Now RIAA wants Universities to get campus wide Napster subscription or “lose all federal financial aid”

ImageWhy am I angry? The new Higher Education Bill (HEA §494) requires that the Universities stop all P2P downloads that RIAA doesn’t like AND buy Napster or Rhapsody subscriptions for every student on the campus or lose all federal financial aid.

I am an IP attorney; I understand copyright laws way too well. I know what RIAA is trying to do here; these tactics are underhanded and really infuriate me.

RIAA has been phenomenally successfully in using the copyright laws to prosecute selected students at various Universities - sort of like a sniper attack on a select few. Now they want to go nuclear - they want to cut off federal financial aid to the University, if the University doesn’t effectively police the P2P downloads.

The massive Higher Education bill is about 750 pages, (or you can view just the relevant Sections 487 and 494 here, if you prefer). The Section 494, titled “CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION”, in its simplified version, says the following.

Sec. 494 Each eligible institution participating in the federal aid program shall:

  • provide annual disclosure/warnings to the students applying for or receiving financial aid, stating that:
    • P2P file sharing may subject them to civil and criminal liability;
    • summary of penalty for violation of copyright laws;
    • University’s policy of disciplinary action for using university’s IT for unauthorized downloads; and
    • the actions that the University takes to detect such activities;
  • develop plans for offering alternative to illegal downloading or P2P distribution; and
  • develop plans to deter illegal downloading.

copyright_policeEssentially, this means that the Universities will have to become the Copyright cops. Additionally, the Universities will have no choice but to provide some sort of subscription service for music and videos to ALL students. What are the options that are out there? Campus wide Napster or Rhapsody subscription? Either that, or risk losing the financial aid.

What really bothers me is that the copyright holders (essentially RIAA and MPAA) are private parties - why are they being given these extraordinary powers?

Next, MPAA would go to the federal government and say “there are a lot of bootleg copies of movies being sold in downtown LA. In the Highway funding bill, please add an amendment - City of Los Angeles has to provide an alternative to these cheap DVDs, and No more highway funding for LA until they fix the DVD bootlegging problem.” That’s exactly what RIAA and MPAA are doing to the Universities.

This is like Visa going to the University and saying that “a lot of students are not paying their bills on time. Mr. Dean of the University, you have to make sure that nobody is late in their payment, and if they can’t pay on time, you should make the minimum payment on their behalf. And if you don’t, we will take away all financial aid for the University!” How absurd is that!

William Patry, senior Copyright Counsel to Google and the author of highly regarded 7 volume treatises on copyright has this to say:

With these efforts to deprive universities of federal funds, it is difficult to conclude there is a low beyond which content owners will not go. What’s next, an amendment to Sarbanes Oxley that requires the CEO of companies to certify no employee infringes copyright? Or, how about a requirement that before we can receive U.S. mail, each of us has to certify to the Post Office that we don’t infringe copyright?…The concept that the federal government will use coercive force through unrelated laws to enforce the rights of private individuals more than capable of enforcing their own rights is unprecedented, unnecessary, and unprincipled.

Ars Technica has been following this closely. RIAA tried to pull something similar in July when it black listed 25 Universities and colleges and sponsored an amendment to the Education bill that would keep all education funds hostage until the copyright violations were corrected. That amendment died a quiet death.

The Association of American Universities (AAU) has let its displeasure be known. Last week, in a letter to Rep. Miller, AAU urged the legislators to remove the P2P provision (Sec. 494) in the Higher Education bill.

The proposal would mandate a completely inappropriate role for the Secretary of Education to single out individual institutions based on information under the control of the entertainment industry, force institutions to seek an unachievable goal of preventing illegal P2P file sharing, and risk the loss of student aid for countless students innocent of any illegal file sharing activity.

ImageI have no issues with RIAA and MPAA aggressively enforcing their rights, but don’t jeopardize financial aid to the University or to a student who has personally done nothing wrong, just because it is convenient for RIAA and MPAA to do so.

The bill is being cosponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA) email, and Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) ( he prefers not to provide his email address, if you want to fill out the form to send online message click here; select Compose own letter at the bottom). His phone number is (202) 225-2531.

GOOG-411’s “Biddy-Biddy-Boop” sound - amusing but wished the service worked better

ImageGigaOm has an interesting article about the origin of the sound “biddy-biddy-boop” that one hears during a call to Goog-411. It is a fetch sound played while the system pretends to look for the information that you requested.

