A little more than a year ago, the creators of Azureus -- a file-sharing program based on the BitTorrent protocol -- launched Vuze, a version that ignored bootlegs in favor of authorized copies of TV shows, movies, games and other programming. The idea was to create a file-sharing environment that content owners would want to participate in, and that would present less risky revenue streams. By focusing the software only on authorized files, Vuze could charge fees for files or sell advertising around them without fear of being sued for profiting from piracy. It soon attracted content from dozens of producers around the globe, including the BBC, PBS and TOKYOPOP, although the major Hollywood studios largely kept their distance.
This month, Vuze did an about-face. Unleashing the software's search engine, it enabled users to find and retrieve content indexed by some of the world's most popular BitTorrent search engines. These include Mininova, an index site in the Netherlands now under legal assault from Dutch anti-piracy authorities. As a result, users don't have to fire up a second file-sharing program to find free, pirated versions of the titles Vuze offers on a pay-per-view basis. They can do it through Vuze's search engine.
CEO Gilles BianRosa acknowledged that the move didn't meet with universal acclaim from the companies providing content on Vuze. Yet he said that the change merely acknowledges the reality of the marketplace, and argued that it would help content owners compete better with online bootleggers.
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The Center for Democracy and Technology weighed in today on the delicate subject of privacy and digital watermarks, recommending a series of best practices for protecting consumers against the unauthorized use of personal information. It's a tricky issue because watermarks -- unique digital identifiers that can't be detected with the naked eye -- are emerging as an anti-piracy tool, in which case the whole point is to identify the source of an infringing file. Nevertheless, as the 17-page report (download here) notes, even watermarks used for such purposes are subject to abuses that could invade innocent consumers' privacy or, worse, expose them to lawsuits for infringements they did not commit. And as the use of watermarks in online and digital media spreads, the threats proliferate. As the report puts it:
Perhaps the most frequently raised privacy concern is the idea that watermarks could enable increased monitoring, recording, or disclosure of an individualâs media purchases or usage. The fear, in other words, is that watermarking could compromise an individualâs ability to use and enjoy lawfully acquired media on a private, anonymous basis. Particular media usage choices could be sensitive if exposed, or could contribute to the creation of profiles of individualsâ overall media purchase and consumption habits, which might be used in ways that the individuals do not expect or understand. Other possible privacy concerns include the risk that watermarks could contain personal information that could be exposed to third parties, and the risk that errors in or manipulation of watermark data could paint a false picture of an individualâs behavior and perhaps lead to adverse consequences, including potential legal liability.
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The public drubbing Comcast has received for interfering with BitTorrent uploads may not have been enough to stop other ISPs from doing the very same thing. The Associated Press reported today that a new study by the Max Planck institute found that Cox, a major cable operator, appeared to have taken a page from Comcast and was sending reset packets to disconnect BitTorrent uploaders. Of the 151 computers on Cox's network that ran the institute's test, 82 were blocked (you can read about the methodology here). That's 54%. The only other U.S. ISP to have such a high percentage of blocked uploads was Comcast, where 62% of the 788 hosts were blocked, the AP reported.
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Like David going 15 rounds with Goliath, StreamCast Networks Inc. battled the biggest companies in the entertainment industry for nearly six and a half years before finally dropping the slingshot and hitting the dirt. The file-sharing company filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition last week, sending it down the road to liquidation.
But the company's demise wasn't triggered by Hollywood studios or the major record labels, as much as they would have liked to have done so. Instead, StreamCast was felled by one of its own rocks: a lawsuit it filed in January 2006 against file-sharing rival Kazaa and a host of related companies. It proved to be a tactical blunder of the first order. Two of the defendants in that case counter-sued, won and locked StreamCast in a financial death-grip. And here's the delicious irony. StreamCast executives had long grumbled that Kazaa had sabotaged their business just as it was taking off in 2002, enabling Kazaa to dominate the second generation of file-sharing networks (i.e., the one that succeeded the original Napster). That may or may not be true, but there's no doubt that StreamCast's attempt to take revenge against the extended Kazaa family proved its undoing.
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Microsoft has an uphill climb with Silverlight, the browser plug-in technology it's developing to compete with Adobe's ubiquitous Flash technology. To boost its chances, it's taking a distinctly un-Microsoftian tack: it's designing the technology to work on software platforms and devices outside the Windows universe. And in that vein, it's working with Widevine to supply a non-Windows DRM for content delivered via Silverlight.
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The idea of putting kiosks in retailers to burn music or movie discs on demand is one whose time may never come. I've heard a number of pitches for them over the years, almost all of which sounded far more promising than they proved to be in the marketplace. Still, companies keep trying. The latest is Nero, maker of a leading brand of disc-burning software, which expects to be powering movie-burning kiosks in major retailers this summer.
