Boing Boing 

Consumer groups tell DoJ to block Comcast/Time Warner merger

If it goes through, Comcast will control an unimaginable swath of American Internet access -- that's a hell of a lot of power to give the Worst Company in America.

Read the rest

Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

Read the rest

FCC Chairman's competition promise means nothing


Cable lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to "balance" his attempt to nuke Net Neutrality by promising to override state laws that prohibit cities from setting up their own broadband networks. But it's a largely meaningless gesture: practically every big city in America is locked into a decade-long contractual "franchise" arrangement with a big cable company.

Read the rest

Frontier takes over Verizon's network, complaints fall by 68%

Since 2010, the lucky people of West Virginia have gotten their local phone/Internet service from Frontier Communications, who bought the business from noted shit-shovelers Verizon. In a mere four years, complaints about phone service have plummeted by 68 percent, and 88 percent of their customers now have access to broadband. The company has also installed a 2,600-mile-long fiber loop. There is nothing intrinsic about operating a phone network that makes your company into a horror-show, but once the telcos get big, they turn into some of the worst companies in the world.

Toxic Avenger's brilliant rant about the importance of Net Neutrality

Lloyd Kaufman, cofounder of Troma Entertainment (the people who brought us such films as the Toxic Avenger) has a brilliant, profane, and stirring editorial in support of Net Neutrality on Techdirt. Kaufman explains how an open Internet is the only competitve hedge against the communications giants that own "cinemas, newspapers, T.V. stations, radio and even Broadway 'legitimate' theaters." Thanks to the failure of the FCC to give Net Neutrality their full protection, and the court ruling that gutted the FCC's weak protections, Net Neutrality is in real trouble. Kaufman's editorial a great arguments for its preservation.

Read the rest

Hanes's threat to Hanes Hummus: people might mistake chickpeas for underwear!

Canada's Hanes Hummus has received a legal threat from Hanesbrands, Inc, who make underwear and other textiles, demanding that the four-person company change its name lest the public begin to tragically confuse chickpea paste with undergarments. Hanes Hummus's lawyer wrote a spirited and funny letter explaining why Hanesbrands shouldn't be worried about a separate Hanes trademark over dips and spreads, but given the relative size of the two parties, it seems likely that Hanes Hummus will lose its fight if Hanesbrands continues to play the bully.

"Hanes" is short for Yohannes. Hanes Hummus's founder is named Yohannes Petros. He filed for a trademark on "Hanes Hummus" in Canada and the US.

Read the rest

Cyanogenmod installer removed from Google Play store

Two weeks ago, the one-click Cyanogenmod installer hit the Google Play store, making it possible to switch from the stock Android operating system to a more free, more open version without any special expertise. Yesterday, Google asked Cyanogenmod to remove the installer, because using it voids your device's warranty. I've downloaded other apps from the Play Store that root your device and void the warranty, so this seems like a very selective enforcement to me.

In any event, Cyanogenmod's installer can be "sideloaded" into your device without having to go through the Play Store (one of the advantages of Android is that it doesn't attempt to prevent you from installing unapproved software). Hundreds of thousands of people used the Play Store version, and we can hope that it remains in use, even without Google's official support.

Read the rest

Dear airline execs: crowing about new fees and price hikes before your merger makes the DoJ mad

The DoJ has filed suit to block the merger of US Air and American Airlines, because they've noticed that while the airlines' executives publicly gave the reason for the merger as "synergies" and efficiency, they told the industry that the merger would allow them to jack up prices and charge more fees. Pictured to the right, Scott Kirby the US Air President who took to the podium at a conference to say it was "impossible to overstate the benefit" of the new fees he'd be able to charge after a merger.

