRM for Online Music Sales”

Steve Gibson’s Intertwined History of Copyright and Media-related Technologies

  Podcast Episode 73 Transcript
Episode 73 of Steve Gibson's Security Now podcast with Leo LaPorte has a terrific primer on the intertwined history of advancements in technology making it easier for consumers to copy content, fair use, the lobbying efforts by the content industry that resulted in U.S. copyright law amendments up to and including the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty, the DMCA implementing the treaty, and the detrimental effects these new laws have on consumer fair use rights.

  Click here to listen to Episode 73 of the Security Now podcast. (This will download an 8.0 MB MP3 file that your default media player should load and play). For a higher quality version of this podcast click here (32 MB).

Wired Article: Signs Music Industry May be Abandoning DRM

This Wired article, discusses the following list of reasons why the major music labels may abandon DRM in favour or water-marked MP3 Distribution:

  1. The label's don't have a choice;
  2. Apple might be forced into interoperability;
  3. Thomson has endorsed selling watermarked MP3s;
  4. Amazon is rumored to start selling MP3s by April;
  5. Sony: "DRMs are going to become less important";
  6. People love AllofMP3.com; and
  7. MP3 has future options.

Dale's Comment: There have been countless articles on this topic over the last few weeks. This Wired article is as good as any other. It presents a nice summary of the reasons why the major labels may abandon  DRM in favor of MP3 music distribution. This article falls into the category of "I'll believe it when I see it", but I do see it as an inevitability. I just don't see it happening as quickly as the recent optimistic bloggers do. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

Source: Wired News

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Variety: Xbox 360 Video Marketplace Succeeding

For  years I have called for video-download services to be provided directly to a TV-connected consumer electronics product such as the Xbox, TiVo or PS3. This Variety article discusses how the Xbox 360's new Internet-based video-on-demand service is having relative success (where others have failed) due to its available HD content and its direct connection to the TV.

The relative success of video downloads on Microsoft's Xbox Live and disappointment of Amazon.com's Unbox point to two factors that differentiate Xbox from Amazon and its many other competitors — consumers who download a movie want a simple way to watch it on their TV, and those with high-def TVs want high-def content.

A primary reason for its success lies also in the fact that DRM is not a relevant consideration for most users when the content is delivered directly to the display unit of choice. iVOD services to PCs have largely failed because most people do not want to watch TV and movies on their computers. And the DRM used by most of those services preclude users from copying the movie onto a DVD for playback where they want to watch them – in the living room. 

FYI: Joystiq has a pretty good preview of the system here including a YouTube demo. Note that the demo was done early-on. As I understand it the slow-downloads and other glitches experienced in the early days have been resolved.

Sources: Variety | Joystiq | XBox 360 Fanboy

Ars Technica: Why Piracy is More Common than Legal Video Downloads

Ars Technica: Why Piracy is More Common than Legal Video Downloads

Warez.com: Piracy, the clear choice for 2006 

Dale's Comment: Each of these articles make the same essential point. Piracy of video content is pervasive because it provides consumers with a product they want – a vast selection of high quality content, meeting the tastes of both the masses and the long tail – with the ability to use/view the content on any device and with any software/service of their choosing. Something the TV and movie-industries fail to provide to the very consumers eager to purchase it from them – if only it was conveniently available at fair prices and under fair use terms.

This oft-quoted remark by Disney co-chair Ann Sweeney made at a conference in October, shows at least that the industry is finally starting to grapple with the issue: 

"We understand now that piracy is a business model. It exists to serve a need in the market for consumers who want TV content on demand. Pirates compete the same way we do – through quality, price and availability. We we don?t like the model but we realise it?s competitive enough to make it a major competitor going forward."

RIAA Sues AllofMP3 – Seeks Domain Transfer and $1.65 Trillion in Damages!

Following a similar suit by the BPI in July, AllofMP3.com's Moscow-based parent Mediaservices, Inc. has been sued by the RIAA for massive copyright infringement in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. According to the New York Post:

The RIAA is seeking $150,000 for each instance of copyright infringement. That equates to an astounding $1.65 trillion for the five-month period in question.

