Monthly Archives: July 2009

A. P. Gets Tough with You, Me and Other Pirates

The Associated Press, a not-for-profit coop owned by its 1,500 member newspapers, is the largest and oldest news organization in the world, boasting 243 bureaus in 97 countries and employing some 4,100 people. It serves about 5,000 radio and television outlets and 850 radio news affiliates. It has won 49 Pulitzer Prizes including 30 for photography. It describes itself as “the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the largest and most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees news from AP.”

Why am I telling you this? Because I can’t think of a better way to tell you it’s probably not a good idea to mess with them.

They recently issued a stern warning to webmasters, aggregators, bloggers, scrapers, googlers, binggers, pirates and freemongers that it is determined to limit unauthorized use of A.P.-generated content. To reinforce its edict, the company is embedding software in its articles specifying just how much you are entitled to use. And, according to Richard Perez-Pena of the New York Times, you’re entitled to use damn little.

Writes Perez-Pena: “Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs… If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we’re going to do that.”

In other words, pay the price or pay the price.

If the phrase “Fair Use” just popped into your mind, we’re way ahead of you. News aggregators such as yours truly justify their quotations from newspapers and magazines on the grounds that United States copyright law recognizes it as a right – within limits.

And just what are the limits? One hundred words? Okay, but what if the article is 105 words long? Surely eight words constitutes fair use, yes? Yes, unless those words happen to be Robert Frost’s unique and immortal, “Whose woods these are I think I know?” A. P.’s Curley ducked the question of what’s fair, nor would he say just what the organization would do to perpetrators who step over the line – once he has drawn it, that is. “We’re not picking the legal remedy today,” Perez-Pena reports him saying.

Where I come from, you don’t make threats unless you’re prepared to back them up, and threats by the media against end users seldom engender good will. We recently wrote about a recording industry lawsuit brought against a lady who had the misfortune to upload some music into her iPod.

Another NY Times article, this one by Saul Hansell, reports on a California startup called Attributor that claims to have “developed an automated way for newspapers to share in the advertising revenue from even the tiniest sites that copy their articles.” So far, Attributor’s role has been to report to interested media outfits like the Times Company, Washington Post Company, Hearst, Reuters, Media News Group, McClatchy and Condé Nast how extensively their content is being copped by bloggers and others. By showing its clients how leaky their ships are, Attributor hopes the next step will be to bludgeon freeloaders into paying up. How will they do this? One solution is for publishers to bombard websites with demands to remove “pirated” pages, forcing webmasters to spend their valuable time complying with take-down notices.

Before you click away, and especially before you dismiss A. P.’s initiative as another attempt to thwart your sense of entitlement, spend some time reading about Associated Press. It is a very formidable organization and not one at which you want to wave a red flag.

Richard Curtis

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times – and, of course the Associated Press.

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Name the Plastic Logic Device, Win a Gift Certificate

Have you submitted your suggestion for Plastic Logic’s unnamed device? There’s a gift waiting for our favorite one. We have some beauts, but the more the merrier. Here’s our original posting.
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As Plastic Logic’s device slouches to be born early in 2010, the company has disclosed more and more about about its design, technology and, most recently, its partnership with Barnes & Noble to cooperate with the BN.com e-bookstore. All of which we have chronicled.

What we have not chronicled is the name of the device. Why? Because we don’t know what it is, and Plastic Logic hasn’t told anybody. You can read Brad Stone’s latest reportage about Plastic Logic in the New York Times and you’ll see he covers pretty much everything – everything except the name.

I don’t think the company’s directors realize how frustrating it is for us to refer to the surname but not the given name. Our frustration has reached the tipping point. We don’t want to wait any more. So, we’re inviting readers to make up their own name. Submit it to us and we’ll pick the one we like best and refer to it until Plastic Logic announces the real one.

E-Reads will award a $25.00 B&N gift certificate to the reader who submits the name we like the most. Submit your entries to info(at)ereads.com with the subject “Plastic Logic”. Deadline is midnight EST Sunday August 9 2009 (or until Plastic Logic officially releases the name, whichever comes first). Submissions must be fit to print in E-Reads’ sole judgment, and we shall also be sole judges of the winning entry.

Here’s one to start things off, submitted by a commenter on a prior blog:

Fantastic Plastic, of course, because everyone attributes fantastic powers to a device no one has seen (except in picture)”

We look forward to your entries.

E-Reads

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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BN.Com Goes Gillette

How many times have we urged the e-book industry to smarten up and heed the wise maxim attributed to King Gillette, inventor of disposable razor blades: “Give away the razor and sell them the blades.” We simply can’t think of a strategy better designed to advance consumer acceptance of e-books.

