4th > December > 2006 Archive
Mobile messaging software company Empower Interactive Group has gone into administration. The company's SMS and MMS software is used by several mobile operators, including Orange UK, Wind in Italy, Singapore's Starhub, and Etisalat in the UAE. Administrators from Grant Thornton UK LLP took over just over a week ago and made all 65 of the company's staff redundant. A spokesman for Grant Thornton claimed that Empower is "still trading on a minimal scale" while a buyer is sought. Empower's speciality is using SMS and MMS messages to drive interactive applications, with the network handling those application messages separately from person-to-person text traffic. In the UK, its technology has been used by TV programmes such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and BBC1's Ask The Nation. It was founded in 2000, and by 2003 it ranked 6th in the Sunday Times ARM Tech Track 100 of the UK's fastest growing technology companies. It closed a £10m funding round earlier this year, and with over £31m raised in total it was one of the best capitalised European VC-backed companies ever. Its backers included Scottish Equity Partners, Argo Global Capital, Esprit Capital Partners, DN Capital and Acacia Capital Partners.®
One of this year's must-have gadgets for music-crazy runners is a security nightmare that could help someone track your movements with relative ease, according to researchers at the University of Washington.
Yahoo! has refused to provide Google with details of its book digitising programme that Google believes could help it to defend itself in a lawsuit. Amazon.com has already turned down a similar request. The search giant is being sued by publishers and the Authors' Guild over the digitisation of thousands of books which they say was conducted without authors' and publishers' consent. Google is pursuing a plan to digitise the contents of four US university libraries, the Oxford University library, and the New York Public Library. It had issued subpoenas to Yahoo! and Amazon.com seeking details of the book digitising programmes of those two companies. Google sought commercially sensitive details from its competitors, such as costs, details of discussions with publishers, and sales estimates. Yahoo! has now joined Amazon.com in rejecting Google's request for information. The request was an attempt to gain access to trade secrets, Yahoo! suggested. "There is simply no need for Google to be peering into the minds and computers of Yahoo! employees," wrote Yahoo!'s lawyer in a list of objections to the request it sent to Google last week. Authors' representatives and publishers sued Google in a federal court because it proceeded with its programme without their permission. Microsoft and Yahoo! are both involved in book scanning activity but with the co-operation of the book industry in a programme called the Open Content Alliance (OCA). The OCA has as a specific aim, the principle that all scanned books will always remain in the public domain, and has the backing of major libraries including the UK's National Archives. Google had said the court would protect any commercially sensitive information sent by competitors to it, but the companies have still rejected the request. Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
Apple's upcoming iPhone will go on sale next month with two memory capacities and no ties to a specific network, it has been claimed. The 'small as s**t' handset is based on a slider form-factor, it's said - presumably to better match the iPod design ethos.
