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Oops, they did it again

CNET's Charles Cooper says the staged digital music protest--starring Britney Spears--sounds too much like a broken record. Also: News bits of the week.

Britney Spears speaks--sort of. Lending her (ghosted) voice to the recording industry's latest public relations offensive against digital file swapping, Bob Dole's favorite pin-up asks, "Would you go into a CD store and steal a CD?"

The good folks at the Recording Industry Association of America were responsible for this full-page advertisement, which was carried in newspapers across the country.

This is all starting to sound like a broken record, no pun intended. But it's too bad the music moguls seem hellbent on stereotyping this debate. Artists like Roger McGuinn or Janis Ian have offered sage advice on how to use the Internet to advance a music career. Their words are going to waste because the music industry is only interested in settling this mess on its own terms.

Memo to Hilary Rosen at the RIAA: I download music at home to try out new stuff all the time. Guess what? When I come across something I like, I buy the CD. Otherwise, I'm just likely to stick with Miles, Mozart and the other stuff I already know and like. Ignorance is bliss.

Elsewhere in cyberland--nobody asked me, but...

• Dewie, the e-turtle adopted by the folks at the Federal Trade Commission, is freaking me out. What's next--Don Rumsfeld co-starring with Zippy the Pinhead?

• Some of my brethren in the Fourth Estate are hyperventilating over the prospect of a world without editors, courtesy of the automated news feeds now being generated at Google. C'mon, get real. The Google news feed is an unwieldy smorgasbord of "content" that leaves the reader to hack through the brush to decide what's important and what's not. I understand why Google has ambitions to become more than a search engine. But it has a long way to go before anyone will confuse it with Yahoo.

• AOL says it will preview the second installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. If you don't think people will log on, you're missing the big picture. Content does matter. Make that the right content.

• Two of HP's top execs, Ann Livermore and Peter Blackmore, regaled a full house at Hyatt Rickey's in Palo Alto earlier in the week about life before and after the Hewlett-Packard-Compaq merger. It had to be tough on them because that mega-merger put their individual ambitions on ice for the foreseeable future. Both Livermore and Blackmore were considered CEO material. For Livermore, it was a double whammy as she was on the shortlist to succeed Lew Platt as CEO at the old HP but lost out to Carly Fiorina. Who knows, maybe each will still get a chance to be No. 1--but it won't be at HP.

• In this post-Enron, post-WorldCom, post-Global Crossing world of ours, what corporate board of sound mind would countenance anything that remotely sounded unkosher? But consider the following tidbit, courtesy of Oracle's latest proxy statement: Oracle has been leasing aircraft from a Larry Ellison-owned company called (get this) "Wing and a Prayer, Inc." All told, Oracle paid $519,000 to use the company's services in the last fiscal year. But not to fear. Management believes the bill was "at or below the market rate charged by third-party commercial charter companies for similar aircraft."

• Amazon got state regulators off its back by agreeing to clarify its privacy policy. This is called giving a little and getting a lot. Nothing huge is going to change. Amazon is only going to spell out the circumstances under which it might sell or share customer information. Considering how carefully Jeff Bezos has worked on rehabilitating the company's bruised image in the last year, I would have expected him to be more sensitive about an issue that makes customers' skin crawl.

• When it comes to predicting Michael Dell's downfall, the experts have a remarkable record of getting it wrong. In fact, the conventional wisdom about this former wunderkind and Dell Computer CEO has been wrong for as long as I can remember. Back in the 1980s, folks in the know believed only a handful of gear heads would ever buy computers over the phone. Consumers just had to have the service and support that only a computer dealer could offer. So much for that crystal ball. Dell has since trounced more-established rivals in each computer category it has entered in the last decade and a half. And if the past is prologue, then we should expect more of the same. But with his ambitions getting grander all the time, the question must be asked: Is Dell biting off more than he can chew?

3Com recently canceled a resale deal with Dell because the company is moving into the networking switch market. Cisco and HP similarly canceled their reseller agreements after learning of Dell's plans to enter their respective markets. A genius at commodity marketing, Dell's founder has the track record to believe he can pull it off again. Maybe he can. All the while, however, the naysayers are sharpening their knives, hoping that, finally, they'll be proven right.

• News flash: Al Gore still believes he invented the Internet.

• When the Patriot Act sped through Congress last year, critics warned it would grant the government unwarranted powers. Now the University of California at San Diego has ordered a student organization called the Che Caf? Collective to delete hyperlinks to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) Web site because that violates federal law. The letter sent by the school says the hyperlink violated a law that bans "providing material support to support terrorists." Just remember the words of Buffalo Springfield: Stop children, what's that sound? Everybody look what's goin' down?

• Ever since Microsoft disclosed earlier in the month that it had forgiven a $15 million loan to former company president Richard Belluzzo, e-mail pitches from someone identifying himself as the son of former Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha have been flooding my inbox. Word to Sani, Jr.: Dude, you've got the wrong guy!

• Speaking of Microsoft, the company is awaiting a decision any day by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on the proposed settlement with the Justice Department and nine of the 18 states involved in the antitrust lawsuit against the software maker. The nine holdout states want stiffer penalties, but Kollar-Kotelly will give the thumbs up. Why? Many reasons, but the clincher is that most everyone involved with this soap opera is just ready to move on. Bill Gates wins yet again.

• Happy newsbyte: Dave Winer of Userland Software, one of the Web's biggest bloggers, received a fairly upbeat prognosis in his first big checkup following bypass surgery earlier this year. Get well soon.

• Will Eric Keller spill his guts? The Feds want to talk with AOL's former No. 2 dealmaker in connection with a probe into funny accounting. Wanna bet he won't rat out David Colburn, his former boss and the obvious fall guy? There's a long list of people inside (and now outside) AOL Time Warner who would like nothing better than to pin all the company's troubles on Colburn. As one former insider told me: "Colburn? If he goes down, we'll hold a barbecue and host a toast in his honor."

So much for good vibes from the dot-com era.