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Comments Off on Internet Freedom Day: January 18

Internet Freedom Day: January 18

It’s been over a decade now since I wrote the first book from the Electonic Frontier Foundation about safety, freedom, and privacy on the Internet. Since then, much has changed, and much has remained the same. The changes have included a huge number of people coming online from all parts of the world and creating the majority of the content online (instead of just webmasters doing it). What remains the same is the constant threat to the value of this amazing resource by well-meaning (and sometimes not-so-well-meaning) people who would attempt to censor or limit the access or freedom of expression that takes place here.

I saw a post from old friend and collaborator, Craig Newmark (the Craigslist guy) asking that everyone post somewhere the answer to the question, “How does the Internet give you a voice?” He’s planning on doing something special with the posts he collects on January 18th, Internet Freedom Day.

Here goes mine: I have been fortunate to have had a voice in print for many years as an author of magazine columns and books.  Even for a published author, the Internet lowered the bar for me to be able to express myself how I wanted, when I wanted, and most importantly, to WHOM I wanted because it is a one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many medium all at the same time.  It’s like nothing else in human history, and we have still only scratched the surface of what we can do with this tool.

That’s why I remain concerned that special interest (of the corporate kind) will be able to lobby lawmakers and get laws passed that favor big companies over individual users.  I’m still concerned that regulation for supposed security concerns turns this global public square into a channel for so-called “approved use” only. And I remain vigilant that the Net remain open to all and free of unneeded regulation to assure that innovators have the opportunity to extend the capabilities and penetration of Internet use everywhere.

Now, that all said, I’d like to call your attention to Craig’s campaign in support of a new law that will actually protect the freedoms I’ve been talking about.  Ironically carrying the same initials as a law that would have done the exact opposite if passed back in 1998 (but we beat it down!), CDA 230 will codify the values of freedom and equality that most of us cherish online.  The graphic below tells you more.

Craig said:
We take things for granted, like the vitality and freedom offered by the Internet. The Net potentially gives everyone a voice. However, it’s not available to everyone, and that freedom must be asserted and sometimes fought for to keep it.

Internet Freedom Day reminds us that we all need to work together to preserve what we have and to help everyone realize their own individual voice. It’s something which we assert frequently, not just one day, but it’s one way to remind ourselves that what we take for granted can be lost.

To give a voice to voiceless, my team and I work to get serious network connectivity where it’s a challenge. Specifically, we work with Inveneo.org, a team which is really good at getting the Internet in difficult circumstances. For example, we’ve supported them in Haiti, the West Bank, and Kenya.

To help protect what we have in the US, we help preserve one of the laws which preserve freedom of speech. That’s section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Now and then, bad politicians attack it, but it’s a strong protection against those who would suppress stuff that they just don’t like. It’s being able to voice stuff like this that let’s me know the Internet really does give me a voice. We’ve worked with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to better explain CDA 230, so please check out this infographic:

Comments Off on Facebook estimates 8.7% of users are duplicate, miscategorized or spam accounts

Facebook estimates 8.7% of users are duplicate, miscategorized or spam accounts

Facebook says 8.7 percent of its monthly active user total might violate terms of service and be either duplicate, miscategorized or “undesirable” accounts meant for spamming, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In its quarterly report, Facebook provided updated numbers and new details about illegitimate accounts, which could represent about 83 million users. The company estimates 4.8 percent of its 955 million monthly active users are duplicate accounts. For instance, a user may use one account for connecting with work acquaintances and another for family and close friends.

Facebook says 2.4 percent of accounts are likely miscategorized accounts where users have created personal profiles for a business, organization or pet. These entities should be represented on Facebook with pages, not profiles, according to the social network’s terms of service.

Facebook also estimates that 1.5 percent of monthly active users are “undesirable accounts,” which are false accounts that are created for spamming or other purposes that violate terms. Earlier this week, a music startup claimed that 80 percent of clicks on its Facebook ad campaign came from bots. Facebook says it is investigating the claims.

