Down on strikes

french-flagThe copyright industries had high hopes for France’s three-strikes law. At the World Copyright Summit in Washington last week, speakers had nothing but praise for the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who championed the law and railroaded it through the legislature. And they were crushed when, on the second day of the conference, the French Constitutional Council threw out the new law’s critical third-strike–government-ordered banishment from the Internet for those caught repeatedly downloading copyrighted content illegally–on grounds that the extra-judicial  procedure the law created was a violation of  free speech, the presumption of innocence and due process.

Oops.

Now, however, things have gotten even worse for the content companies. In a bit of a face-saving move, the French government on Friday stripped out the portion of the law invalidated by the Constitutional Council, sent the rest to Sarkozy for signature and published it in the official record, allowing it to take effect this week. Read More »

Permission to innovate

As someone who makes his living (such as it is) as a writer, I can certainly sympathize with those who seek to extend and protect the sanctity of copyright. But like your relatives, the family resemblance can sometimes make you cringe.

One such occasion was attending the World Copyright Summit in Washington, DC this week.

milos-formanThe summit was organized by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), a coalition of royalty collection societies from around the world, including ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in the U.S. It’s a community that sees itself as under siege these days from hordes of “thieves” and “pirates” and from callow, ungrateful young people who have “no respect” for “the value of intellectual property.”

Director Milos Forman went so far as to accuse “our opponents,” as he phrased it (otherwise known as the audience), of promoting a “communist ideology” with respect to intellectual property.

 “Karl Marx was very clear,” Forman said. “To everyone, everything according to his needs. Now, we all need a little entertainment from time to time, so why shouldn’t I just take it?” Read More »

Three-strikes strikes out

Well you can forget about that pontential showdown between Paris and Brussels over France’s three-strikes law. The French Constitutional Council on Wednesday struck down the provision allowing the government to order people cut off from the Internet for repeatedly downloading copyrighted material illegally, before the law could even be challenged in the European Court of Justice.

french-flag1According to the Council’s ruling, Internet access “is an element of freedom of speech and the right to consume,” and only a judge has the power to order someone cut off. The full text of the ruling is available here (French).

Under the law as passed, a new government agency would have the power to cut people off without first seeking a court order if they ignored at least two prior written warnings that they were infringing copyrights. Read More »

Pirates Ho!

In voting across the 27-nation European Union Sunday, the Pirate Party of Sweden claimed a single seat in the 785-member European Parliament, a body of dubious authority and popular indifference. But it just about took over the World Copyright Summit in Washington, DC Tuesday, a gathering of 500 or so lawyers, legislators and regulators from around the world organized by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC).

robert-wexlerIn a forceful–at times even angry–luncheon keynote, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, warned that the Pirate Party’s “victory” was the harbinger of a lost generation of voters that has grown up comfortable with the idea of “copyright theft.”

“We know in that in this country that if you vote Democratic in your first election you’re very likely to continue voting Democratic throughout your life,” he said. “It was the generation of young Republicans who voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 that was so helpful to the GOP for many years after. The generation of young people who cast their first vote for Barack Obama will, hopefully, be helpful to the Democrats for years to come.” Read More »

Court in Pirate Bay case not biased, court in Pirate Bay case says

The judge who convicted  The Pirate BayFour, Tomas Norstrom, was not biased, as defendants charged in their appeal, according to the Stockholm District Court on which he sits. In a filing with the Svea Court of Appeal, which is hearing the case, the chief judge of the district court argued that Norstrom’s membership in several organizations that take pro-copyright stands was merely for educational purposes, to help keep abreast of copyright legislation, and not an indication of bias.

The chief judge, Lena Berke, also rejected charges that Norstrom had been hand-picked for the case, rather than presiding as a result of random selection, as is the norm.

“This we strongly reject,” Justice Berke told reporters at the District Court. “The selection was made in adherence with the District Court’s rules of procedure.”

Morning read: Jolly Roger flies in Europe, Copyright Summit in US

Hoist the Jolly Roger maties, the Pirate Party has claimed at least one of Sweden’s 20 seats in the European Parliament (and possibly two) as a result of thisweekend’s voting across the 27-nation bloc. The party, which ran on a platform of legalizing file-sharing and rolling back government surveillance powers, garnered 7.1% of the vote, putting it ahead of several more-established parties.

pirate-partyTurnout in Sweden was 43.8%, slightly ahead of the 37.1% turnout in the 2004 election, despite predictions of record low turnout heading into the weekend. TorrentFreak does the mathandestimates about 200,000 Swedes voted Pirate this time around, a nearly five-fold increase over the 35,000 votes the party garnered in the 2006 national election. The party saw a surge in membership in the wake of the conviction in April of four of the founders of The Pirate Bay, one of the largest BitTorrent tracker sites.

Apart from the immediate implications of the Pirate Party victory, the election results in general are likely to lead to some hand-wringing in EU capitals. Governing parties in about a dozen EU countries suffered defeats in the election, most notably in Britain, where Labour claimed only 16% of the vote, its lowest total in decades.

In general, small, even fringe, parties did well across the EU, including the Whites-only British National Party and far-right parties in the Netherlands, Hungary and Austria. The  anti-Europe British Independence Party also scored gains. Across the bloc, right-leaning parties scored significant gains while center-left parties were generally pummelled.

