15th > August > 2005 Archive

Judge clarifies Google AdWords ruling in the US

A district court judge this week clarified her decision of last December to dismiss important parts of a trade mark case against Google brought by car insurance firm GEICO over the search engine's AdWords service. Car insurance firm GEICO sued both Google and Yahoo! subsidiary Overture in May 2004 over the sale of its registered trade marks as sponsored search terms in the keyword advertising services of both search engines. These services work by allowing advertisers to sponsor particular search terms so that, for a fee, whenever that term is searched the advertiser's link will appear next to the search results. Google’s AdWords underwent a policy change in April 2004. Until then Google had respected requests from companies that asked it to prevent their marks from being available for sponsorship. Conversely, Google has always allowed trade mark holders to request that their trade marks do not appear in the headings or text of sponsored links. But the policy change – allowing a trade marked term to trigger a third party's ad – sparked lawsuits against Google, including the action filed by GEICO. Overture settled in late November, but Google continued its fight. In December, Judge Leonie Brinkema of the US District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia, announced her decision. This week, she issued a formal opinion explaining in more detail her reasons for that decision, albeit parts of the case are still due to continue to trial unless the parties reach a settlement. The upshot: Google's sale of GEICO trade marks as keywords was not unlawful. But GEICO established a likelihood of confusion with regard to those sponsored links that use GEICO's trade marks in their headings or text. So the sale of GEICO as a keyword was lawful; but ads that included GEICO's marks in their text, however triggered, were not. If the keyword GEICO triggered an ad without GEICO's marks in its text, there would be no infringement. GEICO had presented survey evidence of user confusion, based on a study carried out by a university; but Judge Brinkema expressed "serious doubts about the accuracy of the survey results' reflection of actual users' experiences with and reactions to the Sponsored Links." She wrote that GEICO "has failed to establish a likelihood of confusion stemming from Google's use of GEICO's trademark as a keyword and has not produced sufficient evidence to proceed on the question of whether the Sponsored Links that do not reference GEICO's marks in their headings or text create a sufficient likelihood of confusion to violate either the Lanham Act or Virginia common law." Had GEICO's survey methodology been better, the result may have been different. And mindful of the importance of the issues before her "to the ongoing evolution of internet business practices and to the application of traditional trademark principles to this new medium," Judge Brinkema was careful to emphasise that her ruling "applies only to the specific facts of this case". When the survey participants were shown a page bearing sponsored ads for Nike alongside organic listings in response to a search for GEICO, there was no confusion. Judge Brinkema said this "refutes the allegation that the use of the trademark as a keyword, without more, causes a likelihood of confusion." Notwithstanding the flaws, she acknowledged that GEICO had produced survey evidence "sufficient to establish a likelihood of confusion regarding those Sponsored Links in which the trademark GEICO appears either in the heading or text of the ad." She continued: "Based on this finding, Google may be liable for trademark infringement for the time period before it began blocking such usage or for such ads that have slipped or continue to slip through Google's system for blocking the appearance of GEICO's mark in Sponsored Links." Whether Google or its advertisers should be liable for the use of GEICO's trade marks in the headings and text of Google's sponsored links is a question that has still to be answered. GEICO's General Counsel, Charles Davies, responded to the written opinion, saying, "GEICO will continue to aggressively enforce its trade mark rights against purchasers of its trade marks on search engines and against search engines that sell GEICO's trade marks to advertisers." He continued: "We continue to believe that the sale of GEICO's trade marks to its competitors is wrong and a violation of federal and state law and look forward to litigating that issue in future cases." Google's Litigation Counsel, Michael Kwun, described the ruling as "an extraordinary victory for Google." He explained to SearchEngineWatch.com: "Google is extremely pleased with the outcome in this case. The important issue for us in it – which is the use of trademarks as keyword triggers – was decided decisively in our favor." [This story has been changed since it first appeared. OUT-LAW.com's explanation can be found here.] © Pinsent Masons 2000 - 2005
OUT-LAW.COM, 15 Aug 2005
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Cheques 'extinct by 2025'

Paper cheques could be extinct within the next 20 years as consumers and businesses switch to more convenient forms of payment, a new study reveals. The rise of electronic payments, debit cards and telephone and internet banking are sounding the death knell for the cheque, which research from Halifax, the UK bank, shows has dropped in use in the UK over the last year by seven per cent to 2.1 billion. This marks a steep drop from their peak of 3.7 billion in 1990 at a rate of decline that will make them obsolete by 2025 if unchecked, the report claims. Coincidentally, there were over 3.7 billion debit card transaction in 2004 compared to just 522 million in 1990, and debit cards are the fastest growing form of payment in the UK, according to the report. Business has led the way in switching to direct credit and other forms of payment for salary and trade obligations, and its cheque use has declined every year since 1997. Some 90 per cent of salaried adults are paid by direct credit, while 40 per cent of state benefits are made through such electronic transfers. "The use of personal cheques dropped last year for the 10th year running and customers now prefer quicker and easier payment methods," said Peter Jackson, head of banking at Halifax. "It is very clear that the cheque is no longer the main payment method. Cash and debit cards are clearly the preferred method of payment in the UK today." Copyright © 2005,
Team Register, 15 Aug 2005