Read more at Inside Facebook…

Comments Off on Washington State To Allow Voter Registration Through Facebook

Washington State To Allow Voter Registration Through Facebook

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Facebook users in Washington state will have something else to brag about to their online friends: that they registered to vote on Facebook.

The secretary of state’s office said Tuesday it will have an application on its Facebook page that allows residents to register to vote and then “like” the application and recommend it to their friends. It’s expected to launch as early as next week.

“In this age of social media and more people going online for services, this is a natural way to introduce people to online registration and leverage the power of friends on Facebook to get more people registered,” said Shane Hamlin, co-director of elections.

Washington state has had online registration since 2008, and since then, there have been 475,000 registrations or changes of address processed through the system. Washington is one of more than a dozen states that offer online registration.

Hamlin said Washington state is the first to offer voter registration via Facebook.

“We are excited that citizens in Washington state will be able to register to vote and review useful voting information on Facebook,” said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes.

The state, Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp., which developed the application, have been collaborating on the project since last fall, Hamlin said.

Once it’s live, Facebook users can click on the application within the secretary of state’s Facebook page. They’ll need to agree to let Facebook access their information, which will be used to prefill their name and date of birth in the voter registration form. Users will still need to provide a driver’s license or state ID card number to continue.

Hamlin said that Facebook doesn’t have access to the state’s database; its page just overlays the application. Voters will also be able to access the state’s “My Vote” site with specific information on candidates and ballot measures.

Read the full article on Huffington Post…

Comments Off on Do You Require Facebook Passwords for Applicants You Interview?

Do You Require Facebook Passwords for Applicants You Interview?

by Dave Thomas, Business.com

As media reports have shown us lately, more employers are asking job interview candidates to provide them with Facebook, Twitter and other social media log-in information in order to view private accounts during the background check process.

So, how much damage can a personal Facebook or Twitter account do to someone’s chances of getting a job? To those that think not much, think again.

As more job candidates are discovering, a questionable tweet or sharing a picture of one in a drunken predicament can have very damaging effects on one’s ability to get a job and/or even get in an interview for that matter.

But before your small business decides to spend time on the personal social media accounts of those you are considering interviewing, think about the possible legal ramifications of such actions.

While this is still a very gray area in terms of legalities, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups are letting both the potential employee and the employer that they are watching this recent trend.

Did Maryland Officials Go Too Far?

Much attention was directed recently at the Maryland Department of Corrections, where officials asked applicants and even a number of those already employed there to willingly provide their Facebook passwords. According to prison officials, they wanted to view the private accounts to be sure none of the potential guards and some of those already working there did not have any gang ties

Read the full article

Comments Off on SOPA: An FAQ About a New, Serious Threat to Your Internet Freedom

SOPA: An FAQ About a New, Serious Threat to Your Internet Freedom

From an article on CNET.com by Declan McCullagh

Here we go again. It’s been over a decade since Internet freedom and privacy advocates had to act to prevent the Net from being pre-emptively censored of content that would be considered unacceptable for those under a given age. Now we are facing an even more insidious threat brought forward by our Congress that would put us right in line with countries like China and Iran when it comes to free speech online. I urge you to read and act to help prevent the proposed bill from becoming law. Read on! –BG

When Rep. Lamar Smith announced the Stop Online Piracy Act in late October, he knew it was going to be controversial.

 

But the Texas Republican probably never anticipated the broad and fierce outcry from Internet users that SOPA provoked over the last few months. It was a show of public opposition to Internet-related legislation not seen since the 2003 political wrangling over implanting copy-protection technology in PCs, or perhaps even the blue ribbons appearing on Web sites in the mid-1990s in response to the Communications Decency Act.

As CNET reported in December, Smith, a self-described former ranch manager whose congressional district encompasses the cropland and grazing land stretching between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, has become Hollywood’s favorite Republican. The TV, movie, and music industries are the top donors to his 2012 campaign committee, and he’s been feted by music and movie industry lobbyists at dinners and concerts.

To learn how SOPA, and its Senate cousin known as the Protect IP Act, would affect you, keep reading. CNET has compiled a list of frequently asked questions on the topic:

Q: What’s the justification for SOPA and Protect IP?
Two words: rogue sites.