Back home, the 2nd World Copyright Summit is scheduled to open in Washington, DC on Tuesday. The two-day conference is sponsored by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), and will feature some 500 delegates from 55 countries.

The Pirate Party victory is sure to be a topic of discussion. The full agenda is here.

And oh, yeah, Apple Worldwide Developers Conference  blah, blah, blah, new iPhone, blah, blah, blah, Steve Jobs is risen, blah, blah, blah, and he is separating the righteous from the the wicked, and the righteous shall have their apps approved and the wicked shall be cast into the Palm of eternal darkness blah, blah, blah.

Morning read: Jobs is back; UK takes it slow

After nearly “starving to death,” Steve Jobs is set to return to Apple, according to the Wall Street Journal this morning. The news comes on the eve of next week’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, where Jobs is expected to make an appearance to introduce a new iPhone, possibly one capable of recording video, according to the Web site TUAW.com.

disney_on_vuduOne thing we can be pretty sure Apple will announce at the conference is HD movies from Disney on a download-to-own basis on Apple TV, day-and-date with their DVD release. How can we be certain? Because on Thursday, Disney announced HD movies on a download-to-own basis, day-and-date with their DVD release, on Vudu’s set-top box, a move with all the earmarks of a hedge against charges of self-dealing once the Apple deal is announced (for those joining us late, Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest individual shareholder by virtue of Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2008). (Screen shot via Multichannel News). Read More »

Pirates at the gates

Voting begins Thursday across the 27 member countries of the European Union for representation in the 785-seat European Parliament. Record low turnout is expected.

But the low turnout doesn’t mean that nothing interesting can happen. In fact, it could well open the door for smaller parties with, let’s call them, atypical agendas, to gain seats in the body that plays an important role in passing pan-EU laws and setting the budget for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.

Sure enough, in Sweden, the Pirate Party, which advocates a major roll-back of copyright laws, doing away with  patents and increased privacy protection, is poised to send its first representative to Brussels, seat of the EU. Recent surveys show the party polling between 6% and 8% among likely voters, well behind the Swedish Social Democrat party and the ruling Moderate (conservative) party, but well above the 4% needed to earn to a seat. Support is even stronger among voters under 30, at abotu 13%. Read More »

Morning read: Google takes on Amazon, Sony still pining for synergy, more

Topping the news this morning, the New York Times reports that Google was telling publishers at the annual BookExpo over the weekend that it is committed to launching a new service by the end of the year that would allow publishers to sell ebooks directly to consumers at prices set by the publishers. That would put Google in direct competition with Amazon, setting up a potential clash of titans that will likely bring renewed attention to the ebook market.

google-amazonAccording to the Times, publishers are thrilled with the plan because it would let them fix retail prices while Amazon insists on loss-leadering ebooks to promote sales of Kindles. The new program would be separate from Google’s proposed settlement with publishers in the book-scanning case, which awaits court approval and is under investigation by the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Ars Technica reports this morning that the EU may also being looking into the deal.

Elsewhere this morning, Daily Variety has an inadvertantly funny story up about Sony’s latest effort to spin the combination of Blu-ray and PS3 as a good idea: bloated gameware that can only fit on Blu-ray discs. “What Blu-ray has allowed us to do is build these epic experiences,” SCE’s Scott Rohde tells the Hollywood trade. “When you have more room on the disc to store more assets, you can do a lot more with your titles.”

And when you have a Blu-ray drive in your game console you have to charge more for the console, making it uncompetitive with the Wii and Xbox 360.

Sony will introduce a bunch of first-party Blu-ray games at E3 this week. Variety‘s Marc Graser manages to scrounge up one third-party developer, Naughty Dog, to offer a tepid endorsement of the Blu-ray as a publishing platform. Wait’ll they see the replication bill.

In other Sony news, some leaked video and photos have made the long-rumored PSP Go the buzz heading into E3 (per the BBC). The big news: UMD is out as the storage medium, and a 16 gig flash drive is in.

Across the Pond, the U.K. film industry wants to government to introduce “speed humps,” on the Internet to slow down illegal file-sharing, the Guardian reports (alas, Media Wonk’s speed-humping days are mostly behind him…). The studios “are proposing that Internet service providers (ISPs), some of whom have previously sent letters to persistent illegal file-sharers warning that their actions could land them in court, should put in place technical measures that would shut off or warn about sites used by pirates.”

Music labels finally getting a clue

Interesting piece by Brad Stone in this morning’s NYTimes on the music labels’ shift away from imposing punitive terms on digital music start-ups in favor of terms that might let them stay alive long enough to actually create some business for the record companies.

imeem-universalStone uses as his hook the recent experience of Imeem, which was on the verge of shutting down because its ad revenue could not begin to cover the millions it owed the labels in licensing fees, but was given an 11th-hour reprieve when Warner Music Group agreed to forgive Imeem’s debt and both Warner and Universal Music modified their licensing terms with the online music service. That allowed Imeem to raise new financing and stay in operation.

“We are trying to figure out how to restructure partnerships and develop a healthier ecosystem where entrepreneurs can continue to innovate,” Warner Music’s Michael Nash told the Times. Read More »