Archive for November 21st, 2007
Straight from Ars Technica: “AT&T announced earlier this year that was planning to introduce content filtering of some sort for all video passing across its network. Exactly what AT&T was thinking remained unclear: would the company truly attempt to reassemble the fragments of peer-to-peer transmissions, then extract video from all sorts of different codecs, then attempt to match it-in real time-to some database of copyrighted works? Would such a thing even be possible? It’s still not clear how AT&T plans to deploy its system, but the company is serious about it. Further evidence of that came today, when a brief Wall Street Journal writeup (subscription) pointed out that the company has just invested in Vobile.
Vobile’s core product is a screening technology that it calls “VideoDNA.” Like other systems of its kind, VideoDNA develops a unique signature from every frame of video. The signature is meant to be robust enough to survive various transformations and edits, and it can then be used to run matches against incoming content.
Vobile pitches its products as being especially suitable for content tracking and management purposes. Video-sharing sites could deploy the technology to flag user-uploaded content for possible copyright violations. But, as Vobile’s site notes, VideoDNA is also quick enough to be deployed on video “when it’s transported over a network.”
AT&T has yet to publicly pick a winning technology (plenty of other companies are working on similar video identification technology), and it hasn’t even revealed the scope of its plans. But the interest in video filtering doesn’t appear to have faded after months of time in which executives could ponder the important questions of just how such a system would work and (perhaps more importantly) what customers would think of it.
Based on the complexity of the problem, we suspect that anything initially deployed by AT&T will fall far short of a robust P2P video filter. But should AT&T truly have its eyes on just such a prize, the company would be in a powerful position to impose its own policies on the entire US, since it owns major parts of the Internet backbone. It will also be in a plum position when it comes to dealing with the MPAA and with networks like NBC; both groups have been calling on ISPs to implement exactly this sort of filtering for months.”
Straight from Ars Technica: “The RIAA has responded to Jammie Thomas’ motion for a new trial or to have the amount of the jury award slashed. In their reply, the record labels argue that since Thomas agreed to the jury instructions and was aware of the possibility of a massive award, she has no basis to challenge the constitutionality of the statutory damages.
After a three-day trial last month, a Duluth, MN, jury found that Thomas willfully infringed on the record labels’ copyrights by downloading and distributing 24 copyrighted recordings. Under the provisions of the Copyright Act, they could have awarded the labels anywhere from $750 to $150,000 for each of the songs. They ultimately settled on $9,250 per song for a grand total of $222,000.
In her motion, Thomas argued that the award was unconstitutionally excessive, citing testimony in UMG v. Lindor (a case that the labels call “unrelated” in their response) that the labels only make about 70¢ per song sold online. Thomas instead would like to see damages limited to those that the labels can actually prove, arguing that any award above the labels’ actual damages is “purely punitive.” At most, statutory damages should be capped at 10 times actual damages.”
Straight from Ars Technica: “Customers aren’t the only ones frustrated with the high-definition format wars—Sony CEO Howard Stringer is reaching the end of his rope as well. Blu-ray, which is backed by Sony, was doing well up until recently and winning the war based on merits, Stringer said at an event in New York. That is, up until movie studio Paramount decided to “change sides” and go exclusively HD DVD in August. Things have apparently become more difficult since then, and the high-profile CEO is showing signs of wear.
“It’s a difficult fight,” Stringer was quoted saying by the Associated Press, going so far as to describe the situation as a “stalemate.” He candidly indicated that the war mostly came down to bragging rights over who was winning, and said that the two camps could have collaborated better in the past to develop one format. Stringer even said that he wished he could go back in time to make that possible—is that the smell of regret floating in the air?”
Straight from Ars Technica: “Macrovision, the DRM firm perhaps best known recently for creating security holes in Windows with its SafeDisc DRM, has purchased the intellectual property surrounding the BD+ DRM scheme used by Blu-ray to thwart attempts at copying. For $45 million, Macrovision will get ownership of the Self-Protecting Digital Content (SPDC) technology that forms the basis for BD+ as well as associated patents owned by Cryptography Research.
