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Perhaps I'm simply tiring of the economic news (or becoming immune to it). Increasingly, I find myself being drawn more and more to random news stories unrelated to the flurry of bad news that seems to come on the economic front.

Tis the season to be jolly, right? Here's this week's hodgepodge of news and it's not all bad.

Pirates pee on Amazon's MP3 parade

Amazon.co.uk's launch of its MP3 download service on Wednesday was quickly overshadowed by the rapid release of a Firefox plugin that enabled its users to download MP3s (and other Amazon content) at no cost by clicking on a 'download 4 free' button.

The incident not only highlights the fact that the war against piracy is a challenging one but that, as I've said before, there's only one acceptable price point for thieves - $0.

Amazon.co.uk's download service offers 3 million songs in MP3 format without any form of digital rights management. In other words, anything purchased can be transferred freely to any device. Just what consumers want.

Unfortunately, despite the millions of people who do pay for music online, there are plenty more who don't, even when offered the ability to do so without the restrictions that many have complained about.

Clearly, such complaints, for some, are merely an excuse for thievery.

Cyberbullying verdict turns rule-breakers into criminals

Lori Drew, the not-so-likable woman whose fake MySpace profile eventually led to the suicide of her daughter's former friend, was recently convicted in a Los Angeles federal court on three counts of misdemeanor charges of unauthorized access of computers.

As Globe and Mail reporter Ivor Tossell reports:

"It wasn't the laws of the United States of America that she violated, so much as that fine print that comes up whenever you install a new piece of software or sign up to a website – the kind that most everybody grumbles at and clicks right past."

The MySpace terms of service state that signing up for MySpace under a false identity is not permitted. As such, when Drew signed up for MySpace as the non-existent 16 year-old 'Josh Evans' she was violating the MySpace terms of service.

A clearly-ambitious prosecutor in Los Angeles took the case and ran with it. Today, Drew may face up to three years in prison and a $300,000 fine for her violation.

Obviously, Drew's case is an emotional one. What this woman did was morally reprehensible. Yet at the same time, charging her with misdemeanors that are usually reserved for hackers who break into computers seems a bit of a stretch.

That stretch could make the internet a risky place for American internet surfers.

Tossell observes:

"But if the Drew ruling is allowed to stand, then breaking terms of service could turn these offsides into criminal offences, making rule-breakers into hackers in the eyes of U.S. law."

"This doesn't seem to be a good idea. Nor would it be to anyone's advantage were we to see a legal or commercial crackdown on online anonymity, which is one of the Internet's oldest traditions. For every horror-show case like Lori Drew's, there are hundreds of thousands of people who assume aliases for reasons that range from privacy to escape to satire."

I tend to agree.

A highly-unusual and unfortunate case involving atrocious behavior on the part of a parent who clearly has no moral compass should not threaten to turn those who violate a website's terms of service into criminals.

The reality is that the internet is as harsh a place as the real world. Parents need to monitor their childrens' internet use and should be watching for signs of bullying (and depression) no matter where it's occurring.

If the conviction against Lori Drew is upheld, there is no guarantee that similarly tragic stories won't unfold but there is a guarantee that the internet in the United States will be a less friendly place.

The United States courts should leave the enforcement of terms of service in the civil court system and send a clear message that overzealous prosecutors looking to make a name for themselves will have to find real criminals to pursue justice against.

I'm pretty sure there's plenty of them.

Google uses 21 times more bandwidth than it pays for -- per first-ever research study

According to Scott Cleland, the president of Precursor LLC and chairman of NETCompetition.org, Google is using more bandwidth than it's really paying for.

Calling it the "first-ever research study of U.S. consumer Internet bandwidth usage and costs", Cleland's study gives the following estimates:

  • The US consumer internet market was responsible for bandwidth usage of 1.113 exabytes per month in 2008.
  • The cost of this was $44.0bn.
  • Google used 184 petabytes of bandwidth per month in 2008, or 16.5% of total usage.
  • Google's cost for bandwidth is $344m in 2008.

