Mar 31, 2009

Google: free, legal music downloads in China (huh?)

Let me get this right: the four majors have agreed to their precious fulltrack content being distributed for free without any DRM? In China, of all places?

Whatever happened to "music isn't free", blah blah blah? Of course, Google must have signed a few fat checks, but still... I don't think anything of this scale has happened so far: over 300k songs from day 1, to be increased to over 1 million.

Now, please let's hear the majors explain why the rest of the world should keep paying for the same content.

Here's the article from Wired.

"Because it’s only fair not to pay for something you haven’t heard yet"

Torrent site mininova has added a new feature allowing record labels to promote and sell physical goods (CDs, merchandising, concert tickets) on a torrent page.

Here's an example. Free digital music and reasonable prices for good looking CDs. Isn't this cool? Let's hope other indie labels join in.

Mar 26, 2009

Internet access 'equivalent to schooling', EU Parliament says

A report adopted today by the EU Parliament (481 for, 252 against) states that having access to the Internet is "equivalent to ensuring that all citizens have access to schooling", and that this access should not be denied by governments or private companies. More information by La Quadrature du Net here.

This is yet another refusal of the three-strikes policy. The fight goes on!

Does Metallica need a record label? Ulrich says 'no'

According to the Los Angeles Times (full article):

Metallica was in Austin last week for a not-so-secret show at the South by Southwest music festival designed to promote a new edition of the video game Guitar Hero, due out this month. But the band's outspoken drummer, Lars Ulrich, took the opportunity to set the record straight on key issues facing the group, including its relationship with its longtime label Warner Music Group and the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger.

Metallica's 2008 release "Death Magnetic" was the last the group contractually owed to Warner, and Ulrich said he's ready to consult with another famously anti-corporate artist, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, about surviving outside the major-label system.

When asked if the band needed a major label, Ulrich, despite being surrounded by Warner reps, didn't mince words. "Without offending any of the good people from the record company in the room, no," Ulrich said. "Let's cut to the chase. . . . The primary -- not the only, but the primary -- function of a record label is to act as a bank. When you're fortunate enough to be successful and so on, you don't need to rely on record companies as the banks. . . .

"We're doing a bunch of shows with Trent this summer in Europe. I look forward to sitting down and talking to him about what's on his radar."

Metallica going DIY would be a major event, but given how innovative the band has been in recent years, it would hardly be surprising.

Metallica does not need marketing or promotion (which are/should be primary functions of a record label) : they've built a very strong image, a huge fan base and all the Internet attention they need.

And oh, their last record just sold 1.57 million copies in the US (that's #7 album for 2008).

I say: go for it guys :)

Mar 25, 2009

Clouds, clouds, clouds

Amazon just released a free Eclipse plug-in which "makes it easier for developers to develop, deploy, and debug Java applications using Amazon Web Services". And with Ubuntu 9.10 on the horizon, claiming to make it "easy for anybody to setup their own cloud using entirely open tools", there's no end in sight for this raging cloudmania.

Old farts like me will remember that John Gage said about 20 years ago that the network is the computer, but ok, long live the cloud, yeehaa.

Until the next trend... Can you spell SOA? Suddenly Out of Appeal? ;)

Mar 23, 2009

Three-strike policy bites the dust in NZ!

According to TorrentFreak, the New Zealand governement has decided to postpone the application of the controversial "three-strikes" policy, which was supposed to come into force on March 27.

Says Minister for Commerce, Simon Power: “Allowing [it] to come into force in its current format would not be appropriate given the level of uncertainty around its operation”.

Well done, kiwis! Let's hope it's scrapped for good. This is great news and encouragement for all Internet users worldwide who oppose this stupid, narrow-minded and authoritarian approach.

Mar 16, 2009

Vodafone, Saturn dump DRM

Vodafone announced last week that by this summer, its mobile music stores would mostly offer DRM-free MP3 tracks: this should happen first in Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain and New Zealand, with more territories to follow. Agreements have been signed for this purpose with Universal, Sony and EMI.

In a similar well-inspired move, German e-retailer Saturn is now offering its 5 million tracks in MP3 format. Ganz wunderbar! ;)

Anything happening in France? No? Oh sorry, did I interrupt your lobbying?

Has the battle begun?

A few weeks ago, the IFPI website was hacked to protest the Pirate Bay trial. This week-end, French hackers have allegedly brought down ("I love artists").

This website was launched by the government to show how much artists love the HADOPI law, how brilliant the "three strikes" concept is, blah blah blah (you say "informational", I say "propaganda"). This site has been under attack from day one, but the Ministry of Culture ignored the threat : "the site is bullet-proof", "they can always try", etc. Oops.

