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Big turns for copyright, digital music

26 December 2009
Many in digital media will be glad to say goodbye to 2009, a year marked by the meltdowns of once promising--or at least much hyped--video and music start-ups.
Some hard-fought copyright battles were also waged, as ad-supported music lost credibility, The Pirate Bay went on sale, and Craigslist was forced to fight accusations that the site was a giant digital bordello.
When it came to the year's newsmakers, Apple got off to an early start in January by announcing it would strip copy-protection software from all iTunes songs and change its long-held pricing policy.
The 99-cent standard song price at Apple was altered to allow the top four recording companies to charge $1.29 for newer music. Older songs would remain 99 cents and a few would drop to 79 cents.
Apple's grip on digital music appeared to only get stronger as a host of challengers flamed out or were gobbled up by bigger competitors. First Ruckus shut down and then ad-supported pioneer SpiralFrog collapsed in a heap of debt amid questionable management decisions and internal squabbling. MySpace acquired iLike and cash-strapped streaming-music site Imeem.
To cap the year off, Apple earlier this month acknowledged acquiring Lala, another streaming service.
Online video saw some consolidation as the once headline-grabbing Joost, created by the founders of Skype and Kazaa, saw the messy departure of its CEO and a sale of the company's assets to Adconian Media. The sector saw more tussling between Hulu and YouTube for control of professional content. Netflix also made inroads in digital video by expanding its ability to stream video to subscribers' TV sets.
The copyright and piracy wars saw several big court decisions. Nothing was bigger than a Swedish court's conviction of The Pirate Bay founders on copyright violations. The four men were sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay $3.6 million. They are appealing their case. In this country, a federal judge halted sales of RealNetworks' RealDVD, the DVD-copying software, and a disc-copying machine, codenamed Facet, until a jury decides whether the products violate copyright law. Real has filed an appeal. The case might have answered the question of whether DVD owners possess the legal right to make backup copies of their movies but the judge declined to tackle the issue.
Jammie Thomas, the woman accused of illegally sharing music and who had already seen one jury vote against her, lost another case. This time, she was found guilty of willful copyright infringement and ordered to pay $1.92 million in damages. That case is on appeal.
Hans Pandeya, the Swedish businessman who claimed he would acquire the The Pirate Bay, provided a comedy of errors. Almost every one of Pandeya's claims about possessing enough money to complete the deal and having content agreements with the music labels proved unreliable.
Speaking of piracy, streaming-video sites started generating buzz. These are sites that offer lots of unauthorized content, typically new TV shows and movies, and they crop up often and from all over. Hollywood is concerned, to say the least.
So as we close the book on the year, here's hoping 2010 brings happier news to digital entertainment.
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