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Microsoft Academic Search and Open Access

April 12, 2006

Microsoft today launched a beta of Windows Live Academic Search.

You can read their press release here.

Our expert on Open Access, Peter Suber has a number of posts on his blog today on it.

Sounds like we're finally getting some competition in the searching of scholarly/academic/scientific works. The more open access the public and researchers have, the better we'll all be!

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Disney Streams TV Shows for Free

April 10, 2006

Starting in May, Disney will conduct a two month trial of free streaming video of their popular TV shows.

They differ from the iTunes shows in that you can't save them onto your computer, or take them with you on your iPod--again, they're more webcast than download. They're also be in a file format (Flash 8) that isn't likely to be played back on a Windows Media Center PC or Apple's Front Row--READ: you're probably not going to be watching these on your TV screen, even if you have a computer hooked into your flat-screen. That's unfortunate, because unlike the iTunes downloads, these streams are slightly higher resolution: 500x282px or 700x394px. Unfortunately, neither are high definition.

The shows will be free, albeit with advertisements that cannot be skipped. I wonder what crafty web-engineers out there can skip the commercials without running afoul of the DMCA by using FECA's addition to USC Title 17, Sect. 110--new paragraph 11:

(11) the making imperceptible, by or at the direction of a member of a private household, of limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture, during a performance in or transmitted to that household for private home viewing, from an authorized copy of the motion picture, or the creation or provision of a computer program or other technology that enables such making imperceptible and that is designed and marketed to be used, at the direction of a member of a private household, for such making imperceptible, if no fixed copy of the altered version of the motion picture is created by such computer program or other technology.

It sounds like this new service/product is targeted at the cubical TV viewer and that it's only streamed and formatted so as not to compete with the mobile and living room markets.

Will these TV streams be worthwhile for the average consumer? Will it satisfy downloaders of unauthorized downloads? Will viewers care that they can't skip commercials? We may know more after the two month trial.

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We've been so busy keeping up with Congress the past couple of weeks, I just got a chance to focus on the outrageous agreement between the Smithsonian and Showtime, which would create a joint venture called Smithsonian on Demand. Under the agreement, the joint venture would have the right of first refusal over commercial documentaries that rely heavily on Smithsonian collections or staff. Alex blogged about it on Friday.

So what does this mean in practice? It means that any video and filmmaker who uses the Smithsonian's resources in anything more than a superficial way will be forced to offer it to Showtime on Demand first. This limits competition is so many ways - first, such a requirement reduces the market value for that film, since the filmmaker cannot search for the highest bidder. Second, other competing channels, like PBS and The History Channel, will be completely shut out of the market for a large number of films that rely on Smithsonian material.

This kind of arrangement might be ok if the Smithsonian was a purely commercial entity, but of course, it is not - according to its FY2005 Annual Report, the Institution receives 75% of its revenue from your taxpayer dollars. It is governed by a Board of Regents appointed from all three branches of government. In sum, it is a public trust, and its collections belong to all of us - not to a cable channel.

What is also outrageous about this deal is the secretive nature of its details. Kudos to Carl Malamud of the Center for American Progress, who sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Smithsonian last week asking for a copy of the "specific details, including a copy of any incorporating or contractual documents," relating to the formation of the joint venture. EFF is representing him on the FOIA matter.

Not only should these details be made public, but Congress should also hold hearing on this matter promptly. This privatization of a precious taxpayer asset should not be countenanced.

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Responses to the Smithsonian / Showtime Deal

April 7, 2006

Kudos to the folks at BoingBoing for keeping an eye on the Smithsonian / Showtime Deal. This time Fred von Lohmann spells it out in a worth-your-time point / counterpoint.

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A Very Dispiriting Day

April 6, 2006

It was a tad hectic yesterday, what with the House Telecom Subcommittee voting to turn the Internet over to the telephone and cable companies and all.

The vote on the Subcommittee to defeat an amendment setting out a new, strong Net Neutrality policy was 23-8, with the Net losing badly. Some of the reporting about the vote characterized it as a partisan battle. Not so. The fact is, the Democrats deserted the Net Neutrality cause.

The eight "yes" votes were seven Democrats -- Ed Markey, Rick Boucher, Anna Eshoo, Jay Inslee, John Dingell, Mike Doyle and Frank Pallone. The eighth vote was Republican Heather Wilson. Markey, Boucher, Eshoo and Inslee were the sponsors of the amendment, which means only three Democrats who weren't sponsors voted for it.

On the other hand, six Democrats voted against it: Eliot Engel, Bart Stupak, Ed Towns, Al Wynn, Charlie Gonzales and Bobby Rush. Inexplicably, two D's weren't around for the pivotal vote, Sherrod Brown and Bart Gordon (not that their vote would have mattered in the end, but it would have been nice to have.) There are 33 members on the Subcommittee -- 18 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

Republicans voted along party lines because it's their bill, and they generally feel obligated to support the Committee Chairman, Joe Barton of Texas. And because they believe that all this fussing about telephone companies taking over the Internet just isn't worth it.

