DOJ keeps 80-year-old music licensing rules affecting Apple Music intact

The Department of Justice has chosen to keep 80-year-old consent decrees relating to music licensing rules intact, a decision that keeps the way Apple Music secures licenses for songs and tracks the same without any major legal changes.

The examination of whether consent decrees from 1941 apply appropriately to the modern music industry by the Justice Department has been a closely-watched affair, as it had the potential to change how licensing fees are determined. On Friday, the department offered its decision to keep the consent decrees active.

The 80-year-old decrees dictate how the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) performing rights organizations function,specifically regarding music licensing. The two PROs can provide a license to businesses, broadcasters, and streaming services that include the usage rights held by songwriters, composers, and others, for the use of the music.

This also includes music services like Apple Music and Spotify, which pay licensing fees to the PROs to be able to offer music for listening.

Under the rules, the rights are pooled and collectively licensed out to Apple and others, enabling music to be played, to save from having to enter into individual licensing agreements with every songwriter or publisher. The decrees force certain rules on the PROs, such as eliminating exclusive licensing and ensuring that fees are negotiated or set out in a “rate court” by a federal judge.

Variety reports the Justice Department decided to keep the rules as they are, rather than dissolving the consent decrees and forcing all parties to enter potentially costly and lengthy renegotiations. This could potentially have included the PROs raising the cost of licensing fees charged to Apple Music and other firms, or even refuse to license to them at all.

Critics have complained about the decrees for many years, with issues ranging from the age of the decrees not taking into account new technologies like streaming music, to how the decrees prevent innovation by enforcing specific licensing terms on a negotiation.

Furthermore, as the consent decrees only applied to ASCAP and BMI, which holds 90% of the market combined, it doesn’t impact smaller PROs that can work without the same restraints. This includes the Pro Music Rights (PMR) organization, which sued Apple in 2019 for allegedly streaming copyrighted music without correct licenses.

The last time music licensing in the United States received a major update was in 2018, with the Music Modernization Act combining multiple acts together and refining the process for courts to determine rates of pay.

“While we were disappointed that no action was taken, we are encouraged to see how the DOJ’s approach to these issues has evolved,” said ASCAP and BMI CEOs Elizabeth Matthews and Mike O’Neill in a joint statement. “While BMI and ASCAP have long advocated for updating and modernizing our consent decrees, it has become clear over the course of two different reviews by two different DOJ administrations in the past eight years that modifying or terminating our decrees would be extremely challenging.”

The National Music Publishers Association head David Israelite was “disappointed” in the decision, as it would have allowed “for freedoms that would have greatly helped songwriters and music publishers realize the true value of their work.” He adds he hopes the incoming Biden administration will “take decisive action” to allow songwriters and publishers to directly negotiate with Apple and tech companies, “who continue to pay below market rates.”

Second season of Apple TV+'s 'Ted Lasso' starts production

Production has commenced on the second season of the popular sports-comedy series “Ted Lasso,” which could start airing on Apple TV by summer 2021.

A second and third season of “Ted Lasso” has been confirmed to be on the way, with Apple ordering more seasons at the time the show became available on Apple TV+. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced many productions to be delayed or postponed, but now Apple has confirmed it is starting for the show.

“Time to start warming those biscuits,” Apple posted to Twitter on its official Apple TV account. “Production for @TedLasso Season 2 has officially begun!”

Taking into consideration the usual time it takes from the start of a television production to airing, it is possible that the first few episodes of the show could arrive on Apple TV+ within months. While it will most probably be well before the end of 2021, the start of season 2 could possibly be watchable by the summer at the earliest, if COVID-19 doesn’t cause too many problems.

Fans of the Jason Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence series can expect the show to run for just three seasons. In December, Lawrence advised of its limited run, hinting that it was due to Sudeikis wanting to spend more time with his children.

Apple adds 'Privacy' collection to iOS Tips app

Apple this week expanded the first-party iOS Tips app to include a section covering hardware, software, and account privacy.