The politics of unwanted email is changing with China set to overtake the US any day now as the originator of most Irish inbox clutter. Figures for November from Irish email monitoring firm IE Internet show that although the US is still the world leader with 27 per cent of dodgy emails originating there, this is a huge drop on October's figure of 48 per cent. The People's Republic of China is now pumping out nearly 26 per cent of all spam filtered by IE Internet - an increase on the previous month's figure of just under 10 per cent. China is now second in the monthly world rankings of spam-producing countries, followed by Britain (21 per cent), France (15 per cent), India (seven per cent), and Turkey (four per cent). South Korea doesn't figure in the top six global spam machines for the first time in several months. "The United States is continuing to decline as a source of spam emails," Ken O'Driscoll of IE Internet told ENN. "We've been predicting this for some time as US-based spammers are actively off-shoring their operations to avoid tough US anti-spam laws. "I would predict that the US will not be the top source of spam next year," he added. Overall, however, the quantity of emails labelled spam by IE Internet actually fell to 55.6 per cent for November, compared to 57.3 per cent last month. Meanwhile, as the world's spam merchants have been getting ready for their Christmas onslaught, virus writers have been busy too. Two new viruses made it into the top five this month: W32/Warezov and W32/Tricky-Malware. And both are spreading fast, according to IE Internet. The overall rate of emails carrying a virus increased to over 11 per cent for November - a slight but noticeable increase on nearly 10 per cent last month. W32/Warezov was the main offender at 25 per cent of all viruses detected, followed by the other newcomer W32/Tricky-Malware at just over 15 per cent. Old favourite Netsky.BR came in third after being detected in nearly nine per cent of virus-riddled emails. "For the past number of months, the rate of virus infections has been declining as home users continue to buy brand new PCs which have virus protection installed as standard," said O'Driscoll. "New viruses - which appear all the time - were not good enough or well written to be able to rapidly infect large numbers of PCs." However, O'Driscoll warned that the two new viruses on the block were worth watching out for. "Basically, they are both worms which spread via email," explained O'Driscoll. "The home user still has to click on an attachment and open it. They pose as security updates to the operating system, so perhaps as a social engineering tool this fools people. "The viruses allow your computer to be remotely controlled - possibly to send spam out anonymously but for anything really - even accessing your personal files. "The really interesting thing about the W32/Warezov virus is that it actually connects to the internet periodically and updates itself to the latest version. This is what legitimate software such as operating systems have been doing for years." O'Driscoll warned this remote-update feature may make these viruses harder to remove from PCs. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Irish companies are unprepared for the technology demands of their younger workforce or their customers, according to a new report. The study - 'Is Europe Ready for the Millennials?' - was carried out by Forrester Consulting for Xerox. It revealed that 40 per cent of Irish companies have no plans to allow customers to purchase products or services via the phone or the internet without them first visiting a shop or talking to a call centre representative. In addition, 59 per cent of firms said they have no plans to provide online forums for customers to discuss products or services, while 52 per cent said they weren't planning to monitor customer discussions on other websites. The survey was commissioned by Xerox to look at the effect people born between 1980 and 2000, which the company refers to as the "Millennials", are having on their workforce. The Millennials, or Generation Y, account for 11 per cent of the European workforce and are defined as the younger university-educated workers born between 1980 and 2000. They have grown up with the internet and don't remember a world without it. This group is comfortable sourcing information from the internet, they communicate socially via instant messaging, they shop online,and they are looking for collaborative technology tools which help them to work better and more productively with their colleagues. While Ireland seems to be close to the rest of Europe when it comes to providing basic technology communications like portals/extranets, providing staff with mobile phones, PDAs, and laptops, when it goes beyond the basics the Irish companies that haven't already developed more sophisticated online interaction said they have no plans to do so over the next six years. The survey revealed that 91 per cent of executives across Europe recognise different working styles of the new generations, and 73 per cent believe their companies have responded to these requirements. However, Xerox said more needed to be done to meet this emerging group's needs. "The Millennials will drive a revolution in the way products and services are chosen, developed, and procured. Customer endorsements on blogs and forum sites will become very important, and suppliers and partners will need to be able to work collaboratively online on every aspect of a product or service's development and delivery. Organisations in Ireland need to start embracing the Millennial way of working in order to keep up with the way their customers and partners want to do business," said Penny Rhodes, general manager of Xerox Ireland. