Musician calls RIAA on their lies in USA Today

The RIAA claims to do what it does in the name of artists. Well, artists are getting and less and less shy about calling them on that. Today, an article by accidental activist Janis Ian — an artist with 17 major-label albums, nine Grammy nominations and 37 years of experience in the music industry — appears in USA Today.

The RIAA and the entrenched music industry argue that free downloads are threats. The music industry had exactly the same response to the advent of reel-to-reel home tape recorders, cassettes, DATs, minidiscs, VCRs, music videos, MTV and a host of other products and services.

I am not advocating indiscriminate downloading without the artist’s permission. Copyright protection is vital. But I do object to the industry spin that it is doing all this to protect artists. It is not protecting us; it is protecting itself.

The good news is that, unless the RIAA finds away to maintain their power through this introduction of what’s merely a new means of distribution, their tragic lack of cluefulness makes it inevitable that a new organization will supplant and eventually replace them. But how long will it take? Link

NHL/Microsoft deal sticks it to RealNetworks

Microsoft and the National Hockey League have started a subscription service that will allow fans to search for and watch highlights from the 2002-2003 season. The service is $5 per month or $30 per season, and eventually fans will be able to watch entire games for an extra $3 per game.

This deal is presumed to be part of a response to RealNetworks’ modest success with their subscription service.

“It’s a ding at RealNetworks, which with NHL.com would have all sports’ seasons wrapped up in one subscription service,” said Ryan Jones, analyst at the Yankee Group, a research firm. “Microsoft has been going for the technology side but now is putting more focus on content.”

Based on RealNetworks’ latest numbers, content is the only thing allowing them to limp along. But it’s clear that Microsoft is going after this space, and has infinitely more money (give or take a few billion) than RealNetworks to do so. RealNetworks may win some battles, but it’s impossible for them to win the war.

My prediction: AOL/Time Warner buys RealNetworks in 2004 and uses them as their content delivery technology arm. Link

RealNetworks' server business eroding rapidly

Today RealNetworks announced their financials. Compared to the same quarter a year ago, (1) revenue is flat, (2) software license fees fell over 40%, (3) their net loss has nearly doubled.

On the bright side, consumer revenue increased 76%.

Can RealNetworks survive until they’re forced to abandon their per-server, per-stream revenue model in order to compete with Windows Media Server, which is part and parcel of Windows 2000/.NET Server, and Darwin Streaming Server, which is to MPEG-4 what Apache is to the web? Watch this space… Link

Microsoft and Panasonic announce new digital media storage standard

Microsoft and Panasonic have announced HighMAT — “High-Performance Media Access Technology”.

HighMAT just specifies that music should go in one directory, pictures in another, and video in another. Plus, there’s an index file with some metadata so that the player doesn’t have to seek to and read from every file when you insert the CD.

That’s nice, I guess. Obviously, the name for the specification (it’s hardly a technology) is far too grandiose for what it actually is. If they’d invented the phone book, they’d have called it HiPAT (“High-Performance Person Access Technology”).

There are two reasons that HighMAT probably doesn’t have a future. (1) The specification deals with Windows Media Audio and Windows Media Video, but not other proprietary formats. (2) Microsoft will apparently be “licensing” the “technology”. This licensing is currently free to some vendors, but an ITworld.com article makes it clear that they’re reserving the right to impose fees on others. Since licensing is already discriminatory, there’s absolutely no assurance that licensing fees will be reasonable. Scary.

So, who wants to start an open-source specification that achieves the same objectives? Link

"You kids today…spoiled rotten!"

“Why, when I was young, I needed a $100,000 workstation with a $15,000 RAID system and $20,000 in software to do a Ken Burns-style documentary! Now, you kids today — you kids don’t know how good you have it with your iMovies and your $10 plug-ins. And I had to power it with my feet, Flintstones-style…” Link

Apple (finally!) talks about DRM

Ever since Apple announced intentions to support two different DRM systems (AT&T’s a2b for QuickTime 4, SealedMedia’s DRM for QuickTime 5) but then didn’t execute on either one, it has declined to discuss its stance on DRM. It’s not surprising that Apple would be gun-shy, but the problem is that digital media developer and distributors are migrating to formats with solid DRM stories.

However, Apple seems to have been inspired by the DRM panel session at the recent O’Reilly Mac OS X conference. Here’s what Avie Tevanian and Phil Schiller told InfoWorld in their recent Apple Unpeeled special report.

Tevanian: What’s most important to us is what do consumers want and what are consumers entitled to? We’re very intimately aware of the issue of illegal use of these things vs. legal use and who’s paying and who’s not. We’re as big a stakeholder as anyone from that perspective. But we also believe the most important thing is not really how do you make sure people are always doing what’s legal by forcing them to only do things that are legal? The bigger question is, How do you provide them something that they really want? For example, I think most people would agree that the reason many people “steal” things over the Net is because it’s so easy to do and it’s the easiest way to get the things [they want]. Well, imagine if it were easier to pay a fair fee and get the thing. Our view is, Let’s look at how we provide things that are the easiest for consumers, because by and large people want to be honest. And by and large, people will pay for what they’re getting.

Schiller: Our attitude has always been you’ve got to protect the content owner’s rights and the consumer’s rights. We think you can try to do both. We did that with the iPod — we went down the middle safely. A second part of this is we fundamentally think that an attempt to create an unbreakable system is foolish. Microsoft has more than almost anybody [who’s been] trying to build encryption schemes into DRMs. And as we saw with the last version of Windows Media, it was broken before it shipped. So we think the No. 1 task is not to make an unbreakable system that tries to keep ahead of criminals, because criminals are going to find a way to break through anyway. What’s important is to find the products and services that help honest people stay honest. And people haven’t focused on that.

As a consumer of digital media, this sounds great. As a developer of digital media, DRM is also about enabling commerce, and I have to wonder whether the “imagine if it were easier to pay a fair fee and get the thing” problem is something that Apple is actively doing something about.

CTIA wireless show incredibly dull

“The fastest growing show solely dedicated to wireless Internet, mobile data and handheld computing” was apparently so incredibly dull that most attendees decided to switch to more exciting careers — such as selling pottery by the side of the road — during it’s three-day run. Link

W3C seeking your feedback on charter of Timed Text Working Group

The W3C is (probably) launching a new working group to develop a “Timed Text” specification. Although membership in the working group itself is limited to W3C members and invited experts, they’ve submitted a draft charter to the Timed Text mailing list, and they’re looking for your feedback. (For example, is two years a realistic schedule for the process, or too long?)

The mission of the Timed Text Working Group (TTWG) is to develop an XML-based format for time-based text, like RealNetworks’ RealText, albeit better and sans “Real-isms”. This Timed Text format could be used in SMIL, as a standard interchange format, etc. (Thanks, Philipp!)

Flash 6 already more ubiquitous than Windows Media, RealSystem?

Macromedia has just published the results of a September 2002 study on Flash penetration. That study was conducted by NPD Research, the parent company of MediaMetrix.

According to the study, nearly 98% of web users can see Flash content without having to download and install a player. More importantly, Flash 6 penetration was nearly 60% when this study was done. At the time, Flash Player 6 had only been out for about six months. 0-to-60 in six months. Wow.

This means that the installed base of video-/audio-capable Flash players is greater than Windows Media, greater than RealSystem, and greater than QuickTime. Wow.

Now if they could only get the video and audio to sync.