Pirate Bay copyright convicts lose retrial bid

Four men found guilty of promoting copyright infringement through the file-sharing site The Pirate Bay will not get a retrial, the Swedish court of appeals has ruled.

The court found Thursday that the judge who ruled in the original case in April, Tomas Norstroem, was not biased as the four men alleged.

Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom had called for a retrial after Norstroem publicly admitted he was a member of the Swedish Association for Copyright and sat on the board of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.

In Thursday’s ruling, the court said Norstroem should have revealed his affiliations early in the court proceedings. But his failure to do so does not mean there was wrongdoing during the proceedings that would require a retrial.

The Pirate Bay website connects BitTorrent networks to allow users to swap music, video or game files, but the site’s founders had argued they were not responsible for the files they directed users toward, since they themselves did not host any of the files.

However, the court found the defendants guilty on April 17 of aiding in the committing of copyright offences “by providing a website with … sophisticated search functions, simple download and storage capabilities, and through the tracker linked to the website.”

Norstroem had sentenced each of the men to one year in prison and ordered each to pay damages of 30 million kronor ($4.5 million Cdn) to a number of companies in the film and recording industry.

Jackson’s death slows web to a crawl

In life, Michael Jackson once ruled the pop charts. With his death, he dominated the internet.

As reports of Jackson’s death on Thursday spread, celebrity gossip websites crashed, news sites slowed to a crawl and traffic on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook spiked.

Few sites were spared. Jackson’s sudden, unexpected death led so many people to search Google for information that the search engine’s software believed it was under attack, sending searchers a message saying “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.”

Even online encyclopedia Wikipedia had problems of its own, as an editing war broke out on Jackson’s biography over whether the musician had actually passed away.

Shortly after 5:15 p.m. ET, gossip website TMZ.com was the first outlet to report that Jackson had been rushed to a hospital after suffering an apparent cardiac arrest. TMZ’s website temporarily shut down when the volume of traffic overwhelmed it.

As viewers rushed to mainstream news sites for more information, their websites all started to experience marked slowdowns in performance, according to Keynote Systems, an internet measurement consultancy.

News sites slow to crawl

“Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET, the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations. “During the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100 per cent to 86 per cent. The index returned to normal by 9:15 p.m. ET.”

From 6 until 8 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, the Los Angeles Times and AOL (which owns TMZ) were among the sites that were mostly unavailable, Keynote said in a release. (Keynote had earlier reported CNN Money was also affected, but has since issued a retraction.)

Internet tracking firm Akamai reported that North America’s most popular news sites saw traffic spike 20 per cent above average during the height of the story just after 6 p.m., with over four million visitors per minute, about half the traffic of last Nov. 4, the day of Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.

As people online tried to get the latest news, social networks saw a spike in traffic, much of it Michael Jackson-related. Users flooded Facebook, and a group on the social networking site called Michael Jackson RIP was created Thursday night and has now attracted nearly 65,000 members.

Biz Stone, co-founder of the online social messaging service Twitter, told the Los Angeles Times that the frequency of Twitter posts, or Tweets, doubled after the first reports of Jackson’s death surfaced.

Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, was tracking Jackson-related content on Twitter and posted that Jackson had far surpassed the Iran election and swine flu as a popular topic.

“My Twitter search script sees roughly 15 per cent of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson,” he reported on Twitter on Thursday. “Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over five per cent.”

Those numbers have since dropped to about three per cent of all Twitter traffic as of Friday, he said in a later post.

1st porn app on iTunes ‘sold out’

The first app featuring images of nude women to go up for sale on iTunes can no longer be downloaded because it was too popular, the developer reported Thursday.

“The Hottest Girls app is temporarily sold out,” said a post signed by the “ATG dev team” on the website of developer Allen Leung.

They added that the servers distributing the app were crashing due to high usage. However, they noted that those who have already downloaded the app will be able to use it, and assured customers that “the topless images will still be there when it is sold again.”

“Hottest Girls,” which billed itself on the developer’s website as the “first and only app with nudity,” was updated Wednesday to include “completely naked pics,” according to the description at the iTunes store. It is available for download to customers 17 or older to run on the iPhone and the iPod touch.

Previously, Apple would not approve that kind of material for sale on iTunes.

However, Apple updated its OS 3.0 iPhone software this month to include parental controls that restrict some applications to people over a certain age. That led to widespread speculation online at sites such as MacRumors.com that the door would soon be open to porn.

The “Hottest Girls” application for the iPhone and iPod touch costs $1.99 and boasts more than 2,000 photos of “hand-picked images of the finest looking girls” that are automatically updated. A previous version of the app, released in May, contained scantily clad women, but none who were naked.

At least one online review, however, said even the new, nude images are relatively tame.

Wired News columnist Charlie Sorrel called them “distinctly softcore.”

“While there are nipples to be seen, that’s about it,” he wrote on the magazine’s Gadget Lab website. “A smartly worded Google image search would do better if you’re looking for titillation.”

Confusion for developers?

Nigel Wallace, director of software and services for IDC Canada, a research company that analyzes the technology industry, said Apple’s decision to allow explicit apps on iTunes means it has a lot of faith in its new parental controls.

“Apple cares a lot about their brand,” he added. “It’s an exceedingly large part of the company’s worth.”

Presumably, he said, the company thinks adult-oriented apps could be a huge potential market and a source of large revenues.

Wallace noted that Apple has banned a number of other applications in recent months that could potentially tarnish its image, such as one from the band Nine Inch Nails and another featuring the South Park cartoon. In April, the company also pulled the plug on the “Baby Shaker” application, which prompted numerous complaints. The app let users shut off the sound of a crying baby with a vigorous shake.

Given its recent track record, the decision to allow adult apps may confuse developers, Wallace said.

“It would be nice to have a bit more clarification from Apple in terms of what’s in, what’s out.”

Microsoft taking half-price pre-orders for Windows 7

Microsoft is trying to lure Canadians to upgrade to its newest operating system by offering a half-price discount to people who pre-order.

Windows 7 won’t be released until Oct. 22, but Microsoft is taking pre-orders starting Friday, the company said in a news release Thursday.

Until July 11, people running Windows XP or Vista can pre-order upgrades to the home version of Windows 7 at $64.99 instead of $129.95 and the professional version for $124.99 instead of $279.95 “while quantities last.”

Similar offers are being made in the U.S., Japan, the U.K., France and Germany. For those who don’t currently have Windows XP or Vista, the home version will cost $224.95 and the professional version will cost $329.95.

The company said it would also provide free upgrades for people who buy computers loaded with the current Microsoft operating system, Windows Vista, until Jan. 2010.

It had a similar program in place when Vista was released in January 2007, after numerous delays.

However, some computer vendors, such as Dell, began giving users the option of choosing Windows XP instead of Vista after complaints about Vista’s speed, security alerts and lack of compatibility with some devices such as printers. Microsoft slashed the price of the boxed version of Vista in 2008 in an effort to boost sales.

The company has now renewed its effort to get people to switch from XP, promising that Windows 7 will have fewer security alerts and better device compatibility than Vista, and an XP mode to entice business users who didn’t make the switch to its current Vista operating system.