Government’s OK with Jailbreaking

Apple is famous – or infamous – for being incredibly proprietary, and the practice of jealously guarding not only trade secrets but disallowing customers from switching carriers spills over onto other smartphone manufacturers as well.  Recently, the Copyright Office announced their decision that jailbreaking is now legal.  While Apple vehemently disagrees, it is now legal to unlock your iPhone or other smartphone in order to run unsupported apps and/or switch networks.

According to some estimates, more than 1 million iPhone users have jailbroken their phones – a practice which will void your Apple warranty even while unlocking the phone is technically legal now.  Apple argued that allowing their phones to be unlocked infringed on their copyright.  The Copyright Office disagreed.  As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, reviewed emergent technologies – like smartphones – to determine if the law might allow access to copyright material.  The consensus of the government was that jailbreaking is “innocuous at worst and beneficial at best.”

Apple responded, saying, “Apple’s goal has always been to insure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience…the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably.”  They claim that jailbroken phones are vulnerable to malicious attacks that Apple’s strict rules generally protect the phones against, and again, Apple doesn’t have to like the ruling.  They can still void your warranty if your phone is jailbroken.

In a related ruling, the FCC found that educators, students, and documentary filmmakers are allowed to break copy protection measures on DVDs when they are used in the classroom or for other “noncommercial” uses.

iPhone Fix and Apple Earnings

Apple’s revolutionary, groundbreaking iPhone 4G has been making headlines since well before its official launch.  Many of the current headlines have to do with the new, slimmed down design which features an external antenna.  When users put their hands over the antenna, reception worsens and dropped calls ensue.  Apple has issued a quick fix in the form of their bumpers, which will be issued to 4G users.  Fortunately, though, a pair of developers is turning this problem to their advantage.

While you’re waiting for your Apple bumper, you could purchase – for a mere $5 – a set of Antennaids.  These bandage-inspired stickers simply stick over the offending antenna spot, providing, as one headline proclaimed, a “Band-Aid for Apple’s boo-boo.”  You can get a six pack in a variety of colors on the developer’s Etsy site.

Apple, too, is managing to rake in the money, even with all of the adverse publicity.  The Cupertino company released their third quarter earnings and figures indicate that the year’s total revenue equaled some $15.7 billion, of which $3.25 is profit.  This is up from a profit of $1.83 billion last year.  Steve Jobs said, “It was a phenomenal quarter that exceeded our expectations all around, including the most successful product launch in Apple’s history with iPhone 4.”

And successful it was: in less than a month, Apple has sold over 3 million 4Gs, and order processing times run about 3 weeks.  Despite the signal problems, people are still lining up around the block – even if it’s the figurative block – to buy the 4G.

AudioLock.net’s Anti-Piracy Protection

Music and film piracy have been issues practically since the inception of both mediums.  While certainly nothing new, the internet has allowed both forms, particularly music, to thrive.  Illegal downloading has cost the industry billions of dollars and has become quite a divisive issue among musicians and their fans.  AudioLock.net has developed a solution that allows the tagging and tracking of every piece of digital music.  It then combs file sharing sites and can flag copyright violations.

Producer, composer, and DJ, Rich Mowatt says:

“Having been a professional producer and label manager for 15 years I’ve concluded that the industry has now hit a critical tipping point – labels, producers and stores must adapt or die. Producers’ incomes have been hit incredibly hard by piracy, and there has not been a cost effective way of tackling this until now. Professional leakers can now be highlighted and file sharing group members can be individually detected. This system has a real chance of making a difference for thousands of music producers and labels around the world.”

 

So, how does AudioLock work?  It tags music, and even when a particular track has been transferred to different formats, AudioLock can recognize it.  The tagging is so effective that it can decode a piece that was played from a speaker and recorded using a microphone.  The sophistication allows for producers, promoters, musicians, labels, and others with proprietary rights to make sure their copyrights are being protected.  If one of your protected tracks has been tagged by AudioLock and found at a file sharing site or elsewhere, you will receive notification of who sent the track, when it was sent, and the IP address and physical location from where it was sent.  This gives you evidence of copyright infringement because every copy is unique.  The person infringing also gets notice that he has violated your rights.