Both Blu-ray and HD DVD use AACS to thwart copying, but that was cracked last spring. Blu-ray is alone in using an additional layer of security, BD+, to keep users from copying Blu-ray discs. BD+ works via a small virtual machine that is launched each time a disc is inserted. The VM does some code transformation to correct deliberately-corrupted video streams, and checks to see if the disc is playing on a Blu-ray player known to have been hacked. If the player has been compromised in the past, playback can be disabled. When the disc is ejected, the VM disappears from memory, which, in theory, makes it more difficult to hack or reverse engineer.
One small problem: BD+ was hacked earlier this month by SlySoft, makers of AnyDVD. The crack made good the company’s boast that a crack would be available by year end and called into serious question the claims made by Blu-ray’s backers that BD+ was uncrackable.
With the crack, users of AnyDVD make copies of the movies for fair use purposes. Mandatory Managed Copy is part of the Blu-ray spec, but has yet to be implemented, meaning that there’s no way for Blu-ray disc owners to legally copy the discs.”
Straight from Ars Technica: “How many copyright violations does an average user commit in a single day? John Tehranian, a law professor at the University of Utah, calculates in a new paper that he rings up $12.45 million in liability (PDF) over the course of an average day. The gap between what the law allows and what social norms permit is so great now that “we are, technically speaking, a nation of infringers.”
Tehranian’s paper points out just how pervasive copyright has become in our lives. Simply checking one’s e-mail and including the full text in response could be a violation of copyright. So could a tattoo on Tehranian’s shoulder of Captain Caveman—and potential damages escalate when Tehranian takes off his shirt at the university pool and engages in public performance of an unauthorized copyrighted work.
Singing “Happy Birthday” at a restaurant (unauthorized public performance) and capturing the event on a video camera (unauthorized reproduction) could increase his liability, and that’s to say nothing of the copyrighted artwork hanging on the wall behind the dinner table (also captured without authorization by the camera). Tehranian calculates his yearly liability at $4.5 billion.
And all of this infringement could easily be done without even engaging in “wrong” behaviors like P2P file-sharing. Tehranian wants to make clear how such copyright issues don’t simply affect those operating in the grey or black zones of the law; they affect plenty of ordinary people who aren’t doing anything that they consider to be illegal, immoral, or even a little bit naughty.
The “vast disparity between copyright law and copyright norms” simply highlights the need for effective copyright reform. Since the 1976 Copyright Act, when all creative works automatically gained copyright protection without the need for registration, our lives have been awash in the copyrighted materials of other people. The advent of digital technology means not only that such works are simpler to use and to share, but that content owners for the first time have a realistic shot at enforcing their maximum rights.”
Straight from Ars Technica: “The search giant has just announced its plans to enter the 700MHz spectrum auction in January, potentially paving the way for a transformation of the US wireless space. In a statement, a Google spokesperson told Ars, “Our goal is to make sure that American consumers have more choices in an open and competitive wireless world. FCC rules require us to reveal our plans by December 3, and we fully intend to do so. In the meantime, we are making all the necessary preparations to become an applicant to bid in the auction.”
Coupled with the company’s recent launch of Android and formation of the Open Handset Alliance, the announcement is certain to ignite a new round of frenzied speculation about just what, exactly, the Big G would do with a nationwide swath of 700MHz spectrum.
Conventional wisdom has had it that Google has no interest in actually becoming a network provider, what with all the hassles from those grubby customers who can’t make feature X work on Y handset. And then there’s billing and engineering and marketing and local storefronts and all the rest of it that makes up a modern wireless carrier’s operations.
But if Google is truly serious about the four open access provisions it pushed at the FCC earlier this year, that may not be the company’s plan at all. One of those provisions would have forced any winning bidder on the spectrum to lease network access at wholesale rates to others, thus paving the way for a host of innovative wireless providers who could not afford to build a national infrastructure themselves. The FCC rejected that provision, but there’s nothing keeping Google from supporting the idea itself.”
Straight from Ars Technica: “The MPAA won’t be happy, but fans of rogue digital music site AllOfMP3 (and its many new iterations since the shutdown of the original) will be pleased over news of a movie site mirroring the cheap, DRM-free model of its musical cousin. ZML has made a quiet debut over the last couple of months, but boasts over a thousand movies thus far, ranging from old classics to recent releases. We took a look at the service and found that, while it doesn’t have everything, it’s certainly good for stocking up on cheap (and not-very-legal) movies.”