Wow! I suspect they'll have a little trouble collecting this damage award if successful! Surprised

Interestingly, along with the damages award, the suit seeks court ordered control of AllofMP3.com's domains. Given the global nature of the Internet, it will be interesting to see if a court would grant such a prayer for relief. Mountainview California-based  Verisign operates the domain name registry for the .com domain space.

AllofMP3.com has long claimed that they are in full compliance with Russian law and pay licensing fees on all music sales to Russia's equivalent of the RIAA, the Russian Organization for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS). The RIAA's response is that ROMS has no authority to issue licenses to AllofMP3 and that AllofMP3.com would require licenses from record companies to legally sell downloadable music – which it does not have.

Dale's Comment: Aside from the astronomical damages request, what intrigues me is the global implications of an order to transfer the domain. There has been much controversy at the United Nations over who should control the Internet and the Internet domain space. The U.S. has fiercely guarded its ultimate ability to control it. If such an order was made by a U.S. court at the behest of the U.S. music industry, and if Verisign complies, this might spark protests from nations around the globe.

Note: I have not yet found the claim online. When I do, I'll post it here. Most of the stories online are all repeats of the original AP story so there are not many details available at this point.

Sources: ars technica | techdirt | Associated Press| Out-Law.com | ABC News | PC Pro | Pocket-Link | New York Post | BBC | Playfuls | Red Herring | MP3.com

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Manage your iPod in Windows Media Player with DOPISP

The name seems daft, but this Windows Media Player ("WMP") 11 plug-in seems promising. I've long been a WMP fan. I only use iTunes because it was the only reasonable way to manage music on my iPod – until now. Microsoft chose, once again, not to provide iPod support in its latest version of WMP. To the rescue comes MGTEK with DOPISP. DOPISP is a plug-in for WMP that enables you to sync your MP3 music to your iPod directly from within Windows Media Player.

A free two month trial is available here. No word yet on final pricing. Of course it cannot manage any DRM'd AAC files purchased from iTunes.  If it could, my work here would be done! Well, at least until Apple and/or the RIAA sued them! ๐Ÿ™‚

I haven't tried it yet, but one possible downside to this approach to managing your iPod is that it likely won't support podcasts. For some reason that only the God's know, Windows Media Player does not include podcast support. Since I discovered podcasts in October of 2005, I use my iPod primarily for podcast listening while on the road. Without podcast functionality, I'm not ready to head back to WMP!

Sources: DOPISP Website | Smart Cannucks | lifehacker | Uneasy Silence

Davis Freeberg Interviews DivX CEO Jordan Greenhall

Davis' interview of DivX, Inc.'s CEO Jordan Greenhall is interesting. There isn't much here that is new to me but it is topical given DivX's recent public offering. One bit that was new to me was his explanation of why the inclusion of DivX encoding technology within CE devices like PVRs didn't make much sense until recently. Unlike decoding, encoding media to DivX is computationally intensive. Until a couple months ago DivX encoding chips where far more expensive than the inexpensive larger hard drives needed for use with less efficient codecs. With the emergence of cheap encoding chips it now makes sense for manufacturers to start embedding them within CE devices in conjunction with the DivX codec. 

The interview covers the history of the company, the current status and trends (YouTube, convergence) and where this promising, yet controversial, company and its technology are headed.

Dale's Comment: I had to smile when I read Greenhall's answers. Having lived in Silicon Valley for a few years, and having left it, his "Silicon Valley-speak" reminds me of the good old bubble days.  Take this snipped for example:

So the fact that DivX technology is associated with that path is a really interesting physical manifestation, but the reality of the value proposition is that the market, the community itself is a value proposition, so what you’ll find is, if you map our progress on a go forward basis …

Silicon-valley-speak notwithstanding, its an interesting interview of an interesting man in control of an important technology. Good work Davis!

Sources: Davis Freeberg

EMusic Sells 100 Millionth Song without DRM

Online music seller eMusic is second only to DRM-laden iTunes for legitimate online music sales. Most of its library of 2 million songs comes from independent labels. It's success proves that consumers are more than willing to pay fair prices for DRM-free music. While it took the eMusic two years to sell its first 50 million songs, it has taken less than a year to sell the next 50 million.

