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Music File Swapper Slapped With Million-Dollar Fine

If you haven't heard of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, she's the defendant in the very first music piracy legal case against an individual. The Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA) won the second of two trials against Thomas-Rasset, who was found guilty of willfully infringing copyright on 24 songs.

The minimum penalty per track according to the law is $750, and if found guilty, Thomas-Rasset would have had to pay a minimum total of $18,000. The first trial saw the jury find Thomas-Rasset guilty, making her obligated to pay $9,250 per track (a total penalty of $222,000). But the judge declared it a mistrial because he had given the jury incorrect instructions.

Back then, the jury found Thomas-Rasset guilty because of her inconsistent defenses. She had claimed that a file-sharing hack had hijacked her Wi-Fi connection, causing her to end up with the 24 tracks through the file-sharing medium Kazaa. This could have been a valid defense, but there was one problem with it -- she didn't have a Wi-Fi router.

The second trial had a different jury, but her defense was equally suspicious -- this time, Thomas-Rasset claimed that her children may have used her computer to file-share through Kazaa.

Rrriiight.

The prosecution later on presented the paper trail of evidence that led to her computer -- the MAC address of her cable modem and PC's Ethernet port were correctly identified. Her Kazaa username also gave her away. The deathblow probably came with the fact that she replaced her computer's hard drive -- and didn't tell this to the investigators.

The jury apparently realized she was lying, and were "angry about it." They went on to find her guilty and slap her a whopping $80,000 penalty per track, bringing the total fine to $1.92 million.

The story has touched off a nerve in the blogosphere. Mixed opinions, some venting anger at the jury while others claiming the fine sounded fair, are flying everywhere. But no matter what anyone says, it would seem that the RIAA is winning the war on music piracy.

Or is it?

Personally, I think the RIAA won't push to collect $1.92 from Thomas-Rasset -- it's more likely they'll offer to settle the case out of court. With the grassroots anger it'll stoke if it tried to collect, it might shoot itself in the foot and hamper their future campaigns against piracy. Let's wait and see.



Apple, As Expected, To Act On Palm Pre iTunes Issue

An unexpected perk that Palm Pre buyers found out over the past week was that Apple's iTunes recognized their new devices as iPods or iPhones, which meant they could sync their iTunes content with the Pre. I wrote about this a few days ago, mentioning that in the unlikely event that this loophole evades Apple's radar, Pre might be a buy worth considering.

Unfortunately, nothing escapes Apple's radar.

Apple basically issued an "enjoy it while you can" statement yesterday, reminding everyone that the company doesn't (and won't) support any non-Apple devices, and that the next update to iTunes may no longer recognize the Palm Pre or any other device as Apple products.

This naturally touched off a nerve among some Palm Pre users, who claimed that they have every right in the world to access their music -- and Apple would be in the wrong to deny them this access.

On the other hand, a majority sees the sense in Apple's move -- after all, it's their software, their devices, their ecosystem. Apple has every right in the world to tweak their creations in any way they see fit. Apparently two out of every three people in the tech world think this way, according to this CrunchGear poll.

At this point, you can pretty much bet that Apple is going to hold true to its word -- after all, it's done it before. Remember when Apple warned its users against using third-party hacks to jailbreak/unlock the iPhone? Sure enough, Apple came out with an iPhone update within a week, leaving owners of jailbroken/unlocked iPhones with $199 iBricks.

I doubt Apple will come out with an update that will leave Palm Pre users with Palm Bricks, but I'm just saying -- let's stay on the safe side of things.

The Weekend On Twitter, Google, Bing, and... Apple?

Twitter and other social media platforms were the site of countless e-riots and e-demonstrations over the weekend, particularly after the events of the Iranian election. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a shocking landslide election over his main rival, Mir Hossein Moussavi.

There was no doubt Ahmadinejad was a contender, but it was clear for most of the election that Moussavi was much more popular with the people. Moussavi had been touted to be Iran's Barack Obama, who, while not really pro-West, isn't exactly happy about how Ahmadinejad antagonized the rest of the world and tarnished Iran's image.