The new Privacy collection consists of nine tips covering Sign in with Apple, Safari passwords, system-wide password security, camera and mic usage indicators, Messages previews, location, Photos, Private Browsing in Safari, and Safari’s Privacy Report feature.

Starting with Safari, Apple notes the web browser can create and remember passwords for specific websites. Users can elect to rely on iPhone’s Strong Password generation or type in their own for later recall.

On the same topic, Apple includes a Security Recommendations tool in Settings that alerts users to weak or compromised passwords. The feature is applicable to passwords stored in iCloud Keychain. A Privacy Report is also available to review which trackers Safari is actively blocking.

Private Browsing in Safari can be enabled by tapping on the Private Browsing tab, which allows users to surf the web without leaving tracks on their device. When a Private Browsing tab is closed, the browser deletes its browsing and search history.

Moving on to more recent additions to iOS, Sign in with Apple was introduced last year as a safe and secure log-in option for participating websites and apps. Users can use an Apple ID to create accounts without manually forging a password, and are able to mask their email address from third-party services.

Hardware level privacy tips include an explainer on the green or orange indicator dots that appear at the top of an iOS device’s screen when its camera or microphone are being accessed. Apple reminds users that they can see which app is tapping into the phone’s audio or visual feed by swiping down from the top right of the display.

The latest versions of iOS also give users more control over location preferences. For example, apps can be denied access to a handset’s precise location by toggling the option off in Location Services.

Finally, Apple notes users can hide Messages previews that appear on the lock screen through an option in Notification settings. Similarly, pictures can be selected and hidden from public view in the Photos app.

Apple introduced the Tips app in iOS 8 and has continuously updated the title to highlight new features with each subsequent operating system release.

Apple Maps now shows curated list of volunteer opportunities from VolunteerMatch

Apple is now including guides curated by VolunteerMatch in its Apple Maps platform, making it easier for users to find ways to give back to their communities.

The new guides, which are built into Apple Maps, will show up in certain U.S. cities ahead of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on Monday. Normally, guides are focused on activities and entertainment and are curated by local companies or media outlets.

The VolunteerMatch guides, on the other hand, will offer a list of nonprofits and locations at which users can choose to volunteer. In addition to San Francisco, the guides can also be found when searching for cities like Chicago, Atlanta or New York City.

“Be a force for kindness and healing for our communities, and give in ways that matter,” the guide says.

Apple recently donated to The King Center as part of a broader announcement on Wednesday focused on racial equity. In addition to the donation to The King Center, Apple also made investments in historically black colleges, app development centers, and racial justice organizations.

Apple starts early work on folding iPhone, testing in-screen Touch ID for 'iPhone 13'

Apple has started early development work on a foldable iPhone and is planning incremental changes for its 2021 iPhone lineup, though one major feature could the inclusion of an in-screen fingerprint sensor.

According to a Bloomberg report Friday, Apple still hasn’t solidified plans to launch a foldable iPhone. Thus far, it has developed prototype folding screens for internal testing, but work hasn’t extended much further beyond the display.

Reportedly, Apple’s folding screen relies on a “mostly invisible hinge with the electronics stationed behind the display.” The Cupertino tech giant has also discussed various screen size options, including a device that can unfold to a 6.7-inch footprint like the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Bloomberg notes that Apple doesn’t even have a full handset prototype yet, and points out that a foldable iPhone is either years away or may never debut.

Rumors of an “iPhone Fold” have surfaced periodically for years, though the concept mostly exists in the form of numerous patents. Past reports have suggested that Apple is internally testing folding iPhone prototypes, however.

Instead of a folding iPhone, Apple is said to be focusing on its next lineup of iPhone and iPad devices for launch later in 2021. Internally, 2021 is shaping up to be an “S” year for the iPhone, with few major design or features changes compared to the iPhone 12 series.

Apple is reportedly still testing one major significant update for the so-called “iPhone 13,” and that’s an in-display fingerprint reader.

