Record Labels, Music Publishers, Internet, Computer Software
Malaysian software pirates are selling copies of the next generation of Microsoft’s flagship Windows operating system, years before its official release and at a fraction of the expected price. Compact discs with a version of the system code-named Longhorn are being sold openly for less than $A 3.50 (£2.00) per copy . Malaysia is one of the worst offenders, with CDs, CD-ROMs and DVDs sold openly in stores and street stalls. Longhorn is still in development and won’t officially be ready until 2005 at the earliest.
A Japanese peer-to-peer file-sharing network which claimed to keep user identities untraceable has failed to work and two users in Japan have been arrested. The developer of the P2P software has also had his home searched by police. There are around 250,000 users of the supposedly anonymous file-trading network, called Winny, which rides on the more well-known Freenet network. Freenet is an open-source project and is part of a growing number of projects aimed at giving people the ability to communicate online without being tapped, traced or monitored.
There is some evidence from the USA that the controversial RIAA lawsuits against ordinary computer users are making a dent in the file-swapping world. According to Web analysis firm Nielsen/NetRatings, weekly usage of the Kazaa software in the United States plummeted from a high of 7 million people in early June to just 3.2 million people in late October. CD sales have also risen in the last two months although this could be attributed to the pre-Christmas release schedule and big albums from artists such as Britney Spears. Sharman Networks, who own the controversial Kazaa software, have used legal tools to eliminate a pirate modified version called Kazaa Lite K++ which was touted as a way to protect Peer-2-Peer users from “organisations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) invading their privacy”and also blocked features of the Kazaa software deemed as ‘adware’ and ‘spyware’. Sharman Networks has reportedly contacted the Internet Service Provider of every Web site which hosted Kazaa Lite K++ and threatened each under the provisions of the USA’s Digital Millenium Copyright Act unless access to the modified software was removed. This follows a move earlier in the year when Sharman used the same legislation to force Google to remove links or face a legal action. Sharman itself still face numerous legal challenges from the RIAA and other music industry groups over the legitimacy of the Kazaa software itself (see Law Updates October 2003, June 2003 and December 2002).
A new group that includes Microsoft Corp and Universal Music is hoping to make it easier to play music and videos across competing technologies. The Content Reference Forum has published its first set of uniform standards for delivering music. However, the goal is to allow consumers to get movies and other digital content as well, quickly and in any format they want in any country, while licensing fees and copyright protections are enforced. The Forum say that their mission is to “develop a universal way to distribute digital content across various media and geographies. The organisation’s goal is to create a dynamic marketplace where participants can promote, sell and legitimately share content; consumers can get the right content for their location, platform and preferences; and the underlying commercial agreements and rights surrounding the content are respected.” If a consumer wants to play a song encoded, for example, for the Apple i-Tunes system and cannot play it on a Windows Media Player on his or her computer, then his or her song request would go to a clearinghouse device that would deliver the song in the proper format. However, there is no guarantee the standards will be embraced. Manufacturers and producers may decide it makes better sense to push their own hardware and software which will force consumers to buy their products rather than make their content playable on a competitor’s product.