A $99 iPhone?

Is a cheaper iPhone coming? What’s more, will Wal-Mart be the exclusive retailer for the rumored mobile?

Rumors of a cheaper iPhone started circulating the weekend of Dec. 5. Most recently, Associated Press reported that an unidentified Wal-Mart employee did indeed confirm the retail giant would sell the phone – but did not confirm the discount price.

The reason for the $100 price reduction from Apple’s standard $199 sales tag is that the fabled $99 mobile will carry only 4 GB of storage. The $199 model has twice that much storage and the $299 model weighs in with 16 GB.

Other than less storage, the Wal-Mart part of the rumor means the retailer would become the third company outside Apple to sell the phones in brick & mortar stores, joining AT&T shops and Best Buy stores.

Apple has sold 6.9 million iPhones since the company launched its 3G model July 11.

Of course, the only confirmation of the $99 iPhone is the unidentified Wal-Mart employee quoted by the Associated Press. Officially, neither Wal-Mart nor Apple has said anything. Yet.


Wikipedia U.K. Stung Over Scorpions

How controversial is the cover art for a Scorpions album released 32 years ago?

Controversial enough for United Kingdom regulatory agency, the Internet Watch Foundation, to blacklist the Scorpions entry on the U.K. version of Wikipedia, reports InformationWeek.

The watch group blacklisted the site Dec. 6, citing a user report claiming child sex abuse. After viewing the entry for the German band Scorpions, the group determined the cover art for the album Virgin Killer, which is included as part of the entry, was a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under 18.

“The IWF does not issue takedown notices to ISPs or hosting companies outside the U.K., but we did advise one of our partner Hotlines abroad and our law enforcement partner agency of our assessment,” the group stated on its Web site. “The specific URL was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.”

The album’s cover art depicts a nude girl posed strategically behind what looks like a cracked pane of glass.

What’s more, Wikipedia devotes a standalone entry to the album and the controversy surrounding its cover, and quotes former member Uli Jon Roth and current Scorpion Rudolf Schenker saying the cover art was the record label’s idea.

“Looking at that picture today makes me cringe,” Roth told Blabbermouth in 2006. “It was done in the worst possible taste. Back then I was too immature to see that. Shame on me — I should have done everything in my power to stop it.”

Oh, well. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Along with the Scorpions blockade on the U.K. Wikipedia, U.K. users complained about performance issues on the site, including problems editing articles. As 95 percent of U.K. ISPs use the IWF blacklist to filter out objectionable content, IWF’s listing of the Scorpions entry is being blamed for Wikipedia access problems.

“We have no reason to believe the article, or the image contained in the article, has been held to be illegal in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world,” Wikimedia Foundation’s general counsel, Mike Godwin said. “We believe it’s worth noting that the image is currently visible on Amazon, where the album can be freely purchased by U.K. residents. It is available on thousands of Web sites that are accessible to the U.K. public.”


A Choruss Line

Colleges and universities might inject a “royalty fee” into student tuition charges, thereby eliminating most peer-to-peer piracy issues and even deep-six those P2P lawsuits that have generated more bad PR than positive income for the recording industry.

The idea is that students would pay royalty fees up front when they pay their tuition, after which they could trade songs ’til the cows come home with no worries that RIAA lawyers will soon come knocking.

And the name for this program? Choruss.

Warner digital music consultant Jim Griffin, who has backed such a proposal for ISPs and their customers, appears to be behind the Choruss initiative, Wired reports.

Choruss, which will be created as a nonprofit organization, will collect copyright fees from universities and ISPs and distribute payments to copyright holders. Three of the four major labels are on the Choruss bandwagon, with Universal the only holdout.

So far it looks as if nonprofit technology outfit Educause is taking the all-you-can-swap model to various colleges and universities. Wired reports that schools adopting such a plan could pave the way for ISPs to adopt similar business models, thus opening up legal, no-strings-attached P2P to the masses.

That the labels have much to gain by distributing music through P2P networks has been part of the file-sharing gospel since Shawn Fanning introduced the world to the original Napster in 1999. The ability to release music and distribute it worldwide almost instantly, while at the same time not having to deal with issues involving inventory, shipping and merchants’ shelf space, would seem like a dream come true for any industry.

However, the biggest stumbling block to the labels making nice with P2P is that there was no way to ensure payment for the product. A royalty charge added to ISP fees, or in the case of colleges and universities, added to tuition fees, would ensure payment for the music that’s being distributed via P2P at almost no cost to the labels.

This isn’t the first time such an idea has been proposed. What’s more, the concept of tacking copyright fees onto ISP payments has gained traction in Europe. However, while ISPs and labels promote such a payment method, many publications denounce the idea, calling such charges “music taxes” or “ISP taxes.”

One organization that does favor such a system is the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Considering the EFF has often stood up for those sued by the labels for P2P music piracy, the organization’s backing shows that adding copyright fees to tuition bills or ISP charges may be an idea that has arrived.