Social media followings of Moussavi on Facebook, Twitter, and other problems showed that he was head and shoulders above Ahmadinejad in online popularity. Moussavi's supporters (and much of the international community) raised eyebrows several days before the elections, when problems hounded the Internet, text messaging, and other media in Iran. These were the volumes where Moussavi's supporters made his campaign extremely successful.

Now that demonstrations in Iran are being quelled (Tweets about soldiers raiding university dorms, beating up students and firing teargas into demonstrations), Moussavi's supporters are turning to Twitter to tell the injustice to the rest of the world. As a result, demonstrations are erupting all over the world in solidarity with Moussavi's supporters and the rest of Iran.

It's clear that Iran's people aren't all fanatical supporters of Ahmadinejad as Iran's state-controlled media propaganda tells us. But as long as a small hole called Twitter exists in Iran's media steel curtain, there's always hope.


In other news, Twitter was also under the spotlight over the weekend -- although it was largely because of Google. The big guys at Google have openly expressed their awe at Twitter's real-time search capability in the past, and are now hinting at a microblogging feature in the near future.

No, they're not coming out with a new Twitter (they've already got Jaiku, remember? Or whatever's left of that "project"), but they're planning to incorporate relevant Tweets into search results soon. Kind of like Twootles, but with better, more relevant results. After all, while Twitter gives the fastest results, they're not always the best ones. Speed isn't worth much without accuracy.


Is Google afraid of Bing? Apparently not as much as some people think, but Microsoft's search share grew 2% last week since Bing came to the fore. Microsoft probably has something up its sleeve, but even those things don't scare Google. Let's wait and see.


I suppose the company that gets the most pressure from this whole thing is Apple. Why Apple? Simply because every time I read an article on the 'Net about Bing or any other Microsoft-related offering, the comments section is 99% always a rage board for those who think Apple is better than Microsoft and those who don't. With the ease with which Apple connects and keeps track with their followers, this furor should be hard to ignore.

Up Still On Top After Two Weeks

Pixar's "Up" opened to theaters last week to a massive reception, and very soundly proved those rats at Wall Street wrong. (If you remember correctly, I wrote about how the rats at Wall Street dismissed "Up" as commercially unviable. Now we know who's REALLY responsible for this recession.) Wrapping up its second week, "Up" is still on top.

There's no doubt that the hype building up towards "Up" for more than a year was instrumental in making it a huge hit. Pixar without a doubt produces the best digital animated features in Hollywood, and its long list of successes was sure to continue with "Up."

What's impressive about "Up" is that it doesn't rely on star power to rake in the big bucks -- it doesn't have Mike Myers ("Shrek") or Jack Black ("Kung Fu Panda") or Miley Cyrus ("Bolt") to headline the cast. What we have is a curmudgeonly old groan named Carl Fredricksen and an enthusiastic explorer, Russell -- an odd combination, but the magicians at Pixar definitely know what they're doing.

"Up" managed to keep this week's new entry "The Hangover" at bay, by a slim margin of less than a million dollars. "The Hangover" is an R-rated comedy about the craziest ever bachelor party -- which, for some reason, managed to draw in almost as many women moviegoers as men. Might be one worth seeing.

"Angels & Demons" is still doing remarkably well two months into its release -- it became the first movie in 2009 to break the $400 million mark worldwide. It's still looks to be the year's highest-grossing film to date -- although "Up" may have something to say about that in a few weeks.

The disappointments keep piling up, though. Will Ferrell's "Land Of The Lost" didn't do so well, as marked by poor box office revenues for the first week. I love the guy, but I guess this just wasn't the best movie for him.

Same goes for Sam Raimi's return to his horror roots. "Drag Me To Hell" did just that in the box office, making me wonder just what Sam intends to do for his next film. Spider-Man 4 is of course in the works, and unless they do something to set the movie apart from the first three snoozefests, I think Sam's going to be in a world of hurt.