Dales Comment:  While I applaud eMusic, it too has a business model that I don't like. While individual songs can be purchased, their business model requires the user to pay a minimal subscription fee every month. Song purchases are deducted from the monthly fee. If you spend more than the fee, then you have to pay extra.  My perfect world of music sales is to buy DRM-free songs with no minimum monthly commitment. I would be able to buy as many or as few as I want. Frankly, I'd like eMusic service to mimic that of AllofMP3.com's. Charge a fair per song price, allow me to purchase whatever I want in whatever format I want. That is a service I'd use!

Sources: Washington Post | MacWorld | Sydney Morning Herald | TopTechNews| Tech Dirt | MP3.com | CNet Blogs | PC-Pro | Pocket-Lint

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Oregon District Judge – ‘Making Available’ – Sufficient Grounds For Copyright Infringement

  Decision – Motion to Dismiss Denied (October 25, 2006)
In a decision that may have far-reaching consequences an Oregon District Judge Ann Aiken has held, for the purposes of denying a motion to dismiss, that merely having a 'shared files folder' on one's computer, and thereby 'making files available for distribution', with nothing else, constitute the necessary elements of a copyright infringement action.

In response to this decision Recording Industry v. The People aptly says:

This is the first instance of which we are aware in which a judge has explicitly held that the RIAA's allegation of "making files available for distribution" is sufficient in and of itself to state a claim for relief under the Copyright Act. The decision contains no discussion of the Copyright Act, applicable case law, legal scholarship, or anything else that might give a clue as to how the judge came to agree with the RIAA. We will investigate further to see if the issue was briefed and, if so, how.

Dale's Comment: Wow! Whether or not making files available for distribution is sufficient to constitute copyright infringement (without proof that the file was actually copied by anyone) is the subject of wide-ranging debate. For this judge to make such a sweeping conclusion without supporting it in any way is surprising.  Fortunately for Barker the RIAA dismissed this case. Shrewdly for the RIAA, such dismissal may negate Barker's appeal on the merits while yielding a precedent they can point to in future cases. I suspect that whether this decision is appealable or not, the 'decision' will be hotly contested in future cases.

Sources: Recording Industry v. The People | Afterdawn | *ars technica 

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Shawn Hogan’s Motion to Dismiss RIAA Claim Denied

Motion to Dismiss Denied (December 11, 2006)
Text of Motion to Dismiss (November 2, 2006)
Last August I wrote about millionaire Shawn Hogan's decision to fight back against the MPAA's allegation that he illegally downloaded "Meet the Fockers". Last November I wrote about his motion to dismiss based on faulty copyright registrations

District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan agreed that Hogan was factually correct but has nevertheless denied the motion to dismiss stating:

Courts take a liberal approach to errors in copyright registrations. Serious errors—even in the claimant’s name—do not invalidate copyright registrations in the absence of fraud before the Copyright Office or prejudice to the alleged infringer … Otherwise, the infringer would get a “free pass” to infringe, essentially because of a technicality.

…. 

Hogan has not even suggested that ither Universal entity defrauded the Copyright Office, nor has he shown prejudice dueto the error. Instead, he seeks to avoid addressing the merits of the copyright infringement claim by pointing out an error in the registration. Fortunately (for authors,claimants, and the general public), the Copyright Act does not require such rigid aherence to formalities.  

Sources: Text of Motion to Dismiss | Recording Industry v. The People |

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RIAA P2P Defendant Brings Class Action Suit Against Kazaa Creator Sharman Networks

  Text of Amended Complaint (December 8, 2006)
Catherine Lewan, a defendant who settled with the RIAA in one of its many law suits, is now suing Sharman Networks, the creator of Kazaa.  The compliant alleges:

  • Sharman deceptively marketed Kazza as a product allowing "free downloads";
  • the software created a shared files folder (presumably creating the RIAA law-suit liability) without disclosing this to users;
  • the software it installed spyware 

Dale's Comment: This one reminds me a bit of the law suits against Starbucks a few years back where the plaintiffs claimed the coffee was too hot or the lawsuits against McDonalds claiming McDonalds was legally liable for their getting fat. Any user of P2P software knows how the software works and, indeed, can see it working. Files being shared in the shared folder are typically shown graphically in the P2P client's user interface as they are being shared. 

