Googlebomb the Polish president, go to jail

Don't mess with the Kaczynskis. The Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin Jaroslaw (who happens to be prime minister) aren't fans of being mocked. Fair enough. Most people aren't. But most people don't attempt to arrest those who mock them. HangZhou Night Net

Google Blogoscoped has a translated version of recent Polish newspaper accounts of Marek W., a young Pole from Cieszyn who apparently wrote some sort of "Googlebombing" software that targeted the Polish president. It was successful enough to return a link to the President's office when the word "kutas" (penis) was searched, but the authorities were not amused.

Marek was arrested earlier this year for the act, which may be illegal under Polish law (insulting the president is a crime). It may be one of the last major Googlebombing cases ever, though, as the company tweaked its algorithms to eliminate the practice.

It's not the first time that the power of the state has been brought to bear on those who mock the twins. Last summer, newspapers around the world buzzed with the news that Poland was attempting to arrest a German journalist who published a satirical piece about the two brothers.

The case was serious enough to prompt Reporters Without Borders to issue a statement calling the event "unworthy of a European head of state who supposedly respects freedom of the press."

Poland's laws might seem unduly restrictive to many observers, but the neighboring Czech Republic features freedom of speech so complete that it still extends to child porn. Amazingly, ownership of such images is allowed (though the government is looking into ways to change this), just as it is in Latvia, Slovenia, and Portugal. Surely, in both cases, there has to be a better way to balance rights and freedoms?

Sony execs answer questions on commerce and age-specific content in Home

Home is Sony's answer to Xbox Live, except instead of a text-only dashboard that integrates online sales and play into the system itself, Home is a completely separate virtual world where your avatar can explore the environment, hang out socially with other gamers,and organize multiplayer games. Imagine a sort of Second Life game with lesssex and more Warhawk, and you get the idea. ThreeSpeech's Steve Boxer talked to Jamie Macdonald, VP of Worldwide Studios, Paulina Bozek, Executive Producer of SingStar, and Peter Edward, Director of the PlayStation Home Platform Group, about Home and other aspects of PlayStation 3 online gaming. The entire interview was fascinating, but let's look at the highlights. HangZhou Night Net

There might not be a single release date for Home: "We want to scale up the numbers so we can get feedback from the users and find out how they’re using the service. And as the service grows and as we start bringing more people in, we’ll get more of an idea as to how they’re using it and build it up with them, rather than just going out there with a product that ticks all the right boxes."Sony hopesHome will pull in a wider audience: "…there are lots of other family-members and friends who might see [core gamers] using Home and think: 'That looks fun: I’m not normally the sort of person who would use a PS3, but let's have a go with it.'"They want to make money: "Sony is in it to make revenue from it, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. But there are revenue opportunities for everybody there, in the long-term. Obviously there’s advertising and sales revenue for us, even physical sales channels, going through other fulfilment channels for partners."Big Brother is looking out for you: "We can get a lot of information about the kind of user you are–your age, location and that kind of thing–so we can be pretty confident about knowing you are who you say you are. So we can protect you in that respect."Porn? Maybe not: "For instance, a casino or even somewhere you can go and see 18-rated trailers for games. That isn’t anything particularly sinister, but obviously, you’d have to prevent 12-year-olds going in there. Obviously, there are other 18-plus areas that you could imagine, but some of those might not come to fruition."

Keep in mind ThreeSpeech is one of Sony's own blogs, so the questions weren't that hard hitting, but there is a lot of information. Many companies have tried to turn virtual communities like Home into a way to sell things directly to consumers, but so far very few of them have taken off. Sony looks like it's in a good position to take a crack at the market, though.

Dutch police shut down DVD piracy plant

Dutch police raided an illegal DVD manufacturing plant in the Netherlands this week, resulting in the seizure of equipment and pirated discs, as well as the arrest of at least one individual. The large facility was capable of producing up to 900 DVDs per hour, said the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, and evidence suggests that the plant had previously been a legitimate DVD production plant that had gone bankrupt. HangZhou Night Net

Some of the presses seized by police were set up to make copies of movies like Die Hard 4.0, Ocean's Thirteen, Evan Almighty, and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer. Police also discovered pirated discs containing compilations of popular music, which they believe were part of a larger order for thousands of discs. Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN estimates that organized piracy such as this accounts for roughly 10 percent of physical piracy in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands don't exactly come to mind when you think of countries that have the worst reputations for mass-pirating music, movies, and software, but that doesn't mean that the IFPI is taking the raid lightly. "This raid shows that in 2007 physical piracy continues to damage the entertainment industries. Here we have a clandestine factory operating in a major western economy, producing huge volumes of product," IFPI CEO John Kennedy said in a statement. "This is not a petty crime, this is serious organised crime and it is important that the public understands that when they buy pirated products they are sending cash to organised criminals who are almost certainly involved in other areas of serious criminal activity."