Read the rest

The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon, and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight

Andrew Albanese, my editor at Publishers Weekly, has been tracking the antitrust action the DoJ brought against the big six publishers and Apple over price-fixing very carefully, and he's written a great-looking, DRM-free ebook about it called "The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon, and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight." Here's what he had to say about it:

It is mostly about the backstory of the case, how publishers' antipathy to $9.99 led them to what turned out to be a pretty fateful decision. It is also available in all the major e-book stores, Sony, B&N, Apple, and Amazon. Amazingly, Amazon is featuring it on their Singles home page here in the U.S.

So one note that might be of interest to you, I was surprised to learn in writing this essay how little the publishers negotiated their initial e-book retail terms back when the e-book market was just beginning. And, more to the point, that the thought they did put into e-books was all related to the negative aspects of digital: how to stop piracy, DRM, controlling unauthorized use. This is kind of where this whole legal saga begins. When Amazon came to launch the Kindle in 2007, the publishers were so focused on the bad things that digital might bring that they never really considered, hey, what if this e-book thing really works? What if this Kindle thing takes off?

Remember, at the time Amazon launched the Kindle, the publishers were stumping for the Google Settlement, so their attention was focused more on stopping the digitization and indexing of long out-of-print books that were making money for no one. As a result, they barely negotiated their initial financial terms with Amazon. Amazon officials testified that, in some cases, they just accepted the financial terms publishers had already proposed for e-books, while publishers mostly sought to address DRM, and security concerns. No one apparently stopped to ask Amazon, “Oh, by the way, how much are you planning to charge consumers for our e-books?”

It is easy to say in hindsight, but the major publishers’ fear of digital piracy had kept them from considering the prospects of digital success. And, of course, all of this was exacerbated by the fact that the Kindle was a closed platform, so, the more successful the Kindle became, the more power the company had over the publishers' customer. As you once wrote, the DRM and security they'd insisted on became a whip to beat them with. Another interesting chapter in the way DRM has impacted the publishing industry.

The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon, and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight

Rumor: Koch Brothers to buy 8 major newspapers, including LA Times


The Koch Brothers -- billionaire ultra-conservative puppet-masters and Tea Party funders -- are rumored to be in talks to buy eight newspapers, including the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant from the Tribune company, which is emerging from bankruptcy protection. Half of the LA Times's newsroom has threatened to quit if the Kochs take over.

One thing sure to happen if the Koch brothers take over the paper is a conservative agenda on the editorial page. As other newspapers have cut back on editorials and endorsements, the Times is now often the only LA news outlet that issues endorsements on political candidates and on ballot measures and initiatives. This is particularly crucial in California, where even the most educated voter is left clueless and confused -- or worse, tricked -- after reading the state propositions put on the ballot by Californians who simply gathered enough signatures to push a private agenda.

If the Times' editorial page is filled with the Koch brothers' libertarian opinions, other journalists in LA will need to step up and voice opposing views.

If Koch Brothers Buy LA Times, Half of Staff May Quit (VIDEO) [Kathleen Miles/HuffPo]

(via Reddit)

(Image: LA Times, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 24293932@N00's photostream)

Brazil's music collecting societies convicted of forming an illegal cartel

Ronaldo Lemos sez,

The Competition Authority in Brazil (CADE) convicted om March 20th the country's six major collecting societies and their central office (ECAD) - responsible for the collection of music royalties for public performance in Brazil - of formation of cartel and abuse of dominant position in fixing prices. According CADE, the Ecad and its associations not only organized to abusively fix prices, but also created barriers of entry for new associations to join the entity.

All entities will have to pay a fine of R$38 million (approximately US$ 20 million) and will have to reorganize the whole collection system, both by offering arrangements beyond the "blanket license" model, the only license ECAD and their associations made available for the performance of music, and by allowing each association to compete for different prices.

The rapporteur of the Case, Elvino Mendonça, said after the conviction: "The behavior of cartel is visible. The current collection system prevents all forms of competition. ECAD and its associations abused their market power and fixed prices. The evidence is abundant."

Ecad é condenado por formação de cartel por órgão de defesa da concorrência (Thanks, Ronaldo!)

