AllofMP3.com–Is That All You’ve Got?

Last week the RIAA sued Russian music-sharing site AllofMP3.com (prior post here). AllofMP3.com is unimpressed: “AllofMP3 understands that several U.S. record label companies filed a lawsuit against Media Services in New York . . . This suit is unjustified as AllofMP3 does not operate in New York. Certainly the labels are free to file any suit they wish, despite knowing full well that AllofMP3 operates legally in Russia. In the mean time, AllofMP3 plans to continue to operate legally and comply with all Russian laws.” A wild card in AllofMP3.com’s future is whether the Russian government will effectively implement its agreement with the U.S. to shut down the site.

That Holiday Spirit

The City of New London, Connecticut took the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors by eminent domain for a private waterfront development to spur economic growth. Kelo and the other homeowners challenged the taking, arguing that it was not for a public purpose. In 2005 in Kelo v. New London the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the city. The city paid Kelo $440,000 for her home, $300,000 more than its appraised value.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog (subscription required) reports that Kelo recently sent a “holiday greeting card” to current and former New London city officials. The card featured a picture of Kelo’s house and these words:

Here is my house that you did take
From me to you, this spell I make
Your houses, your homes
Your family, your friends
May they live in misery
That never ends
I curse you all
May you rot in hell
To each of you
I send this spell
For the rest of your lives
I wish you ill
I send this now
By the power of will

I curse you all . . . may you rot in hell seems, oh, disproportionate to the offense. How can Kelo top that opening sentiment in next year’s holiday greeting card? May rabid jackals rend the flesh from your decaying bones? Did this message get the bad juices out of Kelo’s system or merely prime the pump for an annual geyser of invective?

This post’s comments quickly devolve into typical Internet incivility. They do not manifest “Godwin’s Law,” which states “as [an online] discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one,” but amid amusing references to operatic curses and jabs at Kelo’s “shifting rhyming scheme” they display the ready reliance on personal attack that characterizes so much Internet discourse. Commenter seven lazily dismisses Kelo (“i am sure her trailer is irreplaceable. Get over it. A house is fungible . . . buy a shiney (sic) new trailer to live in”), and provokes a body-part insult, albeit politely couched, from commenter eight: “your problems are so deep seated that instead of your needing a psychiatrist’s help, I might suggest a proctologist instead. He’d have your whole body to work on.” Argument by faceless ad hominem attack is as old as Usenet and as new as the 2006 elections, an outgrowth of Internet culture the ubiquity of which does not diminish its ugliness.

Worth Reading

Frank Rich takes on Time Magazine’s choice of “You–yes, you” as 2006 Person of the Year in his Op-Ed column in today’s New York Times. After skewering Time for its “sad . . editorial pratfall” he decides that “Time made the right choice, albeit for the wrong reasons . . . As our country seeks deeper into a quagmire — and even a conclusive Election Day repudiation of the war proves powerless to stop it — we the people . . . will seek out any escape hatch we can find.” For many that escape hatch is the ready distractions of YouTube (“[a]s of Friday morning, “Britney Spears Nude on Beach” had been viewed 1,041,776 times . . . The count for YouTube video clips tagged with “Iraq” was 22,783″) and the “sideshow villains who distracted us from main news events in the Middle East: James Frey, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, and Judith Regan.” Check it out.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like March

The 9:00 PM Weather Channel weather for Oxford, ME (the nearest city, using that term loosely, for my present location) is 40 degrees and partly cloudy. The forecast for Christmas day is mostly sunny and 44 degrees. The forecast for Christmas week is sun, rain, temperatures in the 40s. It is December. I’m in New England, in Maine. If I wanted sunshine on Christmas I’d live in California. The lake should be iced-in, snow should blanket the ground, the temperature should be in the low 20s and falling, there a storm forming over the Great Lakes should be aimed at the heart of New England.

This weather is dispiriting. If I wanted rain on Christmas I’d live in Seattle.

iTunes: Up or Down

I posted last week (iTunes iNtrouble?) about a report by Forrester Research that, according to The Register, Bloomberg, and others, disclosed a collapse in iTunes’ sales in 2006. The claims of trouble at iTunes “threw the cat among the pigeons,” as a boss used to say. Apple shares dropped almost 3% after Orlowski’s story, others claimed iTunes 2006 sales are “surging,” and the report’s author criticized the media for taking one sentence of the report out of context. Which figures are correct? It is hard to say since Apple does not report iTunes sales separately. Analysts look at other official Apple figures or figures from other sources to deduce iTunes sales trends and, not surprisingly, different sources yield different conclusions. For instance, the Forrester Research report is based on 2,700 debit and credit card transactions. Carl Bialik, The Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy,” examined the different methods here. (Subscription required)

Commentary branched off from there. Andrew Orlowski’s December 12 article in The Register pointed to digital rights management as a cause of Apple’s declining sales, a theme reiterated by others: ” . . . the metrics are beginning to support the notion that DRM, at least in part, is actually driving people away from Apple’s music store.” (Joe Lewis, Webpronews.com) Orlowski spun another strand, predicting the advent of blanket licenses in which users subscribe to online sites for a small fee and obtain “the right to exchange music freely” and licensors (artists and labels) divvy up the pie in some equitable fashion.

Others attacked Orlowski’s article. In the “‘Collapsing iTunes Store’ Myth” RoughlyDrafted.com characterized Orlowski’s blanket-license model as a “socialist fantasy” mandating a “Soviet style choice:”

The point was not just to create a sensationalist article, but to use it as proof for later articles that followed a preset agenda: iTunes can’t succeed, because Orlowski has other ideas in mind about how to distribute the world’s music.

