Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Detective Hopes Zodiac Film Prompts New Leads In Dead Case


ZodiacThe California detective who headed the chase for the mysterious Zodiac Killer 35 years ago is hoping a new movie about the investigation will prompt new leads - because he's still haunted by the case he couldn't solve.

Dave Toschi, who is played by Mark Ruffalo in director David Fincher's new thriller Zodiac, still marks the anniversary of the San Francisco serial killer's first murder by revisiting the crime scene in Presidio Heights.

But he reveals the case is as cold as ever and was marked inactive in 2004.

Toschi only hopes that by this year's ill-fated anniversary in October, the identity of the killer will be known - thanks to the film.

Toschi, who became the model for San Francisco cops played by Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies, says, "I make it a point to cross that intersection of Washington and Cherry all the time, especially every anniversary. A lot of times I go and stop and think about it, the prints and the blood. I just stop to see if maybe somebody else would be parked there, maybe the killer would show up. I was always trying to figure out 'Where did we go wrong?' It's never left me."

Confession: I download music for free...I do

Journal & Courier copy editor Erik Avila.
Erik says...
Leaks are the term for when music becomes available online before it's even in record stores, often months in advance. I don't know what my opinion is on this. I like hearing the music early, but it certainly makes the release date less exciting.

I have a confession to make. And no, dear readers, it's not that I am the father of Anna Nicole's baby. No, it's a much more dour and sordid tale, and I can only hope that once finished, I can still walk down the streets without being pummeled by justice-seeking citizens.

I download music for free. I do. I know as a musician myself and an outspoken supporter of artists' rights, it's a terrible thing to do. But, like the media with the latest dead celebrity, I just can't stop myself.

There's so much of it out there. Various blogs, file-sharing services, message boards and torrent sites all are loaded with music just waiting to be downloaded to my home computer and then uploaded into my iPod. A lot of it is brand new music, some of it not even available in stores, and within minutes, it can go from a zip file to a CD ready for play in the car or on the portable mp3 device of choice.

This is a large problem. Recently, The Recording Industry Association of America released a list of the top 25 universities in the nation receiving complaints for illegal file sharing, and Purdue was one of the top five schools. However, downloading of free music rarely is enforced.

For me, the guilty conscience from hoarding all of this free musical data comes from the idea that bands lose money when people are able to simply download an album without paying for it. Even though I know most bands make very little from individual album sales, it still seems evil to me. But in my own experience, this has not been the case. More than once, downloading music has led me to make more musical purchases.

The reasons for this are as follows: Most of the time, the records available for download are not of the highest quality. There's a lot of information in a CD, and to offer it for download at an extremely high bit rate (which guarantees good sound) is more work than most people are willing to go through. I am sure that some people would tell me that I am simply not going to the right sites, but this has been my experience. Therefore, if I find something that I like, eventually I am forced to go out and buy the actual CD in a record store in order to hear it with optimum sound quality. After a while, the downloaded version just doesn't cut it.

On the other hand, if I download something that I don't like, I simply delete it. In that case, as I see it, there's really no harm done. It's somewhat akin to the record stores that offer headphones for customers to listen to albums before they buy.

I realize that I might be unique when it comes to downloading music from the Web. Maybe some people download everything they can click on and keep it all, clogging up their hard drives until they are forced to delete some or expand disk space. But, if that's the case, in my opinion, they are not truly experiencing the music in it's truest form. And therefore, they are already being punished.

The New York Times
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February 27, 2007
The Consumer

Bargaining Down That CT Scan Is Suddenly Possible

Patrick Fontana twisted his left knee last spring while hitting a drive down the fairway on a golf course in Columbus, Ohio. But what really pained him was the $900 bill for diagnostic imaging ordered by his doctor.

Mr. Fontana, a 42-year-old salesman, has a high-deductible health plan coupled to a health savings account. Since he was nowhere near meeting his deductible, he was on the hook for the entire bill.

So he did something that insurance companies routinely do: he forwarded the bill to a claims adjuster, in this case My Medical Control, a Web-based company that reviews doctor and hospital bills for consumers.

After concluding that Mr. Fontana was not getting the best possible price, the company’s representatives called the imaging facility and demanded a lower one, promptly saving him $200 — minus a 35 percent collection fee.

“I asked before I went in to the clinic how much it would cost, and they just will not tell you,” he said later. “I didn’t know until I got the bill, and at that point I figured I had nothing to lose.”

The savings are possible for one reason: medical care is often priced with the same maddening, arbitrary opacity as airline seats and hotel rooms.

“The average provider — doctors or hospitals — has between 5 and 100 reimbursement rates for the exact same procedure,” said Timothy Cahill, president of My Medical Control ( “A hospital chain with multiple locations may have 150 rates for the same procedure. Consumers don’t know this.”

The varying reimbursement schedules, negotiated between the nation’s 850,000 providers and more than 6,000 health plans, have been kept all but secret. Consumers almost never get information on prices before treatment. Even insurers do not know what other health plans are paying.

Despite the complexity, the Internet has begun to open a window on this surreal world, allowing consumers to compare costs and, occasionally, to discover affordable alternatives.

And not a moment too soon.

Over the next decade, health care spending in the United States will double, to more than $4 trillion a year, a fifth of the gross domestic product, according to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Much of the increase will be paid directly by patients. Driven by skyrocketing hospital fees, overall out-of-pocket expenses for consumers will rise more than 5 percent every year, the federal researchers said.

Already, more than 12 percent of working-age adults have out-of-pocket medical costs greater than 5 percent of their annual household income, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change, a research group in Washington.

“Traditionally, when you went to the doctor, price was never mentioned,” said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the center. “That’s changing, and I think it’s a healthy change.”

Rudimentary information is increasingly available to consumers. Thirty-two states now require that hospitals provide pricing information to the public. Just this month, the Georgia Hospital Association started a Web site listing fees of common medical procedures at each of the state’s 141 acute-care hospitals.

Some critics say these moves toward pricing “transparency” are largely symbolic, an effort to divert attention from the real causes of health care inflation by placing the onus on the consumer with vague talk of “empowerment” and “choice.”

“It’s not consumer behavior that is driving rising medical costs in the U.S.,” said Robert G. Evans, a health care economist at the University of British Columbia. “It is the folks on the supply side, the doctors and hospitals.”

Moreover, the available data are not always useful to consumers, because prices disclosed by hospitals are not the steeply discounted rates negotiated by insurers.

“Consumers don’t care so much what the hospital charges,” said Carmela Coyle, senior vice present for policy at the American Hospital Association. “What they want to know how is much it’s going to cost them out of pocket.”

While only the health plans know the actual numbers, a few Web sites recently have posted some surprising estimates.

Extrapolating from federal Medicare data, Vimo (, a small Web start-up in Mountain View, Calif., tries to estimate the fees negotiated by insurers for a variety of hospital procedures.