Indie booksellers sue Amazon and big publishers over DRM (but have no idea what "DRM" and "open source" mean)

A group of independent booksellers have filed a suit against Amazon and the major publishers for their use of DRM, which, the booksellers say, freezes them out of the ebook market:

Alyson Decker of Blecher & Collins PC, lead counsel acting for the bookstores, described DRM as "a problem that affects many independent bookstores." She said the complaint is still in the process of being served to Amazon and the publishers and declined to state how it came about or whether other bookstores had been approached to be party to the suit.

"We are seeking relief for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores so that they would be able to sell open-source and DRM-free books that could be used on the Kindle or other electronic ereaders," Decker explained to The Huffington Post by telephone.

Such a move would lead to a reduction in Amazon's dominant market position, and completely reshape the ebook marketplace.

A spokesman for Fiction Addiction declined to comment as legal proceedings are ongoing. The other plaintiffs and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

That sounds great, but when you read the complaint, you find that what they mean by "open source" has nothing to do with open source. For some reason, they're using "open source" as a synonym for "standardized" or "interoperable." Which is to say, these booksellers don't really care if the books are DRM-free, they just want them locked up using a DRM that the booksellers can also use.

There is no such thing as "open source" DRM -- in the sense of a DRM designed to run on platforms that can be freely modified by their users. If a DRM was implemented in modifiable form, then the owners of DRM devices will change the DRM in order to disable it. DRM systems, including so-called "open" DRM systems, are always designed with some licensable element -- a patent, a trademark, something (this is called "Hook IP") -- and in order to get the license you have to sign an agreement promising that your implementation will be "robust" (implemented so that its owners can't change it). This is pretty much the exact opposite of "open source."

It's a pity. I empathize with these booksellers. I hate DRM. But I wish they'd actually bothered to spend 15 minutes trying to understand how DRM works and what it is, and how open source works, and what it is, before they filed their lawsuit. Grossly misusing technical terms (and demanding a remedy that no customer wants -- there's no market for DRM among book-buyers) makes you look like fools and bodes poorly for the suit.

DRM Lawsuit Filed By Independent Bookstores Against Amazon, 'Big Six' Publishers [Andrew Losowsky/Huffington Post]

Petition to reverse ban on cellphone unlocking needs your sig!

Derek Khanna (the GOP staffer who got fired after penning an eminently sensible paper on copyright policy) sez, "The White House Petition to reverse the decision to ban unlocking cellphones is at 72,000 signatures, but it needs to get to 100,000 signatures by February 24, 2013. On Friday Representative DeFazio tweeted in favor of reform - read the article about new prohibition on unlocking your own cellphone here."

Telcos lobby North Carolina to make community Internet illegal, then abandon the state to second-worst Internet in the country


Christopher sez,

A lot of people were frustrated in 2011 when the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill written by Time Warner Cable to revoke local authority to build community-owned networks. A new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause explains how Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink bought their bill.

In the two years since, the big companies have refused to invest in better networks and AT&T just announced layoffs for some call center workers. Meanwhile, the state is tied with Mississippi for last place in the US in the number of households subscribing to at least a "basic broadband connection" according to the FCC. Perhaps these decisions should be made locally and not by corporate lobbyists?

The Empire Lobbies Back: Killing Broadband Competition in NC

New FCC rules will let a single company own a town's ISP, newspapers, 2 TV stations and 8 radio stations


Josh from Free Press sez, " FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to gut existing rules that limit media consolidation. This is bad news for people who care about the effects of too much media in too few hands. Genachowski's proposed plan would make our media less diverse, create local media monopolies and ultimately mean less news. This rule would allow ONE company to own a daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in your town. And that one company could be your Internet provider, too. Scary."

