Monday, January 28, 2008

Qtrax music service delays debut

CANNES, France (AP) -- A distributor of Internet file-swapping software has abruptly postponed the launch of its free online music service until it can finalize music licensing deals.

Qtrax says it will offer more than 25,000,000 songs available for free.

Qtrax omitted that detail when it threw a star-studded coming-out party over the weekend.
The ambitious, ad-supported music service promised unlimited music downloads with the blessing of the major recording companies.
But that claim began to unravel just hours before Qtrax's scheduled debut Monday when Warner Music Group issued a statement that it had not authorized the firm to distribute its artists' music.
Universal Music Group and EMI Group PLC later confirmed they did not have licensing deals in place with Qtrax, noting discussions were still ongoing. A call to Sony BMG Music Entertainment was not immediately returned.
Qtrax's president, Allan Klepfisz, says the launch of the service will be put off "for a short time." He also maintained that the service had the support of "rightsholders."
Qtrax did not provides users with the codes needed to download music through its software, but it says users were still able to use other features built into the application, including browsing the Internet and playing media files.
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Qtrax Web site
The development marked an inauspicious start for Qtrax, the latest online music venture counting on the lure of free music to draw in music fans and on advertising to pay the bills, namely record company licensing fees.
The service was among several peer-to-peer file-sharing applications that emerged following the shutdown of Napster, the pioneer service that enabled millions to illegally copy songs stored in other music fans' computers.
Qtrax shut down after a few months following its 2002 launch to avoid potential legal trouble.
The company said it latest version of the service still lets users tap into file-sharing networks to search for music. Downloads however come with copy-protection technology known as digital-rights management, or DRM, to prevent users from burning copies to a CD and calculate how to divvy up advertising sales with labels.
Qtrax downloads can be stored indefinitely on PCs and transferred onto portable music players, however.
The company also promises that its music downloads will be playable on Apple Inc.'s iPods and Macintosh computers until April 15. That's unusual, as iPods only playback unrestricted MP3s files or tracks with Apple's proprietary version of DRM, dubbed FairPlay.
In an earlier interview, Klepfisz declined to give specifics on how Qtrax will make its audio files compatible with Apple devices, but noted that "Apple has nothing to do with it."
Apple has been resistant in the past to license FairPlay to other online music retailers. That stance has effectively limited iPod users to loading up their players with tracks purchased from Apple's iTunes Music Store, or MP3s ripped from CDs or bought from vendors such as eMusic or
Phone and e-mail messages left for Apple on Sunday night were not immediately returned.
Rob Enderle, technology analyst at the San Jose-based Enderle Group, said he expects Apple would take steps to block Qtrax files from working on iPods.
Last fall, the company issued a software update for its iPhones that created problems for units modified by owners so they would work with a cellular carrier other than AT&T Inc. As a result, some modified phones ceased to work after the software update.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Energy, wealth and wildlife: Wyoming looks for harmony

PINEDALE, Wyoming (CNN) -- Call it modern horse-trading. Balancing the nation's energy needs with its interests in protecting wildlife and habitats.