Well, someone finally listened to us. Mere days after launching its 700,000 title e-bookstore, which it claims is the world’s largest, Barnes & Noble is now offering e-book reading software free. B&N is even throwing in a starter set of six titles. To take advantage of the offer, click on this BN.com ad.

We don’t have all the specs, but presumably the B&N software will be compatible with most e-reading devices, especially the forthcoming Plastic Logic NoName Whatsit (see our gift offer for best name suggestion), but not with Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s eReader.

RC

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Well, It Was Brilliant in Theory: Prog, Print-Digital Hybrid, Ceases Publication

Darn. We were really hoping that Joshua Karp’s The Printed Blog, a mule-like hybrid medium that offered printed versions of blogs to subscribers, had a shot at success. Karp figured his publication would resolve the paradox that although people are migrating to the Internet for news, the Web doesn’t generate nearly as much ad revenue as newspapers. “We are trying to be the first daily newspaper comprised entirely of blogs and other user-generated content,” the venture’s publisher declared at the time.

We had some fun with the story, speculating on the appropriate way to describe this half blog, half newspaper: Blogpaper? Blaper? Newsblog? Prog?

Sadly, the apt word for The Printed Blog is “Flop”. The New York Times announced that Karp had run out of money and couldn’t raise enough investment capital to carry on.

Perhaps the most valuable part of this venture was the entrepreneur’s experience: “I thought maybe this would translate into a new, venture-funded model for newspapers,” he told the Times‘s reporter, Claire Cain Miller, “but no one believes print news will survive. If I had a penny left, I would bet newspapers will survive in printed form.”

There’s a penny waiting for you in our offices, Mr. Karp. We’re betting on newspapers too.

RC

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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Are Bing, Chrome Just Macho Displays? Cringely Thinks So

It’s tempting to overdramatize Microsoft and Google as engaged in a war to the death between corporate behemoths. Being only human, and loving to spectate a major gladiatorial battle, we ourselves succumbed to the temptation to get hyperbolic (see Google Plans to Toss Chrome through MS’s Windows).

Robert X. Cringely, who for many years was technology columnist for PBX and now writes his own blog, has a radically different view of the Microsoft’s thrust into Google’s Web browsing territory (“Bing”) and Google’s thrust into Microsoft’s PC operating system territory (“Chrome”).

He thinks it may be posturing. The same kind of machismo threat display that birds and animals employ to assert their dominance, but not necessarily designed to draw blood.”It’s just noise,” says Cringely, “a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.”

“Microsoft makes most of its money from two products, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Nearly everything else it makes loses money, sometimes deliberately. Google makes most of its money from selling Internet ads next to search results. Nearly everything else it does loses money, too.

“Neither company really cares because both make so much from their core products that it simply doesn’t matter. But companies, like people, strive and dream and in this case both dream, at least sometimes, of destroying the other. Only they can’t — or won’t — do it in the end, because it is against the interests of either company to do so.”

For this offbeat, candid and completely refreshing take Google vs. Microsoft, read Chrome vs. Bing vs. You and Me.

Richard Curtis

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Random UK Stiffing Authors, Agents on E-Rights

Despite the fact that most trade book publishers are paying authors a 25% net royalty (25% of what the publisher actually receives after retailer discount), Random House UK is offering considerably less than that – indeed, considerably less than what its own US sister-house is paying. In October 2008 Random House US set its e-book royalty at 25% net and four months later Simon & Schuster followed suit.

Some agents are so ticked off at Random UK that they’ve stopped offering books to them. “I find it completely ludicrous that one branch of an international publisher is trying to say that 17.5% or 20% is the norm, when every other publisher in the UK has gone public on 25%,” Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann is quoted as saying. Another says, “Random House is the only publisher not offering 25% as its best standard rate but not all agents are getting 25% from all publishers.” “Industry sources said that a figure of 25% was becoming standard, though some admitted that it could be ‘variable’,” writes Benedicte Page in the article.

(As a matter of full disclosure, E-Reads pays a 50% net royalty to all authors.)

It’s probably a good idea right now to make something clear to authors, agents, and other members of the book community: it is against the law for publishers to collude in the setting of royalty rates, at least in the United States. Though 25% of net receipts may be settling down as the the standard e-book royalty, it would be in restraint of trade for publishers to sit down in a room and agree on that rate. Though we often, in negotiations, agree on a “standard” royalty for an adult hardcover – 10% of the list price on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 10% on all sales thereafter – there is no written code fixing the royalties at those rates. If there were, it would be considered price-fixing. Same goes for e-book royalties.