No More Media for Murdoch [Petition to FCC]

Counterpoint: algorithms are not free speech

In the New York Times, Tim Wu advances a fairly nuanced article about the risks of letting technology companies claim First Amendment protection for the product of their algorithms, something I discussed in a recent column. Tim worries that if an algorithm's product -- such as a page of search results -- are considered protected speech, then it will be more difficult to rein in anticompetitive or privacy-violating commercial activity:

The line can be easily drawn: as a general rule, nonhuman or automated choices should not be granted the full protection of the First Amendment, and often should not be considered “speech” at all. (Where a human does make a specific choice about specific content, the question is different.)

Defenders of Google’s position have argued that since humans programmed the computers that are “speaking,” the computers have speech rights as if by digital inheritance. But the fact that a programmer has the First Amendment right to program pretty much anything he likes doesn’t mean his creation is thereby endowed with his constitutional rights. Doctor Frankenstein’s monster could walk and talk, but that didn’t qualify him to vote in the doctor’s place.

Computers make trillions of invisible decisions each day; the possibility that each decision could be protected speech should give us pause. To Google’s credit, while it has claimed First Amendment rights for its search results, it has never formally asserted that it has the constitutional right to ignore privacy or antitrust laws. As a nation we must hesitate before allowing the higher principles of the Bill of Rights to become little more than lowly tools of commercial advantage. To give computers the rights intended for humans is to elevate our machines above ourselves.

I think that this is a valuable addition to the debate, but I don't wholly agree. There is clearly a difference between choosing what to say and designing an algorithm that speaks on your behalf, but programmers can and do make expressive choices when they write code. A camera isn't a human eye, but rather, a machine that translates the eye and the brain behind it into a mechanical object, and yet photos are still entitled to protection. A programmer sits down at a powerful machine and makes a bunch of choices that prefigure its output, and can, in so doing, design algorithms that express political messages (for example, algorithms that automatically parse elected officials' public utterances and rank them for subjective measures like clarity and truthfulness), artistic choices (algorithms that use human judgment to perform guided iterations through aesthetic options to produce beauty) and other forms of speech that are normally afforded the highest level of First Amendment protections.

That is not to say that algorithms can't produce illegal speech -- anticompetitive speech, fraudulent speech -- but I think the right way to address this is to punish the bad speech, not to deny that it is speech altogether.

And while we're on the subject, why shouldn't Frankenstein's Monster get a vote all on its own -- not a proxy for the doctor, but in its own right?

Free Speech for Computers? (via /.)

(Image: Frankenstein Face Vector, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from vectorportal's photostream)

Google search results are editorial, not (merely) mathematical

My latest Guardian column is "Google admits that Plato's cave doesn't exist," a discussion of how Google has changed the way it talks about its search-results, shifting from the stance that rankings are a form of pure math to the stance that rankings are a form of editorial judgment.

Google has, to date, always refused to frame itself in those terms. The pagerank algorithm isn't like an editor arguing aesthetics around a boardroom table as the issue is put to bed. The pagerank algorithm is a window on the wall of Plato's cave, whence the objective, empirical world of Relevance may be seen and retrieved.

That argument is a convenient one when the most contentious elements of your rankings are from people who want higher ranking. "We have done the maths, and your page is empirically less relevant than the pages above it. Your quarrel is with the cold, hard reality of numbers, not with our judgement."

The problem with that argument is that maths is inherently more regulatable than speech. If the numbers say that item X must be ranked over item Y, a regulator may decide that a social problem can be solved by "hard-coding" page Y to have a higher ranking than X, regardless of its relevance. This isn't censorship – it's more like progressive taxation.

Google admits that Plato's cave doesn't exist

Lockdown: free/open OS maker pays Microsoft ransom for the right to boot on users' computers

A quiet announcement from the Fedora Linux community signals a titanic shift in the way that the computer market will work from now on, and a major threat to free/open operating systems. Microsoft and several PC vendors have teamed up to ensure that only operating systems bearing Microsoft's cryptographic signature will be able to boot on their hardware, meaning that unless Microsoft has blessed your favorite flavor of GNU/Linux or BSD, you won't be able to just install it on your machine, or boot to it from a USB stick or CD to try it out. There is a work-around for some systems involving a finicky and highly technical override process, but all that means is that installing proprietary software is easy and installing free/open software is hard.