So my picks for this week? "Up" and "Star Trek" if you haven't seen them yet (I'm sure you've seen Angels & Demons), and "The Hangover" if you're looking for a comedy that actually delivers.

Apple Unveils New iPhone, Stays On Top

All eyes in the tech and media industry were on San Francisco yesterday, as Apple held the Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC). As expected, some rumors were confirmed and others were quashed -- but while Apple fanboys would love what Steve Jobs and company has done with the new iPhone, other consumers may find the upgrades a little too catchy-uppy.

The new iPhone 3G S (the "S" stands for "speed," according to Apple's execs) is now out, touted as the fastest iPhone ever made. It'll come bundled with the iPhone OS 3, which is faster and more dependable than its previous versions. What's more, users will enjoy a nifty 3-megapixel camera (up from 2 megapixels on the previous iPhone), complete with face recognition and video capabilities.

(Yup, that's right -- iPhone users can now capture videos. Woo-errr... -hoo!)

The iPhone 3G S also came with other upgrades, but for the most part, they were all to keep the iPhone on top of the heap instead of bringing any game-breaking changes to the market. Other smartphones released almost a year ago already had 5-megapixel cameras with video capabilities, and some newer phones -- such as the Palm Pre -- already have operating systems fast enough to run more than one program at the same time.

But no matter how unflattering this article may sound to Apple and those who love their products, there's still no doubt that long lines will once again snake around city blocks leading to stores and shops selling it. One of the things Apple users will love with the new iPhone is its cost -- remember Apple's unbelievable decision to sell the 8GB iPhone 3G for $199, and the 16GB version for $299?

Well, it's topped that -- the new iPhone comes in a 16GB version that sells for $199. If you can spare another hundred dollars, you can get an iPhone with a whopping 32GB of memory. And if you've been on the edge about buying an iPhone 3G for the past 11 months, then here's your chance -- the second-generation iPhone will start selling at only $99 when the new iPhone hits store shelves next Friday.

Does the Palm Pre still have a chance?

Yes it does, actually -- it's still a bargain at $199, and I'm willing to bet that it's still faster and more reliable than the new iPhone. It also has the funny characteristic of registering as an iPod or iPhone when synced with iTunes. If the quirks at Apple's legal team don't catch this, it'll make things much easier for Pre users.

So even if the Pre doesn't have the ego boost of seeing long lines, it'll get by -- and like it -- with stores running short of Palm's smartphone.

Palm Pre Makes Its Debut

It's been a long time coming, but Palm's new smartphone, the Pre, finally made its debut in the United States last Saturday. It's been touted as the next, ho-hum, "iPhone killer," and it does hold several features that can give Apple a run for its money. But did the people believe the hype?

Only to a certain extent. No one expected the Pre to command those long lines of buyers that the iPhone 3G generated last year, but sales were definitely brisker than expected. Buyers didn't camp out, but many stores sold out all their Palm Pres before closing hour. It seems people really have been waiting for the Pre for a while.

The Pre has a more flexible software foundation, which is one of the sore points of the iPhone and other smartphones. If sales continue to be good over the next few months, it's probable that Palm will come up with even more innovative and useful tweaks to their OS, making the Pre even more  of an, ho-hum, "iPhone killer."

But I highly doubt Palm will break into the smartphone sales race just yet, especially since it's only tied to one carrier at the moment. It needs to expand commercially before it can hold a candle to the iPhone, so this is one issue I'll be watching over the next few weeks.

Palm isn't the only company that's hinging on the Pre's success. Sprint, the telecommunications company, has also been hurt by customer defections (Remember, Palm used to be the leader in handheld devices, too) and a damaged reputation, is leaning on the Pre's good performance for its survival. Think of all those people crossing their fingers!

The Pre's debut finally puts a long wait to an end, but I tend to wonder whether Palm waited too long to roll it out. Only a week from now, Apple is set to announce the next iPhone. Rumors are already flying around about what it's going to be like -- there's talk of a 4GB entry-level iPhone, and even a 32GB video iPhone.