Thus throws hat into Energis ring

Thus has gone public with an £800m 'proposal' for Energis, which would trump an agreed offer from rival Cable & Wireless. In a statement today, the Scottish telco urged stakeholders in Chelsys (Energis's holding company) not "to accept any proposal from any third party until the board of Chelys has initiated a process allowing Thus to present a definitive proposal to Chelys stakeholders". Thus submitted a proposal to the Chelys board on 27 July. On 1 August it received a letter from the Chelys board that it was "was in a period of exclusivity with another party". Until the emergence of Thus today, the general thinking among analysts was that C&W was in a field of one in a list of prospective buyers for Energis. C&W is currently playing hardball with a group of Energis debt holders which are seeking the full principal on their debt - in other words they want more money. The company says it will not increase its £780m offer and will walk away if 75 per cent of the debt holders do not accept it by end of play today. Thus is profitable and it has a more modern network than that of Energis. Significant capex savings could be achieved through a combined group. But it is much smaller than cash-rich C&W. Also, it would have to fund any acquisition through debt finance and equity. It says its advisors, which include Citigroup, "believe that the required debt and equity financing will be available". ®
Drew Cullen, 15 Aug 2005
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Nvidia preps 'C51 Intel Edition'

Nvidia is preparing an Intel-oriented version of its first integrated chipset, 'C51'. Meanwhile, that part, which targets AMD-based systems, will launch on 20 September. So claim unnamed motherboard makers cited by DigiTimes. The Intel version of C51 is codenamed 'C60', the sources claim, but were apparently unable to suggest when Nvidia plans to launch the part. C51 has been said to support both Socket 754 and Socket 939 processors. It will provide GeForce 6-class graphics. All C51 chipsets will support Serial ATA 2, Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire and USB 2.0, and it's reasonable to assume so will C60. The 20 September release date is slightly later than the mid-Q3 launch window previously suggested. Last week, Nvidia said its nForce chipsets yielded a 128 per cent jump in revenue between Q2 FY2006, ended 31 July 2005, and Q2 FY2005. For the quarter, Nvidia realised revenues of $574.8m, up 26 per cent on the year ago quarter's $456.1m, but down 1.5 per cent on the previous quarter. Net income jumped 16.1 per cent sequentially and almost fifteenfold year on year to $74.8m (41 cents a share). ®
Tony Smith, 15 Aug 2005
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Intel slashes Pentium 4 6xx prices

Intel yesterday pruned the prices of its Pentium 4 6xx processor series by up to 34 per cent. The cuts had been expected. The EM64T-enabled single-core CPUs all feature 2MB of L2 cache and support the customary 800MHz frontside bus speed. They are fabbed at 90nm. All five 6xx-class processors had their prices cut. The 3.8GHz 670 fell from $851 to $605, a fall of 28.9 per cent. The 3.6GHz 660 was cut to $401, 33.7 per cent off its previous price, $605. The 3.4GHz 650 now costs $273, down from $401, a cut of 31.9 per cent. The 3.2GHz 640 dropped 20.2 per cent, from $273 to $218. And the 3GHz 630 now costs $178, down 20.5 per cent from $224. The rest of the chip giant's price list remained unchanged. Intel most recently cut its prices at the start of the month, when it knocked up to 13.6 per cent off the price of selected Celeron D processors. Its Centrino bundle prices were also trimmed, to reflect the addition of a pair of new Pentium M processors, the 780 and 778, to the line-up. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Aug 2005

Bid for O2 dead, or just sleeping?

Mobile operator O2 has denied any knowledge of a reported €20bn takeover bid for the company, concocted by Deutsche Telekom and Dutch operator, KPN. An O2 spokesman told us: "We are not in talks, and we haven't been approached." However the Financial Mail says unnamed senior executives at the company were aware of the negotiations between Deutsche and O2, and that they were concerned the deal would have broken up the company along country lines. The bid was nixed this weekend, according to a Sunday Times report, after KPN and Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent company, failed to come to an agreement over the structure of the offer. The paper says that the deal, which would have valued the company at around £13bn, or 160p per share, it could yet be revived, quoting "sources familiar with the talks". Rumours about a proposed bid for the operator have been "circulating for months", the O2 spokesman told us. "There has been speculation ever since we were spun out of BT," he said. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Aug 2005

