Media regulation in Australia will be dramatically changed over the next year. Senator Helen Coonan announced the adoption of a new media framework on 13 July, including a substantial strengthening of media regulator ACMA‘s powers and the relaxation of cross-media ownership restrictions. (more…)

For the first time, the Court of First Instance has annuled the European Commission‘s approval of a company merger. In January 2004, Sony and BMG notified the Commission that they intended to merge their worldwide music recording businesses (except for Japan) into a joint venture. In July 2004 the Commission approved the joint venture in Europe, and SonyBMG started business.

This week, in an action brought against the Commission’s decision by Impala, an organisation representing 2,500 independent music publishing and record labels, the CFI ruled that the Commission had failed to satisfy the legal requirement that the combined music recording businesses of Sony and BMG would not come to hold monopoly power.

What this decision means for the joint venture is unclear–reports state that Sony and BMG will need to lodge a new notice, and the Commission will undertake a new analysis of the transaction. But the conclusion reached could be the same. If it is not, it will be interesting to see how a joint venture that has been operating for two years will be unravelled.

Australian reality television show Big Brother has sparked a debate on the regulation of Internet content. Earlier this month (see here and here), an alleged case of sexual assault caused two contestants to be taken off the reality television show. (See “2006 sexual assault controversy” on Wikipedia’s Big Brother entry for further details.) While the behaviour was not broadcast on television, it was shown live on the show’s Internet feed, provoking outrage from politicians, and causing Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan to issue media releases addressing the incident (2 July and 3 July).

I’m not going to weigh in on the appropriateness of content broadcast on reality shows or on the Internet, or the ethics of such shows generally, nor will I discuss whether certain conduct actually occurred on the Big Brother set. Plenty of that is being offered, from Opposition Senator Stephen Conroy (3 July and 5 July) to Germaine Greer. Instead, I’m going to consider why the content shown on the Big Brother website did not break any laws, and discuss the contemplated regulatory response. (more…)

I was catching up on some podcasts recently, and happened upon a very interesting one from Boston radio station WBUR’s “Here and Now” on “crowdsourcing“. While the phenomenon itself is not completely new, I found the approach to it intriguing.

This issue of “What is…?” describes crowdsourcing, looks at the origins of the term, and briefly considers some of the pros and cons of the practice. (more…)

Australia is not the only nation to be rethinking its media ownership laws — the United States Federal Communications Commission is also considering whether to lift the current restrictions on ownership of a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same market. (more…)

At an eBay convention in Las Vegas this week, the company announced that from Monday 19 June sellers of certain types of items will be able to add a “Skype Me” link allowing potential buyers to contact them through the VoIP service. This launch has been expected since eBay spent US$2.6 billion to purchase Skype.

The service will be available for 14 categories of (high-value) items, including real estate, cars and trucks, silver coins, and beds.

Who will win the race for Internet dominance? Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! are certainly the key finalists. At this point, however, Google seems to be ahead in creating the computing power necessary to win.

Google is building a massive campus on the shores of the Columbia River, on the Oregon side of the Oregon-Washington border. While the project is shrouded in secrecy, the data center will include two or three large buildings and two cooling plants (to keep all those servers running). The site is at least as large as two football fields. (See the article for an aerial photograph.)

According to The New York Times, this upgrade in computing power is in addition to what is referred to in the industry as the “Googleplex”, a global network of computers that distinguishes Google from the competition. (Strangely, the only references to “Googleplex” I found–with Google’s search engine–were to Google’s corporate headquarters, and not to its computer network.) In contrast to the estimated over 450,000 servers forming Google’s network, Microsoft has approximately 200,000 servers devoted to the Internet, which is expected to increase to 800,000 by 2011.

There is an interesting thought piece in The Australian today about how the Australian digital broadcasting industry will be regulated relatively lightly, compared to the current analog environment.