If governments worldwide insist on forcing these laws down the throat of Internet users, they should get prepared for a crash course (pun intended) on how powerful online collaboration can be. There are plenty of guys in a garage who'll be happy to help.

Mar 14, 2009

Mar 12, 2009

Artists strike back (not what you think!)

Everyone kind of expected it and here it is.

"The Featured Artists' Coalition campaigns for the protection of performers' and musicians' rights. We want all artists to have more control of their music and a much fairer share of the profits it generates in the digital age. We speak with one voice to help artists strike a new bargain with record companies, digital distributors and others, and are campaigning for specific changes".

The coalition includes major acts, such as Radiohead, Travis, Robbie Williams and Iron Maiden (\m/).

So what's worse? Losing some potential sales to piracy? Or not getting paid your due on real sales?

Naughty, naughty. Who are the pirates NOW?

Mar 10, 2009

It's official: French Minister of Culture has lost it

In a video interview given to French daily newspaper 20 minutes, Mrs Albanel, the French Minister of Culture shares her own personal view (word for word translation by me):

"We are the champions of illegal downloads because we are well-equipped. In France, broadband seems normal, but in most other countries, you don't have broadband. You have a limited number of gigabytes. And we also have DSL".

WTF is she talking about? I don't know if I should laugh or cry.

Yesterday, her own staff called citizen association La Quadrature du Net - who is leading the charge against the HADOPI law - "5 guys in a garage sending chain e-mails".

This is a disgrace to democracy. Resign. NOW.

iTunes gift cards hacked

Kudos to for breaking out the story: basically, it looks like Chinese crackers are now able to generate iTunes vouchers redeemable on the iTunes Music Store.

Unsurprisingly, these vouchers are sold online in China (look for yourself). In case you're wondering how long it will take for these to show up on Ebay, here's the answer.

How's that for a security leak? Very, very bad.

ffmpeg 0.5 released


"This release includes a very extensive number of changes, but some of the highlights are:

  • Significant work to support at least decoding of all widespread mainstream proprietary codecs, such as:
    • decoders and encoders
      • ALAC
      • Flash Screen Video
      • WMAv2 decoder fixed, WMAv1/v2 encoder
    • decoders
      • Atrac3
      • MLP/TrueHD
      • On2 VP3 improvements and VP5/VP6 support
      • RealAudio Cooker and fixes for 14.4 and 28.8
      • RealVideo RV30/40
      • WMV3/WMV9/VC-1 and IntraX8 frame support for WMV2/VC-1
  • Broad coverage of widespread non-proprietary codecs, including:
    • decoders and encoders
      • DNxHD
      • DVCPRO50 (a.k.a. DV50)
      • Floating point PCM
      • GSM-MS
      • Theora (and encoding via libtheora)
      • Vorbis
    • decoders
      • AAC with ADTS support and >2x the speed of FAAD! (no HE AAC support yet)
      • AC-3 that is faster than liba52 in 5.1, up to 2x faster in stereo and also supports E-AC-3! Hence liba52 is now obsolete.
      • DCA
      • DVCPRO HD (a.k.a. DV100)
      • H.264 PAFF and CQM support, plus slice-based multithreaded decoding
      • Monkey's Audio
      • MPEG-2 video support for intra VLC and 4:2:2
      • Musepack
      • QCELP
      • Shorten
      • True Audio (TTA)
      • Wavpack including hybrid mode support
  • Highlights among the newly supported container formats:
    • demuxers and muxers
      • GXF
      • MXF
    • demuxers
      • NullSoft Video (NSV)
    • muxers
      • iPhone/iPod compatibility for MP4/MOV
      • Matroska
      • NUT
      • Ogg (FLAC, Theora and Vorbis only)
      • ShockWave Flash (SWF)
  • libavdevice
  • ffserver is working again.
  • a shiny, new, completely revamped, non-recursive build system
  • cleaner, more consistent code
  • an all new metadata API
  • and so much more!"
Here are the release notes, the changelog and the source package. Building is straightforward ('configure', 'make', 'make install'), but you will miss a number of popular formats.

