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23rd July 2003, 07:49 PM
- Music Pirates Could Face Heavy Fines, Prison
- But Wait ... Piracy Declines
- Netscape Bites the Dust
- Macworld a Snore, Attendance Down
- TiVo Connects with AOL

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23rd July 2003, 07:49 PM
An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman

Music Pirates Could Face Heavy Fines, Prison
Users who offer "free" songs online might soon get a surprise in return for their generosity--a large fine and an involuntary vacation at one of the nation's hospitality suites ... er ... federal penitentiaries. Lawmakers in the US Congress recently introduced a new bill designed to clarify existing piracy laws and make illegally sharing a song, movie, or any other illegal digital file online a federal felony. The legislation doesn't stop there, however; it also includes a provision that makes recording a movie with a camcorder in a theater or registering at a Web site under a false name a crime. The lawmakers who introduced the bill say that it isn't an attempt to create new laws but rather a way to clarify existing standards for copyright felonies related to digital material. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) disagrees, arguing that the bill comes close to outright criminalizing the user computer networks. Under current laws, distributing 10 unauthorized copies of copyrighted material worth at least $2500 is a felony. The new law would lower the bar so that offering just one file online for any price (or for free) is a felony because the lawmakers assume that one file offered online will be downloaded at least 10 times (unless, of course, it's a Celine Dion MP3 file). Regardless of where you live, be sure to let your local representatives know how you feel about laws concerning the Internet.

But Wait ... Piracy Declines
As the US Congress debates new piracy laws, a new survey from research firm Nielsen//NetRatings says that online piracy is declining. The study says that traffic at major file-sharing sites such as iMesh, KaZaA, and Morpheus was down about 15 percent from previous weeks. You might recall that the Evil Recording Industry blamed online piracy for a recent decrease in CD sales (from $40 billion in 2000 to $26 billion in 2002). According to Nielsen//NetRatings, however, the recent decrease in file-sharing site traffic is mostly likely the result of a recent Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) threat to sue individual file-sharing users for as much as $150,000 per copyright violation. Although that action might be part of the reason, we also think the introduction of viable alternatives to piracy--such as Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store--have helped. Another factor, of course, is that most of today's music stinks, so it's not even worth pirating.

Netscape Bites the Dust
Netscape is dead; long live the Web browser. AOL Time Warner announced this week that it laid off the developers of the pioneering browser and will cease work on the product. The company will, however, keep the Netscape brand alive, continue to support earlier versions, and update the Netscape.com portal. Fans of the browser, which number almost as few as fans of the Macintosh OS these days, will now have to turn to the Mozilla Foundation for updates. The Mozilla Foundation will be responsible for developing Mozilla, the open-source spin-off browser on which recent releases of Netscape were based. Let's hope that the renewed support in Mozilla's development will wake up Microsoft and spur browser innovation once again. Don't let Netscape's death be in vain!

Macworld a Snore, Attendance Down
Speaking of innovation, if you hold a cult trade show and the cult's leader and none of the attendees show up, is it really a trade show? Although most people didn't notice, last week New York City hosted the latest Macworld Conference & Expo trade show, at which Apple Computer announced ... nothing. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was noticeably absent from the show, opting to skip his traditional keynote address and forgo any new hardware product announcements. Instead, the company sent a vice president to remind its dwindling fan base of recent announcements. We used to enjoy attending the annual show, but without Apple's full support, the show is just a sad waste of time. We expect IDG to cancel the show next year.

TiVo Connects with AOL
AOL and TiVo have announced a new partnership that will link TiVo to AOL's online service. Users of the new service will be able to use the online service to program their home TiVo digital video recording
(DVR) devices, view channel listings online, find programs they want to record, and click a link to tell their TiVo devices to record those programs. The free service is available now for TiVo Series 2 units that are connected to high-speed Internet networks. But how many of AOL's 30 million members--who are typically considered "newbies"--are among TiVo's 700,000 subscribers--who are typically made up of early adopters or "people who get it"--is unclear. It should be an interesting experiment.