That’s Hollywood’s term for Web sites that happen to be located in a nation more hospitable to copyright infringement than the United States is (in fact, the U.S. is probably the least hospitable jurisdiction in the world for such an endeavor). Because the target is offshore, a lawsuit against the owners in a U.S. court would be futile.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, put it this way: “Rogue Web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.” The MPAA has a section of its Web site devoted to rogue Web sites. Jim Hood, the Democratic attorney general of Mississippi, and co-chair of a National Association of Attorneys General committee on the topic, recently likened rogue Web sites to child porn.

Who’s opposed to SOPA?
Much of the Internet industry and a large percentage of Internet users. Here’s the most current list (PDF) of opponents.

On November 15, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Yahoo has reportedly quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s enthusiastic support for SOPA.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution last week stressing “the need to protect the integrity of the global Internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said in a message on Twitter last week that we “need to find a better solution than #SOPA.”

A letter signed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, both California Democrats, and
Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican presidential candidate from Texas, predicts that SOPA will invite “an explosion of innovation-killing lawsuits and litigation.” Law professors have also raised concerns. And yes, there is a protest song.

How would SOPA work?
It allows the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order against the targeted offshore Web site that would, in turn, be served on Internet providers in an effort to make the target virtually disappear. It’s kind of an Internet death penalty.

More specifically, section 102 of SOPA says that, after being served with a removal order:

A service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) that is subject to the order…Such actions shall be taken as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within five days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order.

How is SOPA different from the earlier Senate bill called the Protect IP Act?
Protect IP targeted only domain name system providers, financial companies, and ad networks–not companies that provide Internet connectivity.

Because SOPA is broader, even some companies who liked, or at least weren’t vocally opposed to, the Senate bill aren’t exactly delighted with the House version.

“Verizon continues to look at SOPA, and while it’s fair to say that we have concerns about the legislation, we are working with congressional staff to address those concerns,” a representative told us.

Tim McKone, AT&T’s executive vice president of federal relations, said that “we have been supportive of the general framework” of the Senate bill. But when it comes to SOPA, all AT&T would say is that it is “working constructively with Chairman Smith and others toward a similar end in the House.”

What are the security-related implications of SOPA?
One big one is how it interacts with the domain name system and a set of security improvements to it known as DNSSEC.

The idea of DNSSEC is to promote end-to-end encryption of domain names, meaning there’s no break in the chain between, say, Wellsfargo.com and its customer. Requiring Internet providers to redirect allegedly piratical domain names to, say, the FBI’s servers isn’t compatible with DNSSEC.

Rep. Dan Lungren, who heads the Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, has said that an “unintended consequence” of SOPA would be to “undercut” the effort his panel has been making to promote DNSSEC.

The Sandia National Laboratories, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, has also raised concerns about SOPA, saying it is “unlikely to be effective” and will “negatively impact U.S. and global cybersecurity and Internet functionality.” And Stewart Baker, the former policy chief at the Department of Homeland Security who’s now in private practice, warned in an op-ed that SOPA “runs directly counter” to the House’s own cybersecurity efforts.

An analysis (PDF) of Protect IP prepared by five Internet researchers this spring lists potential security problems. Among them: it’s “incompatible” with DNSSEC, innocent Web sites will be swept in as “collateral damage,” and the blacklist can be bypassed by using the numeric Internet address of a Web site. The address for CNET.com, for instance, is currently 64.30.224.118.

What will SOPA require Internet providers to do?
A little-noticed portion of the proposed law, which CNET highlighted in an article, goes further than Protect IP and could require Internet providers to monitor customers’ traffic and block Web sites suspected of copyright infringement.

“It would cover IP blocking,” says Markham Erickson, head of NetCoalition, whose members include Amazon.com, Google, eBay, and Yahoo. “I think it contemplates deep packet inspection” as well, he said.

The exact requirements will depend on what the removal order says. The Recording Industry Association of America says that SOPA could be used to force Internet providers to block by “Internet Protocol address” and deny “access to only the illegal part of the site.” It would come as no surprise if copyright holders suggested wording to the Justice Department, which would in turn seek a judge’s signature on the removal order.