While I have little sympathy for the first claims, I do believe that most P2P users never knew that the quid-pro-quo for using the software was the installation of Spyware. Indeed, when a Spyware-free version of Kazza (Kazaa Lite) was distributed without Sharman's consent I seem to recall Sharman using efforts to shut it down.

Sources: Daily Tech | ars technica| Recording Industry v. The People | P2PNet | techdirt | TechWeb 

Related Kazaa Posts:

Why Google & YouTube are Not Getting Sued Out of the Water

This is a terrific Business 2.0 article (linked inot a CNN Money.com story) identifying why YouTube and Google are not the subject of as many copyright infringement lawsuits as had been predicted. Namely, Big Media is finding that YouTube can be a net postitive to their ratings and bottom lines.

Sources: CNN Money/Business 2.0

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AllofMP3.com Lives On Despite U.S./Russian WTO Agreement

AllofMP3.com does not seem like it is willing to go silently into the night.

In response to Visa's and Mastercard's cessation of services to the site, AllofMP3 now uses a prepaid credit proxy, Xrost,which can, in turn, be paid by Visa or Mastercard (See AllofMP3's payment page as explained here).

This recent TechWeb article explains that the payment process is not exactly easy. Only the most determined are likely to work their way through the payment maze. See also this Wired Blog description of the process. Incidentally the Wired Blog claim about the "complete legality" of music downloading in Canada is nonsense (see my blog entry on the topic if interested)! 

On another note, AllofMP3 has engaged a New York-based intellectual property attorney, John Kheit of Chadbourne & Parke, LLP. as a U.S.-based spokesperson, advocate and PR person. In a recent panel discussion Kheit asserted that AllofMP3 has not broken any laws, that it operates legally in Russia and pays 15% of all music sales to Russia's equivalent of the RIAA, the Russian Organization for Multimedia and Digital Systems (ROMS). Kheit claims that foreign rights holders could petition ROMS for payment but that record labels have specifically not requested such payments in fear of legitimizing AllofMP3.

The RIAA's response is that ROMS has no authority to issue licenses to AllofMP3 and that AllofMP3.com would require licenses from record companies to legally sell downloadable music – which it does not have. 

Under the U.S/Russian agreement, Russia has until June 1, 2007 to modify its laws and clarify that such activity is illegal. Until it does AllofMP3.com can continue as is. AllofMP3.com says it will comply with any new laws put in place by Moscow.

Sources: DailyTech | ars technica | The Register | Digital Music | TechWeb | NewHouseNews | MosNews.com | AllofMP3.com Press Release

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BitTorrent to Purchase ยตTorrent

With some of the $25m recently raised from investors, BitTorrent, Inc. is set to purchase µTorrent. µTorrent has become an enormously popular, best of breed, BitTorrent client given its very small footprint, efficiency and minimal use of system resources.  µTorrent and Azureus have long eclipsed the original BitTorrent client invented by Bram Cohen. Details of the acquisition have not yet been made public. In an open post to users in the µTorrent Forum, Bram Cohen said:

BitTorrent has acquired µTorrent as it recognized the merits of µTorrent’s exceptionally well-written codebase and robust user community. Bringing together µTorrent’s efficient implementation and compelling UI with BitTorrent’s expertise in networking protocols will significantly benefit the community with what we envision will be the best BitTorrent client.

BitTorrent clients such as these have been enormously controversial as, in conjunction with tracker websites, they have become the primary means by which movies, TV shows and other video content is shared over the Internet since the RIAA and the MPAA successfully shut down most of the major P2P Networks through litigation. 

Production studios have discovered that the technology underlying BitTorrent clients is an enormously efficient method of distributing large files over the Internet and, as you can see from the related posts below, Hollywood has started to embrace this technology as a means of legally distributing movies and TV shows over the Internet.

Sources: Techcrunch | DailyTech | ComputerWorld (IDG) | InfoWorld | MacWorld | Playfuls | P2PNet| Wired Blogs | Announcement/Discussion on µTorrent Forum

Related BitTorrent Posts:

TiVo Decode Manager v1.0 Automates TiVo’s Cracked DRM on Macs

This was inevitable. I didn't expect it so soon.