The company ditched Touch ID in its flagship devices in 2017, but the fingerprint authentication system is still used in several current iPhone, iPad, and Mac models. There have also been indications that Apple has been working to bring the feature back to its premium handsets to complement Face ID.

In August 2019, TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo forecast that the 2021 iPhone lineup could feature both Face ID and Touch ID. Qualcomm, said to be the likely supplier of the fingerprint sensor components, also recently debuted a much faster fingerprint reader.

The company is also considering nixing the charging port in a future iPhone model, leaving the MagSafe charger and Qi as the only charging technologies available. For the iPad, Apple is said to be planning a new iPad Pro similar to the current model but with a mini LED display and a faster processor.

Finally, Bloomberg confirms Apple will launch an “AirTags” tracking device in 2021.

Apple now blocking new installs of sideloaded iOS apps on M1 Macs

Apple has enabled server-side protections against sideloading iPhone and iPad apps onto M1-based Macs, though previously installed apps will continue to function.

Developers can choose to prevent their iOS or iPadOS apps from being available on the Mac App Store. Until now, users have been getting around this restriction by downloading and installing legitimate IPA files on the Apple Silicon-based Macs.

Apps like Netflix and Instagram are not available in the Mac App Store, so users are not able to use them on the M1 Macs. The change does not affect apps that have already been downloaded or installed but will prevent any future apps from being installed.

The server-side change will prevent new apps from being sideloaded thus erasing any possibility of a legitimate app installation. 9to5Mac says it affects the APIs surrounding Digital Rights Management protections on App Store software.

The version of macOS will not affect this change. The beta version of macOS Big Sur shows a more detailed error message when users attempt sideloading, but that is the only difference. Older versions will also not be able to sideload due to the server-side change.

Apps downloaded from the Mac App Store will not be affected and will continue to function. If users want a third-party app to be made available for the M1 platform, they will have to contact the developers and request an official release.

Judge denies new Apple & VirnetX trial, Apple will likely owe more than $1B

As Apple’s legal battle with VirnetX over FaceTime patent infringement nears an end, Apple may find itself owing the Nevada-based security company over $1 billion in interest and royalties.

In a ruling published on Friday, Judge Robert W. Schroeder III rejected several of Apple’s requests, including the demand for a new trial and limiting VirnetX’s award to just under $114 million. According to Reuters, Apple had also requested that jurors should have been told that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had deemed VirnetX’s claims “unpatentable,” but the request was ultimately denied.

Furthermore, the judge confirmed that Apple owes $0.84 per unit for future infringements, which is what the jury set for a royalty. Apple was seeking no royalty, or $0.19 per unit, at various points in the trial and appeal process.

On Friday afternoon, VirnetX shares were up 10.8% — 54 cents per share — to $5.63.

In early January, Judge Schroeder denied Apple’s motion for a new trial. In a parallel ruling, the judge granted but modified VirnetX’s motion for interest payments and other fees assessed to Apple.

In October, jurors had found that Apple infringed upon two VPN patents held by VirnetX and would be required to pay a set royalty rate for infringements. Apple had argued that the company should pay a more reasonable royalty rate of 19 cents per unit. Ultimately, Apple has been ordered to pay $502.8 million in royalties.

VirnetX and Apple have been battling over VPN technology for a decade, with VirnetX’s first filing in 2010. It alleged that Apple had infringed on four patents related to VPN on Demand technology.

In 2016, a jury had initially ruled that Apple would need to pay $625 million, but the decision was later tossed out by Judge Schroeder. Judge Schroeder had ordered two retrials, noting that jurors in the damages retrial were likely confused by multiple references to the earlier cases. The retrials ultimately cost Apple more than the original decision.

Apple Watch may be able to detect coronavirus infection days before tests can

The Apple Watch may be able to detect if a wearer has coronavirus days before they are diagnosed or symptoms appear, a new body of research shows.