The discs weren't sold through legitimate sales channels, said the IFPI, but rather by individuals on the street, at schools, and at workplaces. We're glad to see the IFPI going after real pirates—those who are attempting to make a profit off of the sale of copyrighted material. This is where the recording industry should focus its efforts, instead of on inflated online piracy numbers.

iTunes movie rentals round 2: 30 days, $2.99

Adding fuel to the fire that iTunes movie rentals and subscriptions might be on their way, CNN Money is tossing its hat into the rumor ring with a "report" that iTunes movie rentals may be coming "soon." Playing along with the idea again, this time around the rumor says the rentals could last for 30 days and cost a mere $2.99. HangZhou Night Net

While Netflix and Blockbuster users are likely trading smug replies as you read this, there is something to be said about the convenience of the Apple gadget universe across which these rentals could be compatible—not to mention the massive number of iTunes Store users Apple has at its disposal. It stands to reason that if these rentals are indeed in the works, users could automatically sync them to their iPods, iPhones and Apple TVs—a great way to breathe some new life into a good 1.0 gadget (or, in Jobs' own words: "hobby") that has yet to achieve its potential.

However, this is where our speculative rumor train ride stops (momentarily) because we don't have much more than a (Photoshop-able) screenshot to run with. It also doesn't help that Jobs has been notoriously outspoken against media subscription models in the past, but then again, he also said video on an iPod was a bad idea too.

Getting back on the train: If I had to take a stab at when we could see media rentals and subscriptions in the iTunes Store, I would wager Macworld '08. Apple has already whipped out an incredibly strong lineup of products for the upcoming holiday season, and a lack of subscription options doesn't seem to be hurting iTunes Store sales at the moment. After all, Apple will need something besides Office 2008 teasers or Leopard sales figures to wow the keynote audience with in January. What better way to do that than pulling a complete 180, bringing the not-quite-successful-yet digital rental and subscription models to the one audience that just might be able to give it some wings?

Nintendo remains dominant in this month’s NPD numbers

The August console and game sales numbers for the United States are in from the NPD Group, and while there are a few things worth remarking on, overall the trends we've seen since the beginning of the year continue. Nintendo is dominating the business, the Xbox 360 does well but unspectacular, and the Sony business is kept afloat by the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation Portable while the PlayStation 3 flounders. HangZhou Night Net

Nintendo

Hail to the king. Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the Wii is now the number one selling console in the world. This month the hardware sales stay steady with the Wii selling 403,600 units, and the Nintendo DS close behind with 383,200 units. That means in its lifetime the Nintendo Wii has sold 4 million units in the US, while the Nintendo DS has sold 12.7 million units.

Nintendo is also moving software at a brisk rate: Wii Play continues to sell amazingly well and takes the number five slot in software sales this month, while Metroid Prime 3: Corruption holds the number six slot, Mario Strikers: Charged has the number seven slot, and Mario Party 8 holds the number nine slot. It's good to be Nintendo. It has the two best-selling systems, and four of the top ten software slots for the month not only being held by games for their system, but by first-party games exclusively. It's hard to say how the company could possibly be more successful.

Microsoft

Microsoft has arguably the best selection of games in this generation so far and continues to move systems at a steady, if slightly stodgy, pace. The Xbox 360 sold 276,700 units this month, for a lifetime installed base of 6.3 million. To show just how far the tables are turning, this is the first time a non-Sony system has had the best sales numbers in the Madden franchise, as this month the 360 version Madden NFL 2008 is the best-selling console game, coming in at number one with 896,6000 units sold. Amazing. BioShock comes in at number 3 on the charts; the only other Xbox 360 game in the top ten.

Sony

Sony is still enjoying strong sales of its PlayStation 2 hardware; consumers bought 202,000 PS2s, giving the system an installed base of 39.1 million(!). The PlayStation Portable is also doing relatively well with 151,200 units sold this month, moving its installed base to 8.3 million units. The PlayStation 3 couldn't keep its sales momentum however, as sales dropped to 130,600 units this month, down from last month's 159,000. The system has a US installed base of 1.75 million units.

