Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hong Kong broadcaster wins piracy case in China

A Hong Kong broadcaster has said it won damages from a Chinese web portal for illegally distributing its programmes on the Internet, in what is believed to be the first such piracy case victory in China by an outside claimant.

Television Broadcasts (TVB), the city's largest terrestrial broadcaster said it had won 200,000 yuan (25,000 US) from Chinese-language portal for distributing four of its programmes, including 2003 Miss Hong Kong Pageant final.

The portal is a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Telecom, the mainland's largest fixed-line operator.

It was TVB's first successful infringement case in China, it said, and media reports in Hong Kong said it was the first time a non-Chinese company had successfully sued a Chinese firm for programme piracy.

The high court's verdict in southern China's Guangdong province came after the web owner sought to overturn a lower court ruling that it had committed copyright infringement.

"TVB is most pleased with the judgement as it sets precedent in China that copyrights should be respected," the company said in a statement. "However, fighting against piracy is an extremely tough battle."

The court was unable to confirm the result.

While the mainland company has removed the four programmes in question from its website, it continues to distribute other TVB shows without permission.

The broadcaster said it is taking further action to stop infringement.

China is one of the world's counterfeiting hotspots, with anything from the unlicensed manufacture of branded clothing to the broadcast of movies and television shows without permission a concern to international efforts to clamp down on the multi-billion-dollar trade.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Would You Like A Tutor From India?

Private tutors are a luxury many American families cannot afford, costing anywhere between $25 to $100 an hour. But California mother Denise Robison found one online for $2.50 an hour -- in India.

"It's made the biggest difference. My daughter is literally at the top of every single one of her classes and she has never done that before," said Robison, a single mother from Modesto.

Her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, is one of 1,100 Americans enrolled in Bangalore-based TutorVista, which launched U.S. services last November with a staff of 150 "e-tutors" mostly in India with a fee of $100 a month for unlimited hours.

Taylor took two-hour sessions each day for five days a week in math and English -- a cost that tallies to $2.50 an hour, a fraction of the $40 an hour charged by U.S.-based online tutors such as market leader that draw on North American teachers, or the usual $100 an hour for face-to-face sessions.

"I like to tell people I did private tutoring every day for the cost of a fast-food meal or a Starbucks' coffee," Robison said. "We did our own form of summer school all summer."

The outsourcing trend that fueled a boom in Asian call centers staffed by educated, low-paid workers manning phones around the clock for U.S. banks and other industries is moving fast into an area at the heart of U.S. culture: education.

It comes at a difficult time for the U.S. education system: only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school, a proportion that slides to 50 percent for black Americans and Hispanics, according to government statistics.

China and India, meanwhile, are producing the world's largest number of science and engineering graduates -- at least five times as many as in the United States, where the number has fallen since the early 1980s.

Parents using schools like Taylor's say they are doing whatever they can to give children an edge that can lead to better marks, better colleges and a better future, even if it comes with an Indian accent about 9,000 miles away.


"We've changed the paradigm of tutoring," said Krishnan Ganesh, founder and chairman of TutorVista, which offers subjects ranging from grammar to geometry for children as young as 6 years old to adults in college.

"It's not that the U.S. education system is not good. It's just that it's impossible to give personalized education at an affordable cost unless you use technology, unless you use the Internet and unless you can use lower-cost job centers like India," he said over a crackly Internet-phone line from Bangalore. "We can deliver that."

Many of the tutors have masters degrees in their subjects, said Ganesh. On average, they have taught for 10 years. Each undergoes 60 hours of training, including lessons on how to speak in a U.S. accent and how to decipher American slang.

They are schooled on U.S. history and state curricula, and work in mini-call centers or from their homes across India. One operates out of Hong Kong, teaching the Chinese language.

As with other Indian e-tutoring firms such as Growing Stars Inc., students log on to TutorVista's Web site and are assigned lessons by tutors who communicate using voice-over-Internet technology and an instant messaging window. They share a simulated whiteboard on their computers.

Denise Robison said Taylor had trouble understanding her tutor's accent at first. "Now that she is used to it, it doesn't bother her at all," she said.

TutorVista launched a British service in August and Ganesh said he plans to expand into China in December to tap demand for English lessons from China's booming middle class. In 2007, he plans to launch Spanish-language lessons and build on Chinese and French lessons already offered.

A New Delhi tutoring company, Educomp Solutions Ltd., estimates the U.S. tutoring market at $8 billion and growing. Online companies, both from the United States and India, are looking to tap millions of dollars available to firms under the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act for remedial tutoring.

Teachers unions hope to stop that from happening.

