Morpheus throws in the towel

Morpheus p2p file-sharing software StreamCast goes bankrupt StreamCast Networks, the company behind the Morpheus file-sharing software, filed for protection Wednesday under Chapter 7 of federal bankruptcy law. Now, perhaps, the when-will-it-ever-end legal battle known as MGM v Grokster will finally come to an end, more than six years after the major record companies and movie studios sought the federal courts' help against StreamCast, Kazaa and Grokster. At the time, those companies were the three heirs apparent to the original Napster. In fact, StreamCast -- backed by Timberline Venture Partners, a venture capital firm tied to legendary VC Tim Draper -- had begun life (under the name MusicCity Networks) piggybacking onto Napster's protocol and client software. It eventually switched to the FastTrack network it shared with Kazaa and Grokster, only to be booted unceremoniously from that network and forced onto Gnutella. Its bankruptcy doesn't come as a shock (except, perhaps, to the employees who were laid off as of April 22), yet it leaves a few intriguing legal questions unanswered.

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Sezmi presents TV 2.0

Sezmi_logo We know what the second generation of the World Wide Web looks like -- a cornucopia of services and applications, not just text and graphics. But what might the Web 2.0 counterpart be for television? It will be digital, certainly, and offer far more programming from a greater variety of sources. It will make more shows available on demand, to meet the expectations of consumers who've been liberated by TiVo. It will be more interactive, to meet the expectations of advertisers spoiled by the Web. And it will be mobile. After all, every cell phone in the market will soon be able to show video, and TV flows inexorably toward any screen that can display it.

Today, a Silicon Valley start-up called Sezmi (formerly known by the more stealthy and Webster's-friendly moniker Building B) goes public with its version of TV 2.0. It may not succeed -- the landscape is littered with the empty offices of firms that tried and failed to compete with the local cable operators -- but its approach shows what's possible.

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UPDATED -- Has HD DVD demise helped Blu-ray?

Bluray_logo2 The NPD Group released a report today showing that post-holiday sales of Blu-ray didn't exactly skyrocket after Toshiba folded the HD DVD tent in February. After dropping 40 percent from January to February, sales of set-top Blu-ray players (i.e., those not built into a PlayStation 3) crept up 2% in March, NPD said. HD DVD sales, meanwhile, fell off a cliff that month.

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Judge rejects claim RIAA previously won

Talk about a case going full circle: U.S. District Judge Neil V. Wake has rejected the RIAA's motion for summary judgment in its claims against Pamela and Jeffrey Howell, completely reversing the ruling he'd made last August. The new ruling, dated Monday but released today, sets a high bar for proving infringement claims against file-sharers, potentially spelling trouble for Hollywood as well as the record companies. The decision won't control other courts, but it adds to the growing stack of rulings that make cases against file-sharers more difficult to win.

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CinemaNow phones in movies

Cinemanow_logo This morning, CinemaNow announced a mobile version of its downloadable movie site. Happily, the point isn't to supply movies to your cell phone (not that there's anything wrong with that). Instead, it lets people use their phones to order movies and have them delivered electronically to their PC or a variety of other devices.

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Second-best set-top box ever

This post is meant for readers in the, oh, 17 million or so households that rely on over-the-air signals for their television programming pleasure. As you should know by now, analog TV signals from full-power stations are shutting off next February, when those stations go exclusively with digital TV transmissions. If you're wedded to your analog TV, you'll need a converter box that will cost about $50. The federal government, fearful of couch-potato riots, is offering one to two $40 coupons per household to subsidize those boxes. So far, more than 6 million coupons have been mailed out by the feds, but only about 10% of them have been redeemed. With the analog cut-off not due until February, you might think there's no reason to rush out and get a converter. Well, here's a reason: I got my box a couple of weeks ago, and I've never seen broadcast TV look so good.

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Harry Shearer, well animated

Harry_shearer_photo_2Harry Shearer is a multimedia kind of guy. His talents are on display on film, TV, radio, CDs, the Internet, video games -- you name the medium, he's there. And soon, he'll be working a yet another format: motion capture animation. At the National Assn. of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas today, Shearer gave attendees a sample of the work to come, showing a brief skit that integrated Shearer's voice, expressions and gestures into a pair of computer-generated figures. The official version, due later this year on My Damn Channel, will have Shearer lampooning the presidential candidates, political leaders and media figures who populate the 2008 campaign.

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Nero burns a new mission

Nerologo 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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Comcast's BitTorrent conversion

Bittorrent_inc_logo The ink was still drying on Comcast's press release this morning announcing a collaboration with BitTorrent Inc. on the touchy subject of network management when various groups for and against Net neutrality regulations started weighing in. The ones opposed to such rules typically said the collaboration proved government action was unnecessary; the ones who favored them argued that Comcast acted only because the FCC had launched an investigation into the cable company's interference with BitTorrent traffic.

Ashwin_navin_bittorrent_president BitTorrent President Ashwin Navin was asked his views on the need for neutrality rules this afternoon, but he refused to take the bait. Speaking at the Technology Policy Summit conference in Hollywood, Navin noted that Comcast wasn't the only ISP using that particular technique to interfere with BitTorrent uploads. "I feel good about our relationship with Comcast," he said. "The FCC has several other ISPs that it needs to be vigilent about.... It would be appropriate, responsible for the FCC to do what it needs to do to make sure the U.S. is a leader in broadband, not only in broadband technology but also broadband regulation."

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Trendrr: fun with numbers

Trendrr_logo Here's one for the "Who Knew?" files: the news media's attention to the sub-prime fiasco rises and falls in step with its fascination with Britney Spears. Coincidence? I think not! I would not have noticed this linkage had it not been for Trendrr, a fascinating site that recently went live. An offshoot of Wiredset, a New York agency that specializes in promoting media through the Web, social networks and mobile carriers, Trendrr lets users assemble and compare data from a dozen sources (more to come soon), including Google News, Bit Torrent, eBay and YouTube. It also invites users to request new sources or submit their own. For example, you might want to gauge interest in a particular band by seeing how often people were posting videos of that act on YouTube. Or, if you were a studio, you could graf how often the trailer for your summer blockbuster was being played on vs. YouTube vs. DailyMotion. My examples don't do Trendrr justice, so click here to check out the site's most popular trend-mapping exercises. Then try creating some of your own. Depending on how embarrassing the results are, I may update this post later this week with the results of something I'm tracking on Trendrr: the number of times my newspaper, the NY Times and the Washington Post are cited on blogs, as measured by Google Blog Search. 

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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