If Apple rumors are enough to drown out the Palm Pre's release, you can pretty much bet Palm isn't out of the woods just yet.

Microsoft Bing vs Google Squared

Microsoft recently came out with their first ads for Bing, their new search engine. The first one poked fun on Google's use of keywords and such, likening the "search chaos" that results from keyword searches to the current worldwide economic chaos. I was like, "Oh, really."

I've tried Bing on several occasions, and so far it's been one big yawn. Sure, the Bing homepage has a nice view, but... there's not much else. What I can do on Bing, I can also do on Google -- only better.

I think Bing's main draw is the fact that it relies on open-source technology, and has a secondary server that searches only Wikipedia, which increases Bing's chances of coming up with more relevant results than Google. This may be great for hardcore researchers, but not for the remaining 99% of the web surfing population.

It doesn't help things that Bing's interface doesn't seem to be any different from Google's or any other search engine's. At first glance, it's just another cookie-cutter search engine. Bing's developers claim they'll be tweaking the interface to make Bing's strengths much more accessible. I hope they do it soon, because I've a feeling people are very quickly losing interest.

The move towards open-source technology is worth applauding, though, and just might be the (much needed) game-changer for Microsoft in the long run. I just hope they leverage the technology over the next few years to establish themselves as the company who sets the tone for others to follow, instead of being the one perennially playing catch up.

(Still, it's a funny move for Microsoft to rely on open-source and Wikipedia now, especially after trashing Linux and spending millions on MSN Encarta in the past.)

Right now, though, I'm infinitely more interested in yet another Beta project of Google's -- Google Squared. It's similar to the new search engine Wolfram Alpha, in the sense that it structures the search results in a spreadsheet layout.

I tried searching "smartphone" in Google Squared and got a spreadsheet of all the latest smartphones on the X-axis, and size, weight, description, and price on the Y-axis. It was smart enough to put the iPhone and the Blackberry at the top two spots. Very cool.

Google Squared's developers admit the technology isn't perfect yet, but will continue to improve. I saw what they meant when I searched "search engine" -- Yahoo! Search was #1, and Google #2. On the upside, Bing was nowhere to be found.


Google Wave -- The Next Big Thing?

Recent developments in the search and collaborative media industry has taken some of the luster from Google's image, especially when Twitter revealed where Google falls short -- real-time search results. And nope, no matter what you hear, Google isn't out to buy Twitter. Apparently it has other, much bigger things in mind.

Enter Google Wave, Google's next ambitious project. It's out to revolutionize the way we do things on the Internet, supposedly merging e-mail, blogging, file sharing, cloud computing, and other common social media activities into one single online application. It made mainstream news last week, and has everyone on the Internet buzzing about the possibilities.

After all, who hasn't thought about how cool it would be to rely on only one online application for everything they need to do on the Internet?

We've all been there -- a few years ago, we all faced the problem of whether to sign up for Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Skype, or any other chat/voice client to keep in touch with friends, family, and co-workers. Most of us had to sign up for more than one application, which led to frustrating PC slowdowns, forgotten passwords, and basically a hairload of hassles.

Today, we face a similar predicament -- social media. With so many social media platforms out there -- Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, you name it -- we're constantly pressed to sign up for every single one of them.

Apparently, Google's playing Internet god again by changing the way we do things. Google Wave isn't by any means ready for testing, but from what we've heard so far, all the chat clients and all the web-based e-mail providers and all the social media platforms will be in a world of hurt if it ever takes off.

Yup, that includes Twitter -- Google is working on providing near-real-time results for searches made on Wave. As a collaborative platform, that's entirely possible.

There's only one question -- wouldn't Google be cannibalizing itself with Wave? The new application overlaps the functions of Gmail and Google Docs, after all. I suppose it remains to be seen.

For now, it's a cool idea, and I'm not really worried because, well, it's freaking Google. On the other hand, if it were Microsoft...