Chinese eye $100 wireless laptop

Broadband wireless has traditionally flourished in developing economies, as a relatively low cost way to bring broadband access to countries with limited infrastructure. But this does not mean that it is a technology for spreading access to poor users. In general, operators in new economies target enterprises, expatriates and other high income oases, leaving rural and low income groups pretty much untouched. Ming Dong, a wireless analyst with Analysis in Beijing, made the point clearly. "Unlike in other nations where both the urban, suburban, and rural areas are fully developed, China's rural regions are still very underdeveloped, and inhabitants can't afford broadband access,” he commented, seeing the greatest potential for expanded access centering on communal hotspots. Some efforts have been made by aid agencies, governments and community groups to extend access to underserved areas, often using a communal CPE (customer premises equipment), perhaps housed in a village hall. But serious attempts to bridge the digital divide remain largely a phenomenon of the developed nations, seeking to bring their poorer communities into the mainstream economy. Truly universal access depends on one factor more than any other – availability of ultra-low cost CPE. Currently, Wi-Fi is mainly available in laptops, smartphones and as part of a broadband home gateway, all devices that are priced at several hundred dollars or more. WiMAX, it is widely accepted, will only become a consumer market technology when it achieves similar or lower CPE costs. True, Wi-Fi cards are now trivial in cost, and WiMAX cards will fall below $50 by 2008, but they still have to be housed in a device that is expensive to the end user. Research institutions and vendors are increasingly turning their thoughts to a more radical approach to CPE, one that could support mass market access in poor populations and so boost volumes enormously, and support a new range of business models for operators, whether commercial or publicly owned. Much of this work has, predictably, been centered in the country that has made the most proactive moves towards a strategy to broadband enable more of its vast low income population, India. The country’s influential Center for Development of Telematics (C-Dot) is working with Alcatel, Wavesat, Intel and others on broadband wireless platforms with ultra-low cost user devices. One of the most important projects is a collaboration with the Canadian creators of the Milton (Microwave Light Organized Network) technology, to build a very low cost last mile option for rural parts of India. Milton was conceived as a link between the fiber backbone – which is widespread but underused in India – and the home and the plan is to move the proprietary elements of the design to standard 802.11a and 802.16-2004 standards in the near future using WaveSat silicon. The Hundred Dollar Laptop AMD, among others, has been working on very cheap, low footprint platforms for mass market wireless devices, but the latest concept that could shift the communications goal posts comes from Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, who has outlined the blueprint for the so-called Hundred Dollar Laptop (HDL), a first step towards even lower cost devices in future. The HDL that Negroponte posits would bypass three expensive components of conventional laptops - Microsoft Windows, a traditional flat panel screen, and a hard drive. Instead it will be loaded with Linux and other open source software; its display will use either a rear projection screen or a type of electronic ink invented at the MIT Media Lab; and it will store one gigabyte of files in flash memory. Once turned on, HDLs will automatically connect to one another using a mesh network initially developed at MIT and the Media Lab – a spontaneous, carrierless method of broadband access that is also being worked on by Microsoft and Intel, both eager to see their core technologies being pushed out to the world’s entire population. In Negroponte’s mesh, each HDL will act as the household email, telephone (using Skype or other free software) and internet access device. For communities without electricity, HDLs may be powered by either a crank or ‘parasitic power’ (typing). He claims that he has been talking to Chinese manufacturers that could build the HDL for under $100 providing there were committed orders of at least six million in the first year. Chinese authorities themselves have said they would be interested in buying two million machines and Brazil 1m, said Negroponte. Negroponte writes: "Education: one laptop per child. Whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty, the solution always includes education. We need to depend more on peer-to-peer and self-driven learning. The laptop is one important means of doing that." This idealistic view verges on the naïve in a world where many of the communities to which Negroponte refers are close to starvation, but the concept could still be workable for people in the next economic tier, provided there was sufficient government or international funding – essential, primarily, to bear the costs of internet access and backhaul. Low cost handsets Less pure motives may also push technology and its benefits out to currently deprived sectors of the population. The development of very cheap cellular handsets is one example of a largely vendor-driven phenomenon, with most of the cellphone majors now on track to deliver sub-$50 devices in the next 1-2 years. Putting its considerable weight behind the trend is Texas Instruments, which this week chose India as the location to announce the availability of its single-chip technology for cellphone makers in emerging markets. The platform combines functions such as memory, logic, power management, radio and network processes on a single chip to reduce size and power requirements and drive down costs of entry level GSM and GPRS phones. The chip was made available to Nokia at the beginning of the year and is now available to manufacturers in India and other emerging markets, claiming to reduce the bill of materials by 30 per cent, opening up the potential for a sub-$30 handset in the near future. Qualcomm is working on a similar low cost platform for CDMA. Copyright © 2005, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.
Wireless Watch, 15 Aug 2005

Mobile war smoulders around internet UI

Most of the analysis of the handset war between Nokia and Motorola centers on their device designs, with Nokia’s stainless steel 8800 squaring up against the US company’s RAZR and PEBL. Just as important to the user’s choice, however, is the user interface and, increasingly the ease of use of internet capabilities, and this week we saw the giants focusing their attentions on the software side of the battle. Nokia has always had the upper hand in the user interface world, with its Series xO UI platform, which it is trying to establish as a de facto standard. By contrast, Motorola has been known for over complicated, over technical UIs, a failing it now claims it is addressing with a new interface geared to multifunction devices that send email, play music and surf the internet. Doug Walston, head of the UI design team, admits that the current Synergy interface was not designed for multimedia, and became cumbersome as more and more functionality was tacked on to a basic platform devised for simple voice devices. Now Motorola is bringing out a new UI that springs from its more general transition to an open Java/Linux environment for its key models. It supports over 600 functions from playing an MP3 file to composing a text message, and sets out what the company calls ‘golden paths’ – intuitive routes through all the functions, using single buttons and softkeys – for navigation. The new UI will ship in Java/Linux handsets by the end of the year, including several key advances. For instance, on the communications side, there is a ‘universal composer’ that simplifies messaging by deciding automatically, from the content, which type of message to use – SMS, MMS and so on. This is just one example of removing the need for end users to make technical choices. The UI also includes speaker independent voice recognition technology developed within Motorola’s research labs. On the multimedia side, there is a new download manager that enables users to continue to navigate the UI while the phone is downloading a file in the background. Another interesting development is Motorola’s Screen3 technology, which adds internet information to a phone’s main screen and regularly updates that information. For instance, a user only has to look at the main screen to get the latest local weather information. For its part, Nokia has recently been broadening the reach of its own Java-oriented platform, Series 60, to embrace Linux, partly through its open source browser development with Apple. Like Motorola, it is also committing resources to making the mobile internet experience more direct and simple. This week it introduced a mobile search solution that provides users with fast access to leading search engines directly from the Nokia handset. The main service and content providers supported include Medio Systems, Yahoo!, Yell.com, as well as digital map solution provider AtlasCT and digital map data provider NAVTEQ. When the user is travelling, the interface adapts automatically to local search engines, and location awareness can be incorporated too. The software will be available first in Finland, Sweden and the UK later this year. Opera and Openwave All these efforts by the majors will put heavy pressure on the specialists in mobile browsing, notably Openwave and Opera. Openwave has now shipped its mobile browser in 1bn handsets worldwide and has licensing deals with some majors, such as Siemens and Sanyo, although its main appeal, like many other software independents, is to operators seeking to customize their own UIs rather than adopting the handset vendors’ approaches. Meanwhile, Opera, whose software is licensed by Nokia but may be sidelined by the Apple deal, has launched a version of its browser, Opera Mini, for low end Java phones that would not normally be able to run such software. Instead of requiring the phone to process web pages, it uses a remote server to pre-process the page before sending it to the device. The handset only needs a small Java client. The first company to adopt Opera Mini is Norway's leading commercial television station, TV2, which has bundled the product with its mobile services in Norway to offer its viewers a complete content package that includes the browsing function. This ability to customize a user interface to reflect the services and brand of an operator will become ever more important as highly branded and targeted virtual network operators become more prevalent, leasing capacity on a cellco’s system to deliver a service that is usually tailored tightly for a selected user base. America Online, which is creeping slowly into wireless and mobile markets, has recognized this and has acquired mobile software house Wildseed to help it replicate its AOL internet environment on the handset. It could use an AOL phone platform in various ways – marketing it directly to end users or via their operators in return for a revenue share; becoming an MVNO itself with its own branded environment; or offering a cellphone option as a bundle with its conventional ISP services, whether wireline or broadband wireless, so that the user can access the same functions and interface from the PC, television or the handset. The purchase of Wildseed is a first step towards this potential, although AOL is moving far more slowly into wireless than its nearest challenger in the US ISP market, EarthLink, which has a joint venture with South Korea Telecom that will offer MVNO cellular and broadband wireless services, and which is also targeting municipal metrozone projects. Wildseed targets the youth market with intelligent faceplates that allow consumers to change both the look and user interface of their handsets. The technology features pre-loaded content including games and screen savers and AOL will extend this into a platform for branded instant and photo messaging and for delivering its internet music service to mobile devices. "Data-related mobile technologies are on the cusp of mainstream adoption," said John McKinley, president of digital services for AOL. "The wireless industry is focused on bringing additional rich media experiences and a new generation of interactive services to the mobile consumer, and we are committed to being a leader in that arena." Copyright © 2005, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.
Wireless Watch, 15 Aug 2005
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Sony dips toe into SMB market