While the price for a cornea transplant at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia is an estimated $15,000, for example, the reimbursement rate negotiated by insurers is likely to be closer to $4,700, according to the Web site.

The reimbursement rate nationally is still lower: $3,900, by Vimo’s calculation. “We were shocked,” said Chini Krishnan, chief executive of Vimo. “We had no idea that the pricing inefficiencies could be so extreme.”

This kind of comparison shopping can be deceiving, some experts warn, because consumers cannot judge the quality of care from fees alone, and different patients require different treatments.

Still, even rough approximations can be useful, particularly for the increasing numbers of patients with high-deductible plans or no insurance at all.

My Medical Control also provides a first glimpse of what free-flowing price data can do for patients after treatment. From a variety of public and private sources, Mr. Cahill said, the company has put together a database detailing the wholesale reimbursement rates paid by major insurers for thousands of procedures. In essence, My Medical Control claims to know the lowest rate that a hospital or clinic has already accepted for a given service.

If a client is not being billed at that price, then the company’s representatives will call and bargain for it. From a typical claim of $1,100, Mr. Cahill said, the company shaves an average of $232 . “The higher your deductible, the less the health insurance company is providing oversight on your claim,” he said. “It’s not their money.”

The market for services like Mr. Cahill’s is likely to grow, and fast. According to the federal researchers, out-of-pocket expenses for hospital patients will rise 9.1 percent this year alone.

Record labels go after USC downloaders
By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Jim Puzzanghera
Times Staff Writers

7:05 PM PST, February 28, 2007

If they don't quit illegally downloading music, some USC students may end up having to fight on ... in court.

The record industry's main trade group said Wednesday that it was mailing letters to 20 of the school's students whom it had identified as song bootleggers.

The letters warn that an expensive lesson awaits if the students don't stop the practice. Settle, the dispatches say, or be sued.

The mailings are part of a stepped-up legal fight by the Recording Industry Assn. of America against music downloading amid indications of a dramatic increase in the number of songs exchanged illegally via the Internet.

The association said that overall it was sending 400 warning letters to students at 13 universities to sue several thousand students.

"We'd rather not be doing these lawsuits ... but the fact remains that the college environment is one that has rampant piracy," said association Chairman Mitch Bainwol.

Omar Riza, 21, a USC student from Aliso Viejo, called the legal action heavy-handed. He said a friend of his was one of more than two dozen USC students sued by the trade group in 2005 for using file-sharing site i2hub. The industry demanded $21,000 in compensation for the downloaded songs, but later reduced that amount to $3,000, Riza said.

"This is an intellectual property issue," Riza said. "This isn't a crime of murder."

But others, such as Christina Carey, 19, believe that the industry has the right to go after students who illegally download.

"It's completely fair that the music industry would do that," said Carey. "They're getting robbed."

She said she never illegally downloaded music, but acknowledged there was a thin line between sharing and pirating. Carey makes CDs for friends, she said, but some of them won't accept copies of CDs even as gifts.

The mailings, which the industry calls "pre-litigation settlement letters," are being sent to each student's school. They warn that a suit might be filed against one of the school's students or employees and asks that the letter be immediately forwarded.

The student or employee then can settle for a smaller payment than the industry would seek in a lawsuit. The association says it will continue sending out 400 letters a month to universities where illegal downloading occurs on the schools' computer systems.

"We heard often from those who were caught in a lawsuit they wanted a way to settle earlier and wanted a way to avoid having anything part of a record in federal court," said Steven Marks, the industry group's general counsel. The settlements would require the person to agree not to illegally download music in the future and pay an undisclosed amount that is "substantially less than people are paying now."

USC received an e-mail Wednesday from the the trade group about the notices but said the university hasn't received any yet, university counsel Kelly Bendell said.

In the past the industry would issue a subpoena to USC seeking to learn the name of the person corresponding with the numeric Internet address of a suspected downloader, Bendell said. The school would notify the student that it had received a subpoena, and alert the student that he or she could file a motion seeking to quash it. Otherwise, the school would disclose the person's name.

Now, it appears that the industry wants the school to notify the student that it would like to negotiate a settlement before a suit is filed, Bendell said.

"I don't know yet how we'll handle that," said Bendell. "Most likely, we would go ahead and notify the student. Obviously, we would not turn over their names without receiving a subpoena."

The American Council On Education, which represents 1,800 colleges and universities, forwarded a letter about the plan from the trade group to the presidents of member schools along with the council's advice "to review the proposal with legal counsel and determine whether this approach makes sense for your campus."

Other major universities getting the letters include Arizona State, Syracuse, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and Massachusetts.

The industry has sued about 1,000 college students since 2004, when the group began its crackdown on campuses. Recent studies show colleges continue to be a hotbed of music piracy.

The market research firm NPD Group found a 55% surge in the number of files being exchanged on Internet file-sharing networks over the last year. College-age students — traditionally the most ardent music fans — account for 39% of all the unauthorized content that's illicitly traded.

Music fans 18 to 25 years old are increasingly getting their music for free, either by borrowing a friend's CD and importing the tracks onto their computers or by downloading bootlegged songs from peer-to-peer networks, on which data is exchanged between computers, according to NPD.

"There's a real zest for music, but unfortunately that desire is being filled by a lot of unpaid content," said Russ Crupnick, vice president of NPD.

The recording industry group also cited a recent survey by the University of Richmond that that found more than half of college students illegally download music and movies.

Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, said that threatening a lawsuit could be just as effective a deterrent as suing but wouldn't solve the campus piracy problem.

"As long as every CD that ships is filled with unprotected music, there's not much they can do about it," he said.

Pauly Shore on Joe Rogan VS Carlos Mencia on Live 105

Playboy boss Hefner is set to marry Holly Madison

Playboy boss Hefner is set to marry Madison
He may be in his eighties, but wedding bells will reportedly soon be ringing for Playboy boss Hugh Hefner.

The octogenarian is said to be planning a wedding to one of his Playmates Holly Madison, who has been his chief girlfriend for some time now.

A source revealed that Hefner had made up his mind, though he was keeping it a secret for the time being as monogamy will kill his reality TV show 'The Girls Next Door'.

The insider added that Hefner was also eager to wed Madison, for he believes that it would generate great interest in his show.

"This is very secret, but the word is 'yes,'. Hef has decided he will marry Holly, and he wants it for his show, 'The Girls Next Door.' Hef thinks business all the time, and looks for a new hook, although he also does really love Holly," the New York Post quoted the source, as saying.

And though Hefner enjoys the attention of two other beauties on the show, he's chosen Madison as she happens to be the most dedicated.

"But Hef sees that she is the most dedicated," said the source.

"Kendra is never there, and they both hate each other, and Bridget is hanging on by being very friendly to Holly," the insider revealed.