AudioLock presents a real, cost-effective system for routing out pirates.  At present, many labels use third-party companies or hire staff to comb the internet for instances where their content is being offered illegally.  This presents a huge savings to companies, and it makes the technology accessible to more people, such as the artists themselves.  AudioLock CEO Ben Rush had strong words for those who think music piracy is a victim-less crime and that illegal downloading is a right:

“People saying that music should be free as all producers make money from live performance are deluded.  There are thousands of music producers who don’t perform live and therefore would never see any income from their work.  Stopping the flow of money to people like this would simply stop the large variety of quality music we all currently enjoy. AudioLock.NET is the answer to this providing affordable tracking and protection previously only available to large labels.”

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Did Jobs Ignore Engineer’s Concerns over iPhone 4G?

In the rush to unveil the next greatest smartphone ever, did Apple neglect to ensure that the phone was ready for public consumption?  Or was Steve Jobs depending on Apple users legendary brand loyalty and the enormous appeal of a new iPhone to gloss over any problems that may arise?  Business publication Bloomberg is reporting that an engineer’s concerns about the new antenna design went unheeded.

Perhaps the most pervasive problem about the iPhone’s older versions is that calls were dropped frequently in urban centers like New York City and San Francisco.  Apple reinvented their antenna to attack the problem and made it external to the phone unit itself.  But this cutting edge design showed its flaws soon after the product release.  When users held their hands over the antenna – which is placed exactly where you’d naturally put your hand – it cut out the signal.  Ruben Caballero, Apple’s senior antenna expert, told Jobs last year that the new antenna design would likely lead to more dropped calls.

Some familiar with the situation – who doesn’t want to be named because he doesn’t want to incur the wrath of Steve Jobs and the Cupertino Beast – said that Caballero made his concerns known in early planning meetings when Jobs and other executives showed a preference to the bezel antenna design, which helped produce a lighter, sleek phone body.  Tests with one of Apple’s phone carriers also pointed to problems with the design.  The well-regarded Consumer Reports isn’t recommending the iPhone 4G, saying instead buyers should opt for the previous 3 generations.

Consumer Reports also tested other phones, saying, “None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.  The tests also indicate that AT&T’s network might not be the primary suspect in the iPhone 4’s much reported signal woes.”

The problem isn’t so much the dropped calls – though those are often pointed to by Apple competitors like Google – it is the fact that Apple seems to have known about them and decided to issue the phone anyway.

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RIAA 2; Joel Tennebaum 0

Recently, Vice President Joe Biden said, “Piracy hurts.”  It certainly is hurting Joel Tenenbaum’s wallet.  This Boston University graduate student has made quite a name for himself in his struggle against the RIAA, or their struggle against him, as it may be.  About a year ago, a federal jury ordered that Tenenbaum pay the recording industry an incredible $675,000 for illegally downloading 30 songs when he was an undergrad.  The astonishing figure ignited a firestorm of protest, and just this week, another judge cut the fine to a tenth of the original figure.

Joel Tenenbaum was informed by the RIAA that he had infringed upon copyright protections by filesharing about five years ago.  This was when digital music was in its infancy, and he tried to claim that since legal download sites weren’t available then, he should not be held liable.  This defense was not accepted because the judge in his original case said he could have switched to a paid service when one became available.  The $675,000 fine imposed by the jury in that case seems downright paltry compared to the $4.5 million the RIAA originally demanded.

Of the original judgment, Tenenbaum had this to say:  “I believe a $675k judgment is not a just outcome.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built faulty levees which put a city underwater during [Hurricane] Katrina.  They were ordered to pay $700k to a dozen homeowners. I shared music that was available for 99 cents. Something is wrong here.”

US District Court Judge Nancy Gertner apparently agreed, at least somewhat.  She wrote in her decision, “The jury’s award in this case also appears egregious in light of the damages typically imposed on restaurants, bars, and other businesses that play copyrighted songs in their establishments without first acquiring the appropriate licenses.  I cannot conceive of any plausible rationale for the discrepancy between the level of damages imposed in pubic-performance cases and the damages awarded in this case.  The disparity strongly suggests that the jury’s $675,000 award is arbitrary and grossly excessive.”

Gertner ordered that the fine be reduced 90 percent to a mere $67,500.  According to the Huffington Post, she added that even this figure seemed to her to be “harsh” and more than she would have awarded herself (the fine was left to a jury to decide).

