May 06, 2002

Paranoia, stupidity and greed ganging up on the public

Here's another gem from Dan Gillmore:
Paranoia, stupidity and greed ganging up on the public.

Dear Reader:

If you are reading this column in the newspaper, but did not read every article and look at every advertisement in previous sections, stop now. You must go back and look at all of that material before continuing with this column.

If you are reading this column on the Web and did not go to the newspaper's home page first, stop now. Go to the home page and navigate through whatever sequence of links our page designers have created to reach this page, and don't you dare fail to look at the ads.

Ridiculous? Of course.

Tell that to the dinosaurs at some major media and entertainment companies. They insist they have the right to tell you precisely how you may use their products...

The law also is still somewhat unsettled when it comes to hard-disk video recorders, also known as personal video recorders or PVRs. But Hollywood is in attack mode against one of the most innovative home products in years, SonicBlue's Replay machine, and the entertainment industry's anger at these devices is growing.

Jamie Kellner, head of Turner Broadcasting, part of the AOL Time Warner conglomerate, told the newsweekly CableWorld that you are a thief if you use one of a PVR's best features -- skipping commercials.

``Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots,'' he said. ``Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis.''

Whenever you fail to watch a commercial, he added, ``you're actually stealing the programming.''

It gets better. When the interviewer asked whether it's OK to go to the bathroom or get a soft drink out of the refrigerator, Kellner replied, `` I guess there's a certain amount of tolerance for going to the bathroom.''

What a relief. At least AOL Time Warner doesn't believe we should be chained to the sofa when we watch one of its old movies.

Just Because You're Paranoid

It doesn't mean they're after you, but it does mean that the practice of placing surveillance cameras on public streets for reasons to be determined later won't be limited to Washington DC.

Millions spent to develop cameras.

Government agencies have spent more than $50 million during the past five years developing camera surveillance technology, and proposed federal spending on such systems has increased since September 11, according to a recent report released by the General Accounting Office.

The GAO surveyed 35 government agencies from July 2001 to January 2002 at the request of House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who requested the report last summer after seeing spending increases for automated traffic cameras and facial recognition technology.

Facial recognition research and development made up more than 90 percent of federal surveillance budgets since 1997.

     

Of the 35 agencies the GAO surveyed, "17 reported obligating $51 million to [red-light, photo radar and biometric camera surveillance] as of June 2001, with the largest amount reported for facial recognition technology."

Two agencies reported promoting the use of the surveillance devices but did not report spending any money on them, the report said. The State Department, for instance, did not devote any money to deploying facial recognition as of June 20, 2001, but said it "planned to work with the Bureau of Consular Affairs to integrate the devices into its counterterrorism database" this year.

Here's what I posted on February 13, 2002 about cameras in DC:

Smile! Next time you go to Washington D.C. remember to smile to the cameras.

Check out the Reuters article:
Washington Plans Unprecedented Camera Network.

(references below are to a Wall Street Journal article that requires registration to access - if anyone has the link, please let me know.)

Cameras installed by the police have been programmed to scan public areas automatically, and officers can take over manual control if they want to examine something more closely.

The system currently does not permit an automated match between a face in the crowd and a computerized photo of a suspect, the Journal said. Gaffigan said officials were looking at the technology but had not decided whether to use it.

Eventually, images will be viewable on computers already installed in most of the city's 1,000 squad cars, the Journal said.

The Journal said the plans for Washington went far beyond what was in use in other U.S. cities, a development that worries civil liberties advocates.

Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, noted there were few legal restrictions of video surveillance of public streets. But he said that by setting up a "central point of surveillance," it becomes likely that "the cameras will be more frequently used and more frequently abused."

"You are building in a surveillance infrastructure, and how it's used now is not likely how it's going to be used two years from now or five years from now," he told the Journal.

Tariff Doublecross Coming Back To Bite Bush?

The European Commission is contemplating giving the US a taste of its own medicine.

See:
Europe plans $300m sanctions retaliation on US,
by Michael Mann and Edward Alden for the Financial Times.

The European Commission on Friday proposed slapping more than $300m of trade sanctions on politically-sensitive US products, including fruit, T-shirts, steel, guns and even billiard tables, in retaliation for US-imposed steel tariffs.

The Commission's proposal for retaliation, which would require majority backing from the 15 EU member states, is designed to "hit the US where it hurts" by targeting exports from states crucial to US president George W. Bush's re-election. These include citrus fruits from Florida, apples and pears from Washington and Oregon, and steel from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The plan would levy tariffs worth E377m ($336m) on US exports of those products.

The plan calls for the sanctions to be imposed on June 18. But the US warned such early retaliation would be a fundamental violation of international trading rules. One US trade official said it would "strike at the heart of the multilateral trade system".

The Commission proposal is aimed at increasing pressure on the US to reconsider its decision last month to impose tariffs of up to 30 per cent on steel imports, including E2.4bn ($2.1bn) of steel from Europe.

Okay, I get it: Levying tariffs on US imports into Europe would 'strike at the heart of the multilateral trade system', but imposing 30% tariffs on european steel imports into the US just sort of 'nibbles in between the toes of the multilateral trade system.' (Aw heck, the multilateral trade system probably likes it.)

May 05, 2002

Webcast Data Collection Considered Harmful

Brian Zisk explains the nuts and bolts of the RIAA's plan to make webcasting too expensive for anyone but the majors (and all in the name of record keeping and compulsory license fees).

CNET Expert Sound-Off - The law that could kill Webcasting

One proposed reporting requirement that particularly infuriates Webcasters is the need for each and every Webcaster to waste huge amounts of resources entering loads of data already known by the copyright holders. No one disputes the need to submit information uniquely identifying each song since reporting is needed to ensure that copyright holders are compensated when their music is Webcast. The DMCA itself requires that only three data fields be displayed to the listener: the title of the sound recording, the album title, and the name of the featured recording artist. These basic pieces of information also seem to satisfy songwriting organizations such as ASCAP and BMI. Now, let's take a look at what the copyright office wants Webcasters to submit for each and every song that they play--information that in most cases the RIAA's SoundExchange database already has or that is totally irrelevant to the reason for the reporting requirements, ostensibly to ensure that copyright owners receive reasonable notice of the use of their sound recordings. The copyright office's list or requirements reads as follows:

A) The name of the service
B) The channel of the program (AM/FM stations use station ID)
C) The type of program (archived/looped/live)
D) Date of transmission
E) Time of transmission
F) Time zone of origination of transmission
G) Numeric designation of the place of the sound recording within the program
H) Duration of transmission (to nearest second)
I) Sound-recording title
J) The ISRC code of the recording
K) The release year of the album per copyright notice, and in the case of compilation albums, the release year of the album and copyright date of the track
L) Featured recording artist
M) Retail album title
N) The recording label
O) The UPC code of the retail album
P) The catalog number
Q) The copyright owner information
R) The musical genre of the channel or program (station format)

This is absurd! All that's reasonably needed is enough information to uniquely identify the track, when it was played, and how many people were listening.

Speaking Softly and Carrying A Small Stick Too

I've been silent for over a week now, but I'm starting to feel a little uppity again so let's see if I can stay on a roll this time...