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Net Update: More Lawsuits; New Journalist Tools

Several significant Internet trends are playing out at the end of 2004.

As it becomes clearer that broadband is developing into the next big media distribution system, showdowns between large content owners and Net users are escalating and getting nastier.

Now, Hollywood's major motion picture and television studios have joined music companies in suing Internet users over downloading. It's a move that could have major implications for television broadcasters as they migrate to the digital era.

The lobbying organization for Hollywood's seven major studios announced its members decided on the aggressive legal strategy after concluding that music companies suffered financial consequences because they waited too long to combat file sharing.

"If we didn't act now, this behavior would become more and more common in American life," said Dan Glickman, according to The New York Times. Glickman, who was secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration, is the new Jack Valenti at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

Here we go again. Since September 2003, the music industry has sued 6,191 individuals, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

A new round of litigation, filed in late October, targeted 750 computer usersacross the nation, including 25 students at 13 universities.

Next on the RIAA hit list, according to the group, is digital radio. Without copy protection, music fans could cherry-pick songs off the air and redistribute them over the Internet, the group said.


So what's wrong with this picture?

First, there's little real evidence that the recent financial problems of the music industry have much to do with Internet downloading. Second, the lawsuits-a controversial tactic that pits an industry against its own customers-have donelittle to stop, or even slow, file sharing.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic has not declined, despite the music industry's aggressive pursuit of file sharers, according to a recent study from the University of California at Riverside and the Cooperative Associationfor Internet Data Analysis.

"In general, we observe that P2P activity has not diminished," the study concluded.

"On the contrary, P2P traffic represents a significant amount of Internet traffic and is likely to continue to grow in the future, RIAA behavior notwithstanding."


In an earlier column, we noted the BBC's experiment with cellular picturephones for newsgathering. Now comes word of a mobile phone scoop. Amsterdam's De Telegraaf daily newspaper, with a circulation of close to 800,000, recently published a picture of the dead filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh, who police say wasprobably killed by an Islamic militant.

Passerby Aron Boskma took a picture with his mobile phone at the scene of the crime in Amsterdam. News photographers arrived after the body had been covered, leaving Boskma's picture the only one showing knives plunged into Van Gogh's body.

"This picture was the story. There was a discussion if we should use it, but everyone who would have had this picture would have published it," Telegraaf Photo Editor Peter Schoonen told Reuters.

ANP, the Dutch news agency, receives camera phone pictures through a collaboration with Internet news Web site , which offers money and prizes to amateur photographers who send in pictures.

In Japan, where many people own camera-equipped cell phones, it has become common to sell pictures to television stations and other media outlets. Many phones take motion video as well as still images.


An offshoot of the popular iPod music player has been the rapid developmentof miniature hard drives. Smartdisk's new 20-Gb, USB 2.0 FireFly, at only 3.3 ounces, is one of the smallest and most portable data storage devices available.

(click thumbnail)The 20 Gb, 3.3 oz. Smartdisk FireFlyIt's perfect for the traveling journalist. No AC adapter or special software is needed. Just plug it into a USB port on a Mac or Windows machine, and its contents appear on the screen. Clean, simple and very rugged ($190, at ).

A standout new tool that's ideal for mobile journalists is AlphaSmart's Neo, an ultralightweight writer's laptop with full-size keyboard and - get this - anextraordinary 700 hours of operation on three AA batteries. Weighing two pounds, the instanton Neo is so rugged it's virtually bulletproof,and so simple to operate that the learning curve is almost nonexistent.

Word-processing with spellcheck, thesaurus and other writer's tools is built into ROM. The Neo's files, which are each assigned a hard button for quick access, can be transferred via USB on a Mac or Windows PC at the push of a single button ($249, at ).

Finally, Apple's new Airport Express is perfect for anyone who needs to createan instant WiFi network on-location.About the size of a small AC adapter, it packs Internet sharing, wireless 802.11g networking, audio, printing and bridging capabilities into a single device.

It works with all WiFi-compatible computers, has a 150-foot range that can be extended by bridging multiple units, and can handle up to 10 uses on a single instant network ($129 at (opens in new tab) ).

Frank Beacham
Frank Beacham

Frank Beacham is an independent writer based in New York.