eBay, Craigslist Soap Opera Unfolds

eBay’s strange legal dispute with Craigslist just got weirder.

The auction giant has disclosed the details of its lawsuit against the king of online classifieds, and here’s what the dispute boils down to: eBay took a stake in Craigslist, agreeing to certain conditions regarding competitive behavior. Next, eBay brought its Kijiji classified ad site to the U.S. and started engaging in behavior that may have been prohibited by that agreement.

Craigslist asked it to stop or sell back its stake. eBay said no, it didn’t want to sell back its stake, but it would be happy to buy out Craigslist altogether. The Craigslist folks then quit talking to eBay, apparently, and instead started conferring behind closed doors about how to get eBay off their back.

eBay then sued Craigslist, accusing it of engaging in “clandestine transactions” that diluted the value of eBay’s stake.

Craigslist responded that eBay was “obsessed with dominating online classifieds for the purpose of maximizing its own profits.” Stay tuned.

Listen to the podcast (13:52 minutes).

Smart Guy, Dumb Move

In far more sobering legal news, Hans Reiser, who created the ReiserFS file system that’s part of the Suse Enterprise Linux distro, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his estranged wife Nina, whose body has never been found.

Reiser has contended all along that the supposed victim is still alive and is hiding out in her native Russia.

Whether he killed his wife or not, for a guy who’s smart enough to create a Linux file system, Reiser sure did some stupid things. It can’t have helped his case that he removed the front passenger seat of his car and washed out the interior with a hose shortly after Nina disappeared. And it probably looked like the action of a guilty person when he withdrew a bunch of money from the bank. It most certainly worked against him that he was carrying his passport when police made the arrest.

However, none of that was as damning as Reiser’s testimony in his own defense. Taking the stand against the advice of his attorney, he came across as cold and argumentative, and his explanations strained credulity. The judge even told him he was acting like a jerk. Reiser says he’s going to appeal.

Not So Fast, RIAA

In yet another courtroom drama, the Recording Industry Association of America suffered a nasty setback when a judge ruled that making files available for copying on a peer-to-peer network does not, in itself, constitute piracy.

What made the ruling even more interesting was that it contradicted an earlier ruling by the same judge. The theory of “making available” was the linchpin of the RIAA’s infamous case against single mom Jammie Thomas, as well as many others.

The lawsuit that sparked the latest ruling will continue to trial, though, where victory for the defendants is in no way guaranteed. Husband and wife Jeffrey and Pamela Howell could be found guilty of copyright infringement, since there was at least one successful download of a file from their shared folder — by the RIAA’s hired gun, MediaDefender.

Memorable Breakthrough

Leave it to HP to rewrite the physics textbooks. HP Labs, the research and development unit of the company, has added a fourth circuit element to the known lineup.

Previously, there were three: the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor. Until now, the fourth, known as the memristor, had merely been a theory, albeit one going back to the 1970s. HP scientists didn’t stop at mathematical proof of the memristor’s existence, though — they produced a physical model.

The technology could be used to make computers’ working memory more efficient, and also enable it to store data when powered down. The memory tech currently in standard use, DRAM, loses its data when the power is cut off, but memristors would, well, remember.

Amicable Split?

For now, AT&T and the iPhone are going steady, at least in the U.S. In order to use an iPhone stateside, you have to sign a contract with AT&T — unless you want to unlock it like a dirty little philanderer.

However, a report in Fortune magazine has people wondering whether the next version of the iPhone may come with fewer strings attached: Think of it as an open marriage between Apple and AT&T wireless. The report cites an unnamed source who claims AT&T stores will sell a 3G version of the iPhone at a US$200 price cut, bringing it down to $199.

That deal won’t be offered at Apple stores, according to the source. The rumor has fueled a lot of speculation that Apple will abandon its current iPhone sales model and offer it like all the other phones out there are sold — the common, unwashed masses of phones you can get with $200 discounts if you sell your soul to a carrier.

If you want an unlocked iPhone, you’ll supposedly be able to get one at an Apple store. Either that, or there may be some changes coming to the iPhone’s data plan. Or just maybe any report attached to a single, unnamed source must be taken with a whole lot of skepticism if it’s about Apple. If it’s about Watergate, fine, believe it, but Apple generally knows how to keep a lid on things.

BlackBerry Jam

It should go without saying, then, that unless you carry a key to Apple’s innermost sanctum, you really have no way of knowing when the next iPhone is going to come out, and making a prediction is more a game than anything else.

We’ve even played — and unless we’re holding a 3G iPhone by next Tuesday, we’re beginning to look like losers. Oh, well — it’s all in fun.