Within days of TiVo's DRM being cracked, someone has automated the rather difficult to use TiVo Decode Manager and created an easy to use TiVo2Go application, without DRM, on Apple computers. The software automatically discovers local TiVos. With one mouse click shows are downloaded from the TiVo, DRM-free, to the Mac by episode, recorded date etc. The resultant Mpeg-2 files still need to be converted to a PC-usable format such as .wmv using a program like VLC. My guess is that it won't be long before the end-to-end process is fully automated.

Dale's Comment: I foresee TiVo-released DMCA take-down notices being sent to whoever controls thebenesch.com (the site hosting the program) in the near future!

Sources: Engadget | PVR Wire

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EMI’s Blue Note & Yahoo! Music Sell a Few More Songs DRM Free

Amidst the music industry's growing angst over Apple's lock on the downloadable music market, EMI's Blue Note division is experimenting with DRM-free music downloads of Norah Jones new single "Thinking About You" for 99¢ U.S. Yahoo! is also making two DRM-free songs by Christian performer Reliant K. available. The prior Jessica Simpson song sold in MP3 or WMA format back in July, without DRM, for 1.99¢ U.S. No sales figures were announced.

Red Herring's quote bu Joe Fliesche, CMO of media research ferm Big Champagne is apt: 

“Content owners believe that digital rights management will protect them from being widely copied. At this point any company that embraces DRM is doing it emotionally or politically, there is absolutely no data to support that it has ever made a difference. It’s not a business issue.”

Sources: ars technica ComputerWorld | Wall St. Journal | Beta News | InfoWorld | PC World | L.A. Times | TG Daily | Warez | MP3.com | Crunch Gear | Red Herring | Fox News | San Jose Mercury News (AP) | PC World (IDG) | EFF Deep Links

Dale's Comment: The song is also available, encumbered by AAC-DRM as usual for 99¢ from iTunes. Which would you prefer to buy? It would be really interesting to get a summary of DRM-encumbered sales from iTunes vs. DRM-free sales if the same song through Yahoo!

The very fact that these DRM-free sales experiments are continuing is a positive sign of things to come.

DRM-Free Song SNAFUs Continue: When I tried to purchase the DRM-Free Jessica Simpson song last July, Yahoo! would not sell it to me because I lived in Canada. This time, when I tried to buy the Norah Jones song (available here), it wouldn't allow me to just purchase and download the song in MP3 format as AllofMP3.com allows. It forces You to first install the Yahoo! Music Jukebox. Something that is anathema to DRM-free music if you ask me. But, I soldiered on intending to de-install the jukebox software after purchasing the song.

it was not to be. When I tried to install the player, Windows XP SP2's "Data Execution Prevention" software wouldn't let me – I tried to except-out the Jukebox from the DEP protection but it refused to budge. I even tried rebooting my system twice after excepting the jukebox software from DEP protection – no go. I enjoy Norah Jones music and would love to buy the song without DRM but the DRM Gods are conspiring against me! Argh!!!

I ask anyone reading this, if you enjoy Norah Jones or Reliant K's music, if you don't mind using the Yahoo! jukebox software and you can successfully install it, to please purchase a copy of this DRM song so we can get the industry ball finally rolling in a consumer friendly direction! 

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School Teacher Looses Day in French Court for P2P Music Downloading

Twenty-nine-year-old, primary school teacher, Anne-Sophie Lainnemé, somewhat of a cause-celebre in the French P2P community had her day in court and lost. She was the first person in France arrested for downloading music. The court held that she owed two French rights organizations €2,225 (U.S. $2,955). She was also fined €1,200 (U.S. $1,600) but the court issued a deferred sentence. Apparently, if she doesn't get in trouble again, she won't have to pay the fine. 

Dale's Comment: If the past is any indication of the future, she'll have to pay.

Sources: ars technica | Paris Link | Digital Journal

TiVo’s Evan Young Discusses the Details of the new TiVoCast Service


Video: Streaming Media West 2006: Keynote by Evan Young, Dir. Broadband Services, TiVo

TiVo's Director of Broadband Services, Evan Young, gave this interesting keynote address to the Streaming Media West 2006 conference. I learned a few new things about TiVo's nascent TiVoCast service and I am concerned with the seemingly walled-garden-only approach TiVo seems to be going with the TiVoCast service.