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Scientists have found evidence that the seeds of life may indeed have fallen from the sky. Analysis of a meteorite that fell onto the frozen Tagish Lake in Canada in 2000 has shown the space rock to be riddled with organic material that is at least as old as the solar system itself. Researchers speculate that this kind of matter could have played a vital role in the development of early life on Earth. The Tagish Lake meteorite is unusual because it is so well preserved. Most meteorites, although usefully frozen in space, thaw or become contaminated when they arrive on Earth. This has frustrated researchers' attempts to test the hypothesis that organic material could have arrived on the primordial Earth on comets, asteroids, and meteors. A team of NASA scientists, led by Keiko Nakamura-Messenger, scanned the Tagish meteorite in slices with a transmission electron microscope. This revealed sub-microscopic "globules", which consisted largely of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, the researchers report. The ratio of isotopes of each of the chemicals shows that the globules formed at near absolute zero. To have captured such exotic isotope mixes, the meteorite must have formed much further from the sun than the Earth, Nakamura-Messenger says, which confirms that the chemicals are not contaminants, but are native to the space rock. They were most likely part of the cloud of material from which the planets themselves formed. The team suggests two possible ways that the globules formed: in both cases they began life as icy grains that formed on the rock in the outer reaches of a very young solar system. It is possible that the grains then formed a hardened shell when bombarded by radiation. The centre would later have evaporated, leaving a hollow shell of organic matter. Alternatively, the grains were exposed to alkali compounds in the meteor itself, which could have hollowed out the centres. The research, which is published in the journal Science, cites 26 such globules. But Nakamura-Messenger says the meteorite could contain billions of them. The team restricted its analysis to such a small sample because of the complexity of processing the rock. "We're sure that these [globules] are not alive," Messenger told Scientific American. "But they may have been important ingredients for the first life-forms." ®
Nintendo's Wii console may already be en route to some European pre-order customers ahead of this coming Friday's launch day, even as - surprise, surprise - the new games machine sold out in Japan following its launch there this weekend.
The UK's 45,000 public bodies face a fundamental change to the way they operate with the arrival of new disability legislation, which came into force today.
Samsung today extended its Ultra Edition line of handsets with a trio of phones pitched at specific usage models: the Ultra Music F300, the Ultra Video F500 and the Ultra Messaging i600, the latter a 3G handset that supports HSDPA-accelerated downloads.
Sony has admitted it could have moved "more quickly" to tackle the burning battery bug that hit two of the company's biggest power-pack customers, Dell and Apple, and prompted many others to recall Sony-made lithium-ion batteries.
Toshiba's TS32 isn't the thinnest of candybar mobile phones, but at 10.3mm thick it comes very close. Launched today, the tri-band GSM/GPRS handset sports a 1.9in, 176 x 200, 262,144-colour display, Bluetooth 1.2 and a 1.3 megapixel camera.
Airport security is a serious business, but why was a Reg reader refused a Krispy Kreme doughnut at Heathrow airport? Admittedly, the sugared snacks contain enough cooking oil and sugar to power a trailer park, but who knew they could be fashioned into bombs? On Saturday afternoon a Reg reader was dropping some friends at Heathrow and stopped off at Krispy Kreme doughnuts outside Terminal 3. But the reader was directed to the unstuffed ring doughnuts rather than a full-fat, fully stuffed Krispy Kreme special because the fillings fall foul of security restrictions. "Imagine our confusion when the guy serving us advised that we could only buy ring doughnuts, not filled, circular doughnuts. A moment or two's wrangling in broken English and we discovered that he thought we were outbound passengers. On further questioning, apparently the liquid contents of a filled doughnut fall foul of the new restrictions on liquids in carry on luggage. Quite how the authorities imagine that a terrorist could blow up a 747 by rubbing two Krispy Kremes together was a bit beyond us. But a spokesman for BAA denied they were stamping on Homer's favourite food. He said: "Passengers can take liquids in 100ml bottles carrried in a clear plastic bag. But passengers use common sense on foodstuffs. Sandwich fillings and the like are not restricted." In fact, the only foods still on the restricted list are: "Liquid-based foods, sauces, stews, soups over 100ml in size." Drinks suffer the same restrictions, but there is no mention of doughnuts. The real restrictions are available here on BAA's site. ®