Deep packet inspection, meaning forcing an Internet provider to intercept and analyze customers’ Web traffic, is the only way to block access to specific URLs.

Smith’s revised version (PDF) may limit the blocking requirement to DNS blocking. Its “safe harbor” language indicates that not resolving “the domain name of the foreign infringing site” may be sufficient, but some ambiguity remains.

Are there free speech implications to SOPA?
SOPA’s opponents say so–a New York Times op-ed called it the “Great Firewall of America–and the language of the bill itself is quite broad. Section 103 says that, to be blacklisted, a Web site must be “directed” at the U.S. and also that the owner “has promoted” acts that can infringe copyright.

Here’s how Section 101 of the original version of SOPA defines what a U.S.-directed Web site is:

(A) the Internet site is used to provide goods or services to users located in the United States;
(B) there is evidence that the Internet site or portion thereof is intended to offer or provide such goods and services (or) access to such goods and services (or) delivery of such goods and services to users located in the United States;
(C) the Internet site or portion thereof does not contain reasonable measures to prevent such goods and services from being obtained in or delivered to the United States; and
(D) any prices for goods and services are indicated or billed in the currency of the United States.

Some critics have charged that such language could blacklist the next YouTube, Wikipedia, or WikiLeaks. Especially in the case of WikiLeaks, which has posted internal documents not only from governments but also copyrighted documents from U.S. companies and has threatened to post more, it’s hard to see how it would not qualify for blacklisting.

Laurence Tribe, a high-profile Harvard law professor and author of a treatise titled American Constitutional Law, has argued that SOPA is unconstitutional because, if enacted, “an entire Web site containing tens of thousands of pages could be targeted if only a single page were accused of infringement.”

What has the response to this language been?
Mozilla, which makes the Firefox Web browser, responded by creating a page saying: “Protect the Internet: Help us stop the Internet Blacklist Legislation.” It warns that “your favorite Web sites both inside and outside the US could be blocked based on an infringement claim.”

Web sites including Wikimedia (as in, Wikipedia) charged that SOPA is an “Internet blacklist bill” that “would allow corporations, organizations, or the government to order an Internet service provider to block an entire Web site simply due to an allegation that the site posted infringing content.” Tumblr “censored” its users’ content streams, and reported that its users averaged 3.6 calls per second to Congress through the company’s Web site–nearly 90,000 total.

With a bit of HTML from AmericanCensorship.org, a Web site supported by the Free Software Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Knowledge, hundreds of Web sites “censored” themselves to protest SOPA. Even Lofgren, from Silicon Valley, has joined the fight-censorship protest.

For their part, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been highlighting an analysis it commissioned from First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, a former MPAA attorney, who concluded SOPA is perfectly constitutional. Here’s another pro-SOPA rebuttal.

Who supports SOPA?
The three organizations that have probably been the most vocal are the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A Politico chart shows that Hollywood has outspent Silicon Valley by about tenfold on lobbyists in the last two years. Here’s a CNET article on why the Chamber is so pro-SOPA.

Supporters publicized letters from the National Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters lending their weight to the Web-blocking idea. Here are more statements from supporters at the time of SOPA’s introduction. And the AFL-CIO sent a representative to testify in support of SOPA at last week’s House hearing.

Over 400 businesses and organizations have sent a letter supporting SOPA.

And in the U.S. Congress?
Support for Protect IP is remarkably broad, and for SOPA a little less so. An analysis by the RIAA says that of some 1,900 bills that have been introduced in the Senate, only 18 other bills enjoy the same number of bipartisan cosponsors as Protect IP does.

That puts it in the top 1 percent of most-popular bills, at least for this measurement of congressional enthusiasm. Of Protect IP’s sponsors in the Senate, over 60 percent are Democrats.

Here’s the list of Senate sponsors of Protect IP–the total is 40 senators. SOPA has only 24 cosponsors, but it hasn’t been around as long. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, has introduced the so-called OPEN Act that would cut off the flow of funds to alleged pirate Web sites without requiring them to be blocked.