However, playing around with iPhone predictions may be more serious business for Research In Motion, the company that makes BlackBerries. It reportedly delayed the release of a new 3G BlackBerry model for AT&T — the 9000 — from June to August.

RIM has refused to confirm any delay at all, but rumors are flying that it wants to avoid being overshadowed by the expected release of a 3G iPhone — which will also likely be a flagship offering from AT&T — sometime in June or July.

Research In Motion’s stock tumbled in American and Canadian markets on the rumor, though it recovered somewhat in the next day of trading.

How big a threat the iPhone is to Research In Motion is debatable. The smartphone market is growing, so grabbing new customers isn’t exactly a zero-sum game. Also, RIM usually goes for enterprise users and the iPhone is generally targeted toward consumers, though both have been growing into each others’ territory lately.

Social Remake

Like a lot of its competitors, Yahoo has been a bit lacking in the social networking department. Rather than go out and buy a social network of its own, though, like some of the others have done, Yahoo has taken a different approach.

The company will essentially overlay social networking on top of everything it does. Yahoo is inviting developers to use the OpenSocial framework to build apps that will let people use content and services in more social network-y ways.

Could be a fresh new look for the portal — or, it might just get bought out by Microsoft and rolled into Facebook.

Cutting the Cable

Time Warner posted a lower profit for the first-quarter and announced plans for a complete structural separation from its recently spun-off Time Warner Cable unit.

Time Warner’s net profit for the first quarter was $771 million, down 36 percent from a year ago. Its revenue was up about 2 percent to $11.42 billion.

Despite the lower profit, the quarter was solid enough for the company to reaffirm its 2008 outlook, a comforting move to investors worried that its heavy reliance on advertising revenue would make it vulnerable to an economic slowdown.

Meanwhile, the company’s AOL Web portal grew advertising revenue by a modest 1 percent; however, the division’s overall revenue dropped 23 percent and its subscription revenue fell 38 percent.

Battle Scars

The demise of HD DVD has left Toshiba battered and bruised — it reported a whopping 95 percent profit drop in the January-to-March fiscal fourth quarter, down to a mere $12 million dollars. In the same period a year earlier, its earnings were around $250 million.

Toshiba’s quarterly sales also dropped by 3 percent year-over-year to $20 billion. Toshiba abandoned the HD DVD format in February, after losing a long and hard-fought struggle against the competing Blu-ray format.

Looking ahead, Toshiba expects a 1 percent increase in profit in its semiconductor business for its current fiscal year; however, it anticipates price declines of up to 50 percent in NAND flash memory chips.

Buffy’s Back

Long live The WB. The defunct TV network is getting a new lease on life in the form of an ad-supported, video-on-demand Web site.

Warner Bros. will launch a beta version sometime early this month as part of a larger push to capitalize on new channels for distributing video content. Like the TV network, which shut down late in 2006 after a nine-year run, will be aimed at the 16- to 34-year-old demographic, with an emphasis on young women.

The site will offer both original programming and re-released WB shows like “Gilmore Girls” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” will heavily emphasize interactivity, offering a Facebook application that will integrate WB content into a user’s profile and allow the social net’s apps to work on the network.

Blood Money

The ids of gamers everywhere ran wild when “Grand Theft Auto IV” hit the shelves this week. Designed for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, the insanely popular game puts the player in the shoes of Niko Belic, a new immigrant trying to make his way in Liberty City, USA.

Naturally, since this is a GTA game we’re talking about, making his way involves a whole lot of murder, mayhem and chaos. New to this game is a multiplayer option, so you can now go on virtual crime sprees with your friends instead of being the typical lone gunman.

Reviewers roundly praised the game for the level of detail it offers, while critics are already finding plenty to complain about in the latest edition. Like other “GTA” titles, version 4 is a sandbox game, meaning players can go about completing missions and following the plot — or they can run around the city and do whatever they want. Most of it usually isn’t very nice.

Psystar Is Real

Like all of us, Psystar was born naked and helpless. The company emerged on the technology scene a few weeks ago, and it was hit with problems from the get-go. First, its Web site couldn’t get its own physical address straight.

Then it went offline for a while, and when it came back, it had renamed its flagship product. Then it stopped taking orders for a while after it parted ways with its credit card processor. Tech pundits said Psystar was either an incredibly half-cocked startup or some sort of scam. It’s beginning to look more like the former. Psystar has survived its perilous first weeks and has begun shipping its products.

The company makes the Open Computer, a low-cost desktop PC that can be ordered with Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard preinstalled. That’s a violation of Apple’s end-user license agreement, which states you can only run Leopard on Apple computers. However, Apple has remained strangely quiet about the new Hackintosh maker … for now, at least.

Also in this episode: Attack targets SQL databases; fraudsters click a little less; Verizon rings up a strong quarter.

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