"Tutoring providers must keep in frequent touch with not only parents but classroom teachers and we believe there is greater difficulty in an offshore tutor doing that," said Nancy Van Meter, a director at the American Federation of Teachers.

But No Child Left Behind, a signature Bush administration policy, encourages competition among tutoring agencies and leaves the door open for offshore tutors, said Diane Stark Rentner of the Center on Education Policy in Washington.

"The big test is whether the kids are actually learning. Until you answer that, I don't know if you can pass judgment on whether this is a good or bad way to go," she said.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007 launches TV, movie service

By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, AP Business Writer Inc. launched a digital video downloading service Thursday, ending months of speculation that the Internet retailer would be getting into the online TV and movie business.

The service, dubbed Amazon Unbox, will offer thousands of television shows, movies and other videos from more than 30 studios and networks, the company said.

TV shows will cost $1.99 per episode, and most movies will go for $7.99 to $14.99; movies can also be rented for $3.99.

Amazon Unbox will offer shows from CBS, News Corp.'s Fox, MTV, Nickelodeon, PBS, BBC, A&E, Discovery Channel, Comedy Central and The History Channel, among others. General Electric Corp.'s NBC and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC were noticeably absent on the list of participating networks. MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central are owned by Viacom Inc.

Seven major studios are participating in's service: Viacom's Paramount, News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news).'s Sony Pictures, GE's Universal Studios, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., Lionsgate Entertainment Corp. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

Walt Disney Pictures is not participating. Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder of Walt Disney Co., and the announcement of Amazon's service comes just days ahead of the expected launch of a movie download service at Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Details of the scope of Apple's expected offerings are unclear, but its pioneering success and market dominance with its iTunes music and TV show downloads as well as its iPod media players have already cast Apple as a leading competitor.

Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, said's entry into the digital distribution business will help jump-start the still nascent online movie business.

"We're going to have extensive, ubiquitous distribution from a variety of e-tailers," he said. "There are a lot of companies we're talking to."

Hollywood studios already sell films through other online services, such as Movielink, CinemaNow and Guba, but they haven't yet attracted a huge following.'s catalog of TV shows includes some of the same shows already available on iTunes and Google Inc.'s online video store, including CBS's "CSI" and Fox's "24."

Movies on Amazon Unbox include new releases like "V for Vendetta," "Inside Man," "Brokeback Mountain," "Walk the Line," and "Friends with Money," as well as classics such as "Ben Hur," "Chinatown" and "Poseidon Adventure."

Seattle-based said the service will work on any Internet-connected personal computer running Windows XP, the latest version of Microsoft Corp.'s operating system.

Bill Carr,'s vice president of digital media, declined to comment on whether the company would later try to make the service work on machines running Apple's operating system, saying only: "It's our goal to reach as many customers as possible."

When customers download a show or movie, Amazon Unbox will automatically give them a second file that can be viewed on Windows Media-compatible portable digital players. Another service, called Unbox RemoteLoad, will allow customers to buy from one computer and download to another.

Movies often take an hour or more to download even with a solid, high-speed Internet connection. Unbox will use what's called a "progressive download," which will let people begin watching programs before they're fully downloaded — within five minutes of ordering for the typical cable broadband Internet user, said.

The downloads can be transferred onto DVDs for storage, and the DVDs can be used to play the movie on the computer with that downloaded the movie, but they cannot be played on a regular DVD player.

Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said offering downloads to a computer or portable device is a good starting point, but the end goal is delivering content to a TV. "Every little step is a good thing, but ultimately, being able to have a playback in the living room on a larger screen enhances the experience," Feingold said.

Those who rent a movie from Amazon Unbox can keep it for 30 days, unless otherwise noted, but have just 24 hours to view the movie once they start watching it, before it expires.

Studios started renting films online several years ago in hopes of combating illegal downloads. Video downloads have grown more popular since iTunes started selling episodes of TV shows last year.

Earlier this week, Apple sent invitations to the media saying "It's Showtime," for a Sept. 12 event in San Francisco. Sources at several Hollywood studios confirmed they were in talks to sell their films through Apple's iTunes online store. The executives asked to remain anonymous because talks were still ongoing.

Apple secured landmark distribution deals with major record labels in 2003, jump-starting the legal music download market. It was also the first to introduce TV show downloads last October, for $1.99 apiece.

In June, Apple officials said iTunes had sold more than 30 million videos and was selling videos at a rate of roughly 1 million a week. shares closed down $1.07 Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market, then inched up 17 cents to $29.90 in after-hours trading.

Editors: AP Business Writers May Wong in San Jose, Calif., and Gary Gentile in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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