Random House UK defends its position by asserting that “The e-book market is still a very young market which will continue to evolve and our royalty rate is just part of an overall very attractive author package.”

We can’t comment one way or the other on how attractive the rest of Random UK’s author package is, but we can certainly support its right to pay 2/3rds of what the rest of the industry calls standard; we will certainly support them if they decide to pay twice what the rest of the industry calls standard. What we don’t support is agents and authors rolling over and accepting a “standard” royalty. Any time a publisher tells you “That’s the going rate,” ask where is that written? I guarantee you won’t find it written in the minutes of the American Association of Publishers or any other book industry trade organization.

More importantly, it should not even be an unwritten law.

At any rate, you can read about the fracas here.

Richard Curtis

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Reading Fine Print: What Are The Terms For The Books You Buy?

This week, thanks to the retraction of 1984 from Kindle customers and the uproar/apology that ensued, there are a lot of people raising the flag of consumer rights for ebooks. It seems the corporate expectations for control are revealing themselves to be out-of-step with the popular expectations of ownership. But maybe we get the service we deserve. How complicit are we in enabling the controls that irk us?

When we quoted Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, who said “The real issue here is Amazon’s use of DRM and proprietary software. They have unacceptable power over users,” we knew that he had touched on a sensitive nerve.

A discussion on the popular site Reddit.com today is a lightning rod for similar sentiment of consumer entitlement: “It’s simple: I want the media I buy to play on all the devices I own. I want the devices I own to play all the media I can buy. If your business intentionally makes device-specific media or media-specific devices I want you to fail.

But I’m afraid I disagree with Peter Brown and his perspective of the broader implications. And while the Reddit discussion is engrossing, there’s not much being said about one little word.

Liability.

When Peter Brown says Amazon has “unacceptable power,” the truth is that we grant companies this power when customers accept the opaque and deliberately over-protective terms of use that we all too often gloss over to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible.

How many Kindle owners have read the terms that state:

Use of Digital Content. Upon your payment of the applicable fees set by Amazon, Amazon grants you the non-exclusive right to keep a permanent copy of the applicable Digital Content and to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Device or as authorized by Amazon as part of the Service and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content will be deemed licensed to you by Amazon under this Agreement unless otherwise expressly provided by Amazon.

Changes to Service. Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.

Termination. Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate without notice from Amazon if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees. Amazon’s failure to insist upon or enforce your strict compliance with this Agreement will not constitute a waiver of any of its rights.

(Complete terms of use found here.)

It may seem Draconian, but essentially Amazon is stating that it has rights, too, to protect itself from companies or individuals using its service. Without those protections, Amazon and other companies would have little incentive to partner-up with new technologies that are ripe with the opportunity to exploit, harm, and cause serious problems without strict legalese behind them.

I think the digital reading experience provided by the Kindle and Amazon cannot be equated with older notions about ownership and traditional physical books. The digital service industry is built around licenses, permissions, and tacit agreements about copyright. What would the Kindle be without its 3G cell phone service (a special license), or the internet cloud functionality of Whispernet, which is a service with terms of use agreements?

When we buy a book in a system comprised of those complex arrangements, what we’re really doing is licensing the book for our use so long as those terms are offered. This isn’t how we traditionally think about shopping for goods. But in the last 30 years, our society is increasingly becoming familiar with this arrangement, whether it’s music or movies or software. It’s renting disguised as ownership. We have a hard time acknowledging that this is in fact happening under our noses while we stick to antiquated ideas of entitlement.

It may not seem fair, especially to those who like to reverse engineer and repurpose everything they purchase, but it is a perfectly valid business objective. However, where the business objective comes undone is in enforcement. DRM and unexpected retractions aren’t the only enforcement companies use. It can get much more heavy-handed.

As Stephen Fry recently lamented about copyright law, the prosecutions used to criminalize young users are obviously both overzealous and unfair in most cases. A single teenager stealing music doesn’t deserve a worse financial penalty than most white-collar criminals with deliberate intent to profit.

The truth is that the intent of most people breaking their terms of use is not to profit, but to enjoy an experience or connection with artists.

But that’s not always the case. It may be the most popular reason, but there are always sneaky deviations. And so enters the legalese of terms of use, which try to foreshadow any and all possible infringements and damages. By inducing you to quickly accept their terms, they try to stave off worse case scenarios that could bankrupt a company with litigation. And there’s the rub: we want the toys and media these companies develop but we must risk that accepting their terms might not be in our best interests. Every time we agree to unread terms of use (and we do, don’t we?), we may be complicit in feeding that beast that can bite us. And what about the free media that has no such terms – are we all willing to take a risk that we trust free media to cause us no harm, with no recourse if it does? It’s a murky problem in these dark days of DRM.