As for the Democrats, the New York delegation, the Black Caucus and the representative from AT&T's home town (Gonzales) believe more in Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner than in the open Internet, apparently.

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Billzapoppin’

April 5, 2006

With Easter recess just days away, legislators are rushing to introduce bills on a variety of issues PK cares about. As expected, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) introduced a bill that seeks to give fashion design copyright protection for three years. I have already written about why such protection is both unnecessary and counterproductive.

Next on the list are two draft bills - one which I can show you, and one which I cannot. One is terrific, the other terrible. The first draft bill is the Internet Neutrality Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and [Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND] which codifies net neutrality in a way we really like - with an enforceable prohibition against blocking, interference, discrimination against, impairment or degradation of any Internet content or services. The bill specifically requires network providers to "provide on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis the ability to offer, provide or post content, applications or services...in a manner that is at least equal to the speed and quality of service that the broadband network provider offers to affiliated content, etc." Ah, the non-discrimination word. Music to our ears. This bill is very similar to the bill introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) a few weeks ago, but this bill is backed by a bipartisan team that is on the Commerce committee, which is very important.

The second bill, spearheaded by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is yet another attempt at tech mandates, specifically the digital broadcast and satellite radio flag. Supposedly, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are possible co-sponsors. I can't show it to you yet, but here are some of the lowlights:

• It is aimed at in-home and portable uses of content that the consumer has already paid to receive - it does not even purport to have anything with so-called "indiscriminate distribution" over the Internet

• It would prohibit customary consumer recording based on specific songs, artists, genres, "or other user preferences."

• It would wipe out the noncommercial, "fair use" recording that Americans have engaged in for decades.

The real kicker is that the bill would permit performing and mechanical rights societies to circumvent technological protection measures used by satellite radio companies to ensure that their signals are not captured by non-subscribers. What makes this amazing is that this provision is being pushed by many of the same groups who argue that consumers should never be allowed to bypass technological locks, even for lawful reasons.

If there is anything good to be said about the Feinstein bill, it is that it brings the Judiciary Committee into the tech mandate mix, which makes for more delay and confusion.

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Internet CEOs Back Net Neutrality

April 5, 2006

Better late than never -- maybe. Even as the House Telecom Subcommittee is debating amendments to draft legislation, the CEOs of the big Internet e-commerce companies have sent a letter in favor of an amendment that will come up later backing Net Neutrality. Might have been nice a little earlier, but there's still markup at full committee to be considered. That will come in a couple of weeks. Here's a link to the letter: http://static.publicknowledge.org/pdf/ceo-letter-20060405.pdf

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Congressional Net Neutrality Events

April 3, 2006

This will be a busy week for Net Neutrality on Capitol Hill. The fun starts at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, when the House Telecom Subcommittee officially kicks off the mark up of telecom legislation.

The evening session will be devoted to opening statements, in which the members will stake out their priorities. The real legislative work will start the next morning, Wednesday, at 10 a.m. At that point, they will get down to actual amendments and changes to the draft bill. If necessary, the mark up will carry over to Thursday.

Also this week, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Friday on market power of telcos and Net Neutrality. Officially, the hearing will be by the Committee's Task Force on Antitrust, which happens to have all of the committee members on it. The hearing will be at 10 a.m.

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Close, but No CinemaNow

April 3, 2006

When I opened up my New York Times business section today and saw the headline: At Last, Movies to Keep Arrive on the Internet, I got very excited. Finally, I would be able to cheer Hollywood for developing a new innovative online business model for distributing movies. We believe that such business models are the key to limiting illegal downloading of movies. Then I kept reading.

First, the price of a new movie download will cost $20-$30. So despite the fact that Hollywood will have no packaging costs and almost no distribution costs, the price of the download will be as much, and in some cases more, than a physical DVD (Sony is the exception to this rule). Oh, and by the way, these downloads don't come with the same extra features as do a DVD. I'm very surprised at how addicted I've become to the extra features. I spent as much time this weekend watching the great extras on the DVD of Murderball than I did watching the terrific move.

Second, the different services offer fairly limited types of usage. CinemaNow will allow movies to be played on only one computer. Movielink will allow you to burn it to a DVD, which can be played on a computer, but not a regular DVD player. (Movielink will not function on a Mac or Linux operated computer either). None allows you to copy to an iPod or other MP3 player. Watching a downloaded movie on a TV is not impossible, but it is inconvenient.

So while I applaud the movie studios for finally dipping their toe in the Internet download water, they have done little to ensure the success of this new business. Giving the consumer less content and functionality for a higher price is not the way to encourage adoption. Maybe I am wrong, but if I am right, I hope the studios will rework their services to better meet consumer needs and desires.

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In the Know Podcast #14

March 31, 2006

PK's In the Know newsletter comes out today, and hopefully so will the podcast! Here are some of the details:

PK in the Know:
March 31, 2006

Contents:

You will be able to find our podcast listed here on our OurMedia account.

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