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Monday, October 25, 2004


(My October contribution to IP Memes follows.)


The last three weeks have seen an explosion at the kind of lightning speed only the Internet can deliver. If you haven't heard of "podcasting" (1) you're not spending much time at all reading weblogs, and (2) you just did anyway. Podcasting is a brilliantly simple concept that involves creating an MP3 audio recording and making it available for download. Why is it a "killer app?" Several reasons. More and more people now have a portable digital audio player of some kind, probably an iPod based on the success Apple has had with its product. And a new, open source software application, iPodder, conceived by blogger and former MTV veejay Adam Curry, combined with RSS enclosures (don't worry too much about what those are if you don't know), does timeshifting for MP3 players like TiVo did for television. On the listener side, podcasting is just another example of the Internet opening doors to places people want to go that mainstream media outlets can't cover or just ignore. On the creator side, podcasting was practically inevitable in a world ever more replete with individually and independently created content, aka microcontent: weblogs, moblogs, photo/animation/digital video sharing, etc.

So where's the IP in this meme? There're probably more than I've thought of yet, but at least three sticky areas are apparent at the inception of the podcasting wave. First: is podcasting just another form of Internet radio, subject to all the attendant regulation? It seems pretty clear the answer is "no" because there is no streaming involved, but the issue remains untested. Second: what about copyrighted material incorporated into a podcast? As podcasters are unlikely to be universally scrupulous about obtaining licenses and permissions, the fair use doctrine should get a good workout here. Third: will Apple pour linguistic cold water on the movement by seeking to enforce its iPod trademark? Last spring it did just that with a now defunct application called "pPod," which created an iPod-esque interface for PocketPCs. Unlike the present phenomenon however, pPod didn't come with functionality that makes the iPod an even more attractive purchase than it already is, coupled with an impressive groundswell of support. Google already shows some 110,000 hits for "podcasting," and advertisers have bought sponsored links for podcast-related searches.



When I started out in college, all I remember being given by my alma mater was dorm room wallpaper in the form of innumerable parking tickets. In contrast, this year's crop of Duke University freshmen were given Apple iPods -- not just as a really nice perk but to assist them academically. In response to criticism of the program as frivolous and excessive, Duke's Manager of the Office of Information Technology, David Menzies, recently explained how students are putting the iPods to work. Professors are making course materials (podcasts?) available for the students to download, and the students are encouraged to use them to record lectures and other course-related audio. Menzies is also quick to squelch rumors the student 'pods came packed with 5,000 songs: "The only preloaded songs on these iPods are the Duke fight song and alma mater."



TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay did a hallway interview with technology journalist JD Lasica at the recent Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Ramsay discusses dog-mangled TiVo remotes, his vision for Internet television, the marriage of TiVo and DVD burners, program sharing via TiVoToGo, the role of the FCC, and more. There has been a bit of a compatibility flap lately about the DVD burning TiVos, which will play but not burn content from other Series 2 TiVos. This does not appear to be due to any copy controlling digital rights management added by TiVo, but rather to differing compression standards between the products.



No surprise here: on October 8, the RIAA and MPAA filed their petition for certiorari concerning the 9th Circuit's recent Grokster decision, which upheld the legality of P2P networks. The petitioners clearly want the high court to revisit its Betamax decision, citing in their Question Presented the "millions of daily acts of copyright infringement that occur on their services and that constitute at least 90% of the total use of the services."



The high court will not review the D.C. Circuit's determination that the DMCA does not require ISPs to turn over identifying information about suspected file sharers in the absence of a court order.



This Wednesday I'll be part of a panel at the third annual Digital ID World conference that will look at "trusted computing," a big part of which is Microsoft's NGSCB (Next-Generation Secure Computing Base) due out in the next version of Windows. Microsoft insists NGSCB is not "DRM on a chip," but critics say digital rights management was the original motivation for the architecture, and that it is designed to increase controls by hardware and software manufacturers and content providers. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently leveled a back-handed criticism of the unobtrusive DRM used in Apple's iPod by quipping the most common format of iPod music is "stolen." In January, DRM will be the subject of its own conference in Berlin.


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