Week in review: Swapping on the ropes

Recent court activity suggests that illegal song swapping may be facing its swan song.

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.
Steven Musil
5 min read
Recent court activity suggests that illegal song swapping may be facing its swan song.

A Chicago woman who downloaded songs for free from the Kazaa file-sharing network violated copyright law and has been ordered to pay a $22,500 fine to the record labels. In what appears to be the first U.S. case of its kind, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Cecilia Gonzalez's arguments that she was merely "sampling" downloaded music to see which CDs she might want to purchase and that her sampling was protected under copyright law's "fair use" exception.

Gonzalez's claim that "she obtained 'only 30'--or 'only 1,300'--copyrighted songs is no more relevant than a thief's contention that he shoplifted 'only 30' compact discs, planning to listen to them at home and pay later for any he liked," the court said.

Meanwhile, the masterminds behind Kazaa could face time behind bars in Australia after the record industry initiated contempt of court proceedings, claiming an earlier ruling wasn't adhered to. Record companies allege that Sharman Networks, the owner of Kazaa, didn't comply with an Australian Federal Court order to modify the software to ensure 3,000 keywords would be filtered by Dec. 5.

However, the judge in the case did not appear to be in a big hurry to put Kazaa's owners in jail.

"Contempt proceedings are fairly rare in this court and I've never yet sent anyone to jail," Justice Murray Wilcox said in the Federal Court in Sydney. "I've threatened to a few times, but there's always a first I suppose."

The number of United States households that swap music illegally online has dropped significantly since the Supreme Court's summer ruling against peer-to-peer software companies.

However, the number of actual music files being traded has stayed high, indicating that the most active downloaders remain online. The drop of 11 percent--from June, when an estimated 6.4 million households downloaded at least one music file, to October, when 5.7 million households downloaded at least one file--seems to show that the entertainment industry's campaign against file swapping is gaining momentum.

New voices in online music
While the record industry goes after illegal downloads, new players are raising their voices in the legal download arena.

Social-networking site MySpace's growing role as a powerful force in the music business is sparking followers that are offering broader features for bands and music fans in hopes of attracting the giant's audience. Relative newcomer TagWorld launched its own music ambitions with the support of a core group of popular indie rock groups, including The Shins and Death Cab For Cutie.

Like MySpace, TagWorld offers a home for bands to post songs and connect directly to fans. But TagWorld is hoping that its design attracts viewers more specifically interested in exploring and listening to music.

Social-networking rival Friendster itself struck a deal with peer-to-peer multimedia-sharing service Grouper Networks several months ago, aiming to add music and video to its portfolio.

Google dived in with a new service intended to give searchers fast links to song lyrics, musical artists and CD titles on the main search results page. Google Music will allow a person to type in the name of a band, artist, album or song in the main Google search bar, and results will appear at the top, accompanied by icons of music notes, said Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google.

Items that can be purchased will have links to merchants for online ordering or downloading, she said. Initial merchant partners include Apple Computer's iTunes service, RealNetworks Rhapsody, eMusic and Amazon.com.

Meanwhile, after promising to launch a digital music service for several years, MTV said it is close to releasing an online music mart that will throw it into competition with

iTunes and Napster. Although offering few details, the company said it has worked closely with Microsoft to build a service called Urge that will let listeners experiment with new music, as well as offer "original, hand-crafted content" from MTV and its other cable channels.

The company's anticipated entry into the music business could help shake up dynamics that have long favored Apple. MTV first announced that it would enter the digital music market in late 2003, not long after Apple launched the first version of its iTunes store for Windows.

On the Hill
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a Republican-backed proposal to extend and modify the Patriot Act, clearing the way for a high-stakes battle in the Senate.

In a vote that largely fell along party lines, House members approved legislation that would renew the portions of the Patriot Act that expire on Dec. 31 and require the FBI to file additional reports with Congress on how the law's surveillance powers have been used. A Senate vote is expected next week.

A bipartisan band of senators, however, has warned that the bill approved by the House does not include sufficient curbs on police power that would protect Americans' civil liberties. In a bid to buy extra negotiating time, they've suggested a three-month extension as an alternative.

Sixteen portions of the massive law, including ones relating to electronic and Internet surveillance, expire on Dec. 31. The majority will stay in effect unless repealed.

The Federal Trade Commission would gain expanded policing powers and could share information about spammers and other miscreants with foreign governments under a bill approved by a U.S. Senate panel. Intended by its sponsors to help combat such menaces as spam, spyware and telemarketing fraud carried out on international turf, the bill would allow the FTC to collaborate with foreign law enforcement agencies and swap information on a reciprocal basis.

As the Wikipedia turns
The Wikipedia took another twist when the identity was revealed of the prankster who posted an inaccurate article on the online encyclopedia.

Brian Chase, an employee at a Tennessee delivery company, admitted he is the perpetrator of the false Wikipedia article that linked a former journalist to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Chase confessed to the deed after discovering that the media and Wikipedia Watch founder Daniel Brandt were hot on his tail.

In the days after the scandal came to light, Brandt, a San Antonio, Texas, book indexer, set out to find the author by following clues about the IP address of the computer used to post the article.

CNET News.com tracked down Brandt, picking his brain about why he got involved in the search for Chase and why he thinks Wikipedia is flawed.

However, a study published in the journal Nature, found that Wikipedia is almost as good a source of accurate information as Britannica, the venerable standard-bearer of facts about the world around us. For its study, Nature chose articles from both sites in a wide range of topics and sent them to what it called "relevant" field experts for peer review.

In the end, the journal found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.

Also of note
Microsoft told employees that it has split its entertainment and devices division into four distinct business units...The Department of Homeland Security Agency is grappling with crashes and incompatible computers...Taiwan's Quanta, the biggest manufacturer of notebooks in the world, has signed on to the $100 laptop project.