This is a major reversal. For many years now, free/open OSes have been by far the easiest to install on most hardware. For example, I have installed Ubuntu on a variety of machines by just sticking in a USB stick and turning them on. Because the OS and its apps are free, and because there are no finicky vendor relationships to manage, it Just Works. On some of those machines, installing a Windows OS fresh from a shrinkwrapped box was literally impossible -- you had to order a special manufacturer's version with all the right drivers to handle external CD drives or docking stations or what-have-you. And the free/open drivers also handled things like 3G USB adapters better than the official drivers (not least because they didn't insist on drawing a huge "WELCOME TO $SOME_STUPID_PHONE_COMPANY" box on the screen every time you connected to the Internet.)

At issue is a new facility called UEFI, which allows a computer's bootloader to distinguish between different operating systems by examining their cryptographic signatures. In theory, this can be used to alert you if malicious software has modified your OS, putting you at risk of having your passwords harvested, your video and sound secretly captured, and your files plundered. But rather than simply alerting users to unsigned ("I have found an unknown operating system and I can't tell if it has dangerous software in it, continue? [Y/N]") or changed OSes ("Your computer has been modified since the last time it was turned on, and now has a version of Windows that can't be verified") Microsoft and its partners have elected to require a very complex and intimidating process that -- by design or accident -- is certain to scare off most unsophisticated users.

Fedora has opted to solve this problem by paying to receive Microsoft's blessing, so that UEFI-locked computers will boot Fedora without requiring any special steps. The payment is comparatively small ($99). When you multiply $99 by all the different versions and flavors of free/open operating systems, it adds up to a substantial revenue stream for Microsoft cost to, and drag upon the free/open software world.

What's more, free/open OSes that don't pay the $99 Microsoft tax will not boot at all on Microsoft-certified ARM-based computers, because Microsoft has forbidden it partners from booting an OS that hasn't been signed by Microsoft, even if the user takes some affirmative step to install a competing system.

This is a tremor before an earthquake: the hardware vendors and the flagging proprietary software vendors of yesteryear are teaming up to limit competition from robust, elegant and free alternatives.

Here's Fedora's Matthew Garrett explaining their decision:

We've been working on this for months. This isn't an attractive solution, but it is a workable one. We came to the conclusion that every other approach was unworkable. The cause of free software isn't furthered by making it difficult or impossible for unskilled users to run Linux, and while this approach does have its downsides it does also avoid us ending up where we were in the 90s. Users will retain the freedom to run modified software and we wouldn't have accepted any solution that made that impossible.

But is this a compromise? Of course. There's already inequalities between Fedora and users - trademarks prevent the distribution of the Fedora artwork with modified distributions, and much of the Fedora infrastructure is licensed such that some people have more power than others. This adds to that inequality. It's not the ideal outcome for anyone, and I'm genuinely sorry that we weren't able to come up with a solution that was better. This isn't as bad as I feared it would be, but nor is it as good as I hoped it would be.

What about ARM

Microsoft's certification requirements for ARM machines forbid vendors from offering the ability to disable secure boot or enrol user keys. While we could support secure boot in the same way as we plan to on x86, it would prevent users from running modified software unless they paid money for a signing key. We don't find that acceptable and so have no plans to support it.

Thankfully this shouldn't be anywhere near as much of a problem as it would be in the x86 world. Microsoft have far less influence over the ARM market, and the only machines affected by this will be the ones explicitly designed to support Windows. If you want to run Linux on ARM then there'll be no shortage of hardware available to you.

Implementing UEFI Secure Boot in Fedora (Thanks, Deborah!)