The practice is playing out in Wyoming, where energy companies pumped 2.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the ground last year -- produced in 20 of the state's 23 counties. That's enough gas to heat every home in Michigan for seven years.
And good-paying jobs, public works projects and money for higher education have benefited Wyoming.
But there's a trade-off: Wildlife populations are taking a hit.
Populations of the West's iconic mule deer are down where drilling is prevalent; the sage grouse, a bird which conservationists consider a harbinger of how other wildlife are faring, has seen adult populations plunge near gas rig sites.
If grouse aren't surviving, biologists say, that means bad news for animals like antelope, bighorn sheep and pygmy rabbits.
Five years ago, there were about 10,000 wells spread across Wyoming. By the end of 2007, the federal Bureau of Land Management estimates that 30,000 wells will be pumping natural gas. Watch a bird's eye view of a natural gas field »
Companies such as Shell, EnCana, BP and Questar operate the rigs.
"The West is the last unexploited frontier for gas reserves in the U.S.," said Fadel Gheit, an Oppenheimer and Co. senior energy analyst. "Market prices are skyrocketing. We've drilled the Gulf of Mexico down to Swiss cheese."
But Gheit concedes, "It's not good for the environment, no question."
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On a June morning, standing in the middle of one of Wyoming's largest gas fields, Brian Rutledge, a wildlife biologist and the executive director of the Audubon Society of Wyoming, surveys acres of endless sage brush and rigs in the distance.
"These lands are some of the last vestiges of the American West we have, home to hundreds of species who won't survive if their habitat is fragmented by rigs," he said. "Once it's gone, it's gone. A boom goes bust eventually."
"We have to ask ourselves, 'Is getting cheaper gas now worth the future cost to the land?' "
Recent studies have shown the sage grouse and mule deer are in jeopardy, their habitat hurt by gas drilling, biologists say. Power lines are convenient places for raptors and other grouse predators to perch. Rigs sit on sagebrush, the grouse's primary food source. And loud activity disrupts the grouse's mating rituals.
Mule deer are down by 42 percent in areas where drilling is prevalent, according to a 2006 study conducted by independent ecologists and biologists and paid for by gas corporation Questar.
Gas corporations are required to perform wildlife analysis of lands where they intend to drill. Between 2001 and 2005, University of Montana biologist David Naugle attached radio collars to birds in and outside gas fields in northeast Wyoming.
He found as much as an 80 percent reduction in adult birds inside the Powder River Basin, a hot spot of gas production.
Matt Holloran performed his doctoral thesis at the University of Wyoming on the effect of gas drilling on the grouse on the Pinedale Anticline.
"It's getting worse over time," said Holloran, now a senior ecologist with a private conservation firm.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opted not to classify the bird as endangered in 2005. But a representative said the recent numbers are alarming and the agency may move to reassess the decision. See a sample of endangered species around the country »
So concerned by the grouse's dwindling numbers, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal called a summit on the bird last month, drawing hundreds of conservationists, scientists and gas industry executives.
"We have a bull's-eye on our back," Freudenthal said. "I see it as an imbalance. The BLM has one objective and that is drilling. It wasn't always this way. There used to be some concern for habitat preservation, and I'm worried that's gone out the door."
Freudenthal's comments were echoed in more than 90,000 letters the public submitted to the BLM in June objecting to the agency's plan to allow 8,000 more gas wells on 1.6 million acres in a field near Pinedale.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Endeavour moves to launch pad

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) -- Space shuttle Endeavour arrived at its launch pad early Wednesday for a flight to send teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan and six crewmates to the international space station.

It's been a nearly five-year wait for Endeavour, and the shuttle has nothing on Morgan: She's been waiting 22 years.
In 1985, Morgan was picked as Christa McAuliffe's backup to become the first teacher in space under a special NASA program.
Then the shuttle Challenger carrying McAuliffe exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986, and Morgan returned to teaching. In 1998, she was selected as a full-fledged astronaut.
On her first mission, set for August, Morgan will operate the shuttle's robotic arm, coordinate the transfer of cargo and talk from space to students at three schools, if the mission is extended.
The shuttle crew will also deliver a new truss segment, 5,000 pounds of cargo and fix a gyroscope which helps control the station's position.
"It has a little bit of everything," said Matt Abbott, lead shuttle flight director.
Endeavour's 3.4-mile journey aboard the massive crawler-transporter from the Vehicle Assembly Building took seven hours, getting the shuttle to its launch pad shortly after 3 a.m. It was a day late because the weather had nixed plans to move it early Tuesday.
Its launch is scheduled for August 7 as NASA's second shuttle flight this year.
The last time Endeavour was at the launch pad was in November 2002, before its launch on a construction mission to the space station. It was the last shuttle flight before the Columbia disaster killed seven astronauts and grounded the space shuttle program for 2 ½ years.
Endeavour has since undergone a major tune-up. The shuttle's structure was inspected for corrosion. Filter and seals were replaced. More than 1,900 thermal blankets were examined, and two windows were replaced with thicker panes.
"We're really excited to have Endeavour fly again," Kim Doering, NASA's deputy manager of the space shuttle program, said Tuesday. "Obviously, having brand new belts and hoses and having just checked the structure and replaced all the tiles -- they're brand new -- makes this a very nice vehicle to climb on to."
Endeavour also has a new system which allows power from the space station to be transferred to the shuttle while docked. If the new system works properly, the 11-day mission will be extended by an extra three days.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