Continue reading “TiVo’s Evan Young Discusses the Details of the new TiVoCast Service”

World Series of Video Games to Debut on CBS – December 30

CBS Sports is about to launch the World Series of Video Games on December 30. The New York Times indicates that Counter Strike 1.6, Halo 2 and Quake 4 will be among the games played.

Dale's Comment: I was quite stoked about this announcement. I'd love to learn some new Halo 2 moves from Fatal1ty. That is, until I got to the fine print. Apparently CBS will only show snippets of actual game play because the content of the competitions are too violent for prime-time television.  How crazy is this!?  While I gather getting network coverage IS a step forward, this is the same-old, same-old network thinking! Who would want to watch something called the "World Series of Video Games" without being able to watch the actual competitions in their entirety!  Clearly network TV is not the right venue for this. This will have to head on over to cable in order for it to be successful in the long term.  

Sources: New York Times | IGN | Next Generation | Team Xbox | Business Wire | GameDaily.biz | Kotaku

Morgan Freeman and Intel Team Up for New Internet-based Movie Download Service – Clickstar

Morgan Freeman's production company is in a new venture with Intel called ClickStar to launch independent films on the Internet within weeks of their theatrical debut. The first such movie to be distributed through ClickStar is Freeman's newest film, 10 Items or Less. It will be available online on December 15 – two weeks after its cinematic debut. Clickstar's next first-run digital release will be the upcoming John Travolta/James Gandolfini film, Lonely Hearts, next spring. The service will also make older feature films available for download.

Freeman and company would have launched 10 Items or Less on the Internet on the same day and date as in the cinema but this would have disqualified them for Oscar consideration. Apparently a two week delay gets them over this Oscar hurdle. Prices will range from US$1.99 for renting an older movie to around US$24.99 for buying a DVD-quality download of a first-run film.

Dale's Comment: As a movie fan, I look forward to this new form of movie distribution becoming ubiquitous.  Distribution through the net, on the same day, or close to the same day, as cinematic releases, and easily viewable on the consumer's living-room TV —  this is a winning formula!

Despite protests from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) and the ever-present "we've always done it another way" Big Media opposition, this form of distribution is, in my opinion, a fait-accompli. It's just a matter of time. 

How it Works: This USA Today article has the best description I've found online of how the system will work. Given that this is a partnership with Intel, my fear was that this would be some kind of proprietary set-top device like Disney's ill-fated MovieBeam.  Happily, it will be a Media Center PC-based service.  Anyone with a Media Center PC should be able to download the service's content.  Media Center will be built into the higher-end versions of Microsoft's Vista operating system due out next January. All such Media Center content can be viewed in the living room on the consumer's TV through an Xbox or Xbox 360 connected to the PC via an inhome network.

Hopefully this service will not remain proprietary to the Microsoft Media Center platform.  Ideally ClickStar will also partner with TiVo, Apple and Sony for distribution through TiVos, Apple's forthcoming iTV device and/or the PS3 as well. And hopefully this will not be yet another U.S.-only service so that those of us in the movie-loving diaspora can be part of the fun too!

UPDATE: Since I've been asked this question more than once I'd like to clarify. You won't need to own a Media Center PC to use this service after January 2007. The higher-end versions of Vista (specifically the Home Premium and the Ultimate editions) will have the Media Center functionality built in. So, any PC that can run the higher-end Vista Operating Systems should be able to drive this system – assuming you upgrade your PC to one of the higher-end Vista O/S versions.

Sources: abc NEWS | USA Today | ZDNet | The Age | EurWeb | Columbus Dispatch (AP) | The Independent | Washington Post | The Mercury News | Clickstar Website

Morgan Freeman on Charlie Rose speaks about ClickStar – see time index 4:50-9.50

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TiVo’s DRM Reportedly Cracked

Gizmodo, Engadget and others are reporting that the folks at SourceForge.net have successfully hacked the TiVo DRM using a program they call the TiVo File Decoder.