Quocirca's changing channelsQuocirca's changing channels Sony leads the market in consumer electronics when measured across its total product range. That range is so diverse that for every product it sells it faces a different set of competitors – some of who lead Sony in their particular area. Profits have suffered in the face of fierce competition and Sony is looking to expand its business from consumers to small and mid-sized businesses (SMB), where its market share is tiny. To achieve this, in Europe at least, Sony is seeking the help of the channel – how will it be received? Sony has a good starting point – people like Sony. Its brand name is trusted in the consumer market and its products are generally considered to be reliable. Some gripe that Sony’s products are over priced, but having said that, most would be prepared to pay a small premium to own a Sony product over a little known brand. The trouble for Sony is that many of the brands it is competing with, if not already well known, are becoming so and the likelihood that consumer will pay a premium is diminishing. What of SMBs? Sony believes it has products in a number of areas that will be of interest to SMBs including audio and visual communications, digital imaging, video display, PCs and storage. Sony accepts that it will have to modify some of these products for the SMB market. For example its VAIO PCs would need to have a different life cycle to suit the slow moving technology requirements of business compared to the fast moving tastes of consumers. To woo the channel Sony has set up a reseller program called ’Sony 1’. The name reflects the fact that before this initiative, resellers wanting to work with Sony had to deal with it as several entities – which most did not bother to do, choosing to stick with brands more readily associated with business. On paper the program has many of the features and benefits you would expect from a reseller program. It was launched in April 2005 in five countries; UK, France, Germany, Spain and Benelux – more countries are planned during the next 12 months. Sony says that uptake by resellers has been ahead of expectations in many cases, with over 4,500 registrations in the UK alone. But in reality resellers who simply register are showing little commitment to Sony and many will have been lured by a free prize draw which plays to their consumer instincts rather than their business ones. Sony has an accreditation process to help resellers to get skilled up. This involves sales training, setting aside demo facilities and web-site real estate, building a business plan, committing to lead generation and so on. So far, less than five per cent of the registered resellers have been through the process, but it is early days and Sony says this is in line with its targets. Accumulating certified resellers is one thing; making money from them is another. Sony’s quality and pricing will come under closer scrutiny from resellers than it does from consumers and hard pressed SMBs working on tight budgets will be less likely to pay the premium that some consumers seem prepared to. Sony will find itself up against some old hands in the SMB market who have years of experience of working with the channel. But at least Sony is increasing choice in a number of areas, which is in the interests of resellers and SMBs alike. © Quocirca Please feel free to let Quocirca know your views on Sony’s channel initiative and if it represents an opportunity for your organisation; email qcc@quocirca.com Bob Tarzey is a service director at Quocirca focussed on the route to market for IT products and services in Europe. Quocirca is a UK-based perceptional research and analysis firm with a focus on the European market.
Bob Tarzey, 15 Aug 2005

Flaw on Tuesday, worm by Sunday

Virus writers have created a worm that spreads using a Microsoft Plug-and-Play vulnerability disclosed only last week. The ZoTob worm exploits a security weakness detailed just five days prior to its arrival last weekend. Two variants of ZoTob have been discovered so far. Each allows hackers to seize control of vulnerable PCs. Both share many similarities with the earlier MyTob worm, according to Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure, which reckons the malware is based on exploit code published by 'houseofdabus' four days ago. The spread of ZoTob provokes comparisons with the infamous Sasser worm even though it's nothing like as aggressive. Sasser was released just two days after the same hacker released exploit code for the infamous LSASS vulnerability that underpined Sasser. F-Secure notes that ZoTob fails to infect Windows XP SP2 machines. It also won't infect machines that block the port via which it spreads (445/TCP) either, further limiting the scope for infection. Windows users (particularly those running Windows 2K, the most vulnerable platform) are urged to apply Microsoft patches lest they get infected. The vulnerability was discovered by ISS. Security firm eEye has released a free scanning tool here. ®
John Leyden, 15 Aug 2005
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US games software giants target UK mod-chip supplier