Hefner has been married twice before.

The New York Times
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February 28, 2007

A CBS Take on the YouTube Madness

WITH March coming in tomorrow, the March Madness days of college basketball are not far away. A division of CBS is hoping to intensify the mania by offering students and other fans a chance to create exuberant, exhortatory video clips and share them with friends, family and strangers — and use them, not incidentally, to taunt anyone who roots for opposing teams.

The CSTV Networks division of the CBS Corporation is starting a campaign today with the theme “Are you fan enough?,” inviting viewers to upload the do-it-yourself video clips to a community section of the CSTV Web site ( The campaign will appear on CSTV and all during March Madness — officially, the men’s basketball tournament of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which begins on March 15 — and will end after the championship game is played in Atlanta on April 2.

The campaign represents the largest effort to date by CSTV to take part in a popular trend known as user-generated content, which seeks to capitalize on the eagerness of younger consumers to produce and share video clips on Web sites like MySpace and YouTube.

“This campaign is about the voice of the fans,” said Brian T. Bedol, president and chief executive at CSTV Networks in New York. “It says CSTV is a brand that connects college sports fans to their passion.”

America is experiencing the rise of “a video filmmaker culture,” Mr. Bedol said, now that “video cameras are in the hands of millions of everyday citizens in the form of digital cameras, camcorders and cellphones.”

As a result, “we’ve watched the quality of user-generated content increase pretty dramatically over the last year or so,” he added.

In addition to media companies like CBS and Time Warner, many marketers have begun exploring the realms of user-generated content and video sharing. For example, during the Academy Awards show on Sunday on ABC, Unilever ran a commercial created by a consumer that promoted a new product, Dove Cream Oil Body Wash. The spot can now be seen on a special Web site (

Also, during Super Bowl XLI, on CBS on Feb. 4, three advertisers ran four spots that were created by consumers or based on consumer ideas. They were the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo, General Motors and the National Football League.

The growing interest in creating and sharing video clips “is where consumers are going,” said Tom Shipley, director for global industry development at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, part of the Anheuser-Busch Companies. “It’s something they expect.”

Anheuser-Busch is teaming up with Blue Lithium, an online marketing company in San Jose, Calif., to introduce a promotional program called Clink as part of its “Here’s to beer” campaign. The program, to be housed on MingleNow, a social networking Web site (, will let members upload and share photographs as well as video clips.

Anheuser-Busch also plans to add a video-sharing feature to, the entertainment Web site the company introduced this month.

Sports is considered a fertile field for user-generated content because of the intensity of fan interest. Two professional leagues — the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League — have made deals to start branded channels on

“What makes YouTube and MySpace successful is the passion of people who are trying to post on those sites,” said Greg Weitekamp, broadcasting director for the N.C.A.A. in Indianapolis. “We’re excited to see what CSTV will be doing.”

To encourage college basketball fans to create and share March Madness video clips, CSTV asked Planet 3, an agency in Santa Monica, Calif., to produce examples of the kinds of material it hopes to receive. Planet 3 created six energetic, humorous commercials featuring actors who portray ardent fans of hoops powerhouses as well as lesser-known teams.

“I’m the Ba-baller,” an actor proclaims in one spot, “here to represent San Diego State.” Another spot replies to that one: a different actor taunts the “Ba-baller” by declaring, “You can’t get past the Running Rebels” of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Perhaps the best commercial features a pair of actors trying to channel comedy skits like “Wayne’s World” or Bob and Doug McKenzie of “The Great White North” as they support tiny Winona State University, which is the defending champion of Division II.

“Win, Winona,” the two young men chant. “Win, win, Winona.” When one asks, “So why do you think we never lose?,” the other replies deadpan, “Probably because nobody can beat us.”

The sample commercials are scheduled to run on CBS, CSTV, CW, MySpace and YouTube. They can also be watched on the section of the network’s Web site.

“We tried to be as close to authentic as we could,” said Dylan Gerber, president at Planet 3, in reflecting “the intense feeling the fans have for their teams and the fierce rivalries between schools.”

Casey Moulton, creative director at Planet 3, likened the desire of fans to become videographers to the loyal way “they go to the games and cheer.”

“The hope is the fans take over and tell the story of the tournament,” he said.

The CSTV campaign is indicative of the growing importance of March Madness to CBS, which paid $6 billion for rights to the tournament from 2003 through 2014. The company covers the games on its CBS broadcast network and began last year to present free, ad-supported Webcasts of games from the first three rounds on sites like

The Webcasts were a big hit, drawing five million visitors. CBS Sports estimated this week that it would sell $9 million to $10 million worth of ads for the Webcasts next month, compared with $4 million to $5 million in ad revenue last year.

If the fan campaign is deemed successful, Mr. Bedol said, it may return later this year, for the college football season.

The basketball video clips will be screened for language and appropriateness before going online, he added, but the goal will be to preserve their reality and spontaneity.

Awaiting the video clips is “like white-water rafting,” Mr. Bedol said, laughing. “I can’t wait to see the direction this goes.”

“Part of it,” he added, “is, ‘Hold on tight.’ ”

Oscar winner was first MySpace Film user

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Oscar winner "West Bank Story," a short film directed by Ari Sandel of Los Angeles, was the first film profiled on MySpace Film.

"West Bank Story" won the Oscar for best live-action short film Sunday during the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Sandal created "West Bank Story" while earning his master's degree in film production at the University of Southern California, MySpace said. The short film is a musical comedy about David, an Israeli soldier, and Fatima, a Palestinian fast food cashier, who fall in love while their families fight each other for business at their falafel stands in the West Bank.

MySpace said it chose Sandel and "West Bank Story" to be the first featured filmmaker and film on the site a year ago. MySpace said more than 50,000 filmmakers now use MySpace to raise awareness and promote their films through MySpace Film.

Two Oscar-nominated documentaries were also recently featured on MySpace Film, "Iraq in Fragments" and "Jesus Camp."

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Paris the Thought: A.P. Says Au Revoir to Hilton Hottie
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On Feb. 13, the Associated Press declared its plans to boldly go where few wire services would dare to go in this day and age: the no–Paris Hilton zone.
“Next week,” entertainment editor Jesse Washington wrote in an e-mail memo obtained by The Transom, “the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.
“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”
The results of the experiment, naturally, will be fodder for a future A.P. story. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” read the memo, which could have used some stern copy-editing, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”
Reached for comment, Mr. Washington said, “There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing. A lot of people in the newsroom were saying this was tampering with the news.” One editor’s response was apparently: “This is a great idea—can we add North Korea?”
Mr. Washington said he was inspired by the fact that, in the past year, Ms. Hilton has appeared on the A.P. wire about twice a week.
“We got lucky,” he said. “Totally by accident, her birthday party was the day before we started the experiment. There really weren’t any major news stories involving Paris, so we didn’t have that many really tough decisions to make.” Though “her name did pop up in a couple stories, despite my best efforts.”

