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Why net neutrality is only the beginning of a perfect internet

All eyes are on the FCC where a decision will be made on whether to regulate internet service providers or not.  If the FCC does decide to regulate Comcast and Verizon provide internet service, it will most likely be by reclassifying ISPs as telecommunication services under Title II, which has many pros and cons from a regulatory perspective. The biggest pro is that under Title II, the FCC can hold ISPs accountable for limiting communication over the internet, such as charging Netflix more to reach your computer. In theory, this would give the FCC power to enforce basic net neutrality.

Now, assuming the FCC passes the Title II reclassification and the reclassification withstands the certain court appeals, the United States will still be far away from a fair and optimized internet. Net neutrality itself is a symptom of the lack of competition in U.S. broadband markets. Even Comcast and Time Warner Cable admit, in their arguments for allowing the conglomerates to merge, they don’t compete with each other.

In most U.S. cities, consumers only have one choice for broadband provider. A lucky few have two choices at most. Rural areas have no choices and must rely on slower DSL, depressing productivity and economic development. Even for those with broadband options, they pay more for slower speeds in the U.S. than in almost every other advanced country. In Seoul, consumers can purchase 1 gigabit/sec connections for $30/month compared to $300 in the U.S. for half the speed.

For those that argue there isn’t a competition problem with U.S. broadband, compare the speeds and costs of broadband in cities with municipal ISP services. ISP lobbyists have trolled states, passing laws to ban municipal broadband, claiming that this increase in competition is bad for the cities because…reasons. In Chattanooga,Tenn., the municipal broadband cut user costs from $300/month to $70 and is well on track to pay back its bond financing. Cities are lobbying the FCC to also void the ban on municipal broadband in 20 states, which would allow cities to do what companies won’t – invest in better service. House Republicans are already proposing laws to block the FCC from voiding these anti-competitive laws.

Net neutrality is only needed because we lack broadband competition. In an ideal market, if one company was blocking Netflix, you could switch to another for better service. But instead, we have no choice and face an industry that prefers lobbying to investing.

Murdoch looking into blocking Google from giving him free traffic

Rupert Murdoch, after a short time of seemed like he understood the internet was a new and exciting tool, has since changed his medication and now sees it as the evil of all evils. He has been pushing, vocally, not through action, reinstating paywalls on his various media properties. The Wall Street Journal is one of the last major newspapers to have a paywall around most of its content.

Now Murdoch is claiming he will block Google from indexing the WSJ and his other media properties. Murdoch told Sky News Australia “If they’re just search people… They don’t suddenly become loyal readers.” He explained that traffic from search engines involve no loyalty – just view a few headlines and leave.

Removing a site from Google takes just a few lines of code in a robot.txt file, something Google and other search engines make no attempt to hide. So why is Murdoch waiting?

Maybe because even without loyalty, Murdoch knows traffic will drop significantly without search engines bringing tons of free traffic. Even if 99 percent of those people never return, there are 1 percent that stay and might return. It’s up to Murdoch and his websites to give these users a reason to stay and then find ways to monetize that traffic. Murdoch has previously said no news websites or blogs are making serious money, ignoring the massive enterprises behind Gawker, Huffington Post, PerezHilton, TechCrunch and hundreds of others who have embraced the internet to find more cost-effective ways to engage audiences and produce compelling content.

Techdirt points out that for all Murdoch’s grandstanding, his own websites have aggregators that link to other people’s content the same way he claims others are stealing his content. When others aggregate content it’s stealing. When Murdoch does it, its convenient? Maybe this will stop his crusade to overturn fair use in the courts since he’d be culpable too.

Every YouTube user gets to participate in lawsuit

The judge presiding over the Viacom vs. YouTube case has ruled Google must hand over IP addresses and user names of its users and a list of the videos they watched, whether on YouTube or embedded on other sites (an estimated 12 terabytes).  Viacom is asking for this information to prove YouTube deals the majority in infringing material.

The result of this ruling is a privacy nightmare.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued the judge’s ruing violates, ironically, the Videotape Privacy Protection Act that says the government can’t snoop your rental history (library books are fair game).  Google, however, has argued before that IP addresses aren’t personal data because they aren’t attached to a single person, says Google “in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot [identify a user].”

