Friday, February 23, 2007

Microsoft Ordered to Pay $1.5 Billion to Alcatel-Lucent

Usually when we hear about MP3s and lawsuits, it's some record company suing a file-sharing service. But in a decision that dwarfs all of those legal actions put together, a jury has ordered Microsoft to pay $1.52 billion to Alcatel-Lucent for infringing on the company's patents relating to standards for playing MP3 digital music files. The San Diego jury decided on Friday that Microsoft infringed two Alcatel-Lucent patents with its Windows Media Player. Microsoft said it will appeal.

Of course, this could be just the tip of the iceberg (though admittedly it's a might big tip). Alcatel-Lucent could potentially seek similar payments from other manufacturers of music-playing hardware and software, including Sony, Apple, and Napster.

Press reports have noted that although the sum is a large one, it's much less than Alcatel originally sought ($4.5 billion). And CNN noted that Microsoft generates aobut $1 billion in free cash flow per month.

Microsoft claims that it doesn't owe the French-American firm any money because it had already licensed the MP3 technology from a company called Fraunhofer for $16 million. And financial analysts noted that appeals in cases like this could drag on for some time.

No doubt this is only the first volley to be fired in this dispute.

Monday, February 19, 2007

XM and Sirius Satellite Radio are Close to Merger: New York Post

It's long been a rumor, but now it seems the merger of the XM and Sirius satellite radio networks is becoming a reality. The New York Post is reporting Monday that the two heavyweights of satellite radio may announce a merger as early as today.

The two parties were said to be negotiating all weekend and had come close to an agreement. The Post also noted that the deal could collapse at the last moment.

Since the two rivals burst onto the scene a few years ago, they've been whacking each other over the head to win subscribers. To win big-name, high-profile air personalities and properties, they've gotten into bidding wars for top talent. Sirius laid out big bucks to land Howard Stern, and also has deals with the estate of Frank Sinatra and with NASCAR. It will launch an all-Sinatra channel soon.

XM boasts queen of all media Oprah Winfrey, has Bob Dylan playing DJ on his own show, and also broadcasts Major League Baseball.

So will the deal go through, or will it go bust? It seems insane for the two to keep competing against each other; does the world really need two rival satellite networks? And the time seems right, before the networks sink millions of dollars more into talent acquisition and technology buildouts.

But if the deal fails now, it remains to be seen if the two will continue their separate ways indefinitely, or whether a merger will indeed happen sometime down the road. I think the latter will happen: a merger will take place eventually, when one network finds that it must merge or go bankrupt.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Podcast Review: Take a Trip to Coverville for the Best, and Worst, in Cover Songs

One of the best music podcasts is Brian Ibbott's Coverville. Think of it as a trip into the good, the bad, and the ugly of cover songs. Some of the tunes are great cover versions that you may not have heard; others are campy send-ups or just plain unintentionally bad covers that started out as homages to the original versions, but somehow went horribly wrong.

In a weekly show that runs about an hour or so, Ibbott offers full-length versions of a number of songs structured around some kind of theme. The latest edition of Coverville features remakes of songs that were originally done in 1973, including two versions of Paul Simon's "Kodachrome" and one of Aerosmith's "Dream On."

Coverville also covers particular genres; heavy metal was a recent choice. And Ibbott occasionally does shows of listener requests.

One of my favorite recurring features is Ibbott's "Cover Story" episodes, which feature different artists covering the songs of one performer or songwriter, such as The Who, The Clash, or Britney Spears (which included the only acoustic folk verion of her hit "Toxic" that you're likely to hear). One episode featured covers of the songs of Leonard Cohen.

Another fun feature is the "Originalville" themed shows, in which Ibbott spins the original versions of songs that became well-known when covered by someone else. For example, the original Bessie Banks version of the early Moody Blues hit "Go Now," or the Hall & Oates tune "Every Time You Go Away," which became a hit for Paul Young.

Of course, there are the obligatory holiday-themed shows--Valentine's Day, Christmas and Hannukah, and even Groundhog Day. And one recent show features an interview with Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, discussing the group's recent album of Beatles cover songs.

And sometimes the songs are slotted into the wrong themed show: "I Want Candy," the English Beat's "Save It For Later," and Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" were, for some reason, included in the heavy metal show. Well, whatever. Coverville's song choices and approach are so much fun that it's easy to forgive them a little misplaced genre selection.

