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Wired for Security

Meanwhile, wireless Internet access is helping bloggers and reporters post real-time updates during the event. A new WiFi hot spot has been set up to service Pennsylvania Avenue, CNET's News.com reported. Inaugural event goers can "check e-mail and update blogs from Pennsylvania Avenue, thanks to a new Wi-Fi hot spot. A nonprofit community group called the Open Park Project is providing the free service this week in what its founders describe as an exercise in wireless democracy."
CNET's News.com: WiFi Helps Blogs Tune In To Bush Inauguration

Open Park chief technology officer Leo Cloutier told TechWeb.com that the free Inauguration Wi-Fi service will let participants send commentary about the event as it is happening.
TechWeb.com via InformationWeek: One Big Wi-Fi Hot Spot Set Up For Inauguration

_____Filter Archive_____
Filter's Farewell (washingtonpost.com, Jan 21, 2005)
For Techs, Are Happy Days Here Again? (washingtonpost.com, Jan 19, 2005)
Video Game Dream Team (washingtonpost.com, Jan 18, 2005)
A Failing Upgrade for the FBI (washingtonpost.com, Jan 14, 2005)
New Year's Hacks (washingtonpost.com, Jan 13, 2005)
More Past Issues

Inauguration Humor

The creative minds behind the online JibJab parodies have produced a special edition cartoon for the inauguration. It can be found on their site and is called "Second Term."

Filter In Review: Digital Dragnet

The Recording Industry Association of America should be best known for the music stars it represents. But over the past half decade, it has instead been ingrained in the public's eye as the lead cop in an aggressive campaign to squelch the illegal swapping of copyrighted songs and movies over the Internet.

I don't advocate file-swapping, even if the "everyone's doing it" mantra makes it easier for some to justify. But at the same time it's hard to endorse the recording industry's heavy-handed (and largely ineffective) tactics to protect copyrights. The RIAA's strategy of slapping individual file-swappers with lawsuits (including targeting a few grandparents and children) hasn't stopped the problem. Sure, some small-time offenders have been scared off. But just like the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign of the 1980s, the RIAA's "don't file share" message and its endless lawsuits may have had the unintended effect of stoking the file-sharing black market.

A study released in November by a group of California professors found that P2P use is still flourishing. "P2P traffic represents a significant amount of Internet traffic and is likely to continue to grow in the future, RIAA behavior notwithstanding," the authors concluded. A survey released this month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that half of the respondents thought anonymous, free file-sharing will still be easy to do a decade from now. I noted a different Pew study in Filter last month, which found that many artists don't see online file swapping as a threat, even if they think the practice should be illegal.

If a war is being fought, the entertainment industry is losing.

So what can the RIAA do differently? For starters, it needs to be a trend spotter to help artists maximize profits. When Napster launched in the 1990s, it was clear that there was an appetite for trading music online, but the music industry missed the boat entirely. The RIAA and its allies helped shutter Napster (there's now a paid version operating under new management), but that didn't stop consumers' appetite for file-sharing.

Yes, the "free" nature of much that is traded on P2P sites is a big lure for consumers. But there's more to it than that. The RIAA and its Capitol Hill supporters failed to realize early on that music fans wanted an alternative to buying traditional CDs. The industry should have long ago helped music labels put songs online, offered free samples and let consumers create customized CDs.

That's finally happening now that the music industry is partnering with pay-for-play sites run by the likes of Apple, RealNetworks and Microsoft. But are these outlets enough in the age of the iPod? In a February 2003 column, I noted a challenge that still rings true: "[i]nsiders know that the industry faces perhaps the biggest economic challenge ever – figuring out how to profit from selling music online while at the same time thwarting the illegal sharing of copyrighted material." Napster creator Shawn Fanning's newest venture, SnoCap, aims to let copyright holders set the price and use of their work. The music industry appears to be supporting Fanning's experiment.

But the RIAA (and its Hollywood lobbying counterpart, the Motion Picture Association of America) is focused on getting Congress and the courts to clamp down on digital piracy. The entertainment lobbies want the U.S. Supreme Court to take their side in a case against two popular file-sharing sites. And the industry tried to get Congress to pass a draconian anti-piracy law called the INDUCE Act last year. It didn't go through, but that doesn't mean it won't be passed by the current Congress. Just last week, a California lawmaker introduced a bill to make it a crime to sell peer-to-peer software that enables copyright infringement. It's worth watching to see if other states follow suit.

I hope the music industry won't continue to tune out consumers and many of the artists it represents in its myopic approach to fighting file-swapping. At the same time, iTunes and other legitimate services hint at a future where music fans, artists, the record labels and movie studios are all winners.

Check out my other Filter reviews at the end of my recent columns. I've surveyed blogs, Google and cyber-security. The final Filter column runs tomorrow.

Filter launched in Aug. 2002. The column is ending its run on Jan. 21. Send feedback, praise and darts alike to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com. (Spammers still love to blast my e-mail address.)


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