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11 posts from June 2005

Grokster, Cable and The Supreme Court

I’m still trying to determine the likely results of two Supreme Court decisions today on P2P file sharing and the cable industry. Although I initially worried about the Grokster loss on the former, I’m more puzzled by the decision on the latter…

OK, so Grokster loses and all P2P systems are now considered guilty until proven innocent. Maybe. I’ve been following a Grokster Roundtable on The Wall Street Journal’s website (subscription required). John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and co-author of a brief that supported Grokster’s position had this to say:

Imagine you're the entrepreneur in your garage: can you figure out whether your new killer application will violate copyright's secondary liability rules? If not, you'll call your lawyer. Will she be able to tell you? My hope is that future courts will set the bar high, relying upon plain text readings of words like "purposeful" and "clear."

In other words, scare tactics on this front today will (hopefully) be offset by reasonable interpretation of this ruling's intent in the future. What sort of safeguards can a P2P file-sharing tool vendor put into the program to prevent, or at least discourage, illegal activities? The first one to find an answer to that question is likely to become the new industry leader, don’t you think?

How about the other technology ruling, the one about protecting cable companies and their broadband interests? The analogy often referred to is the one years ago when the phone companies had to lease their lines to competitors, resulting in intense competition, broader consumer choices and lower prices. What was so bad about that?! I’m dreaming of the day when I can tell my cable company I’m switching to another broadband provider. Instead, I’m stuck with them because I don’t want to switch to DSL just to get a lower monthly rate for a limited period of time. Why can’t we introduce true competition here and let the best company/plan win?


E-books and online accessible content have both been popular topics on this blog. While I wait for the perfect platform and device to arrive, I thought I would take a closer look at one of the more popular existing solutions: Books24x7.

Books24x7 has an impressive array of online content offerings for anyone in IT, engineering, sales, marketing and more. Unlike pure e-books which are delivered to you as a large file (e.g., PDF, Microsoft Reader, etc.), Books24x7 hosts the content online and you access it via your browser. They render the content using their own engine and present one small piece of a chapter at a time on screen. The platform supports full search and bookmarks, as well as the ability to annotate your bookmarks, a nice way to leave yourself a note for follow-up or later reference.

A typical subscription to one of the Books24x7 programs costs $399 per year, but corporate site license discounts are also available. New content and programs are constantly being offered. In fact, Book24x7 is about to launch a new program for our WROX line – watch for this one in late July…

If you’re not familiar with Books24x7, you should visit their site and sign up for a free trial membership.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Books24x7 is an important partner of my employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

Podcasting and New Music

I’m almost a week into experimenting with podcast downloads to my MP3 player. Although I have yet to find a tool that’s perfectly suited to my needs, I’m finding that even a manual loading process (from website to MP3 player) is pretty simple. More importantly, there’s loads of great content out there to choose from…

My favorite so far? The Rock Show from The Podcast Network. How can I not love a program with a tagline that plays off one of my favorite Spinal Tap moments (“This show goes to eleven”)?! Every week your host, Ewan Spence, plays the six most interesting, new songs from all the ones he’s recently received from up-and-coming bands. The result is a half hour of new, good, commercial-free music with minimal DJ introductions.

My colleague Jim Minatel likes to say that ever since I got my MP3 player I’ll never have to listen to any music made after 1979. Well, aside from the fact that very little good music has been made since then, I almost fell into that trap. Thanks to The Rock Show, I can listen to great new music every week without having to listen to those lousy DJ’s and annoying commercials. Oh, and did I mention that I haven’t listened to the radio for almost an entire month now? How did I survive before buying this MP3 player?!…

Author Tip: The Non-Compete Clause

Most publishing contracts include language to prevent the author from writing a similar book for a competing publisher. The language undoubtedly differs from publisher to publisher, but the intent is the same.

The language used is often very broad and general. Authors sometimes interpret this as the publisher trying to prevent the author from writing magazine articles or speaking at conferences on the subject. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both of those activities are likely to result in promotional opportunities for the book – publishers love that, of course.

If you, the author, feel the language is too broad, talk to your editor. Your editor probably has the ability to fine-tune the language so that the non-compete is very specific and more limited. For example, if you’re writing an entry-level tutorial on Visual Basic, the language could be tailored to allow you to write books on other aspects of Visual Basic. Your editor will probably want you to bring those future proposals to him/her, but if they build a good relationship with you that’s likely to happen anyway.

One other point about non-compete language: Authors sometimes ask why it doesn’t “cut both ways”… Shouldn’t publishers be obligated to not publish books that compete with ones they’ve already published? Sure. It only makes good business sense, especially in this challenging market. I’ve certainly been guilty of publishing too many books on the same topic for the same audience – I’m always trying to improve here, but I admit that it still happens from time to time.

Here is perhaps the most important part of this post: Before you ever sign that publishing agreement with your editor, ask them what other books they’re planning on this topic, how are they different from your book, etc. As a partner in this venture, you have a right to know what the full publishing list looks like. If the answer is vague or you feel there’s at least one other book that’s pretty close to yours, you might want to consider signing with another publisher.

iRiver AFT 100 Mobile FM Transmitter

After much searching and disappointment, I finally found a great FM transmitter for my MP3 player. I started out with a cheap-o, battery-powered unit I bought at Target. It only cost me $17 but it was a waste of money. It was one of those with 4 presets for the lower end of the FM dial. Sure, it worked every so often, but it faded in and out and sometimes had more static than a bad phone connection.

While searching for a better alternative, one of the clerk’s at Fry’s suggested I try the iRiver model. Great choice. I’ve had it now for a couple of weeks and I have zero complaints. There are three reasons why I love this thing:

  1. It doesn’t run on batteries. I was constantly replacing batteries in the cheap-o transmitter and always wondering if the weak signal was the result of fading power. This one plugs right into the cigarette lighter and has a cord long enough for any vehicle.
  2. It lets you use any FM frequency, not just the lower end of the dial. Can’t get a clear signal at 88.1? Try 93.7, or 98.5, or any other FM frequency. It also has 3 presets so you can lock down the ones that work best.
  3. As Steely Dan said, “No static at all”. OK, I’ve heard static once or twice over the past couple of weeks, but 99% of the time it’s crystal clear.

I haven’t listened to an FM radio station since sometime in May. With 3,400+ MP3’s to choose from and the iRiver FM transmitter for the car, I might never have to listen to “Bob & Tom” or any of those other knuckleheads again!