ExclusiveExclusive The founder of a UK-based games console modification company has pledged to fight the US software industry's attempt to shut down his business. Crewe, Cheshire-based Games World Direct (GWD) last week found itself targeted by the US-based Entertainment Software Association (ESA), after the organisation contacted its ISP, Luton-based UH Hosting Ltd, and demanded its website be removed. The ESA accused UH of hosting pages in violation of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). According to an email sent to UH's owner and founder, James Smith, the ESA "has a good faith belief that the person(s) operating the Internet site... violates the DMCA and infringe(s) the intellectual property rights of one or more ESA Members by offering for sale circumvention devices". Said devices are console mod chips, the ESA alleged. In an exclusive interview with The Register, GWD owner Ben Holding confirmed his company does indeed sell mod chips. However, he said they are "blank" - they lack any code taken from Sony or any other games console manufacturer, unlike older mod chips whose sale has got a number of other vendors into hot water. Court action In July 2004, mod-chip seller David Ball was ruled by the English High Court to have violated the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations Act of 2003, the UK's enactment of the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) - Europe's answer to the DMCA - for selling 1500 Messiah 2 chips which enabled the PlayStation 2's copy protection scheme to be bypassed. And last month, a 22-year-old Caerphilly man became the first Briton to receive a criminal conviction for selling modified Xbox consoles via the web. Holding maintains he does not infringe the law, since his chips do not contain any code. "If you fit a new chip as sold it does not affect the operation of the console in any shape or form," he told The Register. Only if a customer independently loads homebrew loader code will the chip operate to boot an alternative operating system, such as Linux, he said. Holding admitted some customers could also use the chip to run games legally acquired overseas, or backed-up games, but he was adamant that they could not do so using the chips as sold. "It's the customer's choice if they locate and install the loader," he said. He maintained that his chips were no different from blank CDs and DVDs - they too have illegal uses, but that does not prevent their sale because there are also perfectly legitimate uses to which they may be put. However, Struan Roberston, a senior associate with law firm Pinsent Mason, said such an argument may carry little weight should the case come to court. "Almost all court decisions have gone against mod-chip sellers," he said. "The law surrounding mod chips is not 100 per cent clear," he admitted, but "anyone who decides to sell mod chips has to be prepared to take a big risk. He has to be prepared for a fight." Holding said he was indeed ready for a battle, if it comes to that. Past cases have gone against products containing unquthorised copies of copyright code. Holding maintains his do not, and that puts his case in the grey area. DMCA/EUCD The games industry has long been opposed to mod chips, partly because they may bypass the region-coding console developers and software firms use to maintain regional markets, but mostly because they can be used to run pirate copies of games. Like the DMCA, the EUCD, when enacted onto member states' statute books, makes it an offence to bypass copy-protection mechanisms and knowingly to sell or promote devices that can enable such an action. The ESA is in a tricky position: the scope of the DMCA does not extend to the UK. If a company sells to US consumers then the seller "has to comply with US laws", said Robertson, but there remains the issue of enforcement. The ESA can't compel UK residents to come to a US court. However, it doesn't need to, Robertson told The Register: the ESA could pursue the case in the UK, most likely through its European equivalent, the European Leisure Software Publishers' Association (ELSPA). Indeed, ELSPA was behind last month's mod-chip conviction, bringing the case to the attention of local Trading Standards officials, who mounted the prosecution. Robertson said an ISP notified that it is hosting illegal content has a responsibility to remove it, but the company may argue that it believes the material not to be unlawful, but that leaves it in a tricky position should the content later be deemed by a court to have broken the law. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Aug 2005

eBay UK trading to hit £4bn

Trading on eBay UK is likely to hit £4bn this year - equivalent to 1.3 per cent of all UK retail sales, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) has predicted. And all of this ecommerce action could represent a £3,000 per annum boost for the average UK household, the CEBR told the BBC. In all, more than 50,000 Brits are currently happily eBaying away, taking advantage of the general boost in the value of second-hand stuff provoked by a cost-free disposal platform which maximises the potential profit from goods. Naturally, this online orgy of capitalism is good for the economy generally, because "auction sites are increasing competition, widening consumers' choice and helping keep down inflation - both online and on the High Street", as EBR supremo Mark Pragnell explained. One of the CEBR report's authors, Laura Phaff, added: "If people realise that they have sellable goods sitting in their cupboards, it ought to increase consumers' confidence just like any other unexpected boost to wealth." Of course, it's not quite that simple. While reader Paul Gale told the BBC: "Thanks to these online auction sites, we can again be a nation of shopkeepers. I use a popular auction site. It's great fun, easy and a very good way to get rid of unwanted stuff.. a lot warmer than a car boot sale", an otherwise anonymous Jacqueline warned: "I personally would not use a site like ebay or any other auction site as there is little to no regulation of goods sold on there. As a buyer there is little protection and recently such sites have been subject to abuse for people running small businesses under the tax man's radar as well as the increase and seemingly acceptability of ticket touting on such sites." Indeed, eBay UK recently pulled an illegal Live 8 DVD auction shortly after Saint Sir Bob Geldolf himself called for a complete boycott of the auction site due to a Live 8 ticket sale outrage. ®
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005

Taser absolved of stun gun death liability

An Arizona court last week delivered some good news for Taser International Inc. shareholders when it dismissed a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit against the stun gun manufacturer. The decision - the third such wrongful death suit against Taser dismissed in a month - immediately sent the company's shares up nine per cent in pre-market trading, Reuters reports. Indeed, Taser shares were last Friday trading at $9.20 on the Inet electronic brokerage system, up from a Thursday closing value of $8.44 on Nasdaq. Friday's ruling in the Superior Court of the State of Arizona in the County of Maricopa "ordered a suit against Taser to be dismissed with prejudice". This means the plaintiff will not be able to refile the suit which charged Taser with "wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress and product liability". Although Taser has faced several similar lawsuits filed by relatives of victims of fatal Taser deployment, none has succeeded. Amnesty International has reportedly recorded 100 taser-related fatalities since 2001. For its part, Taser says the 50,000 volt perp-buster is a "non-lethal" alternative to hot lead. ®
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005