Would SOPA block Tor?
Perhaps. In an echo of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anticircumvention section, SOPA targets anyone who “knowingly and willfully provides or offers to provide a product or service designed or marketed by such entity…for the circumvention or bypassing” of a Justice Department-erected blockade.

Legal scholars contacted by CNET said Tor could qualify as a “circumvention” tool, which would allow it to be targeted.

What happens next?
In terms of Protect IP, the Senate Judiciary committee has approved it and it’s waiting for a floor vote that has been scheduled for January 24. One hurdle: Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has placed a hold on the bill.

During a two-day debate in the House Judiciary committee in mid-December, it became clear that SOPA supporters have a commanding majority on the committee. They’re expected to approve it when Congress returns in 2012.

Where it goes from there is an open question that depends on where the House Republican leadership stands. Because the House’s floor schedule is under the control of the majority party, the decision will largely lie in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants.

Another possibility is that there could be further House hearings on the security-related implications of SOPA, a move that would delay a final vote. An aide to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith previously told CNET that there’s no indication yet as to any further hearings, but after the committee debate in December, don’t be surprised if it happens.

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET, which is part of CBS Corporation. Previously he was a senior correspondent for CBS News’ Web site. He became the chief political correspondent for CNET News in 2002 and lives in the San Francisco area after spending over a decade in Washington, DC.

Comments Off on SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets A Chance to Break the Internet

SOPA: Hollywood Finally Gets A Chance to Break the Internet

Corynne McSherry for Electronic Frontier Foundation

As promised, here’s the first installment of our closer review of the massive piece of job-killing Internet regulation that is the Stop Online Piracy Act. We’ll start with how it could impact Twitter, Tumblr, and the next innovative social network, cloud computing, or web hosting service that some smart kid is designing in her garage right now.

Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go: despite all the talk about this bill being directed only toward “rogue” foreign sites, there is no question that it targets US companies as well. The bill sets up a system to punish sites allegedly “dedicated to the theft of US property.”  How do you get that label?  Doesn’t take much: Some portion of your site (even a single page) must

  1. be directed toward the US, and either
  2. allegedly “engage in, enable or facilitate” infringement or
  3. allegedly be taking or have taken steps to “avoid confirming a high probability” of infringement.

If an IP rightsholder (vaguely defined – could be Justin Bieber worried about his publicity rights) thinks you meet the criteria and that it is in some way harmed, it can send a notice claiming as much to the payment processors (Visa, Mastercard, Paypal etc.) and ad services you rely on.

Once they get it, they have 5 days to choke off your financial support.  Of course, the payment processors and ad networks won’t be able to fine-tune their response so that only the allegedly infringing portion of your site is affected, which means your whole site will be under assault.  And, it makes no difference that no judge has found you guilty of anything or that the DMCA safe harbors would shelter your conduct if the matter ever went to court.  Indeed, services that have been specifically found legal, like Rapidshare, could be economically strangled via SOPA. You can file a counter-notice, but you’ve only got 5 days to do it (good luck getting solid legal advice in time) and the payment processors and ad networks have no obligation to respect it in any event.  That’s because there are vigilante provisions that grant them immunity for choking off a site if they have a “reasonable belief” that some portion of the site enables infringement.

At a minimum, this means that any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content.  That’s a huge burden, and worse for services that are just getting started – the YouTubes of tomorrow that are generating jobs today.  And no matter what they do, we’re going to see a flurry of notices anyway – as we’ve learned from the DMCA takedown process, content owners are more than happy to send bogus complaints. What happened to Wikileaks via voluntary censorship will now be systematized and streamlined – as long as someone, somewhere, thinks they’ve got an IP right that’s being harmed.

In essence, Hollywood is tired of those pesky laws that help protect innovation, economic growth, and creativity rather than outmoded business models.  So they are trying to rewrite the rules, regulate the Internet, and damn the consequences for the rest of us.