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Verizon, a leading provider of broadband services in the U.S., is
the belle of the blogs today thanks to its work with a p2p trade group on a technology to speed p2p downloads. The technique, developed by researchers from Yale and the University of Washington, enables p2p software and broadband networks to work together to select the most efficient way to deliver a requested file.
For ISPs, this "P4P" approach offers a way to cut the amount of bandwidth hoovered by file-sharing applications -- in particular, the costly bandwidth between the ISP's local network and the rest of the Internet. That's because it would help downloaders obtain as much as possible from the shortest possible electronic paths.
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As a World Series champion pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, Curt Schilling has long used computer analysis as part of his rigorous pregame preparation.
Now he hopes his stellar baseball career has prepared him for a life with computers. Schilling, who is 41 and says the coming season (for the Red Sox) will be his last in baseball, has founded and self-funded a computer game company that has been hiring industry veterans as well as some notable outsiders.
Though the first big game from 38 Studios won't come out until late 2010, the Maynard, Mass., start-up already has 35 employees and is looking for outside investors.
During a small dinner for the media at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Schilling said he had long been an active player of such major multi-user games as "World of Warcraft" and "Everquest."
As a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" and other detailed fantasy realms, Schilling hired bestselling novelist R.A. Salvatore to create the world and Todd McFarlane, who won an Emmy for the HBO series "Spawn," as creative art director.
Schilling said his only post-baseball occupation will be serving the company, which he likewise hopes will be the last job for other workers.
The Beantown icon said he was motivated in part by the possibility of changing his employees' lives for the better, especially after learning how debilitating the gaming industry can be for software developers.
"My only two rules are: Show up on time and kick ass," Schilling said, attributing that mantra -- and the rest of his managerial strategy -- to Red Sox Manager Terry Francona.
But he conceded that there were times when his All-Star history made it hard to empathize completely with the staff. Schilling, who is famous for pitching with a bloody sock as a result of having his injured ankle tendon sutured in place, recalled one weekly meeting where an employee complained about being tired.
"Let me tell you how this works: I stitched up my ankle to pitch in the World Series," Schilling remembered telling the man. "Let’s GO!"
-- Joseph Menn
Photo by the Associated Press
Gadgets for grownups may be chock-a-block at CES, but the electronics market for the juice box set is expanding fast. Sales of so-called youth electronics grew 22% in 2006, contributing $1 billion of the $22 billion U.S. toy market that year, according to market research firm NPD. Some gizmos, such as the V-Smile Baby Infant Development System, target kids even before they can walk.
Since Junior is unlikely to have a credit card, gadgets makers instead try to appeal to parents by boasting that their products can turn kids into the next Stephen Hawking. Many, according to a report released Tuesday by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, have no scientific basis for making these claims. Of the 300 video games released in 2007 as "edutainment" titles, only 69 had any educational value and just two were based on any type of curriculum, such as math, science and literacy.
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Microsoft Corp. is pleased to announce a bold new partnership with ... never mind.
At companies as large as Microsoft, few events elicit as much careful preparation as a keynote speech by the top executives. Sunday night, that was Bill Gates at CES.
The speechwriting and much-rehearsed demonstrations are just the visible part of what approximates a State of the Union address. Underlying those are the efforts by: strategists to establish broad themes, executives to hash through which projects most deserve (or most badly need) championing, and deal makers to lobby for public salutes to allies at other corporations.
Given all that labor and the need for a seamless multimedia performance, last-minute changes are strongly discouraged.
So it came as a surprise when one of the keynote deals Microsoft explained in advance to the press Friday -- an agreement by Sony Corp. to manufacture television sets capable of displaying a Windows-powered computer’s content without extra gear -- was excised from Sunday's speech. Similar TV deals were announced with only Hewlett-Packard Co. and Samsung Corp.
Let's see, did anything else happen Friday? Oh yes, Blu-ray, which is the next-generation DVD format backed furiously by Sony, converted Warner Bros. to its cause and won what several analysts predicted would be the decisive blow against the HD DVD format championed by Microsoft.
Microsoft said the change in Gates' speech was a coincidence, one that it declined to explain further.
A Sony spokesman also discouraged any link to the format war, saying that negotiations over the new TVs probably hadn't gotten close enough to completion for an announcement -- apparently someone jumped the gun.
Sony and Microsoft compete on several fronts but cooperate on others. In fact, some of the demonstrations during Gates’ keynotes were on Sony Vaio laptops running Windows Vista. That long-term partnership is too valuable for both sides to be abandoned over one or two fits of pique, be they real or imagined.
-- Joseph Menn