RIAA admits CD-R more a threat than P2P

The Recording Industry Ass. of America has acknowledged that P2P file-sharing is less of a threat to music sales than bootleg CDs. The RIAA's chief executive, Mitch Bainwol, last week said music fans acquire almost twice as many songs from illegally duplicated CDs as from unauthorised downloads, Associated Press reports. According to Bainwol, in turn citing figures from market watcher NPD, 29 per cent of the recorded music obtained by listeners last year came from content copied onto recordable media. Only 16 per cent came from illegal downloads. Legal downloads accounted for four per cent of music acquisitions, while official CDs accounted for almost 50 per cent of the total. The RIAA's favoured solution appears to be copy-protected CDs, which are gradually spreading throughout the music CD market. This approach "is an answer to the problem that clearly the marketplace is going to see more of," Bainwol told the news agency. Over the last few months, we've seen a growing number of stories published by the mainstream media that highlight the growing number of copy-protected CDs in the market and, in particular, those that have become big sellers. If we didn't know better, we'd suggest this was all part of a scheme to attempt to ease consumers' concerns that the music industry is out to make it a darn sight harder to listen to music on a computer. But they wouldn't do that, would they? Ahem. Now that copy-protection has gone beyond crude early attempts to foist poor Java music player software on consumers, and to limit their ability to make copies for personal usage - in those territories where such 'fair use' rights are enshrined in copyright law, at least - the music industry seems a lot keener to release anti-rip discs. Much-improved hardware compatibility has helped too. The fly in the works is, of course, Apple. A recent Reuters story covering the sales success of copy-protected CDs contain quotes from a number of folk bemoaning the lack of support for the iPod. So far, copy-protection schemes are Windows only, since they dump PC-ripped music as Windows Media files. The iPod doesn't support Windows Media file formats or DRM. Music industry figures were grumbling that Apple's apparent unwillingness to license its FairPlay DRM technology - or, more likely we suspect, do so at a price the music industry is willing to pay - prevents them from creating music files that can be transferred to and played on an iPod. What the report failed to note was that the Mac version of iTunes has generally been fairly robust in its unwillingness to cater to copy-protection technologies. When we reviewed Macrovision's then state-of-the-art CDS-300 version 7 copy-protection scheme last year, while it happily imposed restrictions on Windows users, the sample tracks we were challenged to rip where easily converted from CD audio to MP3 on a PowerBook G4 running iTunes. Right now, the solution to copy-protection appears simple: buy a Mac. In any case, Apple wants iPod owners to buy songs from the iTunes Music Store, not on CD, so there's little to be gained from licensing FairPlay for incorporation into CD copy-protection systems. That may change when Apple comes to renegotiate its iTunes sales licences from major and minor labels, on which Apple is undoubtedly banking on the growing success of iTunes as its prime bargaining tool that the current licensing regime be maintained. ®
Tony Smith, 15 Aug 2005

Scientists invent pee-powered battery

Researchers in Singapore have developed a paper battery that is powered by urine. Despite sounding gloriously silly, the breakthrough promises a cheap and disposable power source for home health tests for things like diabetes. Research investment into developing smaller and cheaper chips to process information in disposable health tests has been significant, but they were still reliant on an external power source. The researchers at Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) think they have overcome this problem. The battery is composed of paper, soaked in copper chloride, sandwiched between layers of magnesium and copper. The whole thing, once laminated in plastic, is just a millimetre thick, and 6cm by 3cm in size. The researchers report that with just 0.2 millilitres of urine the battery will provide around 1.5 volts, with a maximum power output of 1.5 milli-Watts. The performance varies according to the geometry of the battery, and the materials used. Dr. Ki Bang Lee, lead researcher, sees a big market for the battery. He argues that it could easily be integrated into biochip systems for "healthcare diagnostic applications", making it much easier for people to manage their own healthcare, only going to the doctor when absolutely necessary. The research was published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Aug 2005

Violent video games do not cause aggression

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has weighed into the ongoing polemic regarding a possible link between violent video games and "real-world aggression". The Uni says the findings of the first long-term study into exposure to video games and subsequent stroppy behaviour may be "surprising", given that they show "robust exposure to a highly violent online game" did not cause any substantial increase in said aggression. The findings will indeed suprise attorney Jack Thompson who has vowed to prove the link between Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the 2003 murder of two police officers and a civilian police worker in Fayette, Alabama. As we recently reported, after being arrested for the triple homicide, 20-year-old perpetrator Devin Moore was alleged to have said: "Life is a videogame. Everybody has to die some time." Moore is known to have spent many hours playing GTA:VC, dubbed a "murder simulator" by Thompson. Thompson declared: "Moore rehearsed, hour after hour, the cop-killing scenarios in that hyper-violent video game. The makers, distributors, and retailers of that murder simulator equipped Moore to kill as surely as if they had handed him the gun to do it. Blood is on the hands of men in certain corporate board rooms from Japan to New York." While the eventual outcome of Thompson's campaign in uncertain, the Illinois findings will do little to further his cause. Report lead author Dmitri Williams said researchers found "no strong effects associated with aggression caused by this violent game", referring to Asheron's Call 2 (AC2) which guinea pigs played an average 56 hours over the course of a month. Williams explained: "Players were not statistically different from the non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing the game than they were before playing." He added: "Nor was game play a predictor of aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners." Williams did, however, warn: "I'm not saying some games don't lead to aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet. Until we have more long-term studies, I don't think we should make strong predictions about long-term effects, especially given this finding." In fact, the issue is rather more complicated than critics and defenders of video games might suggest. Williams noted: "This game featured fantasy violence, while others featuring outer space or even everyday urban violence may yield different outcomes." Williams admitted that because the test didn't centre solely on younger teenagers, he could not say that "teenagers might not experience different effects", while noting that "older players in their study were "perhaps more strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more than their younger counterparts". Williams summarised: "If the content, context, and play length have some bearing on the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater understanding of the games they are debating. It may be that both the attackers and defenders of the industry's products are operating without enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon." The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's findings appear in the June issue of Communication Monographs in an piece entitled "Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game". ® Methodology The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's test was conducted as follows: The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a "treatment" group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG [massively multiplayer online roleplaying game] play and who played AC2 for the first time; and a control group of 138, who did not play. The participants were solicited through online message boards and ranged in age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years. Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-test online and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personality variables. Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R. Huesmann’s Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressive social interactions were measured with two behavioral questions: in the past month, did the participant have a serious argument with a friend, and in the same time period, did they have a serious argument with a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. Because of the study's design, only moderate or large effects caused by exposure to the game were capable of being detected.
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005

