Week in review: Pixar heads to Disneyland

Steve Jobs' high-flying animation studio becomes full-fledged member of Walt Disney's entertainment empire.

Steven Musil
Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
5 min read
Two years after an acrimonious rift opened between the companies, Disney and Pixar patched up their differences--and it only cost Disney $7.4 billion.

The merger, which puts Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs on Disney's board of directors, is a bet on Pixar's digital approach as the successor to the pen-and-ink industry popularized by Walt Disney. The purchase is also the latest indication of a tectonic collision between technology and Hollywood.

Pixar and Disney have had a long history together, though the recent past has been rocky. Pixar has had an uninterrupted string of hit features with "Toy Story," "Toy Story 2," "A Bug's Life," "Monsters Inc.," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." Disney has distributed all of them.

However, talks to extend the deal turned sour, with allegations flying back and forth between Jobs, who is also Pixar's CEO, and Disney's then-CEO Michael Eisner.

The deal is sure to shake up Hollywood and place Jobs in one of the most powerful positions in the movie business. But it also raises questions for movie fans who have flocked to Pixar films and who are now worried that the company's unique vision might be diluted.

Jobs' entry into the entertainment business came in 1986, when the 30-year-old former head of Apple Computer bought into Pixar, shortly after being pushed out of the computer company he had co-founded. In 1991, Pixar signed its first three-feature-film deal with Disney, a relationship that Jobs said at the time had been a "dream" since 1986.

The first fruit of that deal was 1995's "Toy Story," which grossed more than $350 million worldwide and opened movie audiences' eyes to a new kind of 3D animation. On the strength of that debut, Pixar went public in late 1995, making Jobs a billionaire.

However, left mostly unsaid throughout the merger celebrations was exactly how Jobs would balance his new role as board member at Disney and his job as chief executive of Apple.

As Apple has moved into video distribution--using Disney content as its first centerpiece--those two companies' fates have become increasingly entwined. Some corporate-governance experts say that puts Jobs in a deeply uncomfortable position, particularly as Apple and its rivals seek to distribute Disney and Pixar films online.

Google in the hot seat
Google launched new versions of its search and news Web sites in China that censor material deemed objectionable to authorities there, reasoning that people getting limited access to content is better than none. Google said the new local site would include notes at the bottom of results pages that disclose when content has been removed.

"Google.cn will comply with local Chinese laws and regulations," Google said in a statement. "In deciding how best to approach the Chinese--or any--market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interest of users, expand access to information and respond to local conditions."

Google is not the only U.S. search firm targeted with complaints about censorship in China. Earlier this month, Microsoft admitted removing the blog of an outspoken Chinese journalist from its MSN Spaces site, citing its policy of adhering to local laws. Last June, Microsoft acknowledged censoring words like "freedom" and "democracy" from its Chinese MSN portal site.

Many CNET News.com readers expressed outrage at the move by Google.

"This is morally reprehensible, and demonstrates an appalling lack of civic leadership by the principles of Google and these other companies," Brad Aisa wrote in CNET's TalkBack forum.

However, Google's new China search engine not only censors many Web sites that question the Chinese government, but it goes further than similar services from Microsoft and Yahoo by targeting

teen pregnancy, homosexuality, dating, beer and jokes. In addition, despite a promise to inform users when their search results are censored, the company frequently filters out sites without revealing that it's doing so.

Some of the blackballing appeared to be a mistake. The University of Pennsylvania's entire engineering school server--which hosted one Falun Gong site--was blocked from Google's Google.cn China site. So was an Essex County Web site, which sports the word "sex"--as in "Essex"--in its domain name. Google.cn also doesn't display search.msn.com to someone who's hunting for the rival Microsoft service.

Wireless warning
The prospect of a widescale shutdown of the BlackBerry mobile e-mail service is closer to becoming reality, as the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request to review a major patent infringement ruling against BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. The court rejected a petition by RIM to review a federal appeals court ruling that could lead to a shutdown of most U.S. BlackBerry sales and service.

NTP filed a patent infringement lawsuit against RIM in 2001. The company won the case, and in 2003, U.S. District Judge James Spencer granted an injunction against RIM to halt U.S. sales of the BlackBerry device and its service. Spencer stayed the injunction, pending RIM's appeals. Last August, an appeals court upheld the patent infringement claims but scaled back the ruling against RIM.

A hearing on a possible injunction shutting down most U.S. sales and service of the BlackBerry e-mail device has been scheduled for Feb. 24.

Should NTP prevail in its patent-infringement case against RIM, it will force a shutdown of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail system. Consumers and companies addicted to their "CrackBerrys" would have to go cold turkey off their wireless e-mail or invest time and money in a new provider.

Numerous legal analysts believe that RIM won't risk the customer and investor wrath that could accompany the loss of BlackBerry service in the U.S. Many expect a settlement with NTP that gives RIM the right to continue selling devices and software in exchange for a hefty fee that will almost certainly top the $450 million settlement that was tentatively agreed to last March but later collapsed.

In another court, at least two companies accused of selling the billing records of T-Mobile cell phone customers over the Internet have been ordered to stop their practices.

A Superior Court judge in Washington state granted a temporary restraining order against Data Find Solutions, 1st Source Information Specialists, and related companies and individuals to force them to stop obtaining and selling T-Mobile customer information. The ruling was in response to a T-Mobile lawsuit against these companies and their owners Monday.

T-Mobile said Data Find Solutions and 1st Source Information Specialists ran or owned Web sites such as Locatecell.com and Celltolls.com, which have been selling phone records and billing information of T-Mobile customers.

Also of note
A Japanese Internet empire is on the verge of collapse after its founder and other top executives were arrested on charges of securities fraud...Businesses have been warned to brace themselves for a possible traffic spike next week caused by the Kama Sutra worm...Sony cut its line of robotic Aibo dogs, along with another, more expensive, humanoid robot called the Qrio, which was never sold as a product...Hiding confidential information with black marks works on printed copy, but not with electronic documents, the National Security Agency warned. ..Microsoft is falling behind in meeting certain obligations under its antitrust agreement with the U.S. government, the Bush administration said.