U.S. buyers snap up iPhones from coast to coast

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Brandon Saunders, 16, had been saving his allowance and birthday money for months to get one of Apple Inc.'s coveted iPhones.
He waited in line with his 70-year-old grandmother for about eight hours Friday in front of a San Antonio AT&T store and left sunburned but grinning, shopping bag in hand.
"It's worth it," he said. "It's like Christmas in June."
The teen was among the first to get his hands on the coveted gadget from Apple, joining throngs destined to become braggarts of and guinea pigs for the latest must-have, cutting-edge piece of techno-wizardry.
Apple is banking that its new, do-everything phone with a touch-sensitive screen will become its third core business next to its moneymaking iPod music players and Macintosh computers.
The doors of East Coast Apple and AT&T stores opened promptly at 6 p.m. EDT with cheers from employees and eager customers. Stores farther west followed suit as the clock struck 6 in each time zone. In San Francisco, customers sang "Auld Lang Syne" following a countdown, as if heralding a new era in telecommunications. (Watch people wait at a New York Apple store to be the first to own an iPhone )
Patrons at the Apple store in Palo Alto, California, were treated to a very brief appearance by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He momentarily posed for pictures before leaving.
"I'm glad it's over," said Carlos Sanchez, 19, at Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City, clutching shopping bags containing two iPhones -- the maximum allowed per person. "I don't have to sleep outside anymore."
Techies, exhibitionists and luminaries -- even the co-founder of Apple and the mayor of Philadelphia -- were among the inaugural group of iPhone customers.
The handset's price tag is $499 for a 4-gigabyte model and $599 for an 8-gigabyte version, on top of a minimum $59.99-a-month two-year service plan with AT&T Inc., the phone's exclusive carrier.
Customers ready to get started
Because Apple designed a new way for customers to activate the cell phone service from AT&T, by logging onto Apple's iTunes software from their computers, many buyers headed straight home to christen the device.
In Newton, Massachusetts, Khu Duong, 30, said he was excited but "afraid to open it. You want to sit down and relax."
Fellow customer Nick Seaver, 21, couldn't wait. He flipped open his Mac laptop right in the mall and paid $5 to use the wireless network and activate it. But because his current service contract with Verizon was set to expire the next day, Seaver got a computer message from iTunes that he would have to wait 24 hours before his iPhone worked.
Will all the waiting have been worth it? For many, it didn't seem to matter.
"I just love getting new stuff," said retiree Len Edgerly, who arrived at 3 a.m. Friday to be first in line outside an Apple store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It's the best new thing that's come along in a long time. It's beautiful."
Even Steve Wozniak, the ex-partner of Jobs, showed up at a Silicon Valley, California, mall at 4 a.m. aboard his Segway scooter. He helped keep order in the line outside the Apple store.
The other customers awarded the honorary first spot in line to Wozniak, who planned to buy two iPhones on Friday even though he remains an Apple employee and will get a free one from the company next month. He said the device would redefine cell phone design and use.
"Look how great the iPod turned out," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "So who wants to miss that revolution? That's why there's all this big hype for the iPhone."
A bumpy beginning for some
Apple's media blitz wasn't without its glitches.
On NBC's "Today" show, co-host Meredith Vieira ran into problems trying to get the iPhone to work, laughing that "this is why gadgets drive me crazy."
With a team of Apple representatives hovering off-screen, Vieira was supposed to receive a call from co-host Matt Lauer in London. The iPhone -- billed by Apple as the most user-friendly smart phone ever -- displayed the incoming call, but she couldn't answer it.
Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris declined to comment.
The gadget, which Jobs has touted as "revolutionary," has been the focus of endless anticipatory chatter and has been parodied on late-night TV. Since its unveiling in January, the expectation that it will become yet another blockbuster product for Apple has pushed the company's stock up more than 40 percent.
Apple has set a target of selling 10 million units worldwide by 2008, gaining roughly a 1 percent share of the cell phone market. It's expected to go on sale in Europe later this year and in Asia in 2008.
In addition to the cost of the phone, for those currently using another cellular provider, there's also the cost of switching carriers.
Some bullish Wall Street analysts have predicted sales could hit as high as 45 million units in two years.
"That's nuts," said Rob Enderle, an industry analyst with The Enderle Group. "Over-hyping this thing just puts it at risk of being seen as a failure.
"Apple will break [sales] records for a phone of this class," he said, "but selling tens of millions of units so quickly is going to be tough. First-generation products always have problems that you don't know about until the product ships."
More likely, Enderle and other analysts said, Apple will grow iPhone sales by refining its models and improving the software features -- much as it did with the iPod, which has fueled record profits for the company.
But unlike its foray into digital music players, Apple faces competition in cell phones from deep-pocketed, well-established giants, such as Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc.
Apple has not disclosed how many iPhones were available at launch. But analysts expect them to sell out by early next week -- between sales rung up at retail stores and online through Apple's Web site, which has been a major distribution outlet for other Apple products.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Google wants U.S. help fighting censorship