Researchers at Bath University have developed a new hydrogen storage technique they think could pave the way for greener cars. Hydrogen-powered cars have long been touted as the ultimate in environmentalist transport because they produce no pollutants - only water vapour. But how to safely store the hydrogen fuel has been something of a problem. One proposed solution - locking the gas away in a metal lattice - works wonderfully, but only at very high temperatures. An alternative - using a metal organic framework - is only feasible at liquid nitrogen (-198°C) temperatures. The new technology allows hydrogen to be stored at room temperature and released at the flick of a switch. This solves the problem of how to store hydrogen fuel safely on board a hydrogen-powered vehicle, the researchers say. The team was investigating the effect of hydrogen on metals when they discovered an organo-metal compound that would absorb hydrogen at room temperature and release it upon application of a small electric current. This kind of take up and release at the atomic scale makes the material an ideal candidate for solving the hydrogen storage problem, the team explained. The storage to weight ratio of the Rhodium storage technique is too low to use for an entire tank and still meet US department of energy efficiency requirements*. However, the researchers propose the technology as a short term fuel storage that would power the car until the engine reached the 300°C needed for the metal hydride lattice to kick in. "Hydrogen has a low density and it only condenses into liquid form at -252°C so it is difficult to use conventional storage systems such as high-pressure gas containers which would need steel walls at least three inches thick, making them too heavy and too large for cars," notes Dr Andrew Weller from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Bath. "Our new material works at room temperature and at atmospheric pressure at the flick of a switch. Because it is made from a heavy metal (Rhodium), its weight to fuel ratio is low, 0.1 per cent, but it could certainly fill the time lag between a driver putting their foot on the accelerator and a metal hydride fuel tank getting up to temperature." The team hopes to have a working prototype built in the next two to three years. The research has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie in August 2006, and reviewed by Nature in September 2006. ® *Six per cent of the weight of hydrogen storage systems must be hydrogen, so that hydrogen-powered cars have the same kind of mileage per tank as petrol-based systems.
Logicalis UK has upped its stake in the market for big old iron by snapping up CSF Solutions. Logicalis, which is part of the South Africa-based Datatec group, said CSF Solutions brought with it strong relationships with IBM and HP, and a “longstanding customer base” including blue chip clients. CSF Solutions, previously a subsidiary of CSF Group, has around 70 staff and will be “integrated” into Logicalis’ UK operations.
StobStob Ah, Christmas! When pubs fill up with inexperienced drinkers to the disapproval of regular sots, when lunchtime turkey sarnies get a blob of cranberry jam and are relaunched as 'Christmas dinner flavour' for a 40p premium, and when the moneyed middle-classes are not ashamed to be seen shopping at Woolworth's.
AnalysisAnalysis The legal action uncovered this week between Microsoft and Alcatel is seen by many as sounding the death knell to their cosy carve up of the IPTV market among global tier one telcos.
CommentComment When we first began thinking of the mobile phone as "our identity" it became obvious overnight that it was the most personal and handy portal for all entertainment services. But how long will it take until that eventuality comes about.
BT said it expects to sign up hundreds of thousands of subscribers for its Vision TV over broadband service within the year, with two to three million subscribing in the medium term. At today's launch in London, BT consumer MD Gavin Paterson finally unveiled pricing for the service and promised 5,000 hours of instant on-demand programming by the end of next year. BT isn't looking to make a big splash with Vision until well into the New Year. The firm will be concentrating on solid technical performance and honouring pre-orders, which it says run into thousands. Tellingly, 2007 is when BT's deals with the FA Premiership and the Setanta Sports channel come into force and BT Vision will go live with its own sports service. Vision will have rights to show 75 per cent of Premiership matches either live or "near-live". The value of sports content was amply