Tor Books goes completely DRM-free

Today, Tor Books, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, announced that henceforth all of its ebooks would be completely DRM-free. This comes six weeks after an antitrust action against Tor's parent company, Macmillan USA, for price-fixing in relation to its arrangements with Apple and Amazon.

Now that there is a major publisher that has gone completely DRM-free (with more to follow, I'm sure; I've had contact with very highly placed execs at two more of the big six publishers), there is suddenly a market for tools that automate the conversion and loading of ebooks from multiple formats and vendors.

For example, I'd expect someone to make a browser plugin that draws a "Buy this book at BN.com" button on Amazon pages (and vice-versa), which then facilitates auto-conversion between the formats. I'd also expect BN.com to produce a "switch" toolkit for Kindle owners who want to go Nook (and vice-versa).

I think that this might be the watershed for ebook DRM, the turning point that marks the moment at which all ebooks end up DRM-free. It's a good day.

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.

Tor/Forge E-book Titles to Go DRM-Free

Antitrust and ebooks: regulators miss the big DRM lock-in picture

US antitrust regulators have never really been able to find the right place to stick their lever and pry when it comes to the Internet (witness their failure to understand Microsoft's platform dominance in the 90s). Now they're going after various publishers and Apple over price fixing (my publisher is included, and for the record, I don't agree with their stance on "agency pricing"), but they're missing all the big elephants in the room: platform lock-in by way of DRM, prohibitions created by both Apple and Amazon on using third-party payment systems on their apps, and all the associated ticking bombs that represent the real, enduring danger to the ebook marketplace. Every dollar that is spent on a locked, proprietary platform is a dollar of opportunity cost that society will have to spend to get out from under the would-be monopolists of ebooks when (not if) they abuse their power (see my latest PW column on this).

Wired's Tim Carmody does a really good job of pointing out the fail here, as antitrust regulators miss the forest of lock-in for the trees of abusive pricing.

What’s left out of the Justice department’s lawsuit might be even better news for Amazon than what’s included. There is no broader look at any of the anticompetitive vagaries of the e-book market beyond publishers’ negotiations with retailers in the period before and after the launch of iBooks.

The suit blasts most favored nation agreements without noting that Amazon has aggressively pursued MFN agreements with publishing partners, including partners whose books it sells wholesale. It’s completely silent on retailers’ and device manufacturers’ use of DRM to lock customers into a single bookstore. Amazon is purely a market innovator, not a budding monopolist, even as the DOJ notes that Amazon’s pricing power helped determine pricing power across the industry.

Blogger Mike Cane wrote a powerful email to attorneys at the Department of Justice listed in the lawsuit titled, “Dear DoJ: You Need To Sue Apple Again.” It cites Apple’s in-app purchasing rules that prohibit Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and other retailers from offering books for iOS devices on the same terms that Apple can offer in iBooks, without browser workarounds.

This, Cane says, “is every bit as much restraint of trade as the collusive price-fixing that made the Department bring Apple and its co-conspirators before the court for remedy.”

But it’s actually great news for Amazon that the DOJ isn’t opening up restrictions on in-device purchases. Once thrown, that stone bounces back to hit Amazon in the face right away.

Jeff Bezos Should Send Eric Holder a Christmas Card

Microsoft buys Netscape (sort of)


Microsoft has (kind of) acquired Netscape, buying many of its key patents and assets from erstwhile owner AOL. Early Netscape employee JWZ calls it "brand necrophilia" and adds, "I assume that this means that ValueClick will now be suing Microsoft over the cookie patent instead of AOL, if that's still going on. There are no winners here." AOL says the sale was made at a loss, for the tax-break.

Microsoft will acquire all the patents surrounding the Netscape browser, while AOL will still own the actual brand. That extends to the Netscape business, which was once an ISP, as well as the URL for the brand.