Korean rhetoric of hate immortalised on web

Fans of Communist anti-Western rhetoric will be delighted to learn that a US aficionado of North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) has collated more than "50 megabytes of hard-core Stalinist propaganda ... each article written in the unique and indelible style of the KCNA". Those not familiar with the "running dog lackey" school of journalism are immediately directed to the NK News database of North Korean propaganda. To get you started, try the list of suggested searches, including such lexicographical wonders as "flunkeyist" ("the desperate efforts of the pro-American flunkeyist traitors"); "human scum" ("The letter called upon the working class of the U.S. to denounce human scum such as Bush and Rumsfeld..."); "kingpin of [insert activity according to taste] ("The U.S. is cursed and censured worldwide as the kingpin of man-hunting and flesh traffic" or "nightmarish fascist policy of suppression and a kingpin of fraud and swindle and other irregularities..."); and, naturally, the timeless "running dog" ("The United States invited its south Korean running dogs to its embassy in Seoul some days ago and...") and "lackey" ("Kim Jong Pil, the special class pro-Japanese lackeys of modern brand...") Shockingly, the KCNA occasionally drops its editorial revolutionary guard, as demonstrated with the entry for "Fucking USA": A candle-light service reportedly took place in front of the Thaehwa department store, Pusan, on Dec. 21 to honor the memory of the two schoolgirls killed by the GIs in cold blood. It was attended by over 1,000 citizens, youth, students and middle and high school boys and girls in Pusan. At the end of the service, the participants sang songs "Arirang" and "Fucking USA" with strong anti-Americanism. Ah, that "Fucking USA" - any chance of getting it onto iTunes Japan? Could give Crazy Frog a run for his money. Of course, it's not all negativity and abuse. The KCNA has a penchant - doubtless partially driven by a desire not to end up in salt mine - for calling former NK supremo Kim Jong-il a "peerlessly great man", while the phrase "fatherly love" ("They spoke in excited tone of the benevolent fatherly love shown by Kim Jong Il for them") makes more than one welcome appearence. Marvellous. But the real NK News scoop is the "Random Insult Generator" for those who want to "find out what it's like be a target of the KCNA's wrath". For example, who can argue with the delicious "You black-hearted running dog, we will mercilessly crush you with the weapon of singlehearted unity!" Not us, that's for sure. ®
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005

Brits steal carloads of F**king Austrian roadsigns

An Austrian village called Fucking will not change its name despite sniggering Brits making off with its roadsigns. Mayor Siegfried Hauppl has asked visitors to lay off the signs which began to attract outside attention after British and US soldiers passing through in 1945 illuminated the locals as to the English meaning of Fucking, Ananova reports. Hauppl explained: "We had a vote last year on whether to rename the town, but decided to keep it as it is. After all, Fucking has existed for 800 years, probably when a Mr Fuck or the Fuck family moved into the area. The 'ing' was added as a word for settlement." We reckon that Fucking has been around a lot longer than 800 years, otherwise there wouldn't have been any Fucks to lend their name to the village in the first place, would there? Be that as it may, the disappointing news is that the residents of Fucking are - according to Franz Duernsteiner, an expert on preposterous Austrian village names - very "conservative" people. He said: "Most of them can speak English, and when someone asks them where they come from they are a little ashamed to say it." That's fair enough, and certainly something the residents of Milton Keynes can sympathise with. ®
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005
channel

Firefox loses ground to IE

Firefox's market share slipped last month for the first time since the alternative browser began its battle to offer a popular alternative to Microsoft's ubiqitous Internet Explorer software. This consistent growth suffered a set-back when Firefox fell back from 8.71 per cent market share in June to 8.07 per cent in July, acording to web analytics firm NetApplications. Over the same period Microsoft's share rose from 86.56 per cent in June to 87.2 per cent in July, so Firefox's loss was Microsoft's gain. NetApplications mentions Mozilla decision to launch a commercial arm in explaining why some might have gone back to using IE. Other theories could include an end to the "honeymoon factor" and recent security problems tarnishing Firefox's image as a more secure alternative to IE. NetApplications' stats comes from a survey of 40,000 customers of NetApplications Web site montoring service. Monthly browser share figures, from NetApplications Microsoft Internet Explorer - 87.2 per cent FireFox - 8.07 per cent Safari - 2.13 per cent Netscape - 1.50 per cent Opera - 0.49 per cent Mozilla - 0.5 2per cent Other - 0.09 per cent ®
John Leyden, 15 Aug 2005