RoughlyDrafted.com links to a chart and analysis from Blackfriars Marketing of Apple sales supporting the Apple press-release claim that iTunes’ sales are, um, just peachy. Absent actual Apple iTunes sales figures this dispute is mostly noise, revealing more about the use of the Internet to flog a topic into tiny pieces than about iTunes’ sales or the future of digital music. Google, for example, produced over 10,000 hits for “apple ‘itunes sales’ ‘forrester research report.'” I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I’m neither confident of iTunes’ imminent downslide nor optimistic about its continued dominance over the music download market, merely curious about how the future unfolds and how we perceive it.
It reveals something else, too: the passionate, minute interest in the present and future of digital entertainment. It’s hard to imagine a report of, say, declining sales of Sony HDTVs provoking the same type of commentary.

AllofMP3.com Lives Yet

Despite a US-Russian trade agreement in which Russia agreed to close legal-in-its-own mind AllofMP3.com (see prior post), the pesky Russian site continues to operate, bearing an enthusiastic “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” and running a Christmas sale. Apparently tired by the trade agreement’s failure to eliminate the site, the New York Times reported today that various recording companies filed a federal court lawsuit in Manhattan seeking an injunction to force AllofMP3.com’s closure. The lawsuit argues that the site’s “claims of legitimacy” make it more problematic than unabashedly illicit sites. AllofMP3.com states it sells music pursuant to legitimate Russian licenses, but ROMS, the Russian licensing site on which AllofMP3.com pins its copyright virtue, was expelled from an international royalty-collection association “for issuing licenses without authorization from copyright holders.”

Don’t Know Much About History . . .

Congressional Quarterly National Security Editor asked Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked head of the Intelligence Committee, whether al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite. He said “they have both” before dashing out to the end of the limb, saw in hand, with a firm “predominantly — probably Shiite.”

Oops. Wrong. The correct answer is Sunni, “profoundly Sunni” in the words of Jeff Stein, Reyes interlocutor, who adds “the extremist Sunnis who make up al Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.”

This was not an ambush interview of a soccer mom at the supermarket. Reyes is “a kindly, thoughtful man,” a five-term member of Congress, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Speaker Pelosi chose him — “mystifyingly” according to Maureen Dowd’s column today — after a “catfight” with the “knowledgeable and camera-eager” (Dowd again) Rep. Jane Harman, D-CA. Stein questioned him as part of his ongoing quest to reveal the degree of knowledge of Middle East issues among federal policy makers.

This is what we voted for? Nancy Pelosi handles the Democratic mandate from the November elections by giving a critical job to a loyalist scaling the learning curve instead of someone with intelligence chops? Let’s hope Reyes’ staff is preparing flash cards for his Christmas stocking.

Lawsuits on the Family Plan

After being sued for copyright infringement by the Recording Industry Association of America last year Patti Santangelo’s defiant denial of charges won a certain amount of attention: Single Mother of Five Takes on RIAA in Downloading Case; Mom versus RIAA; RIAA Martyr Patricia Santangelo – RIAA Takes Internet Illitereate (sic) Mom to Mat. (I can’t climb up on my high horse about typos, but “illitereate?” You can’t make this stuff up.)

Break out the warm bubbly and plastic cups. Santangelo won a victory yesterday, sort if. The court dismissed the RIAA’s suit against Santangelo but did so without prejudice, which means the RIAA can file the suit again if new facts come to light to support its claim. This suit’s dismissal does not remove the Santangelo clan from the RIAA’s sights. This fall the RIAA sued Santangelo’s 20-year old daughter Michelle and 16-year old son Robert for copyright infringement, claiming they downloaded and shared over 1,000 copyrighted recordings. The RIAA says that Michelle admitted to the unlawful download and that Robert’s best friend–one guesses he is not on Robert’s Christmas card list this year–fingered Robert’s illicit file sharing. Their lawyer denies these allegations.

New Copyright-Monitoring System

The Wall Street Journal reported that California-based Attributor Corp. has developed a content scanning system to locate copyrighted material on the web. Attributor analyzes the digital fingerprints of its clients’ content–audio, video, images, text–and scans its index of web pages for matches. It “claims to be able to spot a customer’s content based on the appearance of as little as a few sentences of text or a few seconds of audio or video.” By the end of 2006 Attributor claims its index will contain over 10 billion Web pages. The company has been testing the system quietly, and plans to release it officially early in 2007. Notably, at the outset Attributor will not tackle peer-to-peer file sharing systems.

Kevin J. Delaney, Copyright Tool Will Scan Web For Violations, The Wall Street Journal, 18-Dec-06, p. B1

Peer Enforcement

As reported by cNet last week, Republican Senator John McCain has proposed legislation that would require web sites to report user-posted child pornography or forms of obscenity to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The “Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act” (he couldn’t come up with a catchier acronym than SOEOCA?) would apply existing reporting requirements to Web-based message boards, chat rooms, social-networking sites, e-mail providers, IM services, Internet content hosting services, domain name registration services, Internet search services, any electronic communications service, and any image or video-sharing service. The Act would also require sites reporting prohibited images to retain information about the posted images for at least six months and create a safe harbor for sites that follow its provisions. Violaters could receive fines of up to $300,000. Another section of the Act would create a federal registry of sex-offender email and IM addresses.

An expansive definition of child pornography creates one problem. The same cNet article mentions a federal indictment against Jeff Pierson, a commercial photographer from Alabama who photographed automobiles and aspiring models (not the same shots). The latter were clothed (often in swimsuits), photographed with their parents’ permission, but struck “lascivious poses one would expect to see in an adult magazine” in the words of the U.S. Attorney from Alabama.

The U.S. Attorney from Alabama must never have seen an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.