proven by BSkyB of course. There's no word yet on how much BT will be charging for its version of pay TV's killer app. BT claims to be among the first in the world to build a viable IPTV content platform. "We think most people are well behind us," said BT retail CEO Ian Livingstone. It was even able to wheel out ever erudite Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to eulogise the importance of an event "that fundamentally changes how consumers are entertained". BT chose Microsoft to provide the software powering Vision. An all-in monthly package of on-demand TV, music, kids shows and TV replay (the last week's worth of programming, currently only available for Channel 4) costs £14. Installation for early adopters will clock in at £90, including a £60 engineer call-out. A self-install option will be launched next year. The set-top box, capable of pausing, rewinding and recording up to 80 hours of TV will be provided gratis and connects over wi-fi to the Total Broadband Home Hub. The Philips-built kit provides access to over-air freeview channels as well as the IPTV streams. Content is also available on a pay-per-view basis, with the movies at £2.99 for 24 hours rental. TV shows will play for £0.99. BT is hoping it will attract pay TV commitment phobes by "passing you the control". With an installed broadband user base of around 3 million, BT is presumably betting on the majority of them taking up Vision given its penetration targets. The minimum requirement for Vision now is a 2 Meg line, available to 90 per cent of the population according to BT. The Vision play is more complex than a simple attack on Sky and NTL's pay TV stranglehold; it's about winning and retaining broadband punters too. BT is being cautious therefore about who it lets piggyback on its technology and content deals. It announced a partnership with Vodafone which will see the mobile operator provide BT-branded Vision services to its own customers. The two firms have a well established relationship, with Vodafone letting BT act as an MVNO on its network, and BT set to provide the wholesale broadband when Vodafone rolls out its converged packages next year. Looking ahead, BT reckons its set-top box is future-proof with its HDMI port, but is banking on improvements in compression to bring on HDTV over broadband in shorter order than possible through massive network improvements. Being first with a technology is always risky of course and Vision is a big product for BT. The former national telecoms monopoly said it is backing Vision with £100m over the next year. It is worth remembering however that BT's last annual results cleared £2bn in profit on revenues of more than £19bn. ® Bootnote The obvious turkey of the content deals is the one BT signed with Universal Music. Vision customers will be able to watch Universal Music videos for £0.29 a pop, or £6 per month for unlimited access. Unfortunately, by definition Vision customers have broadband, and access to YouTube. The sort of web-savvy yoof who might be interested in viewing such promotional material on-demand is unlikely to be interested in paying for the privilege.
NASA is under increasing pressure from government auditors to rein in its budget for getting astronauts back to the moon. According to Florida Today, the space agency has already started making changes to Orion, the spacecraft that will carry the astronauts, to bring its long term spending back under control. It is also revamping the Ares rockets that will launch them. In an interview with Florida Today, Scott Horowitz, the head of NASA's moon landing program said NASA's reputation was on the line. "It's been a while since we've been able to execute a program like this. The best way to improve credibility is to execute. We need to prove it," he said. He argued that the space agency had a workable cost and engineering plan for building both Orion and Ares, and that despite pressure from the congressional auditors, it was pressing ahead with its plans. Earlier this year, the auditors said there was an $18bn gap between NASA's original budget estimate ($230bn) and the projected budget from now until 2025. NASA argues that it has made changes to its plans that will have narrowed that gap already, such as scaling down the spacecraft and rockets. But the auditors point out that the estimated budget does not account for dismantling the existing shuttle programme. They also argue that NASA's planning was not allowing for unexpected costs. The Government Audit Office's Allen Li testified before congress that the agency was pressing ahead with its plans in a way that "carries the increased risk of cost and schedule overruns and decreased technical capability". Li also raised concerns that NASA's focus on the moon project was impacting other science and exploration programs. ®
AMD can kiss goodbye to its scrappy underdog status after forcing its way into the world chip rankings top 10 for the first time.
It seems PC World management have had enough of Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) raps and investigations that say they can't fix computers, and have decided to jump ship before the going gets any tougher.