The study's conclusion:

"...Google’s 16.5% share of all 2008 U.S. consumer bandwidth usage, is ~21 times greater than Google’s 0.8% share of U.S. consumer bandwidth costs – or an implicit ~$6.9 billion subsidy of Google by U.S. consumers."

Cleland argues that Google is not paying its fair share but should.

He claims that his study is "straight-forward, transparent, well documented and replicable so Google or others can provide improvements or alternative estimates -- and so other countries can estimate if Google uses more of their country’s Internet capacity than it pays for."

I haven't had the opportunity yet to read the study in great enough detail so as to try to assess the methodology so I will refrain from commenting on these claims.

What should be noted - Cleland's NETCompetition.org advocates against net neutrality and counts as members major corporations such as AT&T, Comcast and Qwest, which also oppose net neutrality.

Given this, Cleland's study is hardly without bias and that is pretty evident from the first page on. To be fair in this regard, there's no disingenuity that I can see - the fact that the study was conducted by an organization that has a vested interest is not hidden (unlike some other studies which are conducted by organizations that are clearly supposed to give the appearance of neutrality but are supported financially by those with a vested interest in the findings).

Personally, I have a stance that can really only be described as 'neutral' when it comes to net neutrality. While I certainly don't like the idea of telecom companies implementing the network equivalent of toll booths, I also don't like the idea of government mandates that force private companies to conduct business in a certain fashion.

At the end of the day, I think the market should be allowed to sort itself out. If telecom companies want to change the ways they charge for access to their networks, let them. Those that don't offer a sensible and cost-effective solution will be punished and those that do will be rewarded.

Condé Nast Suspends New Website Launches Indefinitely; Another Blow To Razorfish?

AgencySpy and PaidContent.org are reporting that magazine publisher Condé Nast is delaying the launch of a number websites "for an indefinite period" due to "the economic climate we find ourselves in."

According to PaidContent.org's sources, a number of its magazines were set to receive their own individual websites but given budget cuts, these new websites have been but on the back burner. Some of Condé Nast's magazines currently share homes on the company's CondéNet portals.

AgencySpy notes that interactive firm Razorfish, which is owned by Microsoft, may be hurt by Condé Nast's new plans as it was apparently working on one of Condé Nast's new websites.

Frankly, I think Condé Nast's decision may have been the wisest under the circumstances. I'm not convinced that every company with multiple properties (especially in the media and publishing industries) needs to develop standalone properties for all of them and a portal approach sometimes offers certain advantages.

That aside, launching a new website successfully is something that isn't easy to pull off. There are a lot of mistakes that are easy to make and oftentimes a poor first showing can be disastrous. Given that Condé Nast is cutting back, now probably wasn't the ideal time to attempt a successful launch of new websites.

Somehow I suspect other companies may find themselves making similar decisions over the next year.

CD sales stage a comeback

The Australian Recording Industry Association is reporting that CD sales rose recently in Australia.

TheAge.com.au reports:

"According to the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), CD sales from the six weeks from the end of October were 22 per cent higher than the same time last year."

"And top five album chart sales more than doubled from the same time in 2007.
"

Such sales figures have not been seen in "more than four or five years" and given the economic downturn, there's no apparent justification for the increased sales, which are above norm for the holiday season. Similar increases in sales are not being seen overseas.

So what gives?

Ed St. John of ARIA and Warner Music has some ideas:

"Maybe it's because music is a good price or maybe people particularly need entertaining at the moment."

He also suggests that a string of new releases from artists such as Beyonce and Britney Spears may be driving people to buy.

Whatever the case, highlighting the record industry's woes, St. John stated:

"Time will tell how long it lasts, but it's pretty good while it lasts."

My guess: the good times will not continue to roll. Enjoy it while it lasts indeed.

Drama 2.0

Published 5 December, 2008 by Drama 2.0

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