According to journalist Mark Day, Senator Coonan has defended the current high-regulation regime as necessary because of the scarcity of analog broadcasting spectrum. But digital broadcasting does not have the same spectrum limitations. Accordingly, once the transition to digital broadcasting is complete, much of the current regulatory regime will disappear (including the anti-sihponing list, multi-channeling, and high-definition quotas). (Similarly, Senator Coonan suggested that the current regime would become “outdated” in her call for submissions on the Government’s digital media conversion. ) Where significant regulation is likely to remain is with respect to some content, particularly when that content furthers pornography or terrorism.

I found this article to be particularly interesting because of its overarching argument — namely that markets (and not regulators) are best-placed to select successful digital technologies.

Are Internet telephony companies a good investment? Perhaps not–or perhaps just not yet.

Atlanta-based law firm Motley Rice has filed a class action against Vonage, on behalf of shareholders who bought stock in the Internet telephony provider prior to its intial public offering on 24 May, and have already lost a great deal on their investment. Filed on Friday 2 June in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, the suit alleges that investors were mislead by the company, its officers, and certain underwriters of the IPO, when they were offered shares in the company. (more…)

At lightning speed, following on a 4 April announcement, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan, has introduced Do Not Call Register legislation.

Unfortunately for small businesses, they are prohibited under the proposed legislation from joining the register. Only private individuals will be able to sign up to the Register, which will make it illegal for telemarketers to solicit them. There will be no charge for individuals wishing to be listed on the Register. Small businesses, including those run by individuals from their homes, will not be eligible. (more…)

Is linking to websites without permission against the law? Generally not. But Apple may not be so far off the mark by demanding that comedy website Something Awful remove a link posted to one of Apple’s own internal service manuals. (The service manual is posted at a third website, which was not authorised to reproduce the manual, and not Something Awful itself.)

However, as pointed out on Out-Law, the truth may be that Apple’s complaint has not put the company in a “tricky and potentially embarrassing situation.” Although in general linking does not violate copyright or other applicable laws, links to infringing material may expose the linking party to contributory copyright infringement. In other words, posting the link, while not a direct infringement of copyright, might be deemed to encourage others to infringe copyright by dowloading the infringing material (in this case, the manual). (more…)

A recent New York Times article alerted me to the existence of, an excellent source of free podcasts.

The Times article focused on podcasts as travel guides, typically more personal than the typical travel book. PodcastAlley is definitely worth a good look by anyone interested in podcasting.

Australian Minister of Communications Helen Coonan today announced the formation of a National Do Not Call Register. The Register, which is due to be up and running by early 2007, will allow individuals and small businesses to opt out of receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls. There will be no cost for listing in the Register.

Enforcement of the Register, which will apply to all telemarketers operating in Australia (and overseas telemarketers representing Australian companies), will include warnings, fines, formal directions, and financial penalties. The Register will not apply to organisations that may have public interest objectives (ie, charity groups and persons undertaking social research), nor to companies with an existing commercial relationship with the individual or small business.

The cost of setting up the Register is estimated to be A$33 million, with the Government providing A$17.2 million, and the remainder to be provided by industry.

Is Internet filtering ever justified?

Australian Labor party leader Kim Beazley has been pushing for Internet filtering at the ISP level, to provide a “clean feed” for Australian families. The idea would be for ISPs to blacklist particular websites that are known to have pornographic content, so that children will not be exposed to objectionable content. (more…)

There is a very interesting article in The New York Times about Microsoft‘s current difficulties in releasing Vista–the successor to operating system Windows XP. It’s been five years since Windows XP was released. In the same time, Apple has been much more nimble in the operating system market, releasing four new versions of its operating system. Meanwhile, Windows users wait, as their systems run slower and slower.

So what is the problem? According to this article, the problem is at least in part Microsoft’s bundling strategy come back to bite. Windows is written for a range of devices–that takes a lot of code. Moreover, the approach towards coding has created a problem as well. When Apple released OS X, the program was a radical departure from the previous operating system. Using applications written to work with OS 9 involved booting up the old operating system separately. By contrast, Microsoft has decided to ensure compatibility, in which new versions of Windows can be used with applications written for old versions. But this functionality has resulted in an operating system that is difficult and complicated to update, and often awkward to use.

Microsoft is trying to do the right thing by its users. It seems, however, that more radical innovation has served Apple better in recent years–just take a look at its share price.

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