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Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “Copyrights and Copywrongs.”

Also, 2Wire HomePortal 100W broadband modem and the iPaq Music Center. Reviews hed: Who owns ideas? dek: Siva Vaidhyanathan’s “Copyrights and Copywrongs.”

When American copyright laws were introduced in 1790, they were designed to encourage new inventions by protecting them for a limited time, in order to ensure that creative works found a safe place in the public domain. But legal battles over patents, trademarks, and copyright law have shrouded a long list of creative works over the last year or so, from technological innovations such as Napster and MP3, to the recent attempts to stifle the literary work of Alice Randall and the scientific work of Dmitri Skylarov.

So who is copyright law protecting? As Siva Vaidhyanathan, a New York University professor and media studies scholar, argues in his latest book, “Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity” (New York University Press, $27.95), copyright law has gone from its original aim–protecting future artists and innovators–to protecting “the haves: the successful composer, the widely read author, the multinational film company.” The long-term effects of strict copyright laws on American culture, Vaidhyanathan claims, are discouraging artists and threatening creativity.

The result of six years of research and investigation into patent, trademark, and copyright law, “Copyrights and Copywrongs” is a much-needed plea for a re-evaluation of current copyright policy, and a compelling request for “thinner” copyright laws-ones that protect “enough to encourage creativity, yet limited so that emerging artists, scholars, writers, and students can enjoy a rich public domain and broad ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material.”

The legal battles over copyright are not going away-a recent study projects intellectual-property litigation as one of the hottest legal markets over the next 10 years. Vaidhyanathan’s incredibly thorough unraveling of both the history of copyright law and the cultural importance of rewriting current copyright policy is invaluable and long overdue. –Christy Mulligan

hed: Get unwired dek: 2Wire HomePortal 100W broadband modem.

One of the hottest segments of the otherwise moribund computer marketplace is broadband–Internet access via a fast cable or DSL modem. Another growing phenomenon is the multi-computer family, with every member wanting to hit that broadband modem. The confluence of these two trends has created an active home networking market, particularly for “no new wires” alternatives to running Cat 5 Ethernet cable, such as wireless (Wi-Fi/802.11b and HomeRF) and phoneline (HomePNA).

Broadband providers typically supply only a single IP address, sufficient by itself for access by only one computer. Moreover, the always-on nature of broadband raises security issues more serious than those of more temporary telephone modem connections. While both problems can be solved in software, this requires that a host computer be left on to provide security and enable others to access the broadband connection. An increasingly popular alternative is the hardware router (often called a residential gateway). Installed behind the broadband modem–or sometimes containing an integral modem–it directs traffic among the networked computers and lets each share the single IP address. These devices usually provide a configurable security firewall to protect downstream computers from outside attack.

The $399 2Wire HomePortal 100W is a particularly flexible example of this genre (notwithstanding a swoopy vertical case that precludes stacking). Most such routers confine themselves to a single networking technology such as Ethernet or Wi-Fi, but the HomePortal 100W supports simultaneous access by 10BaseT Ethernet, USB, HomePNA 2.0/1.0 and Wi-Fi wireless (a model without the latter is available for $299). About the only popular networking technology it doesn’t support internally is HomeRF, but it can support an external HomeRF transceiver via its Ethernet port.

2Wire paid special attention to ease of setup; when installing the HomePortal software on the first computer, you enter a key code (provided with the unit or obtained from the 2Wire Web site by answering a few questions). This automatically configures the HomePortal for your broadband provider and modem, eliminating a lot of manual settings. Subsequent installations on networked computers are equally simple. Once you’ve installed whatever network adapter you’re using, the HomePortal software recognizes it and configures for it.

My installation on the first of three Macs went without a hitch, though the installer instructed an unnecessary phone call to my cable modem provider to inform them of my new hardware address (not needed with my provider’s DHCP dynamic address allocation). Installation for HomePNA access on the second Mac (using a Farallon Ethernet/HomeLINE adapter) was equally smooth–after I discovered that my phoneline surge protector blocks HomePNA signals and removed the protector. When I fired up the Wi-Fi adapter (a Farallon SkyLINE PC card) in my PowerBook, all I had to do was enter the encryption key from the label of the HomePortal. At that point the PowerBook started merrily (and securely) chatting away on the network. From the instructions, PC installation appears to be equally automatic, though I didn’t experience it.

Once installed, operation of the HomePortal is smooth and uneventful. Throughput over each networking technology appears to be as good as any dedicated device I’ve tested, as is its wireless range. If you need both wired and wireless networking with broadband access and a secure firewall, the price and performance of the HomePortal 100W are hard to beat.–Ken Henningsen

hed: Paq in your digital tunes dek: Compaq’s music center.

Love the idea of MP3 music, but want to keep computers out of your living room? Compaq understands the feeling–its new iPaq Music Center plugs into a regular stereo setup and brings an MP3 jukebox, Internet radio tuner, and CD player into the mix. At $800, this slick black unit isn’t the cheapest CD deck you ever bought, but like pricier MP3 jukeboxes such as the AudioRequest and Kenwood’s Entre, it rips music from CDs onto its 20GB hard disk (big enough for 400 CDs or 5,000 tracks).

Using either home phoneline networking or its internal modem, the unit then downloads track listings and album art from the Internet. You can also record audio tapes and vinyl records using the Music Center’s line-in socket–and enter the tracks listings manually using the universal remote control. You can create custom playlists of your tracks, download them to portable players (including the $200 PA-1 included with purchase) through a USB connection, and even play streaming Internet radio stations through your dial-up or home network broadband connection. The iPaq Music Center hooks up to a television, too–it’s too hard to navigate the various functions without a big screen–which lets you see album art and track listings writ large.

In general, this makes a great addition to a stereo setup–though it lacks CD-R capability and can’t record and play music at the same time. Another down side: while it can dial up ISPs, it can’t handle AOL or CompuServe’s proprietary networks. But for a quick way to compile huge volumes of digital music in your living room, it’s a great start.–Matt Lake

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