There are a lot of music podcasts out there, but Coverville is without a doubt one of my favorites. And one of the favorites of many other people as well, from music lovers to musicians. Although Coverville has long been known to podcast fans, it has gained many new fans thanks to's new category allowing users to "digg" podcasts. I'm hoping that Ibbott will keep bringing us his dispatches from Coverville for a long time to come.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dixie Chicks: Accepted Again, or Not?

Much was mad of the Dixie Chicks' triumphant night at the Grammys. Conventional wisdom seemed to be that by winning five Grammys, including three of thetop prizes, they were being accepted back into the music business after being shunned because of their anti-Bush statements, and their subsequent digs at the country music establishment.

I think all this talk of the Chicks being accepted is misinterpreting the situation. The group was never rejected by the music industry as a whole. That business, which the Grammy Awards represent, never rejected the Chicks. The industry as a whole is liberal as compared to the country music world.

Country music is clearly "not ready to make nice" with the Chicks. They are still absent from country radio, and sentiment among those radio stations and among country fans is still firmly against the Chicks. Winning five Grammys has nothing to do with the country establishment. A better gauge of the Chicks' acceptance would be their performance at the Country Music Awards--except that there was no performance, since the Chicks were not even nominated for a single CMA award.

The Chicks' big night at the Grammys is certainly a boost for their career, and will no doubt result in greater record sales among non-country fans. But in the world of country music, the Chicks are as estranged as they were when they first made their anti-Bush comments in 2003.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Police Break Out! Details on Their 2007 World Tour...

It's been quite a 24-hour period for '80s rockers The Police. Last night they jump-started the 49th Grammy Awards with a kickin' version of Roxanne, and this morning (11 a.m. L.A. time) the announced details and dates for their first tour in more than two decades.

The Police 30th anniversary tour will hit the road in Vancouver on May 28th and continue in Canada and the U.S. through early August. The band will then tour Europe in September and October, then will resume the U.S. portion of the tour in late October. The Police will also play dates in Mexico, South America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Police announced the details in a combination performance/press conference at the Whisky night club in L.A. They performed a couple of songs for the assembled media and invited guests--including a number of their fan-club members--and then they and their representatives took questions about the tour.

Full details are at; you can find more information on the band at at and

Some of the tour dates The Police will be playing include:
6/16 - Bonnaroo Festival, Tennesee
7/28 - Fenway Park, Boston
8/1, 8/3 - Madison Square Garden, New York

The North American legs of the tour will also include dates in Seattle, Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans, St. Louis, Toronto, and Montreal.

Tickets for the Boston and New York City shows will go on sale Tuesday, February 20th.

The tour is sponsored by Best Buy stores, and members of the stores' frequent buyer club or members' club or whatever it's called will have a chance to get tickets before the general public. The Web site is also offering fan club memberships that offer access to ticket presales. From what I've found out, the memberships cost $100 each, and I'm not sure if that's a one-year membership or lifetime, etc.

I was a casual fan of The Police back in the day. I enjoyed many of their songs but was into other bands more, so never actually owned an album by The Police. Hearing more of their music leading up to the reunion announcement has really gotten me enthused about this tour, and I dare say I'm seriously considering trying to catch one of the shows.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Steve Jobs Shakes Up the Tech World

It's been quite a new year for Steve Jobs, and we haven't even reached Valentine's Day yet. Jobs, the chairman of Apple Inc. (which recently dropped the word "Computer" from its corporate name), first shook up the cellphone/PDA industry in January when he introduced the iPhone at MacWorld. Cellphone makers immediately began looking at their product portfolios and models in the pipeline, to see what changes they might want to make in response to them.

Also at MacWorld, Jobs introduced the further evolution of AppleTV, the company's system for playing video and TV content over a Mac computer that serves as a digital entertainment hub.

More recently, Jobs poked a finger in the eye of the record labels and recording industry when he called for the elimination of digital rights management (DRM), the security technology that prevents audio recordings from being copied. Many people saw this as an odd call for Jobs to make, since Apple's online iTunes store includes DRM intself, meaning that music bought from that store can only be played on Apple's iPod devices.

Computing, audio and video, home entertainment, cellphones, and more... what's next for Jobs?