Swiss Newspaper Falls for Prankster's Fake Gucci Ad

February 27, 2007 10:00 AM ET

ZURICH, Switzerland Some people will do anything to appear in the papers. But few have the audacity of a man in Switzerland, who conned one of the country's biggest media companies into publishing a two-page ad he created of himself posing semi-naked beside a bottle of Gucci perfume.

The man, who claimed to represent the Italian fashion giant, called up the Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung last week to book the expensive color spread in Sunday's edition, a spokesman for the paper said.

Christoph Zimmer told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the man asked for the 60,000-Swiss-franc (about $50,000) bill to be sent to Gucci.

"We've spoken to Gucci and apologized for the mistake," Zimmer said. "We're going to try and get the money back from this guy, but we don't rate our chances."

The Milan, Italy-based Gucci could not be reached for comment.

Zimmer said the paper fell for the scam because the call arrived too late for the advertising department to check whether it was genuine.

It wasn't the first time that the mysterious model — a dark, handsome man appearing to be in his late 20s — tried to sneak his way into the limelight.

According to the Zurich-based daily Blick, the man attempted to book concert venues by passing himself off as Puerto Rican singer Chayanne. The paper said it narrowly avoided also being conned, but was tipped of the hoax by record company Sony BMG, which represents Chayanne.

The man is under investigation for alleged fraud, said Meinrad Stoecklin, a spokesman for police in the canton (state) of Basel.

Costco halts liberal electronics return policy

Refunds were costing the warehouse store chain 'tens of millions of dollars' a year.

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By Leslie Earnest and Adrian G. Uribarri
Times Staff Writers

February 28, 2007

It was a return policy made in shopper heaven, but it became hellish for Costco Wholesale Corp.

Customers at the membership warehouse chain could buy a snazzy big-screen TV, use it indefinitely and take it back anytime. They could use their refund to buy a newer model — often for a cheaper price.

Costco's generous policy was a big hit with consumers. "It was probably the best return policy in retail," said Jamil Brush, a 30-year-old Los Angeles claims examiner. "They pretty much would take back anything."

But even grateful shoppers suspected that others were abusing the policy. After all, Brush added, "what, basically, would stop someone from buying something, using it for a little bit, and taking it back?"

This week, after losing "tens of millions of dollars" annually on the policy, Costco said enough.

Its return policy for consumer electronics was cut to 90 days in California. The policy will take effect nationwide over the next month. The changes come as many in the industry are rethinking return policies.

Customer reaction was mixed.

The policy change was no surprise to Mike Lopez, a police officer shopping at Costco's Atwater Village store Tuesday. When a plasma TV he bought in 2004 started losing color last year, the Glendale resident returned it with "no questions asked."

"It was awesome. It was great," Lopez said. "It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that someone was going to abuse it eventually."

Others were annoyed. Glendale resident Ofelia Ayvazyan said Tuesday that Costco staff made her wait more than 20 minutes before letting her return a 42-inch flat-screen television she bought three years ago.

She said she would shop for electronics elsewhere from now on — after she spent the store credit worth $2,932.72. "I'm not happy with the new policy," Ayvazyan said, but "at least I got my money back to buy a new one."

The return policy had been a draw for Christine Domantay, a stay-at-home mom. "There are other places where their prices are lower, but I shopped at Costco because it was more of a guarantee," she said. "Now, I'm just probably going to buy it somewhere else where prices are more reasonable."

The warehouse chain is reining in its cushy return policy for electronic products, such as TVs, computers, cameras and iPods. At the same time, Costco said it would expand the manufacturer's warranties on computers and TVs to two years from one. The new policy won't affect items purchased before Monday.

Costco will continue to allow shoppers an unlimited period of time to return other types of merchandise.

Company President Jim Senegal said the big problem with electronics was that they had become so complicated that people got frustrated when trying to set up and operate them, so they returned them.

The problem was costing Costco "literally tens of millions of dollars" annually, said Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti, who maintained that the initial reaction from customers had been supportive.

"Nine out of 10 of the people blogging are defending it, saying, 'Hey, this is great,' " he said.

Across the industry, retailers are tightening their return policies, said retail expert Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a business strategy firm.

"Shoppers seem to be doing more and more sophisticated scamming because they think retailers are making a mountain of money," he said, when profits actually are often "razor thin."

But Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, said retailers' fears that shoppers would abuse return policies generally were overblown.

"The number of people who abuse the policy is minuscule compared to the number of people who are going to be upset" by Costco's decision, said Beemer, who has polled 8 million consumers over nearly three decades.

He predicts that other retailers with generous return policies on electronics will benefit as long as they don't follow suit. "If I were Sam's Club, I'd make a big deal out of it at this point," Beemer said.

Sam's Club has a six-month limit for computer returns but will retain its "100% satisfaction guarantee" on everything else, spokeswoman Susan Koehler said Tuesday. "From your membership to a food item, it is returnable," she said.

Historically, Costco's policy was that customers could return anything anytime, Galanti said.

But about 4 1/2 years ago, Costco — which charges an annual membership fee of $50 to $100 to shop at its warehouse stores — changed its return policy on computers "from infinity to six months," he said.

In an effort to make sure shoppers kept what they bought, Costco more recently began offering technical support on electronics items.
Personal assistant of Anna Nicole Smith reveals shocking details

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The personal assistant of Anna Nicole Smith, Nathan Collins, has given an interview to the National Enquirer about what the TrimSpa model and Playboy Playmate's life was like before her death on February 8th at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. As you might imagine, the details are shocking or as shocking as anything can be in the increasingly more over-the-top story of Anna Nicole Smith. According to Nathan Collins, Anna Nicole Smith enjoyed sex with both genders, hired prostitutes for her son Daniel (who died last September just days after his mom gave birth to his sister Dannielynn), and was definitely hooked on drugs.

The interview about Anna Nicole Smith through the eyes of her personal assistant will be published in the new issue of the National Enquirer. Nathan Collins is claiming that he frequently saw Howard K. Stern, the lawyer and alleged lover of Anna Nicole Smith, inject the former reality TV star with Phenegram, an anti-nausea medication. According to, Collins also claims that Stern kept Smith well stocked with a variety of prescription drugs like Xanax, Vicodin, and methadone. Considering the fact that a combination of drugs led to the death of Daniel Smith, that has been the number one suspect in a cause for Anna Nicole Smith's death since her passing three weeks ago.

Collins tells the National Enquirer that he once fought with Howard K. Stern over the dosage that the attorney was administering to Anna Nicole Smith, saying that when Anna asked that her Lexapro, an anti-depressant, dosage be doubled, red flags were raised in the assistant's mind and he fought with Stern. "He knew it could be harmful or fatal but backed off because Anna was in charge. What Anna wanted, Anna got. Everyone wanted to appease Anna."

