Oops! They’re doing it again

The music publishing industry never rests when it comes to the hunt for violators of its sacred trust to preserve its profits (and, on occasion, throw a few pennies the way of the artists who gave them a product to sell in the first place). In its current mood, if the hills were alive with the sound of music, them thar hills would be getting slapped with injunctions rather sharpish.

The new battlefront for music publishing is – get this – cell phone ring tones. Order and pay for a ring tone, and one of a plethora of services will download it to your cell phone. Instead of the inoffensive, generic chirrup that alerts you to an incoming call, your phone belts out – well, warbles, actually – the latest abomination from The Backstreet Boys or Sugar Jones every time your mother calls to remind you again that it’s your father’s birthday next weekend (I already got him something, Ma).

The services are big in Japan, doing about $300 million in trade last year, and are proliferating in Europe, where their ads are becoming a staple of tech and music magazines.

The problem, from the music industry’s perspective, is that two thirds of these companies pay no licensing fees for the tunes they program into your phone. This is a serious creative property rights issue for Big Music. Much of the legal wrangling hinges on one question: Does a series of burbles meant to vaguely represent a tiny fragment of Hit Me Baby One More Time constitute a performance?

A more important question: Aren’t cell phones irritating enough already?

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But more significantly, from a business perspective – Sony has clamped down on robot dog hackers. According to New Scientist, Sony forced a programmer to remove details of how he customized the behaviour of the company’s Aibo mechanical canine from his Web site.

I’ve never been a fan of Aibo – he’s too expensive, the functionality’s limited and he leaves little batteries on the living room rug if you don’t let him out all day – but I’d certainly consider buying one if he could be customized to breakdance or, say, attack blindly every time he heard a cell phone burbling Hit Me Baby One More Time.

Sony is taking the opposite route to that of the fine folks at Lego, whose Mindstorms robotics products encourage – nay, demand – creative programming. Lego has developed an enthusiastic programming community around Mindstorms – an opportunity Sony wants to forgo. Free Aibo!

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And finally, I note that Yahoo has hijacked Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Yahoo Essentials, a service add-on, changes MSN-friendly defaults like searches and e-mail programs in the browser, sets the user’s home page to Yahoo, and changes the user’s cell phone ring tone to Hit Me Baby One More Time.

No reprisal from Redmond – yet. But you should see how the next release of Word auto-corrects “Yahoo.” Such language.

dwebb@plesman.com

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