Watch this space for more analysis, but don’t wait to act. This bill cannot be fixed; it must be killed. The bill’s sponsors (and their corporate backers) want to push this thing through quickly, before ordinary citizens get wind of the harm it is going to cause.  If you don’t want to let big media control the future of innovation and online expression, act now, and urge everyone you know to do the same.

Comments Off on Why Spotify can never be profitable: The secret demands of record labels

Why Spotify can never be profitable: The secret demands of record labels

Are record labels still around?  I didn’t even know that! If music is your biz, this should interest you…RBG

Michael Robertson, MP3tunes

Imagine a new hot-dog selling venture. Let’s also say there’s only one supplier to purchase hot dogs from. Instead of simply charging a fixed price for hot dogs, that supplier demands the HIGHER of the following: $1 per hot dog sold OR $2 for every customer served OR 50 percent of all revenues for anything sold in the store.In addition, the supplier requires a two-year minimum order of 300 hot dogs per day, payable all in advance. If fewer hot dogs are sold, there is no refund. If more than 300 hot dogs are sold each day, payments to the supplier are generated by calculating $2 per customer or 50 percent of total revenues, so an additional payment is due to the supplier. After the first two years, the supplier can unilaterally adjust any of the pricing terms and the shop can never switch suppliers.

Would this imaginary hot dog establishment be able to generate a profit? Never, because the economics are one-sided. The supplier will always elect the formula that captures the largest amount of money for themselves, completely disregarding the financial viability of the store. If the store miraculously managed to generate a profit, the landlord would simply raise the rates after two years.

Such economic demands may be imaginary for the hot dog business, but they are the stark reality that every digital-music subscription service such as Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, and others must confront. These details aren’t well-known because digital music service deals are always wrapped tightly with strict non-disclosure agreements.

For the first time, people are talking, and these previously secret demands are being made public. The specifics are even more onerous than the hot dog example cited above. Together they doom online audio companies to a life of subjugation to the labels, as you will learn below.

Here are some specific demands that digital music companies are compelled to agree to:

  1. General deal structure: Pay the largest of A) Pro-rata share of minimum of $X per subscriber, B) Per-play costs at $Y per play, C) Z percent of total company revenue, regardless of other business areas. As stated previously, this means labels de facto set retail price (they also regularly negotiate floors on price, giving even less wiggle room), which limits the ability of the music service to develop ancillary revenue streams that aren’t siphoned off by the labels.
  2. Labels receive equity stake. Not only do labels get to set the price on the service, they also get partial ownership of the company.
  3. Up front (and/or minimum) payments. Means large amounts of cash are necessary to even get into the game. In my experience, this further stifles innovation in services and business models.
  4. Detailed reporting, including monthly play counts. This seems rational enough — you would assume this information is necessary to pay artists and make other business decisions. The problem is, the labels each make additional demands, including providing additional reports unrelated to payment, including overall market share of sales in various categories. I doubt that, for example, phone manufacturers demand Best Buy provide the percentage of sales of competitors’ phones. The labels effectively offload their business analysis (and the cost of such analysis) onto the music services. I can’t think of another industry where that is standard practice.
  5. Data normalization. Labels all provide their data and files in different formats. That data is constantly changing as labels make available new material and make unavailable old material. This might seem trivial. It’s not. Without standard naming conventions and canonical methods for referencing artist, tracks and albums (ISRC and UPC don’t cut it), the services are left to try and match artist, track, album names provided by one label with those of another. It’s incredibly inefficient, as each service must undergo this process separately (although there are now companies that provide a service for doing this for the retailers).
  6. Publishing deals. Once you’ve signed deals with the labels, you then need to cut deals with the publishers. Determining ownership is a complete nightmare and there are huge holes in the licensable catalog. The data issues here are worse than with the labels. The long and short of it: Although you may have the rights to stream from labels, you sometime can’t get the rights to stream from the publisher, or worse, even find the publisher.
  7. Most favored nation. This is a deal term demanded by every major label that ensures the best terms provided to another label are available to it as well. This greatly constricts the ability to work out unique contractual terms and further limits business models. It is a form of collusion since each label gets the best terms the other label negotiates. It’s also why it’s easy to get one label (typically EMI) because they’ll provide low-cost terms knowing that others will demand higher rates, which EMI will then garner the benefit from.
  8. Non-disclosure. Every contract has strict language prohibiting the digital music company from revealing what they pay to the labels. If they speak publicly about any of the licensing terms, they jeopardize invalidating their license which would torpedo their business. Since labels license on behalf of the artists any payment to the artist comes from the labels not the digital music company. This is the main reason music services, not the labels, have been getting heat from the artist community. Music services can’t defend against accusations about low artist payments because they pay the labels who don’t disclose what they’re paying to the artists.