If you'd like more extensive format coverage, please refer to this popular tutorial which also supports (as listed by 'ffmpeg -formats'):
D      libdc1394       dc1394 v.1 A/V grab
DE libnut nut format
D vqf Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) TwinVQ
D x11grab X11grab
DEA ac3 ATSC A/52A (AC-3)
D A eac3 ATSC A/52B (AC-3, E-AC-3)
DEA libamr_nb libamr-nb Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR) Narrow-Band
DEA libamr_wb libamr-wb Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR) Wide-Band
EA libfaac libfaac AAC (Advanced Audio Codec)
D A libfaad libfaad AAC (Advanced Audio Codec)
DEA libgsm libgsm GSM
DEA libgsm_ms libgsm GSM Microsoft variant
EA libmp3lame libmp3lame MP3 (MPEG audio layer 3)
DEV libschroedinger libschroedinger Dirac 2.2
EV libtheora libtheora Theora
EA libvorbis libvorbis Vorbis
EV libx264 libx264 H.264 / AVC / MPEG-4 AVC / MPEG-4 part 10
EV libxvid libxvidcore MPEG-4 part 2

Mar 9, 2009

U.S. cybersecurity czar resigns, blames NSA

According to Network World, Rod Beckstrom, director of the National Cybersecurity Center, has resigned his position effective March 13, complaining about the large role of the National Security Agency (NSA) in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Appointed less than a year ago by President Bush, M. Beckstrom is a successful entrepreneur, who has co-authored "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations", which advocates that "decentralized organizations (...) are made up of many smaller units capable of operating, growing and multiplying independently of each other, making it very difficult for a rival force to control or defeat them".

Interesting theory, which does undeniably work for spec ops, terrorist groups... and P2P trackers, LOL. But how could this ever be successful in a bureaucratic, control-obsessed environment? What was this guy thinking when he took the job?

Says M. Beckstrom about his resignation: "the threats to our democratic processes are significant if all top level government network security and monitoring are handled by any one organization, either directly or indirectly".

Aw, come on Rod, no government would ever, ever spy their own people... right?

Seriously, although I never bought into conspiracy theories and all that cr#p, I do believe in good intentions gone wrong (not to mention bad ones)... and so should you IMHO: why not take the red pill and read the EFF's Surveillance Self-Defense page?

Now, if only I could find that tin foil hat... ;)

OMG, your neighbor is a pirate (and so are you)

A poll published today by French newspaper Metro sheds some light on the percentage of people over 18 who have either illegally downloaded or used material from the Internet:
  • 26% of the general population
  • 37% of occasional Internet users
  • 45% of daily Internet users
And for people 18 to 24, the percentage is 64%...

This is similar to polls asking people if they're cheating on taxes or on their partner (I do neither, BTW!) : one can only assume that these figures are under-valued.

As of now, there are about 34 million Internet users in France, roughly half of which download illegal content. Interestingly, this is similar to the number of French drivers. In recent years, the government has deployed hundreds of automated speed traps, in an effort to reduce the death toll on roads & highways. Although annoying, they do work and they save thousand of lives.

Is this what the government has in mind to stop piracy? Automated detection on majors Internet hubs (ISP, telcos, peering points, etc)? Maybe, although there are a few differences:
  • drunk downloading never killed anyone (except bad music)
  • faking your IP address is easier than altering your license plate,
  • borrowing a network connection is easier than stealing a car,
  • hiding in traffic is easier on the Internet than on the highway,
  • authorities can only watch roads they know (re: darknets, etc)
Millions of people may be wrong... but stopping them is going to be challenging.

And there could be a lot of political leverage on this issue, especially with younger voters. Elections for the European Parliament are coming, let's see if any of our brilliant politicians is clever enough to figure it out :)

Adobe e-book DRM broken

The DRM scheme used by Adobe to protect PDF e-books has been reverse-engineered. Details have been posted here.

Look Ma, I'm "aiding and abetting" and I'm a criminal now :)

Mar 6, 2009

Brick-and-mortar music retailers are dying. Fast.

Tower Records, HMV, several Virgin Megastores in the US... and now the Bastille store of leading French retailer FNAC. This music-only store must have been hit even harder, I guess.

I have to admit I buy most of my CDs and DVDs online. Why? Much wider selection (especially given my unconventional music tastes), better prices, 24/7 shopping, etc.

Both Virgin and FNAC have online music stores in France ( &, which I must say I'm not a fan of - mostly because their catalog doesn't do justice to my favorites genres and artists. Not to mention Microsoft's WMA format (yuck) and the lingering stench of DRM (barf!). In this respect, the digital service offered by Amazon UK is much more exciting.

Virgin and FNAC would be well inspired to watch and learn, before launch a similar service (do it, do it).

Mar 3, 2009

Pirate Bay trial: the defense speaks

TorrentFreak has the full story (thanks for the GREAT coverage, guys), but I just want to repost the closing statement by Per Samuelson, lawyer for Carl Lundström. I feel this is the best summary possible, not only for the Pirate Bay trial, but also for P2P in general.