Byrne and his team wanted something “different than an over-produced jingle,�? he said. “We wanted slightly playful, within Google branding experience, and not corny.�?

And as many of the Google products, the sound is a bit amusing.

Here is the mp3 of the Biddy-Biddy-Boop sound, if you haven’t heard it before. It is indeed playful, quirky and amusing when you hear it for the first time.

Chances are you won’t have to hear it too many times - the Goog-411 leaves a lot to be desired. If the same product was released by Microsoft, people would jump over it and insult it all day long, but since it is from God Google, the most people (including me) would say about it is that “it needs a lot of improvement”. Since the chances of getting the right results are not so high, you might as well get entertained by listening to biddy-biddy-boop sound while calling the number.

By the way, Google says it records and collects all voice commands, in addition to the phone number called from, time of the call and content of the call.

ImageTry Microsoft’s Tellme (call-411) instead, really, it is better.

Here are some more free 411 services

1-800-411-METRO (1-800-411-6387)
1-800-yellowpages (1-800-935-5697)
1-800-goog-411 (1-800-466-4411)
1-800-call-411 ( 1-800-225-5411)

Tags: goog-411, fetch sound, biddy biddy boop, tellme, free 411

Slifter - Find products on the go, but why?

Corner LogoNew York-based GPShopper announced on Nov. 8th that they have received an undisclosed amount of Series A funding. The round was led by Allen & Company LLC and Affiliates. The company is an aggregator of real-time product inventory data from national and local retailers.

SlifterGPSHopper’s primary product is Slifter, a mobile-app which allows people to search stores near their area to find out if a product they want is in-stock. The user’s location is either determined automatically on GPS-enabled phones or by manually inputting a zip code. The mobile version of the service, which is also available on their website, costs $1.99/mo.

Am I the only one that doesn’t recognize under exactly what circumstances this product will be useful? Here’s one out of only two scenarios I can imagine when I would use Slifter: while I’m driving, I suddenly remember that a new video game/console was released that morning, so I boot up Slifter to see if any Best Buys or Gamestops aren’t sold out of it yet. That’s it. And the chances of that happening are slim-to-none. This highlights an important requirement in order for Slifter to be useful — the product you’re searching for needs to have a high chance of being sold out. Otherwise, you wouldn’t consider searching, you’d just go to the nearest store and pick it up.

That’s why Slifter doesn’t make sense to me. Generally, consumers must have high awareness about the release of a product in order for that product to be at risk of selling out. It then follows that if a consumer is aware of the release date for something he or she really wants, they will do all their in-stock searching on their computer before they leave the house. This makes a lot more sense then driving around waiting for Slifter to ping you. Unless you’re caught off guard like in my above scenario, I don’t see any reason to utilize this, especially for a monthly charge (even though it’s only $2).

The other scenario I can envision that Slifter would come in handy is if you’re a parent on the look-out for a sold out toy around Christmas season (think Tickle Me Elmo), so you do a daily search on Slifter while you’re out running errands. There is some value here. But how many times per year does your average consumer experience this scenario? Maybe once? Again, the monthly fee doesn’t make sense here.

However, maybe I’m wrongSlifter claims that over one million people use the service every month. If you’re one of them, please comment below and tell me when/why.


Measuring Facebook penetration: every 5th Canadian is on Facebook!


This is amazing! I just came across a post at Robwebb2k where he used Facebook’s Flyer Pro advertising platform (now Facebook Ads) to find some interesting statistics about Facebook’s reach.

He ran some numbers to see which countries were most saturated with Facebook’s +48M users. The winners:


The penetration in Canada has reached an absolutely unbelievable 22%. Every 5th Canadian is on Facebook and every 10th person in UK is a Facebook user.

The European numbers look very healthy too, Norway with 19%, UK with 11% and Sweden with 10%.

If you further modify the figures by noting that the computer penetration in Canada is about 70%, then the Facebook penetration numbers are even more staggering. It means that in Canada, every third person who has a computer is a member of Facebook. Similarly, for India the above table shows a dismal 0.02%, but if you modify it by noting that the internet-connected computer penetration in India is about 9M subscribers, then the participation rate is about 3%, which is very respectable for such a large country. (In fact, I would go even further and argue that the applications like Facebook are Broadband applications and one should really compare the numbers with the broadband penetration.)

OK, see you on Facebook.


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