Unfortunately, the IP address can get you pretty close.  It identifies the computer and location, including households and laptops.  The result isn’t just embarrassing users who watched far too much Dog on Skateboard videos.  It’s what does Viacom, the RIAA, and MPAA do with this list once its public.  Most of their effort in suing customers was finding the IP addresses.  Now Google’s handing them over on a silver hard drive.

Viacom obviously wants to analyze Google’s data itself, ignoring a study by Vidmeter.com that found copyrighted materials accounting for a fraction of YouTube viewership.  Based on their sample of more than 1.5 billion views of 6,725 videos, 9.23 percent were taken down.  Those remove videos accounted for only 5.93 percent of views.  You can read the full study here.  Viacom itself accounted for 2.37 percent of of views, the highest of for all content owners.  How they monetize that to $1 billion would be magic.

[Via Mathew Ingram}

Links are more valuable than publicity (Updated)

The old guard of media have years of status and experience that make them seem more important. The Associated Press’ recent hoopla over links to its articles shows a disconnect from the old guard to the web world. Start-ups dream of getting some New York Times coverage because that would just set them up for success, but they ignore an article in TechCrunch or popular story on Digg might be more valuable.

Martin Varsavsky wrote for the Huffington Post about publicity his company Fon was getting. The New York Times featured him and his company on the cover of the Sunday business section followed by an article in Forbes magazine. But his website only saw 200 new uniques. A popular post on Digg netted him 50,000 uniques.

Varsavsky recognizes the benefits of print media – more resources, physical product, and established reputation. “Paper is more credible than pixels” he says. But if its traffic you need, old media won’t help you.

The Associated Press reminded me of this issue because, even as it whined about other websites sending it free publicity, the A.P. refused to link to other websites. It had no problem quoting them and saying the name of the blog, but wouldn’t include links to the quoted blog. The New York Times has recently started adding links, mostly to their blog and not their articles. Other mainstream media sites leave you the impression there’s nothing else on the web. Even new media companies like IMDB.com won’t provide links to sources, even when quoting them directly.

The issue is these links are incredibly valuable. The major tech blogs and aggregators, TechCrunch, Gigaom, Slashdot, and Digg to name a few, can bring a website down because of all the traffic they send. And once that traffic is on your site, it’s your job to keep them there. 2.3 million people read the Sunday times, but it’s a lot harder to get them to sign online and go to a website. With a link provided, you just click. Easy, no effort, effective.

Mainstream media needs to join the link culture. Linking to other sites isn’t just polite. Many sites (like Prodigeek) show links to sites linking to them. I’ve gotten reliable traffic from several blogs and that traffic inspires me to link to them more. Moreover, I don’t like to link to websites that don’t link at all (unless they’re the original source). I’d prefer to send traffic to other blogs who share in the link culture than news sites that don’t. And companies that are hostile to the link culture get blacklisted.

For companies trying to monetize their website, whether through sales, advertising, or something else, need to put their PR where the traffic is. That means publicize on the TechCrunches and Gigaoms and taste makers of your industry. The credible that comes from a Times article sounds nice, but it isn’t helping you meet traffic goals. As companies (hopefully) recognize this, blogs and websites will gain credibility as they become the next-generation of king-makers, discovering the next Googles, Microsofts, and Facebooks while the mainstream media plays catch up. Mainstream media needs to join the link culture (which includes not suing websites) or get left out and left behind.

Updated 6/24 1:37p.m. – I just read a great post by Chris Brogan on this same subject, noting how the Boston Globe wrote out the link to his blog on their website and newspaper, but didn’t link to it.

Wikipedia entry scoops NBC; NBC not happy

Last week I wrote about an unknown user who first reported Tim Russert’s death on Wikipedia. That “junior-level employee” worked for the Internet Broadcasting Systems who provides web services to NBC affiliates, has been suspended (earlier reports said fired, but NBC disputes this) for updating the Wikipedia page. The employee thought the information was public record.

Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider wrote:

It’s one thing for a news organization to decide to delay reporting news of a staffer’s death out of deference to his or her family (this makes sense). It’s another for the organization to expect other organizations to follow the same policy. And it is yet another thing for someone to deliberately strike accurate facts from a collective record to appease an upset client, which is what someone at IBS apparently did.

