How Much Does Illegally Downloading 30 Songs Cost?

According to a federal jury in Boston, $675,000.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that Joel Tenenbaum, a Boston University student originally from Providence, RI, was ordered to pay between $750 and $30,000 per song for the 30 downloads, resulting in the $675,000 fine. Mr. Tenenbaum should be grateful though, as federal copyright law allows for up to a $150,000 fine per occurrence of infringement in this case. Had that been the case, the fine could have been as much as $4.5 million.

Compared with Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota woman fined $1.9 million in June for downloading 24 songs, Joel Tenenbaum got off easy. In Thomas-Rasset’s case, she was originally fined a total of $220,000. Upon appeal, the jury awarded the music industry association, RIAA, the much larger fine of $1.9 million.

Of the 30,000 copyright infringement lawsuits brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only these two cases have gone to trial according to the Associated Press.

FCC to Probe Apple’s Rejection of Google Voice application for iPhone

Following Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application for iPhone, the FCC has begun an inquiry into the matter.

In a letter sent Friday to Apple, the FCC requested information regarding why it rejected Google’s application for the telephony service Google Voice, along with why it then decided to remove applications with similar functionality from it’s App Store. As The Wall Street Journal reports, letters were also sent to Google and AT&T.

The FCC is interested in the approval process Google went through, along with whether any of its other applications have been approved by Apple (sounds like we’re wandering into Google Latitutde territory—why it is a web app on the iPhone again?). The FCC also requested a description of the Google Voice application’s functions.

AT&T, it appears, is involved only because the FCC is curious to know what role, if any, it played in Apple’s decision to reject the Google Voice application. Presumably, given the threat to its bottom line, AT&T had some involvement. After all, the Google Voice application allows users to send unlimited text messages using the wireless subscriber’s data plan, not text messaging allowance. Inexpensive international calls from one’s mobile phone also further cut into AT&T’s revenues.

On the whole, it looks like Apple’s decision to ban Google Voice may have unintended consequences for it and its application developers. But, to the benefit of Apple’s customers and those developers, some light may be shed on the approval process Apple uses, and some consistency could result. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Military and Social Media

In social media’s ongoing expansion beyond the tech-oriented and internet-savvy, the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to struggle to find its role. As Noel Shachtman of Wired.com writes in today’s Danger Room article “Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as Security ‘Headaches’,” the DoD may prevent access to certain social media sites from its internal networks (secure and nonsecure—see the article for specifics and links to Wikipedia).

This potential ban comes at an interesting time for a number of reasons. First, as the article mentions, the DoD is preparing to launch a new website with a focus on social media. Second, on May 18 of this year, the Army directed its network operators to provide access to five popular social media sites effective May 22, while simultaneously blocking access to 12 other sites (see the Danger Room article “Army Orders Bases to Stop Blocking Twitter, Facebook, Flickr” from June 10, which includes the full text of the Army order). Third, as Mr. Shechtman alludes to, various departments and individuals within the DoD are using social media for a variety of reasons.

With the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (http://twitter.com/TheJointStaff) and USForces Afghanistan (http://twitter.com/usfora) on Twitter, among other DoD officials and commands, blocking access could potentially disrupt what has become a useful tool for both disseminating information and recruiting new soldiers. It becomes an even more critical problem when one considers those soldiers now using the services to keep in touch with family and friends. As the Army order concerning Iraq demonstrates, the interest is only in those services used to keep in touch and share information. None of the popular video sharing or music sites are accessible in Iraq, largely for bandwidth concerns. Should the Army move forward with this decision, it may create more headache than concerns it resolves.

For many of the individuals and departments using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, denying them access via the internal DoD network means they will need access to a “dirty” computer, as the Wired.com article describes terminals with access to the internet the rest of us use. As a result, DoD will be forced to place secure and unsecure terminals in proximity to each other. After all, Admiral Mike Mullen still needs access to the secure DoD network when he’s not twittering.

Undoubtedly, Danger Room will follow up on this story, and I’d be interested to see how this develops. With a brother in the Army, Facebook is one of the few ways we have to keep in touch.

Google Voice

I’ve been using Google Voice (http://www.google.com/voice) for a month now and I love it. With the service, you are provided a central phone number that allows you to receive your calls on a variety of phones.

In my case, I have a smartphone and a dumbphone. When I’m using the GPS on my smartphone, I don’t want to take calls because it interrupts my data connection (the joys of CDMA). With Google Voice, I can take the calls on the dumbphone and still use the smartphone for data purposes. The callers are none the wiser. If I need to switch phones during an incoming call, it’s as easy as pressing star.

It’s also useful if one travels to areas where cellphone service can be spotty. I, for example, am spending a few days in New Hampshire. While cell service is spotty, there is a landline phone where I’m staying. With Google Voice, I can add temporary phones for just this situation. By doing so, I can still be reached by phone without having to give out a different number or worry about checking various voicemail systems.

Invites are going out now with fury, so if you’re interested, add your name to the list at https://services.google.com/fb/forms/googlevoiceinvite/.

US Retains Control Over the Internet

At the heart of the internet, with all of its dot coms, orgs, and edus, is a database which essentially serves as a address book for the internet. This database, called a root zone file, translates disparatenews.com into the IP address associated with my web host. In a letter dated July 30, 2008, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said it is “not in discussions with either party to change the respective roles of the Department, ICANN or VeriSign regarding the management of the authoritative root zone file, nor do we have any plans to undertake such discussions.” This means very little to the average user, but should annoy counties like Brazil and China, which had hoped for the United Nations to establish an independent, international oversight body.