Netscape was one of the factors behind Microsoft’s entry into the wide world of the internet, prompting them to license Mosaic source code and turn it into Internet Explorer. Fitting, then, that everything has come full circle, and Microsoft has purchased patents behind IE’s raison d’être.

Microsoft quietly buys Netscape browser technology - SlashGear

(Image: My Old Navigator, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from oimax's photostream)

Spanish record industry cartel sues business prof who called their system an illegal cartel, claims "threatened honor"


Enrique Dans is a professor at Spain's IE Business School and a well-known blogger who has been a fierce critic of the entertainment industry. Last summer, Prof Dans wrote a blog post, Siete motivos por los que el caso SGAE es mucho más que la propia SGAE, which set out his view that Promusicae, the Spanish record industry consortium, had formed an illegal cartel to distribute music for radio broadcast, which shut out non-members and independents.

Now Promusicae is suing Dans for EUR20,000, accusing him of libel and "threatening their honor," and they are demanding a retraction. As Ernesto writes on TorrentFreak, Dans is standing his ground.

The professor, on the other hand, says his claim was well researched and that he consulted experts in competition law before he wrote it up. And even if that’s not the case, Dans believes he has the right to make such claims in an open and free society.

“In short, what I said in the article was my opinion, protected by the right to freedom of expression and, as I documented it properly and professionally, the right to freedom of information.”

” I stand by my opinion,” he writes in a new blog post. “Of course it may be debatable, but even if it were not well founded and I was wrong, I can not think how it can be an attack against the honor of a society such as Promusicae... The reality? Promusicae are using the ‘honor’ argument to restrict the right to freedom of expression and information. After many years of direct confrontations and repeatedly being humiliated in numerous public forums, now they want to shut me up through a lawsuit.”

Spanish RIAA Sues Blogging Professor for Defamation

DRM gives companies security -- from competition


Last night, Rob posted a very good piece on Apple's new "Gatekeeper" technology, which defaults to warning users of Apple's new Mountain Lion OS that software from companies that haven't been officially recognized by Apple should not be installed (though users can still choose to override it, or turn it off).

But I have one rather large quibble with Rob's piece. He wrote:

The truth is that Macs don't currently suffer much from malicious software, and DRM-esque lockouts are always circumvented. So what's the point of a DRM-esque system for malware prevention?

I agree that DRM is always circumvented, and it is especially circumvented by copyright infringers and malware creators. But I think that Rob has misunderstood the primary value of DRM to technology companies: because many countries' laws prohibit breaking DRM even if you're not doing anything illegal, DRM gives companies the right to sue competitors who make compatible products and services.

The law has always recognized that interoperability is good for competition, markets, and the public. From generic windshield-wiper blades and hubcaps to third-party hard-drives and keyboards and inkjet toner, and software like Pages and Keynote, the law recognizes that there is a legitimate reason to reverse-engineer a competitor's products and make new products that replace, expand and augment them.

Read the rest

French court rules that it's illegally anticompetitive for Google to provide free maps API


A French court has ruled that Google's free Google Maps application API is anti-competitive and has ordered the company to pay €500,000 to Bottin Cartographes, a for-pay map company, as well as a €15,000 fine. Bottin Cartographes argued that Google was only planning to give away the service for free until all the competitors had been driven out of business and then they would start charging. This seems implausible to me, and contrary to Google's business model (give away services, make money from mining the use of those services). Google says it will appeal.

"This is the end of a two-year battle, a decision without precedent," said the lawyer for Bottin Cartographes, Jean-David Scemmama.

"We proved the illegality of (Google's) strategy to remove its competitors... the court recognised the unfair and abusive character of the methods used and allocated Bottin Cartographes all it claimed. This is the first time Google has been convicted for its Google Maps application," he said.

I wonder what Bottin Cartographes will do when OpenStreetMaps finishes producing high-quality, free, public domain maps of France that can be used to create APIs of the same scope and utility?