Energis rubbishes Thus bid

Telco Energis has ripped apart the takeover offer made by its smaller rival Thus, as it continues to recommend its shareholders accept the “fully-committed offer” from Cable & Wireless due to lapse this evening. C&W and Energis spent the weekend thrashing out details of a potential deal – the C&W offer is due to expire at 5pm today. C&W is involved in a game of brinksmanship with some hold-out Energis shareholders who want the telco to stump up more cash. Thus announced earlier today that it had made an offer worth around £800m to Chelys, Energis’ parent, at the end of July but was rebuffed. This announcement is seen as an effort by Thus to persuade Energis shareholders to allow the current C&W deal to lapse, giving Thus time to firm up its bid. Chelys’ board, in a statement, took the Thus bid apart, saying it amounted to a “reverse takeover of Thus by Chelys” and explaining that it had rejected it “for reasons of value, uncertainty and deliverability.” Thus’ offer did not offer the same potential value or upfront cash, said Chelys’s board. In addition, Thus would need new banking arrangements and “very substantial equity raising”. And in comparison with the quick timetable offered by C&W, Chelys said the Thus offer would result in “protracted processes…which could be expected to last for many months.”®
Team Register, 15 Aug 2005

Want women in IT? Make maths mandatory

A new study of 21 different nations has found that the male dominance of computer science at university level is pandemic.
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Aug 2005

UK hit by sperm donor crisis

The UK government's plan to make fertility treatment increasingly available to single women and lesbian couples has hit a slight snag - there are not enough sperm donors coming forward and coming to provide 50 per cent of the raw materials. The problem stems partly from changes in the law in April which mean that sperm donors are no longer guaranteed anonymity. Accordingly, any child produced from donor sperm can ask for his biological dad's details when he or she turns 18. Sheffield fertility clinic owner Professor Bill Ledger told the Guardian: "We are seeing longer and longer waiting lists because of the loss of anonymity. The situation has become so bad, that we are looking at importing anonymous sperm from abroad." This crisis comes just as the Department of Health prepares a consultation paper for release tomorrow which will ask clinics to be more flexible in offering treatment. At present, many clinics deal only with heterosexual couples because of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Act (HFEA) which insists they must "consider the welfare of the future child and specifically the need for a father figure before offering treatment". The new proposals aim to bring the HFEA up to speed with modern society after a Commons select committee last year slammed it as "offensive" to "unconventional families of single parents and single sex couples". The Department of Health is also looking to deal with websites including "Man Not Included" and "SpermDirect" which offer to whisk just-milked sperm straight to women's homes. A Department of Health spokeswoman confirmed: "There's an issue with the websites because they're a loophole and that's what we want to clamp down on. The original HFEA Act was drawn up before the internet was being used to offer services like this." Of course, the Department of Health faces two problems here: the existing law makes it difficult for some to get fertility treatment, thereby encouraging them to use sperm supply websites; and the removal of donor anonymity and subsequent crash in donor numbers again may force women to seek seed on the open market. Professor Ledger disagrees that these websites should be banned, preferring instead proper regulation. "Using these services has got to be a step better than asking some half-drunk man to have unprotected sex, which is presumably what happens otherwise," he told the Guardian. The Department of Health proposals are open to public scrutiny and suggestion for 12 weeks after which it will announce its recommendations. ®
Lester Haines, 15 Aug 2005

Bulk mailer convicted of data theft scam

A Florida man has been convicted of stealing vast amounts of personal information from Acxiom, one of the world's largest database companies, in order to inflate the value of his spamming firm. Scott Levine, 46, of Boca Raton, Florida, was last week found guilty of 120 counts of unauthorized access to data, two access device fraud charges and a single obstruction of justice offence, AP reports. The former head of defunct bulk mail outfit Snipermail.com was cleared of 14 conspiracy charges and money laundering at the end of a trial that lasted almost a month. Prosecutors described the case as the "largest ever invasion and theft of personal data" ever tried. In court, Levine and Snipermail.com were accused of stealing a jaw-dropping 1.6 billion customer records containing details of the name, address and email of millions of Americans from Acxiom databases during a total of 137 hack attacks. The purloined data was used to inflate the value of Snipermail, a Boca Raton-based company controlled by Levine. There is no suggestion that the accused engaged in identity theft. Weak access control allowed Snipermail.com to illegally access swathes of information thanks to a business relationship between Acxicom and one of Snipermail's clients. Snipermail should only have been allowed limited access but instead it was allowed the run of the lan(d). The purloined data was used to inflate Snipermail's contact list and make it a more attractive target for acquisition. Evidence of Snipermail's alleged assault was discovered by investigators probing a separate security breach at Acxiom. Daniel Baas, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio, pleaded guilty to that attack in December 2003. Acxiom clients include 14 of the 15 biggest credit card companies, seven of the top ten auto manufacturers and five of the top six retail banks. The company also analyses consumer databases for multinationals such as Microsoft, IBM, AT&T and General Electric. Arkansas-based Acxiom has overhauled security since the attacks were uncovered. ®
John Leyden, 15 Aug 2005

'Employees first' ruling nixed after appeal

The Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling that gave employees priority over administration fees when companies collapse. The original ruling, handed down by Mr. Justice Peter Smith, stated that when a company goes into administration, cash owed to employees must take priority over the administrators' fees and administration costs. It prompted concern that the administrations of companies involving large redunancies could have been jeopardised. After 14 days, the administrators of a company's collapse become responsible for the employment contracts. Justice Smith's ruling would have ringfenced cash for the protective awards these employees would be entitled to, at the expense of the administrator's fees, and legal costs. According to TheLawyer.com, if Justice Smith's ruling had stood, in similar cases, the administrator could well decide to make all staff redundant, to avoid becoming liable for paying protective awards at a later stage. The Court of Appeal came to the rescue of administrators and overturned Smith's ruling. Under UK law when more than 100 employees are to be laid off, the employer must consult with the staff for a period of 90 days before issuing the P45s. If it fails to do so, an employment tribunal can award the employee a so-called protective award, covering salary or wages for a period of up to 90 days. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 15 Aug 2005