The world has changed in last 15 years, and the genie isn’t going back in the bottle. If NBC wants to maintain its tradition with respect to staffers’ deaths, that’s fine. In the meantime, it should recognize that its chances of controlling a story this big are–and should be–infinitesimal and that “citizen journalism” has long since gone mainstream. If the employee at IBS who updated the Wikipedia entry did not learn of it via a confidential NBC communication, moreover, NBC and IBS owe him or her an apology and a job.(Emphasis his)

As Mathew Ingram writes “The lesson is that as long as there is news, people will try to share it. (Note: The NYT story says that NBC tried to hold back the news).”

As I said last week, Wikipedia provided rapid information while NBC took 40 minutes after Wikipedia to report Russert’s death. Information thanks to the internet moves faster. NBC can try to keep its exclusive stories, but it can’t be surprised if some younger, sprier website scoops it.

Daily dose of irony: TechCrunch charges AP $12.50 for quotes (Updated)

The Associated Press has been kind enough to give bloggers more a week’s worth of posts with all its antics bullying websites and charging people for quoting more than 4 words. After several instances have shown the A.P. quotes blogs (without links), the A.P. decided to quote another blog once more for old times sake. They decided to quote TechCrunch, for irony’s sake, in an article about all the brouhaha over their own anti-quoting policy.

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington announced he sent the news wire a DMCA takedown notice and a bill for $12.50, according to the organization’s own pricing chart for quoting 22 words from his post. Arrington describe’s his actions:

Am I being ridiculous? Absolutely. But the point is to illustrate that the A.P. is taking an absurd and indefensible position, too. So I’ve called my lawyers (really) and have asked them to deliver a DMCA takedown demand to the A.P. And I will also be sending them a bill for $12.50 with that letter, which is exactly what the A.P. would have charged me if I published a 22 word quote from one of their articles.

Kudos to Arrington for standing up for bloggers and fair use.

Update 11:48 a.m. – The A.P. released a statement this morning saying the matter between it and the Drudge Retort, the original target of DMCA takedown notices, is closed.  No details about what was actually discussed.  Just move on, nothing to see here.  Let’s see how that works for them.

Hypocrisy works fine for the Associated Press, but its not a business model

As part of my now ongoing series picking on the Associated Press, numerous examples of the organizations hypocrisy are coming to a broil.

The Associated Press is demanding bloggers follow guidelines on how to cite A.P. articles, requiring payment if even 5 words are copied. Michelle Malkin offers some magic math to see how much the Associated Press owes her for plagiarizing her blog posts.

Malkin finds A.P. articles from April and May quoting her posts, without providing links back. Malkin also reports the A.P. quoted the blog Patterico on Monday, the same day they were outlining their pay-for-fair-use program.

And both times the A.P. didn’t provide links back (print mentality), unlike us generous bloggers. Both Malkin and Patterico are kind enough to link to the A.P. articles plagiarizing them. I’ll stick with linking to just the blogs.

One theory about the A.P.’s attack on bloggers is it’s posturing against its own customers; newspapers who might realize they don’t need the A.P. anymore. The A.P. was formed to help local papers share reporting resources to cover major, national stories, but on the internet, the A.P. has become competition to these same papers. Suddenly, one user can see the same A.P. story on a dozen websites. Dorian Benkoil writes:

[Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Susan Goldberg] said she was no longer reliant on The Associated Press for her stories from the region but instead was getting the original versions direct from the other sources around the state rather than paying “a big chunk” of her budget, about $1 million for rewritten AP stories. Picking up directly, on the Web, and putting other papers’ stories directly in the newspaper was also better quality, she said, and readers were noticing:

“I mean, we’ve always had access to news from all over the state. It was just, you know, it went through the AP mill. I frankly think we’re getting better, more distinctively written stories because they’re not going through the AP mill.”

Steve Boriss writes how the A.P.’s stance against linking is a sideways attack to prevent newspapers from just summarizing and linking to A.P. stories instead of paying for them.

Newspaper trying to cut its costs could theoretically drop its AP membership, keep its exclusive content to itself, and start each big story “According to the AP,” lifting as many words as possible then paraphrasing the rest. By cracking down now to limit the number of lifted words, the AP is making the price for defecting members higher.

Basically, the Associated Press, a non-profit organization formed to benefit the United States’ newspapers, is worried about its solvency and longevity (as it should be) and doesn’t want to evolve – it wants to maintain its cushy position of power. Unfortunately, this short term thinking is going to backfire as newspapers and other wire services, like Reuters, pioneer new web-friendly business models leaving the A.P. where it is – obsolete.