Yahoo! and Reuters are creating a website to collect video and photos taken by readers. The site is called You Witness and will be available from tomorrow here. Initially, the service will provide stills and video media for the Yahoo! website, but from early next year the content will be offered to other Reuters customers. Yahoo! is still deciding how punters will be paid if their photos are sold on. Most existing services split the proceeds 50:50. Events like the 2004 tsunami and London Underground bombings have underlined the usefulness of video clips and pictures taken by people using their phones. The BBC and Sky are also encouraging more reader and viewer input into programming. Go here for Jeremy Paxman's scathing view of a similar project on Newsnight. Sadly, neither Reuters nor Yahoo! in the UK were available to answer media enquiries today. Several sites have opened offering similar services - but most focus on selling images into traditional media. Many of these are dedicated to celebrity news - such as thesnitcherdesk.com. Thesnitcher managing director Jay Feeney told the Reg: "It's a competitive market - there are several players in the market, like us and scoopt.com for celebrity stuff. But it makes sense for them - they are two huge companies." Feeney said it was important that pictures do not breach privacy legislation. ®
ReviewReview You're about to launch your latest all-in-one Windows Mobile 5.0 device but need it to stand out from the plethora of similar PDAs and handhelds. What do you do? Simple, give it a quirky brand name and then tout it as the world's thinnest GPS and Wi-Fi enabled Pocket PC phone...
Kent-based wireless ISP Telabria Ltd has called in the liquidators and has begun selling off its network assets. Accountancy firm Smith and Williamson said it had been called in by Telabria directors on 15 November to liquidate the firm. Telabria's wireless networking kit has been sold off to fellow Kent broadband outfit OrbitalNet. Telabria's So Broadband service offered 10Mbps internet access and private circuits up to 45Mbps, with integrated VoIP services. OrbitalNet MD Darren Brown said he had purchased the gear last week and has been working to get Telabria's customers back online. So Broadband punters in Canterbury and the surrounding area - around 50 per cent of the customer base - are already back up, he said. Sittingbourne and the Isle of Sheppey are still down, among others. Telabria was founded by CEO and Silicon Valley veteran Jim Baker in 2003 to provide fast wireless access to the south east. Alarm bells started ringing recently when prices were jacked up 50 per cent and expansion plans detailed on the company website were removed. A spokesman for Smith and Williamson said there will be a creditors meeting at its Maidstone offices on 11 December. Telabria were unavailable to comment.®
UpdatedUpdated Symantec's integration with Veritas in the UK has run into computer problems, leaving many Symantec customers unable to renew their corporate anti-virus licenses and large numbers of computers unprotected. An adviser working for PCWorld Business' national licensing department told us the problem is widespread. "It is affecting loads of our customers - from GPs right through to our government customers," he said. He said he understood that Symantec shut down its computer systems for a refit - part of its integration with Veritas - but that there had been no backup made. Upon rebooting, he said, more problems surfaced, as well as a backlog of orders and all the new orders that were still coming in. One GP told El Reg: "We are a small GP practice, with 12 Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition licences. On 6th October, without prior warning, my server notified me that these licences had expired. But, no problem, as there is a 60 day grace period, and just over 1 week later I ordered 12 renewal licences from my supplier PC World Business (PCWB). "I am still waiting for delivery of these licences, and large and small companies apparently (according to a very fed up person in the licensing Dept at PCWB) throughout the country are also without both renewal and new Symantec licences." He was told the same story about a computer upgrade putting a spanner in the works. He was told that the delay has been caused by "Symantec combining the workforces of Veritas and Symantec, and at the same time moving to a new integrated management platform to manage all of their customers". "The latter appears not to be working," he added drily. PCWB was keen to stress that it is a Symantec problem and is affecting customers of other resellers too. It also noted that Symantec does offer a 60 day grace period, which is being "widely used". "Nine out of 10 customers get their renewals within the 60 days, but there are some who don't," he told us. These customers are left without up to date virus protections. Back to our GP: "My licence grace period expires in 4 days, and I will then be left without up-to-date anti-virus protection for my business. According to PCWB, several large NHS organisations are in a similar boat. This will clearly place computerised medical records at risk nationally." Symantec sent us a statement about the GP's situation: "Symantec can confirm that the license certificate for this customer was issued on 27 November. Symantec apologises for any delay that might of occurred and is investigating what may have caused a problem in the customer receiving this renewal." ® Update Symantec has sent the additional statement about the wider problems it is experiencing. "Symantec has identified an issue with a number of new license and maintenance renewal certificates not reaching some channel partners. We are completely focused on resolving this issue as soon as possible and anticipate that everyone still waiting for certificates will receive them by the end of this week. "In the meantime we are working with channel partners to ensure that the impact on our customers is limited and we have put several processes in place to prevent any similar problems occurring again in the future.”