Sony may see a jump in its PSP business as the new, slim systems become readily available, although the TV-out cables for the hardware remain elusive. Sony needs a big hit for the PlayStation 3, and with Lair proving to be a disappointment, the next big software release, Heavenly Sword, has a lot riding on it.

Microsoft is of course going to see a boost in sales when the impossibly-hyped Halo 3 is released later this month, a game that has both sublime commercials and nearly tragic cash-ins associated with it.

Nintendo, as always, laughs from its huge pile of money.

Windows Update concerns stir tempest in a teacup

Over the past 24 hours, there's been something of a storm brewing regarding how Microsoft's Windows Update keeps itself up-to-date. First discussed in the Windows Secrets newsletter, it seems that regardless of whether or not you have Windows Update turned on, set to manual, or turned off entirely, certain files (different ones depending on whether you have Windows XP SP2 or Vista installed) are periodically updated. HangZhou Night Net

This was picked up by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet, and has since spread across the 'Net, typically with a flavor of "OMG EVIL" attached to it—though in all fairness and honesty, neither Adrian or Scott Duran at Windows Secrets portrayed the issue in such dramatic terms. Here at Ars, we've since spoken to a Microsoft representative on the issue, and received the following information:

The files that are being updated are part of the Windows Update client itself. Windows Update
automatically updates itself from time to time to ensure that it is running the most current technology, so
that it can check for updates and notify customers that new updates are available. This is normal behavior,
and it has worked this way since the service debuted several years ago.

This is not to suggest that we were as transparent as we could have been; to the contrary, we could have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself. We've received helpful and important feedback on this point, and we are now looking at the best way to clarify WU's behavior to customers so that they can more clearly understand how WU works.

That said, we continue to be confident that the choice to use Automatic Updating continues to be the best decision for many of our customers. Windows Update remains a popular service with our customers because it helps them stay safe and have confidence that they are running the latest software from us.

In short, the information uncovered by Windows Secrets is a system that's been in place for quite some time.
Speaking strictly for myself, I don't really see the issue here. While I dislike the idea of significant
covert updates/patches as much as any user, I can't honestly say I view this discovery as terribly significant,
and I don't have a problem with Microsoft patching the Windows Update patching system. If you're looking for
more information on the topic straight from the horse's mouth, I'd suggest reading the Microsoft Update Product
Team Blog entry on the topic, which contains more information on the issue.

Defendant: RIAA abusing courts to shore up “failing business model”

Another file-sharing defendant who says she has never installed or used file-sharing software is fighting back against the RIAA, accusing the music industry of waging war in the US court system to "shore up the American recording industry's failing business model." HangZhou Night Net

The action this time is in the US District Court for South Carolina, which is where Catherine Njuguna was sued by the RIAA for allegedly sharing tracks such as "Teenage Dirt Bag," "She F***** Hates Me," "That N*****'s Crazy," and "F*** You Softly" via KaZaA. According to a motion she recently filed, her explanations that she was in Oklahoma City on the day the RIAA's investigators reportedly discovered the shared music on KaZaA and that she only listened to contemporary Christian music fell on deaf ears at the industry's Settlement Support Center. In addition, the SSC turned down her requests to have her PC inspected for evidence of infringement, and the RIAA ultimately sued her after she refused to give into its settlement demands.

After the lawsuit was filed, Njuguna said she boxed up the PC reportedly used for infringement and purchased a new one. She then filed a series of counterclaims to the RIAA's lawsuit in an attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed and her name cleared. One of those accuses the record labels of failing to negotiate in good faith.

"The Plaintiffs/SSC have not honored their obligation and duty to negotiate in good faith and in a fair manner," argues Njugana. "They have advised an unrepresented client regarding her legal rights, sometimes incorrectly, and misled the Defendant in order to force her into a settlement that is a pure contract of adhesion, with unconscionable terms, at a cost that is extraordinarily excessive considering alleged loss of the Plaintiffs."

In its motion to dismiss Njugana's counterclaims, the RIAA argues that it owes no duty to negotiate in good faith to the defendant.

Njugana also accuses the RIAA of engaging in deceptive and unfair trade practices, arguing that the record labels have demonstrated repeated behavior that has an "adverse effect on the public interest." She also cites former RIAA defendant Tanya Andersen's lawsuit (which seeks class-action status) as evidence that, unless the courts step in at some point, the RIAA will continue its campaign.