Microsoft Gets Onto Google-Killer Bandwagon With Bing

There's no real doubt about Google's dominance of the search industry today. There's no real doubt, either, that many of the industry's big names are also out to snag the top spot from the Big G, coming out with widely-hyped "Google-killers" that fall flat on their faces mere weeks after their debut. Next up: Microsoft.

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled their new search engine, "Bing." This new search service replaces the largely-unsuccessful Live Search, which itself replaced the also-unsuccessful MSN Search. Bing, according to its creators, will eventually snag the synonym for "search" that Google has established many years ago.

Yup, apparently the guys at Microsoft see people saying, "Bing it!" in the near future. They claim that the name is easy to remember, is acceptable in all cultures, and ends in "-ing" -- which evidently means something to them. (The impact eludes me by a wide margin.)

I can't deny it -- I'm pretty skeptical about Microsoft's latest attempt to buff up its name in the computing world. I think 90% of the time for the past several years, Microsoft has been playing catch-up with the other big names in the computing world. After Apple changed the way we listen to music with the iPod, they came up with Zune. Years after Apple reached out to its customers with their retail stores, Microsoft opened their first retail store as well. And now this.

Is Google worried? Apparently not. Remember when Cuil first came out? It boasted of a much bigger index capacity than Google, and the Big G was quick to issue figures reiterating their dominance of the search world -- which was already something, since Google usually use their performance do all the talking.

Has Google said anything about Bing so far? Yup, but only two words: "No comment."

I'll keep a close eye on Bing over the next several days and see if it does anything worthy to be considered a "Google-killer" brand. For now, all I can do is poke at Microsoft for their seemingly bad way of naming their products. (Yup, it's truly FUN for me.)

#1 - Microsoft knows it can't hope to break into the smartphone market, so they've decided to stay with developing mobile phone operating systems -- a rare wise move on their part. But for goodness' sake -- why name it WinCE?

#2 - If searching on Google is "Googling," then searching on Bing is... "Bing?", "Binging?" "Binganizing"

#3 - With all of Vista's performance problems, it's now unflatteringly known as "Windoze." No surprise there.

#4 - One day after its release, Bing is already an unfortunate acronym -- "But It's Not Google."


Bad Start For Nokia's Ovi Store

Ever since Apple came out with the iPhone and the App Store, the other players in the mobile industry have been scrambling to play catch-up, hoping to salvage what little market share they could. What has happened since? Blackberry has its own version of the App Store and is doing quite well. Microsoft has one in the works, and has already moved into retail. Palm's survival is hinging on the success of the Pre.

What about Nokia? The Finnish mobile phone giant has enjoyed a sort of muted popularity over recent times, running a fairly close third behind Apple and RIM. The question that had dogged loyal Nokia followers was that why Nokia was taking so long in coming up with its own App Store, despite the fact that it has more than a few smartphones already in the market.

They had hoped that the recent opening of the Ovi Store -- yup, that's the Nokia App Store -- would finally swing things in their favor. But unfortunately enough, it got off on the wrong foot.

The Ovi Store's opening was plagued by slow performance, sign-in problems, and a rather thin selection of applications for download and purchase. Worse, the user interface was very much left wanting -- very confusing at best. Nokia has blamed the problems on an unexpected spike in traffic, but has apologized nonetheless and promised to add more servers to handle the volume.

I think it's only fair to give Nokia some time to take its baby steps with the Ovi Store, but for goodness' sake -- why did they take so long to come up with it, only to stumble and fall right off the bat? No one seems to remember any problems with the App Store openings of Apple and RIM. I can try to make excuses for a shoddy Day One for Nokia, but I can't promise I'll find any.

Oh wait, here's one. It's probably impossible to predict just how much traffic you'll get on Day One, so the slow performance is forgivable. But when it comes to the clunky user interface, there's no real excuse -- several months in the making, and this is the best that Nokia can come up with?

I've no doubt that quite a few people in Nokia will need to find new jobs soon, unless they come up with ways to improve the Ovi Store. This was meant to help Nokia catch up with everyone else in the smartphone business, but all it's doing is alienating its user base little by little.