Source:US Not Giving Up Oversight of Domain Name Root File,” DomainNews.com.

Cuil Receives Cool Response

Former Google employees launched a new search engine yesterday to much fanfare and anticipation. Unfortunately, the service wasn’t quite up to the task, resulting in downtime and intermittent connection problems throughout the day. Things seem to be back on track today, but yesterday’s problems highlight the difficulties facing any company attempting to compete with Google, which has set a very high bar in the search industry.

Try out Cuil for yourself at http://www.cuil.com. Afterwards, feel free to leave a comment with your impressions. In my limited use, I found that many results were unrelated to my search, leading me to wonder if Cuil’s developers focused on quantity rather than quality.

Other Reviews:

ING Direct Downtime

Since about 8 am today, the ING Direct web site has been down. I was able to access the site about 30 minutes prior, but since then I’ve had no luck. I tried calling customer service at 888-ING-0727 but the volume was so high, I couldn’t wait for a representative. Anyone else having this same problem?

This is an unfortunate situation since there are no branches to visit, no friendly face to complain to. Downtime can be expected from time to time, but this has been going on for a while now. I’m not suggesting this is the case, but taking down the web site is a surefire way to prevent a run on the bank.

Time Warner Borrows A Page From The Dial-Up Playbook

Time Warner Cable, soon to be independent from its parent Time Warner, is trying out an idea that America Online (AOL) challenged more than ten years ago (AOL is a unit of Time Warner). Showing that it hasn’t necessarily learned anything from its parent, the internet provider announced earlier this month that it will start testing bandwidth limits on new subscribers. Metered billing, much like your cell phone, limits the amount that a customer can download before paying a fee for the data transfer. The practice was widespread when dialup was first becoming available and popular, but AOL introduced an unlimited-use plan in 1996 that drastically changed the internet service landscape. Before, customers limited their internet usage. Now, we readily download video and music from iTunes, stream videos from Youtube, and post our entire photo album to flickr. All of these services use a lot of data, and Time Warner Cable wants to rein in the abusers among us.

According to an Associated Press article on the plan, which will be tested in Beaumont, Texas, 5% of Time Warner’s customers use nearly half of its network capacity. The metering trial is aimed squarely at this group. For the other 95% of Time Warner’s subscribers, the change is likely to go unnoticed (only new subscribers will be subjected to the limits, specifically those who subscribed on or after June 5, 2008). Most users would have their usage capped at 40 gigabytes (GB) per month, enough bandwidth to view 120,000 web pages or read 600,000 emails without attachments. Some users, however, may run into that limit using video services like iTunes or Netflix to rent full-length movies. A standard-definition movie, for example, would use roughly 1.5 GB, whereas a high-definition movie can use upwards of 8 GB. Such limits could hurt those services, in turn damaging the reputation of and customer satisfaction with Time Warner Cable.

Other major cable providers are considering similar steps, but with much higher limits. Comcast, for example, has hinted at a 250 GB per month limit.

Source:Time Warner Cable tries metering Internet use,” Associated Press, June 2, 2008

Brokaw to Host ‘Meet the Press’

In the wake of Tim Russert’s passing, many have wondered who could take his place as moderator of “Meet the Press,” the longest running program in the history of broadcast media. Large shoes to fill, to say the least. NBC has announced that starting next Sunday, June 29, Tom Brokaw will host the show, continuing through the November election. The show will continue to air from NBC’s Washington, DC studios.

Source:NBC’s Tom Brokaw to Moderate ‘Meet the Press’ through election,” MSNBC.com

Android Phones Face Delays

The Wall Street Journal today reported that cellphone carriers and handset makers are facing a number of challenges developing phones based on Google’s Android platform. When announced, Google anticipated phones coming onto the market in the third quarter of 2008. Most phone makers now, however, do not expect to bring phones to market until the fourth quarter of this year, or more likely, sometime in 2009. The challenges are many, and range from Google’s ongoing development of the platform to translation problems to competition.

To begin, Google is still finalizing the Android software. As a result, content developers are forced to constantly update their products to reflect the changes. The Weather Channel, for example, already had to “rewrite a few things,” according to Vice President Louis Gump, and the most recent changes will “…require some significant work” to its Weather Channel Interactive application. These ongoing changes, and the uncertain nature of the platform, are keeping some potential players on the sidelines alltogether.

For some companies, the lack of finalize distribution agreements is a major problem. For others, it is the uncertain nature of marketing and revenue-sharing agreements. These two problems are preventing some developers from entering the market, while others are focusing on the iPhone until Android’s market and platform are more developed. Some find that the Google interface for developing Android applications is too cumbersome to use, prefering the familiarity of Apple and other developers’ tools. Other companies are staying away from Android because of a lack of handsets on which to test their products. Together, these many problems make Android’s future unclear.

To be sure, I doubt that the platform will fail. Google is experience the typical growing pains that any company does when expanding into an unfamiliar market, particularly one as competitive and complex as the mobile phone market. Microsoft went through some of the same problems when developing its Windows Mobile platform. Time will resolve some of these problems. Google will eventually finalize the Android software, and handsets will become available. The software is quite promising, particularly in its flexibility, and many of the features Google is working on will become mainstays of the future mobile phone market (some of these features are already available in foreign markets). Other features will be exclusive, due to the powerful platform, creating niche markets for Google and its partners to explore.

For such an ambitious project, the problems could certainly be greater in quantity and severity.

Source:Google’s Mobile-Handset Plans Are Slowed,” The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2008