France convicts Google Maps for unfair competition (via Engadget)

Anil Dash: Facebook attacks the open Web, becomes a badware site


Anil Dash examines Facebook's latest navigational practices, which go beyond making a walled garden of its own content and begin to attack the open Web, including websites that incorporate Facebook's technology. Dash concludes that Facebook now meets the formal definition of a "badware" site -- the sites that generate those "Warning! This site may harm your computer" interstitial pages when you visit them -- and calls on browser vendors and Google to start displaying these warnings when users visit Facebook.

Now, we've shown that Facebook promotes captive content on its network ahead of content on the web, prohibits users from bringing open content into their network, warns users not to visit web content, and places obstacles in front of visits to web sites even if they've embraced Facebook's technologies and registered in Facebook's centralized database of sites on the web...

I believe [StopBadware's malware definition] description clearly describes Facebook's behavior, and strongly urge Stop Badware partners such as Google (whose Safe Browsing service is also used by Mozilla and Apple), as well as Microsoft's similar SmartScreen filter, to warn web users when visiting Facebook. Given that Facebook is consistently misleading users about the nature of web links that they visit and placing barriers to web sites being able to be visited through ordinary web links on their network, this seems an appropriate and necessary remedy for their behavior.

Facebook is gaslighting the web. We can fix it. (via O'Reilly Radar)

What openness means

Stirring words from Rob O'Callahan, head of Mozilla's New Zealand office: "We want the internet to be a level playing field, which means no company or organisation should be able to dictate who can use it, how they can use it, who’s able to produce content, who can consume it, who’s able to create devices and software to consume it." (via O'Reilly Radar)

Financial Times kills iOS app to avoid Apple tax, switches to HTML5, succeeds

The Financial Times, which is justly famed for being one the few newspapers that manages to charge for an online version and attract substantial numbers of subscribers, pulled its app from the Apple App Store last June, after Apple announced that henceforth, all transactions taking place in apps would have to pay at 30 percent cut to the company, and Apple would control all subscriber info.

The FT developed an HTML5 app instead, which can be accessed from any browser. They now claim that 700,000 subscribers use the HTML5 version regularly, and that this makes it more popular than the app they once sold through the app store.

The FT pulled its main iPad and iPhone app from Apple store after both parties failed to reach an agreement after months of negotiations.

"App stores are actually quite strange environments," Grimshaw said. "They are cut off from most of the Web ecosystem."

A simple message on the top of the FT's Web site has been an effective marketing tool, he added.

"The world outside the App Store is not cold and desperate. Discovery is no problem at all."

(via Memex 1.1)

AT&T merger leak: it's all about raising prices and reducing competition

An AT&T legal staffer inadvertently (and briefly) posted a damning internal document to the FCC's docket for the pending AT&T/T-Mobile merger. The document makes it clear that "AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition" and that the company's claims of bigger network buildouts and increased employment are utterly fictional.

Again, the reality appears to be that AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition. That price tag eliminates T-Mobile entirely -- and makes Sprint (and by proxy new LTE partner LightSquared and current partner Clearwire) more susceptible to failure in the face of 80% AT&T/Verizon market domination. How much do you think wireless broadband market dominance is worth to AT&T over the next decade? After all, AT&T will be first to tell you there's a wireless data "tsunami" coming, with AT&T and Verizon on the shore eagerly billing users up to $10 per gigabyte.

Regardless of the motivation behind rejecting 97% LTE deployment, the letter proves AT&T's claim they need T-Mobile to improve LTE coverage from 80-97% simply isn't true. That's a huge problem for AT&T, since nearly every politician and non-profit that has voiced support for the merger did so based largely on this buildout promise. It's also a problem when it comes to the DOJ review, since proof that AT&T could complete their LTE build for far less than the cost of this deal means the deal doesn't meet the DOJ's standard for merger-specific benefits.

Leaked AT&T Letter Demolishes Case For T-Mobile Merger (via /.)