October 2000 [2]

Real World
Web-wide World
Wired World
Wireless World
Hard World
Soft World
ATA (All the Acronyms)

Real World

  • WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organisation] decided this fortnight that Madonna should be given possession of the domain madonna.com. This domain was originally held by a Mr Parisi, who was using the site to display pornography. Parisi's defence was that, firstly, a disclaimer on his site showed that he wasn't trading upon Madonna's good name, and secondly that Madonna could hardly be 'tarnished' by an association with pornography. But in such cases WIPO tends to favour the celebrity (with one notable exception being the pop singer Sting's failure to take sting.com from an online gamer with the same nickname).

Web-Wide World

  • With the dot.com market continuing its depression, this week's good news from Amazon.com came as something of a surprise. The last quarter saw its sales increase 80%, with its debts dropping from £54m to £47m. Its Chief Executive, Jeff Bezos, is even suggesting that sometime next year it could break even.

Wired World

  • [Focus]

    It can be natural to think of the Internet in the following way. In the middle are the company-owned servers, which send out web content (html pages, programming code, binary files etc) in response to requests. On the outside are the individual user clients, which request and receive the web content from the servers.

    On this model, enforcing copyright on web content is relatively easy. It is the responsibility of the centralised servers to make sure that they have the right to send material to clients. Of course, clients might then copy this material to friends via disk or attached to email, but these are fairly inefficient processes.

    On the P2P [peer-to-peer] model, however, things are rather different.

    Let us take as our example the Napster program. Using this program, an individual user can make his or her music files available for other individuals to download. That is, each Napster user becomes a potential server of music files.

    The business of searching for music files is helped by the central Napster servers, which catalogue the music files made available by users. But the actual swapping of files occurs only between individuals, and not through the central servers.

    With this model, enforcing copyright on web content is hard. It is the responsibility of individual users to make sure that they don't make available or copy music files which are under copyright protection (e.g. tracks from commercially available CDs). But with literally millions of Napster users, such copyright infringements are very difficult to check.

    And it is not just music files that are being swapped. Following on from the success of Napster, programs like 'Scour' and 'Gnutella' allow any types of file, including executable programs, to be swapped between individuals.

    Now, it is widely accepted that the majority of music file swaps via Napster have been 'pirate' copies, which have infringed copyright. Understandably, this has worried recording companies, who are concerned about losing revenue. They are trying to get services like Napster closed down, on the basis that they encourage copyright infringement.

    Last July the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] started court proceedings against Napster, citing the recent US law the DMCA [Digital Millenium Copyright Act]. The courts originally ordered Napster to close down pending the outcome of this trial, but this ruling was overturned on appeal.

    The continuing trial is, reportedly, beginning to swing in the favour of Napster. The defence has focused on the precedent set by the 1984 Sony case, which allowed the sale of recordable video tapes. The ruling in that case was that the possibility of 'fair use' of video tapes (ie non-copyright infringing use) outweighed the clear potential for misuse.

    So what happens if Napster wins? According to the RIAA, we are looking at the meltdown of the recording industry. If music tracks are made freely available then very few legitimate copies will be bought, so pop stars will not get paid, so people will not become pop stars. And the prospect of a world without pop stars is apparently just too horrible to behold.

    One possible solution being investigated by the RIAA is the SDMI [Secure Digital Music Initiative]. The idea behind this is to encrypt digital music files so that they can't be multiply copied. But this initiative has met with widespread, and justified scepticism. A copying device will only balk at making multiple copies of a file if it recognises the file as SDMI protected. So for this idea to work, all the different mechanisms of copying binary files would have to be updated to recognise SDMI formats. And even then you'd have to make the SDMI encryption unbreakable. And find some way of stopping people copying the output of the encrypted file.

    But is the nightmare scenario painted by the RIAA really correct? Some independent surveys suggest that people who download lots of pirate music files are actually more likely to buy legitimate CDs. And projects like Steven King's online book, where people can choose to pay for chapters they download, have shown people to be quite willing to pay out.

    Perhaps, then, the future of the music industry, and the future of other producers of digital content, is one in which revenue streams are dependent upon the conscience and goodwill of the public? An interesting vision, but one which will probably only happen when all the music executives are otherwise occupied ice-skating in hell...

Wireless World

  • The UK price comparison site for books, www.bookbrain.co.uk, has just become available via WAP (at the same address). The site searches 14 UK online book stores for the best prices, including in the total the cost of postage and packaging. From our experience the site is excellent (and we're not even getting paid to say this).

Hard World

  • Japanese electronics firm Matsushita-Kotobuki have reportedly developed a way of cramming 32 Mb onto a standard 1.44 Mb floppy disk. The disk drives capable of performing this feat are expected to be available in the new year.
  • # With the release of the 1.2 Gz Thunderbird, AMD has now stretched its lead over Intel by 200 Mz. There are also industry rumours that AMD may be planning to release a 1.33 Gz chip before Christmas, but it is more likely that this will appear in the new year.

Soft World

  • Microsoft revealed this week that hackers had compromised its security for three months, using the 'QAX Trojan'. Microsoft is currently trawling through all of its recent software projects to check for unauthorised changes, but is more worried about protecting its intellectual property. The possibly compromised software includes the recently released Windows Me, Windows 2000, Whistler (a forthcoming update to Windows 2000), Outlook, Outlook Express, and Microsoft Office.

ATA (All the Acronyms)

  • DCMA - Digital Millenium Copyright Act

    P2P - Peer-to-peer

    RIAA - Recording Industry Association of America

    SDMI - Secure Digital Musical Initiative

    WAP - Wireless Application Protocol

    WIPO - World Intellectual Property Organisation

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