NBC allows free copies of its shows online

January 16, 2008

News: You know that the (copyright) times are changing when NBC is now allowing download copies of some of its most popular shows (instead of just watching them online). It’s part of “NBC Direct” (beta) and it’s all free. I’m assuming the free video downloads contain no DRM, but I haven’t verified that yet.

If you go to this menu, you’ll see that over 20 NBC shows are downloadable, including 30 Rock, Law & Order SVU, The Office, ER, and Heroes.

Analysis: The speed with which the video market is evolving is dizzying. Last year, I never would have expected NBC to allow free downloads of its shows. Presumably, by allowing the free downloads NBC has licensed at least a user to collect the episodes for personal use on her computer, if not also some other noncommercial re-uses. I don’t see a specific statement by NBC on terms of use, though.

The free downloading of NBC shows is also a little surprising, given the rather hard-line copyright position expressed by Rick Cotton in this NYT debate.  I wonder what the difference, as a practical matter, between NBC allowing copying of its free broadcast shows and third parties doing it on their own with their own devices for those very same shows.  If the market for free TV shows eventually adopts a free download practice, then the “piracy” rhetoric seems hollow.  (Movies are different since they are not usually free, either online or offline.)

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Library of Congress + Flickr project: “The Commons”

January 16, 2008

News:  Flickr and The Library of Congress announced a joint project called “The Commons.”  It includes wonderful photographs from the 1930-40s and 1910s — for which there are “no known copyright restriction.”  Apparently that means in this case of the 1930s-1940s photographs they were taken for the US government and did not get copyrights (I’m guessing).  For the 1910 photographs taken by a news service, they are simply too old to be conceivably under copyright protection today.

This is a terrific idea (and I love the incredible photos), but the copyright description by Flickr and The Library of Congress is a little bit vague.  They don’t come out and say that you can freely copy and re-use the photos, at least not on my first reading of the site.  They simply encourage you to add tags to the photos.   

Analysis:  I would think the more common use that the public wants to make of these old photos, however, is copying and disseminating.  If there is “no known copyright restriction,” the Library of Congress should come out and say that it’s in the public domain, free for all to use and copy. 

The closest they come to stating that is a statement buried in their FAQ, which I’ve copied below:

Enjoying and Re-using Photos

Q: Can I reuse the photos the Library has made available on Flickr? What are the rights and permissions on these? Can I reproduce these pictures? 
A: Although the Library of Congress does not grant or deny permission to use photos, the Library knows of no copyright restrictions on the publication, distribution, or re-use of these photos. Privacy rights may apply.  For further information see the rights, see the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection color photographs rights information and the George Grantham Bain Collection rights information.

Q: Are higher resolution copies available?
A. Yes. Higher resolution TIFF versions of the photos are available through the Prints and Photographs online catalog. Example: Click on the ”Persistent URL” link in the data information for the photograph (the URL looks like “hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsac.1a35075”) and when the new catalog record displays, click on the picture for the larger images.

Q: How do I get copies of these pictures?
A: You can download and print copies of the pictures yourself.  Higher resolution TIFF files are available through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.  Alternatively, you can purchase copies through the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.  For further information on purchasing copies, see the Reproductions information page on the Prints & Photographs Division Web site.


Steve Jobs announces MacBook Air + iTunes movie rentals at MacWorld

January 16, 2008

News: MacWorld is the annual pilgrimage for all the obsessed Mac devotees in the world. Steve Jobs’ keynote presentation is, of course, the main event. This year, Jobs announced a new super-thin laptop called the MacBook Air, as well as some tinkering with the disappointing AppleTV. Tech Crunch has the play-by-play.

As techdirt reports, another significant announcement was Apple’s entry into video rental market via iTunes. You can now rent movies through iTunes. Techdirt, though, questions Apple’s per-video rental fees, instead of the NetFlix “all you can eat” subscription plays. Techdirt also questions the use of DRM on the iTunes movies, something that has backfired in the music world — in part because Steve Jobs criticized it.

The new MacBook Air is priced at $1,799, which Tech Crunch says is too expensive.