"Per E Samuelson opened by saying that during the case the Prosecution missed the main key point - Is The Pirate Bay legal or not? He said that all four defendants should be acquitted since the Prosecution failed to issue individual charges as is required in a criminal case. Everything the Prosecution has described has been about the operations of TPB as a whole, not the individuals.

He went on to say that TPB was not unique and it has a lot in common with many other sites, which makes the judgment in this case very important, maybe of entire EU significance. Samuelson said the service provided by TPB is a legal one but due to the ‘blind’ nature of the site, it can be open to misuse and any such activity is carried out by the site’s users, not the defendants.

Echoing comments by Peter Althin, Samuelson said that when new technology appears it can be difficult to “see the wood for the trees”. He said that just because something may have been used by people for illicit purposes, should that mean that there should be an attack on the infrastructure as a result? It’s like taking legal action against car manufacturers for the problems experienced on the roads, he said.

While stressing that operations at TPB are entirely legal, Samuelson said that there had been a lot of politics involved in the trial and he urged everyone in the Court to try to ignore these aspects.

Turning to the allegations that his defendant assisted others in committing crimes, Samuelson said that there had to be a recorded major crime in the first instance. He said it seems that no-one is aware of when any alleged offenses were committed and furthermore, no-one knows who committed them. There can be no charge of aiding and abetting when the accused have had no contact and do not even know the person who committed an offense."

The verdict is expected on April 17.

All technology is dual-use and P2P is no exception. Yes, piracy is an issue and it needs to be addressed. However, IMHO, the #1 question isn't "how can it be stopped?" (because it can't). I think it is "can the music & entertainment industry invent new, reasonably priced, desirable products that people want to pay for?".

Come on people, you're supposed to be the creative ones. Surprise us!

VirtualBox 2.1.4 released

VirtualBox is available for Windows, OS X, Solaris and is also pre-packaged for all major Linux distributions. 2.1.4 is a maintenance release, fixing a large number of issues on all hosts. No reason not to upgrade :)

FWIW, I recently installed Office 2007 (need it at work, yuck) on my Windows XP image. Runs just fine. No crash, no slowdown. Isn't it funny that Windows works better with virtualization software than natively?

Amendment 138 dies hard!

As the Telecoms Package is being prepared for its second reading at the EU Parliament, the Quadrature du Net reports that the now famous Amendment 138 - believed to be a privacy safeguard - is back... although it's now referred to as Amendment 46.

In recent months, this amendment has been attacked by a number of member states, most notably France, for standing in the way of the so-called "graduated response" aka the "three strikes policy".

It's definitely good news, although some other parts of the Telecoms Package are still problematic. Read the full analysis here.

Mar 2, 2009

Pirate Bay trial: prosecutor wants jail time

Day 10 of the Pirate Bay trial. Today, the prosecution gave their closing statements and asked the judge to sentence all defendants to one year in jail.

Yes, you read that right. 1 year in jail. What for, exactly? Sharing .torrent files???

Defense closing statements will take place tomorrow. I guess they are expected to reach far beyond the Pirate Bay case, and maybe become a P2P manifesto for the years to come?

Regardless of the outcome, this is history in the making, and it will have a significant impact of the future of the Internet.

Mobile web traffic increases, iPhone dominates

Says Mediametrie, a leading audience measurement company in France (translated from a french report):
  • From January 2008 to January 2009, the number of web hits coming from mobile phones have been multiplied by 4.
  • However, mobile hits still only account for 0.45% of total hits.
  • The iPod Touch and the iPhone account for 68% of this year-to-year growth, and for 55% of all mobile hits.
So, although it's growing very fast, mobile surfing is still really marginal. Anyone who's actually tried it can understand why :) The iPhone is a game-changer, as it can (at last) deliver a pleasant user experience to web addicts... but not everyone owns an iPhone.

Where is the competition? Pretty much nowhere, according the February stats published by Net Applications: the iPhone rakes in 66.6% market share (the devil's work, for sure), with Java, Windows Symbian far behind (all under 10%). Interestingly, Android phones are already showing up at 6%, so maybe they'll bring up the fight to Apple in the next months...

Two new trailers for 'Guitar Hero: Metallica'

After the first trailer and the tracklist, we finally get to see the game itself, including many song snippets, the Metallica characters... and a couple of (in)famous guests: Lemmy (Motörhead) and King Diamond (King Diamong, Mercyful Fate) !