Silicon JusticeSilicon Justice The Motion Picture Association of America have been some busy pigopolists as of late. A recent report from Wired News revealed that MPAA lobbyists helped kill a bill working its way through the California legislature in August designed to prevent companies and individuals from obtaining customer or employee information through pretexting - the euphemistic term for fraud popularized by HP. The bill, S.B. 1666, would have imposed civil penalties on anyone who used fraudulent methods to obtain, or even attempted to obtain, personal information contained in business records. This didn't fit with the MPAA's desire to plumb people's privacy in order to conduct piracy investigations. Alarmed at the bill's rapid march through the California Senate, where it was approved by a 30-0 vote, the MPAA mounted an impressive last-minute campaign to block its passage in the Assembly, according to people interviewed by Wired. The MPAA spread word among legislators that it needed to retain the ability to get personal information through pretexting in order to combat piracy. It has been suggested that the MPAA and its cronies disguise their true identities in order to suss out online copyright violators and brick and mortar types offloading DVDs or CDs from flea market carts. It's quite amazing that the California legislators bought into the argument that a private organization really, really needed to have the ability to trick and deceive organizations in order to uphold its copyrights, but we'll leave that issue for the political commentators. The MPAA's message went out just days before the HP pretexting scandal broke, and hints that the movie industry has engaged in the same practices (or worse) that got HP into such hot water. Bill Lockyer, the California Attorney General, has filed criminal charges against five figures in the HP scandal under theories of data and identity theft. It's unclear whether the counts will stick, but if they do, some MPAA executives might start thinking about retaining defense attorneys in the near future. The MPAA has a lot of weight to throw around in California, where film production is a major industry. When the pretexting bill ultimately went up for a vote in the Assembly, it failed 33-27. The timing couldn't have been better for the MPAA, since the HP imbroglio could have altered the outcome if the vote had occurred a few days later. But it didn't, so now the association remains free to weasel their way into consumers' private information. The California legislature did eventually pass S.B. 202, which created criminal liability for the acquisition of telephone records through pretexting. Pretexting for all other kinds of information remains in something of a legal grey area, though. So, the MPAA can't find out who you've called to brag about your recent movie download or DVD rip, but it can probably still get your IP address, mother's maiden name and astrological sign - or whatever else might help them bust you for piracy. The revelation concerning the MPAA's close involvement with the democratic process in California would have been a big enough story, but it takes on added significance when considered in the context of some recent moves and occurrences that have shown just how serious the association is about locking up its content behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and going after those who don't use it the way the association tells them to. First, the MPAA's view that there are no personal fair use rights with purchased DVDs was apparent in Wal-Mart's announcement last week that it would begin offering consumers who purchase a DVD of "Superman Returns" the option to download a copy of the movie to a portable player for $1.97 or a PC for $3.97. Not every studio has signed onto the idea, but it appears that the hesitation is over the price points, and not the principle lurking behind the triple offering. That principle is that consumers have no space-shifting right when they buy a physical copy of a movie on DVD since the content is protected by a Content Scrambling System. Under this idea, consumers cannot transfer content from a legally purchased DVD onto a mobile device or PC hard drive, and must instead buy separate versions for each space in which they would like to store the content. The MPAA is attempting to uphold this principle in a suit filed early last month in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint [PDF] argues that the defendant, a company which sells both DVDs and portable media devices, violated the DMCA's prohibition on circumventing content-protection systems when it sold its customers DVDs and devices and then ripped the content of the DVD onto the device as a complimentary service. The MPAA's argument, unfortunately for consumers, is almost certainly legally correct. The DMCA's circumvention prohibition probably does block space-shifting for DVDs, especially when viewed against the Register of Copyright's specific refusal [PDF] to recommend an exemption for space-shifting activities. The federal government argued that space-shifting, even if it is non-infringing (which the Copyright Register seemed to doubt), is a convenience more than a right, and one that deserves no exemption from the DMCA prohibition. So now the MPAA has its content locked up tight and is trying to sell you three different versions of the same mediocre summer blockbuster, while tricking companies into giving out your personal information so the association can track you down and drag you to court when you rip the flick onto your iPod instead of shelling out more money for content that you've already bought. Neat, huh? By the way, that cold feeling sliding down your spine is a simple mix of fear and loathing. Try not to fight it - it's a natural reflex. ® Kevin Fayle is an attorney, web editor and writer in San Francisco. He keeps a close eye on IP and International Law issues.