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Once relatively indifferent to government affairs, Google Inc. is seeking help inside the Beltway to fight the rise of Web censorship worldwide.
The online search giant is taking a novel approach to the problem by asking U.S. trade officials to treat Internet restrictions as international trade barriers, similar to other hurdles to global commerce, such as tariffs.
Google sees the dramatic increase in government Net censorship, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, as a potential threat to its advertising-driven business model, and wants government officials to consider the issue in economic, rather than just political, terms.
"It's fair to say that censorship is the No. 1 barrier to trade that we face," said Andrew McLaughlin, Google's director of public policy and government affairs. A Google spokesman said Monday that McLaughlin has met with officials from the U.S. Trade Representative's office several times this year to discuss the issue.
"If censorship regimes create barriers to trade in violation of international trade rules, the USTR would get involved," USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said. She added though that human rights issues, such as censorship, typically falls under the purview of the State Department.
While human rights activists are pleased with Google's efforts to fight censorship, they harshly criticized the company early last year for agreeing to censor its Web site in China, which has the second-largest number of Internet users in the world.
The company defends its actions, saying the Chinese government made it a condition of allowing Chinese users access to Google Web pages. China has an Internet firewall that slows or disrupts Chinese users from accessing foreign uncensored Web sites.
Censorship on the rise
Censorship online has risen dramatically the past five years, belying the hype of the late 1990s, which portrayed the Internet as largely impervious to government interference.
A study released last month by the OpenNet Initiative found that 25 of 41 countries surveyed engage in Internet censorship. That's a dramatic increase from the two or three countries guilty of the practice in 2002, says John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, who helped prepare the report.
China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore and Thailand, among others, are increasingly blocking or filtering Web pages, Palfrey says.
Governments "are having more success than the more idealistic of us thought," acknowledges Danny O'Brien, international outreach coordinator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Still, even government filtering isn't always successful. In a brutal regime like Iran, which filters Web content, there are nearly 100,000 bloggers, making Farsi "one of the most blogged languages in the world," says Palfrey.
Google's YouTube has become a common target for thin-skinned rulers. Turkey in March blocked the video-sharing site for two days after a complaint that some clips insulted Turkey's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Thailand continues to block YouTube after several videos appeared in April, criticizing the country's monarch.
Bloggers in Morocco said in late May that they could not access YouTube shortly after videos were posted critical of that nation's treatment of the people of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco took control of in 1975. A government spokesman blamed a technical glitch.
Law school paper may have sparked idea
One likely source for Google's censorship idea is a paper written two years ago by Timothy Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, who argues that downloading a Web page hosted in another country effectively imports a service.
Drawing on that concept, Google envisions using trade agreements to fight back. The negotiated pacts would include provisions guaranteeing free trade in "information services." As is true of most trade pacts, the provisions would call for arbitration if there are violations.
The U.S. has a trade agreement with Morocco and began negotiating one with Thailand in 2004, although those talks were suspended early last year after a military coup.
Columbia's Wu said the trade pact approach is likely to be more effective when governments are guilty of blocking entire Web sites or applications, such as Internet phone-calling, than when they filter specific content.
Under World Trade Organization rules, countries can limit trade for national security or public moral reasons, Wu said, exceptions that authoritarian governments would likely cite when filtering politically sensitive material.
The company's trade initiative reflects Google's increasing acceptance of the value of federal lobbying. The company didn't hire a lobbyist until 2003, according to public filings, but paid the high-powered Washington-based Podesta Group $160,000 last year to work on Internet free-speech, tax and other issues.
Effort seems sincere
Human rights groups say Google's censorship efforts seem sincere, albeit motivated by bottom-line incentives.
"Free expression is a unique selling point" for a company like Google, O'Brien said. Filtering and censorship "diminishes the value of their product."
Yet last month at the company's annual meeting, Google's board recommended investors vote against a shareholder resolution urging Google to renounce censorship.
The resolution was defeated, although Google is already acting on some of the proposal's ideas, including working with other technology leaders, such as Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., to develop a set of principles on how companies should respond to censorship and other human rights violations when doing business abroad.
Human rights advocates, academics and corporate social responsibility groups are involved in the project, announced earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Google's global growth efforts continue. YouTube said Tuesday that it plans to expand into nine other countries, including Brazil, France, Spain and Poland, offering local-language Web sites and highlighting videos of domestic interest.
In China, where Google is the No. 2 search engine behind the domestically based, the company said in April it will increase its investment as it works to create more content of interest to Chinese users.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.