The assistant to Anna Nicole Smith calls Howard K. Stern "an enabler" and that he obtained multiple prescriptions under her legal name - Vickie Lynn Marshall - and even used other aliases to get the woman more drugs. Collins even claims that the staff knew that if there was an overdose they weren't allowed to call 911 and were instructed just to drive Anna Nicole Smith to the closest hospital and that "Her medications were to be hidden."

Nathan Collins also told the paper that Anna Nicole Smith was once so strung out on drugs that she had a hallucination involving rats under he bed - "It was very sad to watch."

Collins believes that Anna Nicole Smith and Howard K. Stern were close at one point but that they were no longer sleeping together long before the Playmate got pregnant - "I believe Larry Birkhead is the father of Anna's baby. She's a very sexual person. She had a lot of wild encounters."

Finally, Collins claims that Anna Nicole Smith hired two escorts for her virgin son Daniel because she started to question his sexuality but that "Daniel never went through with it."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

NY youths in plea deal for MySpace extortion

Defendants Shaun Harrison, right and Saverio Mondelli, appear in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday, Feb. 26, 2007. The New York computer programmers have been accused of plotting to extort money from the operators of Harrison and Mondelli, both 19, pleaded no contest Monday to unauthorized access of a computer system and were sentenced to three years probation.Defendants Shaun Harrison, right and Saverio Mondelli, appear in a Los Angeles courtroom Monday, Feb. 26, 2007. The New York computer programmers have been accused of plotting to extort money from the operators of Harrison and Mondelli, both 19, pleaded no contest Monday to unauthorized access of a computer system and were sentenced to three years probation.

Linda Deutsch, AP

Published: Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two New York men accused of trying to extort $150,000 from by developing code that tracked visitors pleaded no contest Monday to illegal computer access in a bargain with the prosecution.

Two counts of attempted extortion and another illegal computer access count were dropped in the deal, which gave the defendants three years probation. Each had faced up to nearly four years in prison.

Shaun Harrison, 19, and Saverio Mondelli, 20, of Suffolk County, N.Y., were accused of demanding the money as a "consulting fee" from the News Corp. subsidiary. The pair were offering the code on their own Web site for $29.95 and claimed to be developing an unbreakable version. MySpace had blocked the existing version after it was discovered.

The popular MySpace social-networking site — where people create elaborate profiles and personalize them with photos, music and video — is supposed to offer anonymity to visitors who browse the pages.

But Harrison and Mondelli's program collected e-mail addresses and Internet Protocol addresses, prosecutors said. Such information could have been used by stalkers trying to locate MySpace users, said Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey A. McGrath.

The men sold access to several versions of the code to computer users, who could then apply it to their own MySpace profiles. That type of traffic monitoring violates MySpace's rules.

The men boasted they had around 85,000 registered users of their tracking program, but investigators have not determined how much information users were able to cull, McGrath said.

The plea bargain, also agreed to by Paul L. Gabbert, attorney for the young men, severely restricts their access to computers, limits them to one e-mail address each, and requires they do 160 hours of community service and pay MySpace $13,500 in restitution.

Superior Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau told the defendants that if they violate their agreement they could go to prison. She said they will be subject to search of their computers at any time and they may not access directly or indirectly.

The defendants stood before the commissioner and acknowledged the terms of the agreement, but neither spoke other than to answer "yes."

Outside court, Gabbert said that the agreement came from "the recognition that they are young and made a mistake and to give them a second chance."

He said they set up their business right out of high school, are going to college and "they will continue to be creative and not transgress the law."

McGrath said the young men, who were extremely proficient in the Web multimedia program Flash, were discovered by the operators of MySpace and were sent a "cease and desist" order by e-mail.

The pair sent a reply saying, "We will neither cease nor desist" and announced on their Web site that they were developing an even more sophisticated system that would soon be for sale, prosecutors said.

The problem for MySpace was that the pair's identities were not known because they were operating under pseudonyms.

The prosecution said the company then began "quasi negotiations" with the two. They were arrested last May when they flew to Los Angeles to collect the $150,000 but actually met with undercover Secret Service and district attorney's investigators, prosecutors said.

Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, said the site is committed to protecting users.

"We are pleased with outcome of this case and hope that it sends a message to anyone thinking about causing harm to the MySpace community," Nigam said in an e-mail statement.

McGrath said there are other companies offering similar services on the Internet and that MySpace is constantly trying to shut them down.

Graffiti mars school media event

Bus carrying officials is tagged during tour to show off new stop closer to campus so students can avoid gang area.

Mark of disrespectA youth tags an MTA bus carrying Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. Unified Supt. David L. Brewer during a media event to announce a new bus stop behind the Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles.

By Angie Green
Times Staff Writer

February 27, 2007

The two-block walk from the MTA bus stop to campus has often been a frightening ordeal for students at the Santee Education Complex just south of downtown Los Angeles.

Some have complained of gang activity and being harassed or robbed — including one student who was held up at gunpoint. The area was branded by Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. David L. Brewer as "one of the worst blocks" in the area.

On Monday, Brewer, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials trumpeted a new tactic to ease the fears: locating a bus stop directly behind the school so students don't have to navigate through a gang-plagued neighborhood.

But just as officials were applauding their accomplishment, they got a fresh perspective on campus security problems when their bus got tagged.

While the crowded Metro bus carrying Brewer, Villaraigosa and a crowd of journalists was stopped at Washington Boulevard and Maple Avenue, an unidentified youth believed to be a Santee student dashed up and scrawled graffiti on a side window.

As word of the incident rippled through the crowd, Villaraigosa asked that the bus be stopped to catch the tagger. Officials soon thought better of the idea, and rather than create a traffic hazard at a busy intersection, pledged to identify and deal with the student today.

Still, the mayor was heard to say that the boy should do "a lot of community service" after being caught.

Officials didn't seem to see any irony or humor in the timing of the brazen vandalism. "It's a cry out for help," said Vince Carbino, Santee's principal. He said he will meet with the youth, together with one of the school's social workers, to "help the student and get him on the right track."

Carbino said that once the student's identity is confirmed, his name will be passed on to the Los Angeles Police Department. Carbino, who is also a licensed child counselor and a former police officer, said the student did not appear to be a gang member and most likely scribbled on the window for "attention-seeking purposes."

Carbino said the tagging was an example of what his students see on a daily basis. "They see kids writing on walls, kids writing on business walls, gang graffiti and tagging," he said.

All the same, Monday was an upbeat day for a group of about 30 students called the Peace Committee who had been pushing for months for a bus stop closer to campus. Eventually, they spoke with Brewer, who in turn called Villaraigosa. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was brought in and plans were made to add a bus stop behind the school and out of the range of gang-related crime.