Viacom hates viral videos, even its own

To promote the film Tropic Thunder, Viacom created a funny video with stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. for the obvious purpose of creating some viral buzz. Because the video was genuinely entertaining, it became popular on several video sites, including YouTube. But Viacom has a pesky $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube. So Viacom sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube, but left the video up on other sites, like FunnyorDie.com.

I’m no lawyer (but I play one on my blog), but Viacom may have to keep its videos off YouTube for the risk that they prove to be a good thing, not a liability like the company claims. That would explain why Viacom is letting other sites keep the video – YouTube, for the purposes of its lawsuit, is to blame for any falling revenue or profits because of its disrespect of copyrights. If it’s discovered that disrespect of copyrights helps promote other parts of Viacom’s business, Viacom’s case would be weakened.

Techdirt theorizes Viacom never wanted this lawsuit to happen – it just wanted leverage in business negotiations with Google. Unfortunately for Viacom, Google wants to fight this case to make sure precedent is set to protect itself and other websites from these silly lawsuits.

Video embedded after the jump.

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Associated Press thinks fair use should cost something

The Associated Press has released guidelines it expects bloggers and websites to follow when using its content. As I wrote about yesterday, the A.P. sent seven DMCA takedown notices to the Drudge Retort for user-generated headlines and less than 100 word quotes linking to A.P. stories. The A.P. has been helpful enough to offer a tiered system so anybody can license its content, ignoring for the moment the concept of fair use.

  • 5-25 words: $12.50
  • 26-50 words: $17.50
  • 51-100 words: $25.00
  • 101-250 words: $50.00
  • 251 words and up: $100.00

Non-profits get lower pricing. How generous.

I’m not sure if each number count as a word, so I might owe the A.P. $12.50. Thankfully fair use still exists, no matter how much the A.P. likes to pretend otherwise (and benefit from for all for its articles).

The A.P. provides a helpful form for people to throw money at the not-for-profit organization (A.P. is non-profit, shocking, I know). You must paste the excerpt you wish to plagiarize, no more than 2,000 characters, and provide the URL. The A.P. wants to make sure its content is used wholesomely, so it “reserves the right to terminate this Agreement at any time if Publisher or its agents finds Your use of the licensed Content to be offensive and/or damaging to Publisher’s reputation.”

If the A.P. doesn’t like what you wrote, it can just cancel the agreement. I wonder if they give you your money back?

Associated Press web strategy is to not be read

Last week, the Associated Press sent DMCA takedown notices to the Drudge Retort, a user-submitted news aggregator. Drudge Retort featured seven A.P. articles with headlines (often user-generated, not original), less than 100 word quotes, and a link to the original article which, according to the A.P.’s letter, did not fall under fair use.

The use is not fair use simply because the work copied happened to be a news article and that the use is of the headline and the first few sentences only. This is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of “fair use.” AP considers taking the headline and lede of a story without a proper license to be an infringement of its copyrights, and additionally constitutes “hot news” misappropriation.

The blogosphere spent the weekend lambasting the A.P. for overstepping the bounds of copyrights. The A.P.’s VP and Director of Strategy Jim Kennedy answered with a copy and paste job on dozens of blogs (I wonder who owns those comments):

We get concerned, however, when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste. That’s not good for original content creators; nor is it consistent with the link-based culture of the Internet that bloggers have cultivated so well.

To further remedy the backlash, the A.P. announced today a set of guidelines for bloggers in linking to A.P. articles.

The Associated Press has been reliably archaic in evolving to the internet age. The A.P. pressured Google over its News search engine, eventually convincing Google to pay the A.P. for its stories and pictures. Google had no obligation to pay the A.P. and likely led to other newspapers suing Google for their share and encouraging the A.P. to think it can completely control its content.

Today’s New York Times quoted Kennedy recognizing their initial approach to blogs might have been “heavy-handed.” A.P. executives met to revise their strategy which will likely appear in their usage guidelines. Bloggers, just like mainstream news sources (including the A.P.), won’t accept guidelines on how to use content. The A.P. does not get to set special rules on its content, same as the MLB and ABC and any other organization. The point of fair use is that it doesn’t require permission from the copyright holder. The more companies accept these restrictions, the more other organizations will try to expand the power of their copyrights.

A.P.’s recent moves will inspire bloggers to avoid A.P. stories, instead leading traffic to competitors who want free promotion. The result will be a less influential A.P. as other news services embrace internet technology instead of fight it.