The poor SCO Group can't get much right these days, including keeping its high availability clusters highly available. One of our astute readers last week noticed that the clustering page of SCO's web site appeared to be down. And, sure enough, it's still down today, tossing up a "Document Not Found" notice to the myriad potential SCO HA Clusters customers out there. The problem stems from SCO linking to /clusters, which doesn't work, from its homepage rather than /clustering, which does work. Does a mangled URL mean that SCO can't keep your cluster up? Probably not, although it's not the most reassuring sign. With little doubt, SCO will fix the URL issue a few minutes after this story posts, so we're providing graphic evidence of the Unix seller's gaffe. What SCO can't fix is its deflating share price. Last Friday, SCO's stock dropped 40 per cent, and it's down another 12 per cent today on news that a judge has nixed most of SCO's complaints against IBM. ®
Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has declared a change in priorities, deciding to focus less on employment and more on legal issues. The vendor backed consortium has whacked a third of its staffers and waved goodbye to CEO Stuart Cohen. The layoffs apparently reflect the acceptance of Linux "in mainstream IT," while Cohen's resignation reflects his desire to start a vague, new enterprise. "Linux is increasingly mainstream in computing today so the scope of OSDL's mission to accelerate the adoption of Linux has shifted," OSDL said in a statement. "We plan to focus on fewer projects but ones where we can have the most impact. "So while OSDL was originally formed as a catalyst to move Linux from an emerging market opportunity to a mature market success, today it is a catalyst for specific projects and programs such as the Portland Project. These activities require less testing and engineering resources, which in a developed market are done by individual members." The OSDL emphasized its changing priorities by canning nine people, leaving the organization with 19 staff. COO Mike Temple will takeover the day-to-day operations of OSDL from Cohen. "I'm looking forward to forming a venture to explore open source joint development using best practices in collaboration and building communities," Cohen said. Cohen certainly won't be missed by all given his sometimes delusional take on open sores work. In an editorial earlier this year for BusinessWeek, Cohen attacked Sun Microsystems' embrace of its open source software license - CDDL. "Unlike with Linux, all the rights to any changes to the source code for Solaris go back to Sun," Cohen wrote. "So any developers contributing to Solaris are literally working for Sun for free. "In my experience, people will work for free when they see that work as contributing to the greater common good - but not to the bottom line of a global computing vendor . . . Linux works because thousands of developers willingly contribute code and thousands of vendors build solutions for customers around a truly open platform with the benefits - and costs - shared by all." That position sounds fine on glossy paper, although it hardly fits the reality of the open source world. Last we checked the likes of IBM, HP, Oracle and VMware were global computing vendors enjoying more than their fair share of Linux benefits. And the "thousands" of developers working for "free" on Linux looked more like a baker's dozen of well-paid folks such as the OSDL's own Andrew Morton who did the vast majority of the OS grunting. The OSDL now plans to concentrate on "providing a safe haven for key developers," "providing increased legal support for Linux and open source," "supporting ongoing regional activities," and "fostering closer collaboration among community developers, OSDL members and users to produce more code to advance open source projects." And with any luck, OSDL might be able to convince Red Hat to attend LinuxWorld next year. ®