In some cases, wearable devices like Apple Watch or Fitbit devices can predict a COVID-19 infection even before a user becomes symptomatic or the virus is detectable by standard tests, according to studies from a number of leading medical institutions (via CBS News).

Medical researchers at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, for example, found that the Apple Watch can detect subtle changes in a user’s heart rhythm up to seven days before an infection can be detected through testing.

The Mount Sinai study analyzed the variation in time between heartbeats, a metric known as heart rate variability. Researchers say it’s a good measure of how a person’s immune system is working.

“We already knew that heart rate variability markers change as inflammation develops in the body, and Covid is an incredibly inflammatory event. It allows us to predict that people are infected before they know it,” said Rob Hirten, the author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

When it comes to COVID-19, individuals infected with the disease experience lower heart rate variability compared to those who tested negative. The study followed 300 health workers at Mount Sinai who wore Apple Watches for five months.

Notably, Apple highlighted the Mount Sinai study at its Apple Watch- and iPad-focused “Time Flies” event on Sept. 15, 2020.

Another study from Stanford University in California looked at a variety of activity and fitness trackers from Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, and other manufacturers.

That research, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, found that 81% of those who tested positive for coronavirus experienced changes in their resting heart rates.

Like the heart rate variability metric, researchers found that the trackers could detect an infection up to nine and a half days before symptoms began.

According to Stanford University professor Michael Snyder, one of the main advantages of wearable trackers is that users wear them constantly throughout the day. That, Snyder said, could help do away with some of the disadvantages of standard coronavirus testing.

“The problem [with testing] is you can’t do it on people all the time, whereas these devices measure you 24/7. The smartwatch gives you back the data right away, in real time, whereas if you’re lucky you’ll get your test back in a few days,” Snyder told CBS.

The team also developed an alarm system that alerted users if their heart rate was elevated for a prolonged period of time. That could alert people to cancel going out or meeting others in-person, since they could be infectious. All of this research could help medical professionals and the public to stamp down coronavirus infections, since the majority of cases are spread by asymptomatic people.

“Right now, we rely on people saying they’re sick and not feeling well, but wearing an Apple Watch doesn’t require any active user input and can identify people who might be asymptomatic. It’s a way to better control infectious diseases,” Hirten said.

Apple extends existing Apple TV+ free trials for a second time

The one-year free trial of Apple TV+ has been extended again, this time from February to July.

Apple TV+ launched on Nov. 1, 2019, which means that those who were there for day one of the free trial would have started paying in November 2020. Apple then extended the free trial for eligible users to February 2021 to ensure they would stick around for season 2 content.

Apple has pushed the free trial back a second time, though this time there doesn’t appear to be a direct reason. Season two of popular shows like “Dickinson” and “Servant” have already begun airing and season two of “For All Mankind” will air in February. Apple may have a few more shows to air before July, or perhaps a new season or movie to air in August to entice customers to stay.

This means that those who started the free trial between November 2019 and June 2020 will receive extra months — up to five — free. According to 9to5Mac, anyone who signed up for the service prior to January 2021 will receive $4.99 in store credit through June.

Those paying annual rates will have five months added to the back-end, and those paying monthly rates will have that amount refunded as store credit to the on-file billing method. Apple One subscribers who had accounts prior to January will also be refunded for each month through July.

Apple TV+ is available to watch across all Apple platforms, on the web, and via some smart TV brands. The service costs $4.99 per month or $50 per year. Apple TV+ is also bundled with every tier of Apple One.

Apple working on redesigned iMac, two Mac Pros, cheaper display for 2021

Apple is reportedly planning to release a redesigned iMac lineup with Apple Silicon chips, two new Mac Pro models, and a cheaper display in 2021.

Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsiderCredit: Andrew O’Hara, AppleInsider

The redesigned iMac is said to be reminiscent of the Pro Display XDR, with all around slimmer bezels and no metal chin, sources told Bloomberg. The redesign, the company’s first since 2012, is also said to see the iMac move away from a curved back to a flatter rear section.

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