Dale's Comment: If true, expect a patch from TiVo soon! ๐Ÿ™‚  Unfortunately for those of us waiting for the TiVo Series 3 software upgrade that was due out about now, my guess is we'll be waiting awhile longer while TiVo's engineers work at sorting this one out. ๐Ÿ™

Sources: Gizmodo | Engadget | Engadget 2 | Crunch Gear | PVRWire | Megazone-TiVoLovers | PVRBlog | TiVoCommunity Forum | Daily Tech | ars technica

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BitTorrent Signs More Download Deals with Major Hollywood Movie & TV Studios

On the heals of raising $25 million in capital, BitTorrent has reportedly signed video downloading deals with 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Lionsgate, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, Palm Pictures, G4, Kadokawa and Stars Media. Last year BitTorrent had done a similar deal with Warner. The service will use BitTorrent's proven peer-to-peer technology. The technology makes the distribution of large video files faster and less expensive by offloading much of the bandwidth requirements to its users. Pricing details have not yet been announced.

Starting next February you'll* be able to download-to-own (DTO) films and TV shows, or rent films on a video on-demand (VOD) basis. Most of the entertainment content in question will be made available on the day it is released on DVD or shown on television. These videos will be playable on PCs, laptops or other portable devices.

The service's DRM will limit playback to the device you originally record the content on. So recorded DVDs will not play on consumer DVD players. Some titles will only be viewable a limited number of times before the central DRM store disables your key. For this, you'll likely be paying full DVD retail prices.

So far as I know, BitTorrent has no such deal with consumer electronics companies like TiVo, Microsoft, Sony or Apple for downloads to a TV-connected device. 

Dale's Comment:  While any news story like this is heartening, insomuch as Hollywood is slowly advancing into the future, I agree with ars technica that DVD-purchasing consumers will not be impressed with this service. As with iTunes, it limits the user's right to use the content to the device it was downloaded on – hardly useful for long term video purchasers.  But, for one-time viewing, the method by which the vast majority of video consumers consume such content, this will probably have limited success for those wanting to view such content on laptops, PCs and portable devices.  But, as I have contended for years, downloadable media sales will only really take off once consumers can purchase/rent the content for viewing on their TVs – just as Microsoft is now doing with its Xbox 360 Marketplace movie/TV show service and as Apple has announced it will do with its forthcoming iTV product.

*Caveat:  While I have not yet had my suspicions confirmed, my guess is that this service will ONLY be available to U.S. consumers at launch.  This seems to be the way of the world these days! ๐Ÿ™

Sources:  Information Week | Gizmodo | ars technica | Hollywood Reporter | Wired Blogs | USA Today | Forbes (AP) | TechWeb  Playfuls | LA Times | BitTorrent Pres Release

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Russia Agrees to Shut Down AllofMP3.com at U.S. Request – or did it?

Text of Agreement
Visa and Mastercard halting service to AllofMP3 effectively shut it down. In the face of the credit card departures, AllofMP3.com said it would move to an advertising supported model. Now Russia and the U.S. appear to have reached an agreement to shut it down – or did they?  

ars technica and others are reporting that AllofMP3 says it will not be shut down. Instead it says Russia agreed to certain copyright reforms that AllofMP3.com says it will comply with. Even if this is true, AllofMP3 could never be what it was. If the reported agreement is implemented by Russia, any new AllofMP3.com would be as close to its current incarnation as today's Napster is to its original form.

As of the time of this post, AllofMP3.com was still up and running.

Dale's Comment: This is a sad day of sorts. While the legality of AllofMP3 was always murky, its success (second in world-wide sales only to iTunes) was a clear example of the fact that consumers are willing to pay a fair price for music from a site that services the users needs, if they are given fair rights to use the music they purchase. In the case of AllofMP3.com the user could chose the format they wished to purchase and there were no restrictions on the use they could make of the music.  I look forward to the day the major labels learn this lesson and start offering DRM-free music for sale to honest users under fair terms.

Sources: TechCrunch | CNet | ars technica | Inquirer | The Register | ABC News | ComputerWorld | PC Magazine | MOSNews | MP3.com | Techwhack | Techdirt | ZDNet | Macworld | DailyTech

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