With most other businesses, if a supplier makes unreasonable demands, a retailer can turn to other providers. Since copyright law gives record labels and publishers a government-granted monopoly, no such option is possible with music. Digital vendors have only two options: Accept the terms or not include those songs in their offering.

The sale of EMI to other music companies means there will shortly be only three major labels. If a music service rejects terms offered by a label, then that service’s offering will have an enormous hole in their catalog of 25 percent or more of popular songs. In the business world, a monopoly leads to lopsided economics, and the subscription digital music business is a poignant illustration of that.

Read the full article…

Comments Off on Postal Service Dropping Saturday Delivery? Not so Fast

Postal Service Dropping Saturday Delivery? Not so Fast

Postmaster General John E. Potter is again pushing this week to eliminate Saturday delivery as a cost-cutting measure at the beleaguered United States Postal Service, which is projected to lose $7 billion this year.

But his effort faces a big roadblock in the form of the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) and Congress.

The PRC is an independent organization that regulates the Postal Service and would have to approve dropping a day from the delivery schedule. From there, Congress would have to agree to the change, since federal law mandates six-day delivery.

As  noted in a November story on the state of the Postal Service, PRC chair Ruth Y. Goldway has signaled that she has little interest in dropping Saturday service. In Congressional testimony in November, she said cutting a day of service could undermine “the vitality of the mail system” and threaten the postal monopoly.

“From a market perspective, the Postal Service could lose its greatest strategic advantage – ubiquity,” she said. “Reducing service is detrimental to mail growth and to public perception of the value of the mail system.”

Read the full article on CBSNews.com…

Comments Off on Is Google Now the Evil Empire?

Is Google Now the Evil Empire?

Wow.  So now we have Google+!  Because Google alone just wasn’t big enough?

It seems that it wasn’t that long ago when we were referring to Microsoft as the “evil empire,” and sending each other modified photos of Bill Gates made to look like Darth Vader.  After all, the behavior of that software company was just indicative of human nature. They wanted (probably still want) to dominate as much as possible of our lives as consumers, using their monopoly on computer operating software as their hammer.

Makes me chuckle now, as we look around and see that another software company has eaten their lunch and taken over far more of our lives than Microsoft ever got close to. Unlike Microsoft, Google has a published mission that reads, “Don’t be evil.” But is this just a smokescreen?

My concerns about this issue are simply that it has never been a good thing for freedom and democracy when one entity (or even a few) have control over so many aspects of our lives. And as important as Microsoft’s niche was, it’s nothing like what we are looking at today.

I’m not crying “the sky is falling” or “conspiracy” here.  But I’m not alone in my concerns. For example, Google’s effort to digitize and make available the entire library of humanity’s published works were met with a major class action suit.  And when the outcry over their violations of privacy rights became too loud (over their “Street View” photos and “Google Buzz” applications), they backed off of their positions.  This could be viewed in a positive light, but I’m not so sure.

What about there being a single repository for a database that includes every conceivable piece of information about you?  Your address, phone, social security number, your health records, web sites you have visited, people you have emailed (or received mail from), what you bought, what you posted, on and on!

Does it concern you that over a typical six-month period, Google receives over 10,000 requests for personal data from governments, half of them from the US government?  How they respond to these requests has not been made public.

More and more of our actual survival and quality of life depend on information that travels across the Net. And it’s now a fair statement that Google owns that Net.  How long will it be before we are all working for them?

This video (created before the release of Google+) will blow your mind. Ironically, it’s hosted on Google’s YouTube platform!