If, like a handful of other former defendants, Njugana is exonerated by the courts, the RIAA could be looking at another malicious prosecution lawsuit like the one filed by Andersen. Yesterday, the RIAA asked an Oregon judge to dismiss Andersen's lawsuit, arguing that her accusations that the industry group violated state racketeering laws depend on "sweeping, conclusory statements about alleged attempts to coerce or extort money from her."

Court gives Qualcomm reprieve during appeal, will allow 3G phone imports

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit gave Qualcomm a break yesterday, putting a hold on a broad import ban on new 3G cell phone models that use a Qualcomm chip. The ban was put in place by the US International Trade Commission after it found that the chips in question infringed on patents held by Broadcom. HangZhou Night Net

The ITC's remedy was rather specific: it only barred the import of new handset models that contained the infringing chips, not phones currently being sold. Still, it set off alarms for handset manufacturers—including Kyocera, Samsung, Motorola, and LG, among others—that were concerned that their latest and greatest models would be barred from store shelves.

Some of the cellular carriers in the US have made an end-run around the patent infringement ruling by signing separate licensing agreements with Broadcom as the case has made its way through the appeals process. Verizon chose to go that route in July, paying a $6 royalty for each handset containing the Qualcomm chip, with a maximum annual payment of $50 million.

After the ITC ordered the import ban, Qualcomm asked the Bush administration to intervene and veto the ITC's action; last month, it declined to do so. Industry trade group CTIA also fought against the import ban, saying it would cause "enormous undue harm to tens of millions of American wireless consumers."

The dispute dates back to a lawsuit filed in June 2005. Not long after Broadcom filed the patent infringement lawsuit, it also filed a complaint with the ITC, which voted 4-2 last October to adopt an administrative law judge's finding that the Qualcomm 3G chips infringed on Broadcom's patents.

As the federal courts have become increasingly reluctant to issue permanent injunctions in patent infringement cases in the wake of eBay v. MercExchange, companies have shifted their attention to the ITC. Although the Trade Commission cannot award monetary damages, companies can initiate complaints that can result in products deemed to be infringing being barred from sale in the US.

With the ban blocked for now, Qualcomm said it will continue its fight to have the infringement finding overturned, but that looks like a long shot at this point.

Google calls for international privacy standards

Google will call for universal privacy standards today at a UNESCO conference in France. Google believes that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Privacy Framework could serve as the basis for harmonizing regulatory frameworks used by countries around the world. HangZhou Night Net

Complying with the broad assortment of disparate and potentially conflicting privacy laws already in place is a costly burden for businesses that use the Internet to operate globally. Streamlining those regulations and establishing global standards would certainly simplify the compliance process, but determining an adequate standard that balances the desires of law enforcement, consumers, and businesses around the globe will pose a challenge.

Google retains a tremendous amount of personal information that could be used for identity theft and all sorts of other nefariouspurposes if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Although some politicians are keen on legislation that would impose limits on data retention in order to protect consumer privacy, law enforcement agencies are insisting that data needs to be retained longer. Data retention duration is just one of many issues that will require some difficult compromises.

In July, Google competitors Microsoft and Ask.com collectively called for industry standards for search privacy. The approach taken by Microsoft and Ask.com seems to be market-oriented, whereas Google seemsmore interested in government standards.

Google's interest in creating new privacy standards may relate to the company's plan to acquire advertising company DoubleClick, a deal that is viewed with concern and hostility by privacy advocates. Establishing strong privacy standards could reassure consumers and lawmakers who might otherwise want to block the DoubleClick acquisition.

Google's chief privacy officer Peter Fleischer denies that DoubleClick is a factor in this effort, though. "People look to us to show some leadership and be constructive," Fleischer told the Associated Press. "To be effective, privacy laws need to go global…But for those laws to be observed and effective, a realistic set of standards must emerge. It is absolutely imperative that these standards are aligned to today's commercial realities and political needs, but they must also reflect technological realities."

Fleischer also said that he has been discussing the prospect of international privacy standards with Microsoft, Yahoo, and European government representatives.

The success of an international privacy standards initiative will depend on support from many stakeholders, and Google's plan may prove too ambitious. Regardless of whether or not Google's plan succeeds, competition in the search and web services space willhopefully continue to promote big improvements in company privacy policies, even without a worldwide agreement.