On Monday afternoon, Jose Rios, a student member of the Peace Committee, thanked Brewer, Villaraigosa and other school board and MTA officials for working together to add the new stop last week at 23rd Street and Maple Avenue.

"Now we don't have to worry about going home in terror about being jacked or robbed," said Rios, a 17-year-old senior, who was held up at gunpoint for his iPod last year.

The area is so plagued with gang activity that many of the school's approximately 3,300 students have skipped after-school activities to avoid walking to the old stop at Adams Boulevard and Maple Avenue. The two blocks along Maple Avenue, filled with small markets, a coin laundry and a hardware store, account for 30 to 40 gang-related incidents a month, Carbino said.

About 600 students used the route before the addition of the new bus stop, he said. Now that the fear of being harassed or attacked by a gang member has significantly decreased, Carbino said, 1,200 to 1,400 students will use the bus after they leave class, tutoring, drama or athletics practices.

"They will no longer have to go through gang territory," he said. "They will have less anxiety and be able to focus on their academics rather than their well-being."

Monday, February 26, 2007

The New York Times
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February 26, 2007

An Ad Upstart Challenges Google

Google and Yahoo have been fighting it out over which company will dominate the online advertising business, with Google maintaining the upper hand so far.

But in the competition for contextual text ads — those small sponsored links that run adjacent to related articles online — both companies are facing a challenge from a tiny but growing adversary named Quigo Technologies, a New York-based ad service that bills itself as an alternative to the giants.

In the last year and a half, a trickle of large media sites like, and Cox Newspapers’ 17 sites have stopped using Google and Yahoo and instead signed up with Quigo.

What Quigo offers is transparency and control in what can often be an opaque business: advertisers pay Yahoo and Google for contextual ad placement on a wide variety of Web pages, but get little say over where those ads run or even a list of sites where they do appear.

Quigo, by contrast, gives advertisers not only the list of specific sites where their ads have appeared but also the opportunity to buy only on specific Web sites or particular pages on those sites. It also allows media company sites like and a chance to manage their own relationships with advertisers.

Although Quigo remains a small competitor, with less than 10 percent of the contextual ad business, its growing success has apparently persuaded Google, which is accustomed to calling the shots in all aspects of its business, that it has to change the way it sells the sponsored link ads in the future.

At stake is a growing portion of the online ad business, as traditional media companies try to monetize every corner of their Web sites. Contextual ads generated about $2 billion in revenue last year, or 13 percent of online ad spending, according to eMarketer, an Internet advertising research firm. About 60 percent of that money went to Google, David Hallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer, said.

A central point in Quigo’s pitch to publishers is that it will let them keep control of their relationships with advertisers.

“We are gaining a lot of share,” said Michael Yavonditte, the chief executive of Quigo. “This has become a multibillion-dollar industry with no clear second-place company. There’s a lot of opportunity for other companies to put their own stamp on it.”

Here is how this contextual advertising has traditionally worked: Google and Yahoo post ads on hundreds of thousands of Web sites, but both operate as blind networks — they do not tell advertisers which sites their contextual ads run on. Instead, the advertisers buy keywords for ads across Google and Yahoo’s vast networks of Web sites, including the home pages of big media companies and the smallest of bloggers.

It would be akin to an advertiser buying space on 100 national television programs, but not being told when the ads ran. Google and Yahoo argue that because advertisers only pay when the ads are clicked on, that more specific information is irrelevant.

Nor has Google allowed advertisers to bid for keyword ads on specific Web sites — say, Quigo says blind network buying lowers the prices that premier Web publishers receive because advertisers bid expecting an average site rather than a well-known, desirable one.

“Google, Yahoo and most other blind networks sit in the middle and own the advertiser relationships,” said Henry Vogel, the chief revenue officer of Quigo, which was founded in Israel in 2001. “By outsourcing their performance marketing programs to them, publishers get a check but little else. They don’t really build any longer-lasting strategic assets.”

Both Yahoo and Google play down Quigo’s inroads into the business. Emily Fox, a spokeswoman for Yahoo, said her company was not aware of losing any contextual text ad clients to Quigo other than ESPN. Kim Malone, director of online sales and operations for Google AdSense, said Google did not worry about Quigo.

“The David-and-Goliath story is always a great account,” Ms. Malone said, “but I think in this case, it’s just not accurate . We have a number of large publishers who have tried out other solutions, and they always come back.”

In response to further questions about Quigo, though, Google said it was prepared to make changes to its AdSense service that mimicked Quigo’s approach, an unusual step for a company accustomed to mapping the terrain in every aspect of its business.

In the next few months, Google’s advertiser reports will begin listing the sites where each ad runs, Ms. Malone said. She added that advertisers on the Google networks would soon be able to bid on contextual ads on particular Web sites rather than simply buying keywords that appeared across Google’s entire network.

Still, Ms. Malone said she did not see much of consequence coming from the changes. “We don’t expect a lot of demand for that placement targeting,” she said. “It’s the brand, the display advertisers who care where they run.”

But ad executives have another view.

Jason Clement, associate director of search engine management at Carat Fusion, an agency in the Aegis Group that buys online ads for large advertisers, says the lack of transparency has kept some large advertisers from spending heavily on contextual ads.

In a contextual advertising test on Yahoo and Google, some clients report bad experiences with their ads’ showing up in odd places. For example, Mr. Clement said a large client of his saw an ad run late last year alongside an article that said soy milk might be linked to homosexuality.

Mr. Clement said he frequently received calls from clients about odd placements, and, he said, they worried about click fraud — a practice in which people click on ads solely to make money for the sites that carry them.

“Last year was really the year of testing these contextual networks,” Mr. Clement said. “We had essentially pulled all of those big advertisers off of the ad networks by the end of the year.”

ESPN switched to Quigo from Yahoo last fall, in part, because of Quigo’s transparency, said Ed Erhardt, the network’s president of customer marketing and sales.

“When it’s blind advertising, you know, it’s just a different kind of buy,” Mr. Erhardt said.

Advertisers will often pay more for ads on sites like than they will for ads on little-known blogs, executives said. Quigo’s transparency about where ads run encourages advertisers to spend more for each click than they would on Google or Yahoo, said Jason Klein, co-chief executive of Special Ops Media, an interactive ad agency.

“Because traditional networks are blind, I’ve always assumed that many of the places where your ads come up are on B- and C-level sites,” Mr. Klein said. “With Quigo, you know it’s on, not Joe Schmo’s sports blog. It’s a premium site, and you’re willing to spend more money.”

For the big media companies, Quigo offers another advantage: it allows them to sell their own contextual ads and run the ads under their own brands rather than Quigo’s. In many cases, ads placed by Google run under a header that says “Ads By Google.” More important than the label, though, is that media companies can sell their advertisers Quigo contextual ads, whereas Google handles all of the sales for its publishers. That lets media companies, where advertiser relationships have long been important, keep control over those ties.