Tenenbaum reacted to the news by saying, “I don’t have $70,000, and $2000 per song still seems ridiculous in light of the fact that you can buy them for 99 cents on iTunes.”  His defense added, “We feel vindicated that judge Gertner agreed that $675,000 was an unconstitutional award. But it is only a step along the way toward recognizing the abusiveness of the RIAA’s litigation campaign. The next step is to demonstrate that Joel was denied a fair jury trial when Judge Gertner told the jury in her instructions that it could award an unconstitutionally excessive amount.”

The battle continues.

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Suspicious Activity in the App Store

“Yesterday my credit union contacted me saying there was suspicious activity on my debit card.  Sure enough over 10 transactions in the $40-$50 area all on iTunes equaling to $558.”  This is the report from one App store user after a bizarre jump in sales for a particular app author resulted in a host of fraudulent charges on legitimate accounts.  The iTunes bookstore has a top 50 list to help readers narrow down the selection and see what’s popular: of the top 50, 41 were by the same author, and they appeared to be of subpar quality.

CNET reports that some iTunes customers saw that they were being charged for purchases that had not, in fact, made.  This coincides with the inexplicable surge in popularity of what seem to be Vietnamese-written apps on the top paid US book apps list.  Most of the apps had no ratings or reviews, and the ones that did had negative comments, including those from customers whose accounts were hacked to buy the apps.

It is thought that the accounts were compromised and used to push these apps to the top of the list. Customers weren’t the only one getting a raw deal as a result of this black hat attempt to push rankings.  Patrick Thomson, QuickReader app developer, writes:

“It would appear that this publisher is hacking accounts and buying his own apps in order to drive up his rankings in the Books category.  This is having a negative impact on our apps, which are being pushed down in the rankings and losing visibility, plus it makes for a bad user experience.”

Legitimate developers were pushed off the top 50 list, losing a ton of exposure – and thus money.  Alexandru Brie, a Romanian developer, said his app, which had appeared on the top 50 list for over a year and a half had been bumped down.  He writes of the situation:

“I had hoped things would get back to normal thinking that, eventually, these weird apps would just go out of fashion.  There was a drop in sales, not only for me but for all the developers whose apps had been shifted by the 41 apps in question.”

This is the latest in a series of Apple flubs to make the news, and the inability to get these apps out of the store doesn’t reflect well on the tech giant.  It’s not great for app store customers either.  Make sure that you use a credit card instead of a debit card to get full fraud protection immediately or make sure your bank will contact you with suspicious activity on your debit card.

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Piracy Hurts

“Piracy hurts, it hurts our economy.  It hurts our health and safety.  We need to protect our citizens from unsafe products (such as) counterfeit pharmaceuticals.”  And pesky illegal music downloads. VP Joe Biden said this (aside from the “pesky illegal music downloads” part) as he released a 61-page plan to combat piracy of music, films, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other goods.  Biden announced that increased vigilance would be given to protecting intellectual property and to challenging countries that are notorious for harboring pirates or not doing enough to stop piracy (that’s you, China).

Biden had stronger words on the subject:  “Piracy is theft, clean and simple, it’s smash and grab.  Theft in every culture should be punished and intellectual property is no different…Whether we are talking about fake Kevlar vests…or a bolt that fails on an airplane engine, we cannot afford to purchase fake goods…Perhaps our greatest export…is America’s creative impulse…and criminals are working every day, every day to steal it.”

The plan calls for a “crack down” on pirated material here at home and was developed with input by the Departments of Justice, State, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, as well as the White House and the US Trade Representative’s Office.  The plan outlined over thirty recommendations to help combat piracy, including establishing an interagency committee whose job it would be to fight counterfeit drugs and medical devices.  New positions, including 50 new FBI agents, will work towards this goal, as well as going after rogue websites.  The plan also calls to “increase the number of criminal enforcement actions” against those who violate intellectual property rights.

The US plan also called out China specifically: almost eighty percent of seized fake goods come from China, said a US Customs and Border Protection report.  Coordinator of the intellectual property task force, Victoria Espinel, said, “We will initiate a comprehensive review of current efforts in support of US businesses that have difficult enforcing their intellectual property rights in overseas markets, with a particular focus on China.”

The plan was well-received by those in the entertainment industry, especially the hard-hit music industry.  MPAA president Bob Pisano said, “This plan is an important step forward in combating intellectual property theft and protecting the millions of jobs and businesses that rely so heavily on copyrights, patents and trademarks and help drive the American economy.”

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