– Michael Gaudet

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Text of Jeff Bezos’s Apology over Orwell-Kindle Incident

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com

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Jeff Bezos Regrets

Responding to a tsunami of ill will over Amazon’s deletion of two Kindle books, the company’s chief Jeff Bezos apologized, saying the handling of the matter was “stupid” and “thoughtless”. Bezos said that the harm done to Amazon’s image was “wholly self-inflicted.”

Though the company justified its original action on the grounds that the books had been uploaded into Kindle from an unauthorized source, and though Amazon refunded the price of the zapped George Orwell books to customers, Bezos acknowledged that the affair was a public relations debacle.

Though E-Reads expressed a somewhat contrarian view of Amazon’s action, we also recognize that it opened far larger issues concerning the ability of corporations, or even governments, to reach into our homes, businesses and private lives and control what we read, watch, or communicate.

Not everyone is prepared to accept an apology and move on. Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation, said “Unfortunately this matter requires more than just changing internal policy. The real issue here is Amazon’s use of DRM and proprietary software. They have unacceptable power over users, and actual respect necessitates more than an apology – it requires abandoning DRM and releasing the Kindle’s software as free software.

For the full text of Bezos’s apology click here.

RC

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Reality Not Good Enough for You? Time To Use Your Android

“The world is too much with us,” wrote poet William Wordworth. Too bad he didn’t have an Android-powered smartphone.

If he did he’d realize how little of the world he’d actually experienced. By strolling through Grasmere, his Lake District hometown, and pointing the device at inns and shops, countless secrets and wonders theretofore hidden from him would have been displayed on his phone’s screen.

Wordsworth didn’t have a smartphone, but you can experience for yourself the marvels of augmented reality that the smartphone delivers. What’s augmented reality? Leslie Berlin, project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford, recently reported in the New York Times that “the real world is overlaid with virtual information.” By using your smartphone’s global positioning application, your phone can see precisely what you’re looking at. “The augmented-reality application then pulls in information about points of interest in that sight line and displays it on top of the camera view.

Football fans have been familiar with an early version of augmented reality: it’s the yellow stripe that appears to mark the first down line on the field on game telecasts. In fact it’s a virtual line, invisible to spectators attending the game but absolutely real to television viewers. The technology has now been enhanced and adapted to such competitive sports as golf, tennis, baseball and sailing.

And don’t forget the competitive sport called shopping. Books, for instance. We recently reported a Google book-text search tool called the Barcode Scanner that works with an Android-powered cellphone. According to Google Book Search engineer Jeff Breidenbach, when you download the software into your Android and point your phone camera at a book’s barcode, “it will automatically zoom, focus and scan the ISBN – without you even needing to click the shutter…You’ll then have the option to search the full text of the book on Google Book Search right away”

But that’s just the beginning. Berlin goes on to write, “Augmented reality will ‘reinvent’ many industries, including health care and training…Already, researchers at the Technical University of Munich are looking at ways to display X-ray and ultrasound readings directly on a patient’s body. A research project at BMW is exploring how an augmented-reality view under the hood might help auto mechanics with diagnostic and repair work.

“The industry that may have the most to gain from augmented reality is gaming,” Berlin concludes. Actually, not. Traditionally, the earliest adapters of technological advances are warfare and the sex trade. The military has for years been developing “wearable computers” employing what it calls a Battlefield Augmented Reality System. Here’s an excerpt from a pre-Android paper published in 2002:

Many future military operations are expected to occur in urban environments. These complex, 3D battlefields introduce many challenges to the dismounted warfighter. Better situational awareness is required for effective operation in urban environments. However, delivering this information to the dismounted warfighter is extremely difficult. For example, maps draw a user’s attention away from the environment and cannot directly represent the three dimensional nature of the terrain.

To overcome these difficulties, we are developing the Battlefield Augmented Reality System (BARS). The system consists of a wearable computer, a wireless network system, and a tracked see-through head-mounted display (HMD). The computer generates graphics that, from the user’s perspective, appear to be aligned with the actual environment. For example, a building could be augmented to show its name, a plan of its interior, icons to represent
reported sniper locations, and the names of adjacent streets.

As for the other application, pornography – well, use your imagination.

Read about recent smartphone advances in augmented reality in Kicking Reality Up a Notch.

“The real world is way too boring for many people,” one game developer declared. “By making the real world a playground for the virtual world, we can make the real world much more interesting.”

Which takes us back to Wordworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea…

RC

Every Blogger owes a debt of gratitude to newspapers and magazines. This posting relies on original research and reporting performed by the New York Times.

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