Cox Newspapers used Google AdSense for about two years, but in July, all Cox sites were shifted to Quigo for the text ads.

Cox wanted to sell its own contextual ads and have its brand, rather than Google’s, be the one advertisers see, said Tonya Echols, director of business intelligence at COXnet, the Internet division of Cox Newspapers, a part of Cox Enterprises.

“We’re already talking to advertisers,” Ms. Echols said. “We already have those relationships. We’ve been in our markets for decades.”

While Quigo sells the ads for some media companies, like the Martha Stewart Weddings site, others are selling their own ads., which began working exclusively with Quigo in 2004, has brought more than 600 advertisers into the Quigo system, Mr. Vogel said.

The contextual ad business is still a small part of large publishers’ revenue from their Web sites. Display and video ads tend to be more lucrative, but this does not mean that media companies ignore the contextual business.

Mr. Vogel said he was not worried about Google’s coming changes to make its system more transparent. He said Quigo would remain distinct because of the priority it placed on giving publishers control and information about advertiser budgets, and its proprietary formulas that select the best ad placement and designs., which is Quigo’s most recent convert, was an early participant in Google’s AdSense program, and then switched to another third-party provider called IndustryBrains before coming to Quigo this month. Jim Spanfeller, chief executive of, said switching from Google was “a dollar-and-cent thing.”

“We could make more money with somebody else,” he said.

At the newspaper chain McClatchy, contextual ads are just shy of 2 percent of the company’s online sales, said Christian Hendricks, the vice president for interactive media.

McClatchy is currently testing Quigo’s ads at four of its papers, including The Fresno Bee, to compare it with Yahoo and Google. Mr. Hendricks said McClatchy was attracted to Quigo because it sells ads specifically for the individual newspapers, rather than using a blind network.

“What we’re trying to do is maximize revenues,” Mr. Hendricks said. “At this point, it looks like Quigo is performing better, but it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. All the other networks have to do is start selling our brands.”

Supreme Court weighs police action in 100 mph chase scene from the police video taken of the crash that paralyzed plaintiff Victor Harris.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reality-TV invaded the Supreme Court Monday, where a majority of justices seemed to support the actions of a deputy sheriff involved in a high-speed car chase and crash, caught on tape, that permanently injured a fleeing suspect.

At issue is whether Deputy Timothy Scott used "unreasonable" deadly force when he purposely drove his police cruiser into the back of Victor Harris' car in an effort to stop the vehicle. Harris become a quadriplegic as a result of the accident.

Scott's dashboard camera videotaped the six-minute chase. (Watch the car chaseVideo)

Harris, 19 at the time and driving on a suspended license, was never charged with a felony in the case, and his attorney claimed traffic citations were delivered to the young man while he was still in the hospital.

Neither he nor Harris agreed to be interviewed.

This is the first time the high court has heard a case involving police chases, and lower federal appeals courts have been split on the issue.

Eight of the nine justices admitted they had seen the tape of the chase before the oral arguments, and they seemed fascinated by it, debating it for an hour. Most appeared sympathetic to Scott's claim he was confronted by a fleeing motorist who refused to stop.

Harris "created a tremendous risk (for) drivers on that road," said Justice Samuel Alito.

"He created the scariest chase I ever saw since 'The French Connection,'" said Justice Antonin Scalia, likening it to the 1971 movie noted for its wild pursuit sequence.

"The question was whether he was creating a substantial risk" to other drivers, added Justice David Souter. "How could a jury find otherwise?"

But while the justices might back Scott's actions, the high court may be forced to conclude a jury could see things differently.

A legal sticking point is whether the law was sufficiently clear at the time of the 2001 incident, so that Scott should have known his actions were in obvious violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, when he rammed the vehicle.

The justices might throw the case back to the lower courts and let them decide, thereby sidestepping the broader constitutional questions. The lawsuit was put on hold while such questions were appealed.

The facts of the case presented stark legal differences over how force should be applied in a broader context of police pursuits.

The police video shows Harris speeding more than 100 miles an hour, leading officers across two counties. At times he crosses the double yellow line on the road to pass about 36 cars.

At one point, Harris pulls into a shopping center parking lot, with Scott and two deputies trying to block him. Harris then hits Scott's vehicle while fleeing. The officer radios his supervisor requesting permission to use potentially deadly force to stop Harris.

"Let me have him, my car's already tore up," he says on the tape.

"Go ahead and take him out," orders the supervisor.

But Scott later stated Harris was going too fast and he was worried about other drivers on the road, so the officer rammed the escaping Buick directly with his push bumper, causing it to go airborne down an embankment and crash.

"If Scott had stopped the pursuit at that point (in the parking lot), maybe he would have slowed down," suggested Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Studies introduced by Harris' lawyers have shown a majority of speeding drivers would do just that. "If the police weren't after him, there is no indication that he would have been (continuing) speeding."

"Well, he was speeding before police knew about him, right?" asked Chief Justice John Roberts. "That's where this all started."

"At any time, Mr. Harris could have either slowed down his vehicle or stopped, and he chose not to do that," said Philip Savrin, Scott's attorney.

But Souter wondered whether ramming a car at 90 miles an hour was justified. "How could such a belief be reasonable?"

Harris had testified he was scared when officers first turned on their sirens, and did not want his car impounded.

L.A. madam's 'trick book' is unsealed

Jody 'Babydol' Gibson's list of alleged clients includes Bruce Willis and Tom Lasorda. They both deny using her services.
By Chuck Philips
Times Staff Writer

6:25 PM PST, February 26, 2007

When Hollywood madam Jody "Babydol" Gibson was busted eight years ago, word that police had seized her list of celebrity clients stirred intense curiosity in Hollywood — and not a little worry.

The much-anticipated disclosure of famous names never occurred, however. The evidence presented to the jury that convicted Gibson in 2000 of operating an international prostitution ring included phone books and other records in which, prosecutors said, she listed her customers. But authorities blacked out the names in publicly available court records.

Now, their identities are entering the public domain.

In "Secrets of a Hollywood SuperMadam," an autobiography due in bookstores Thursday, Gibson names two dozen celebrities she says patronized her call-girl service.

Many of the names also appear in her phone books, a payment log and other records from the case that have been unsealed by Los Angeles Superior Court and can now be viewed in unredacted form.

A review of the court file shows that Gibson listed actor Bruce Willis; former Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda; Steve Jones, the Sex Pistols guitarist and KDLE-FM (103.1) radio jock; and the late film producer Don Simpson, among others.

Willis and Lasorda said through their lawyers that they never used Gibson's service and had no idea why their names appeared in her records. They accused Gibson of exploiting their fame to boost her book sales.

"I have never heard of this woman and don't know why she would accuse me of something like this," Lasorda said in a statement issued by his attorney, Tony Capozzola. "But if she prints these lies, I intend to sue."

Willis' attorney, Marty Singer, said: "The story is a complete fabrication. [Willis] doesn't know this woman. He's never even spoken to her."

A former lawyer for Simpson said the producer, who died in 1996, never patronized Gibson's business.

Jones said he might have used Gibson's escort service. "It's possible," he said. "I crossed paths with her back then. She was a madam, but if I remember right, she wanted to be a singer in a band."

Authorities never prosecuted any of Gibson's clients, and there is no independent evidence that the men she listed actually patronized her service.

A political figure whose name appears is Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor of Texas, who drew attention during the 2004 presidential campaign by saying that he helped a young George W. Bush enter the Air National Guard to avoid the Vietnam-era draft.

The Times reached Barnes by calling a cellphone number listed beside his name in Gibson's records.

"I have never met or talked to this broad in my entire life," Barnes said. He said he could not explain why his cellphone number was in her files.

Gibson's "California Dreamin' " prostitution ring operated in 16 states and in Europe, employed porn stars and Playboy models, and charged customers as much $3,000, according to trial testimony.

During her trial, prosecutors introduced her phone books and other records as evidence and called a vice officer to testify about their importance to the case. Police referred to the materials as Gibson's "trick book."

At the time, the district attorney's office successfully fought efforts by The Times and other news organizations to obtain an unredacted version.

Checking court files last week, a reporter found that court officials had unsealed the records once Gibson's legal appeals were exhausted.

The secrecy that surrounded the "trick book" during the trial prompted accusations that then-Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti was shielding influential Angelenos from embarrassment.

Gibson's files include two men who were major contributors to Garcetti's 2000 reelection effort: Maurice Marciano, founder of Guess Inc.; and Steven Roth, producer of "Last Action Hero."

"This is beyond belief," Marciano said when asked for comment. "I can't imagine how my name got mixed up in this. Who is she? That's a very gutsy lie for someone to tell, don't you think?"

A reporter reached Roth by calling a cellphone number in the trick book. Told that Gibson had listed him among her clients, Roth said, "Is that right?" and hung up.

Garcetti, now president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said he had "absolutely zero recall of this case."

Gibson, an aspiring singer who used the nicknames Babydol and Sasha, was convicted of three felony counts of pimping and sentenced to three years in prison. She served 22 months in the Central California Women's Facility at Chowchilla, a maximum-security prison where she was battered by another inmate. She was released in 2002.

Her autobiography, published by Corona Books, will be available Thursday for downloading, chapter by chapter, at her website,
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February 27, 2007

Kazaa’s Creators Do Latest Venture by the Book

Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis made names for themselves as renegade Internet entrepreneurs by taking conventional tasks like talking on the phone or listening to music and giving consumers an unconventional — and free — way to do it.

Sometimes that meant pushing legal boundaries.

But with their latest creation, a Web video venture called Joost, Mr. Friis and Mr. Zennstrom, who were behind the file-sharing service Kazaa and the Internet telephone service Skype, are doing everything by the book. Revenue-sharing agreements have been signed. Licenses have been granted.

“The reason we’re doing this is because of our history,” Mr. Friis said in a telephone interview last week. “We know how these things work. And above all, we know that we don’t want to be in a long, multiyear litigation battle.”

The two men met in the late 1990s at Tele2, a European telecommunications company then emerging as a serious competitor to Sweden’s telephone monopoly. They left in 1999 to start their own Internet company.

Soon after, they developed the technology behind Kazaa. The music industry fought Kazaa with the same fury that it fought Napster, another file-sharing service that was forced to become a legitimate pay service after lengthy court battles.

Mr. Friis, a Dane, and Mr. Zennstrom, a Swede, sold Kazaa in 2002, but their legal worries did not end there. Movie studios and recording companies pressed ahead with their lawsuits, and for years neither man set foot in the United States.

In November, Kazaa’s new owners settled the last of the lawsuits. In all, they have agreed to pay at least $125 million to the record industry and movie studios.

Today Mr. Friis and Mr. Zennstrom work out of Skype’s offices in the Soho neighborhood of London. Though they sold Skype to eBay for $2.6 billion in 2005, they remain active in the company. Mr. Zennstrom is Skype’s chief executive. Mr. Friis is the executive vice president for innovation, a job that has allowed him more time to spend developing Joost.

With the Kazaa lawsuits behind him, Mr. Friis’s feet are back on American soil. He was in Los Angeles on Friday promoting his latest endeavor.

Joost (pronounced “juiced”) said last week it had reached what amounts to the mother lode of television programming: agreements to broadcast programs from Viacom networks like MTV, Comedy Central and VH1. While the deal’s terms were not disclosed, Viacom and Joost will share advertising revenue.

“We are very happy with the Viacom deal because it spans all their big properties,” Mr. Friis said. “It has content from their biggest properties — MTV, Comedy Central — that are very good for our demographic.” (Mr. Zennstrom was on vacation and unavailable to comment, a Joost spokeswoman said.)

The Joost-Viacom partnership gives Viacom a degree of control over its programming that it has been unable to obtain so far from the video-sharing Web site YouTube. Joost must have Viacom’s approval to put a program online. In addition, Joost addressed Viacom’s concerns about piracy and copyright infringement by designing a platform that Joost says is piracy-proof.

This month, Viacom demanded that YouTube, now owned by Google, remove more than 100,000 clips of its programming because the two companies could not reach an agreement on licensing and revenue sharing. That deprived YouTube of popular Viacom content like clips of “The Daily Show.” YouTube responded by replacing some Viacom content with the message “removed at the request of Viacom International.”

Just because YouTube does not have Viacom programming, however, does not mean it is at a disadvantage, analysts said. Joost “is not a competitor to YouTube in most ways,” said Allen Weiner, an analyst at Gartner, a market research company in Stamford, Conn. “It’s a competitor to cable television.”

Joost is meant to replicate the way viewers watch television at home. It streams full-length programs in full-screen format. Users can flip through channels that offer everything from documentary news programs to videos on surfing. Programs can last a few minutes or more than an hour. (Viacom programming is not available now for the test phase, but Joost said it would be online by the time its software is introduced publicly, sometime before this summer.)

The Joost format differs greatly from YouTube’s, which allows users to upload to the site snippets of television programs or self-produced content. “It’s not Web video; it’s TV,” Mr. Friis said.

But some analysts said Joost had the potential to change how consumers watch television on the Web. It will have content that is, for now, unavailable elsewhere on the Web.

“Should YouTube worry?” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, a consulting firm. “I think YouTube is a legitimate channel in its own right. At the same time, I think any company that comes out there and lands big distribution deals with large content partners like Viacom is a serious competitor.”

Niklas Zennstrom remained Skype’s chief after its sale to eBay.