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About this weblog
Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this weblog are those of the authors and not of their respective institutions.

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Monthly Archives

July 30, 2007

How to Download Free (Legal) Music

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Mahalo is a new "human-powered search engine," which means they hand-craft pages on popular search topics. Each page contains a mixture of tips, how-tos, and links. In a way it's kind of like wikihow on steroids, with less instructions, prettier graphics and often higher quality info and off-links.

They've just published their alpha version of the "How to Download Free Music" page. It features a prominent warning about copyrights and a link to the RIAA right at the top.

Much of the early page info focuses on MP3 Blogs, but if you scroll down there's detailed information on torrents, including how to install and configure clients, how to get around firewalls, and even warnings about honeypots and TorrentSpy. All in all one of the most extensive and best-written pages I've seen yet from Mahalo.

(Full disclosure: at least two of my friends work for Mahalo but I have no financial stake in the company and neither of them wrote this particular page.)

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

July 25, 2007

FMC Policy Summit (Washington DC, September 17-18, 2007)

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Courtney Bennett from the Future of Music Coalition sent me a pointer to their 7th annual Future of Music Policy Summit. Registration is now open at:

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events

July 23, 2007

Getting Music To An Audience, 21st-Century Style

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

The NY Times has a very nice piece on the musician currently known as Prince. It discusses the artist's work in taking control of his career, his music, and how he's using many highly unconventional channels to connect with his fans. If there's a model for how to stay rich and popular in the 21st century as a performing/recording musician, Prince just might be it.

Pareless's piece notes that Prince's career is entering its third decade, a time when most pop performers have long-since been relegated to the "interesting historical relic" category. Prince is still wildly popular, playing to sell-out crowds pretty much everywhere. He's done some pretty inventive things, not least of which was cutting a deal with the British paper The Mail on Sunday to publish his “Planet Earth” CD as an insert. Starting next month he'll play 21 shows (all sold out it seems) at which the ticket price includes a free copy of the CD. These are not tiny clubs, mind you. These are 20,000+ seat arena shows. He did the same thing in 2004 for the "Musicology" CD.

These moves are giving the established industry migraines. Retail outlets are screaming. Pop chart compilers, caught by surprise in '04, changed their rules so they don't have to count the 400,000+ copies of "Planet Earth" Prince will sell next month in their computation of "top selling" CDs. This is, of course, a crock since fans paid money and got a CD. Sony Music had a similar hissy fit and decided not to release "Planet Earth" for retail sales in the UK after the giveaway.

It's not the first time Prince has had a public spat with a record label. He's accused his labels in the past of holding back music he wanted to release and had a big blow-up with Warner Brothers Records in 1996. The quintessential name change for which he's jokingly known ("the artist formerly known as Prince") occurred because "Prince" was under a contract to a label. Once that contract expired he picked up the name again.

I'm not personally a fan of his music nor of his stage shows. But I continue to bang the virtual drum for more artists to explore more ways to connect more music to more fans and you have to admit this man has gone a long way toward making that happen.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use

July 19, 2007

When is a Reprieve Not a Reprieve

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

If you've noticed that non-commercial Web radio in fact did not die last Sunday you might be thinking "Ah, a reprieve." Well, yes and no.

It is true that SoundExchange, the entity charged with collecting the Cartel's blood money, did offer better rates at the last minute. As Eric Bangeman wrote, it appeared that having Congressman Markey call the parties to sit down at a roundtable had some effect. Naively one might think that SoundExchange would rather deal than fight, particularly not wanting to get into a public fight over Congress's proposed "Internet Radio Equality Act."

Those who got the reprieve, such as Tim Westergren of Pandora radio, were publicly sure that the outcry from listeners had made a difference. Westergren clearly had no idea who he was dealing with.

Within a day of the initial joy it became clear that there would be a price to be paid. What SoundExchange and the rest of the Cartel want is to get Net radio locked into a DRM straightjacket. And now they have the threat of these fees to compel cooperation.

I believe the technical term for this is "extortion" but perhaps some lawyer can tell me otherwise. I mean, that's what you see in Hollywood films, right? The evil mastermind offers the hapless sucker a great deal. Sure, we'll get you out of your troubles. Just do this one little thing for us...

Ken Fisher excerpted SoundExchange's press release on ars technica (emphasis in his excerpt):

"SoundExchange has offered to cap the $500 per channel minimum fee at $50,000 per year for webcasters who agree to provide more detailed reporting of the music that they play and work to stop users from engaging in 'streamripping'

So it's that simple. Become our agents in preventing people from recording Web radio streams or face the financial axe.

Fisher's piece on ars today paints a picture of a pissed-off Digital Media Association claiming that SoundExchange never mentioned DRM during the roundtable discussion. No duh, guys. Did you forget you were dealing with venomous snakes in suits? These are the guys that sue children living in housing projects purely on principle. They'd rather kill things they can't control than make money off them. They're well aware that the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 permits you and me to make noncommercial recordings of broadcasts and since they've failed to get the law changed they're going to back-door it if at all possible. A few weeks ago I wrote some speculations on the Cartel's ultimate motives in all this. One of the possibilities I thought likely was that their goal is control. By hook or by crook, and usually both, they want control over what you and I do.

According to Anne Broache's entry in the CNET news blog, the war of words is escalating, with both SoundExchange and DiMA doing the "he said", "no he didn't say" thing. This could be serious or it could just be pre-negotiation posturing. Both sides say they intend to continue meeting.

So far I haven't seen anything from Markey, which leads me to believe it's posturing. If he thought one side or the other was seriously reneging on what they'd said in front of him he would probably have to issue a statement at least, or risk being made to look like a fool or a dupe for one side or the other.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse

July 17, 2007

FMC Files Complaint Against Clear Channel

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Payola, or pay-for-play, is a scheme by which inducements such as money are used in exchange for preferential treatment and value such as airplay. So far so good. Now the question is: if I have to give up money you would ordinarily pay me in order to get on the air, is THAT payola?

That seems to be the assertion at the heart of the Future of Music Coalition's complaint against Clear Channel. FMC's Justin Jouvenal sent me a copy of their extensive release on the topic. The text of the FMC's complaint is also on their site.

Attentive readers may recall that I posted a note on Clear Channel's practices a couple weeks ago based on a story broadcast on NPR. The problem was that no other media were covering the story, which seemed to be that Clear Channel were attempting to get around the terms of a payola-case settlement.

Earlier this year Clear Channel settled a payola case with the FCC. They paid some fines and agreed to provide free air time as a form of compensation for independent artists whose music had been shut out by the payola scheme. However, it turned out that artists wanting to upload their MP3s to be played during these free broadcast hours had to agree to give up income that would normally have been theirs for airplay. The FMC is asking the FCC to issue a declaratory judgment that this arrangement is functionally equivalent to the artists paying for their songs to be played.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

July 12, 2007

Web Radio Stay of Execution About to Expire

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Unsurprisingly, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has refused to delay the start of new royalty rates proposed by the US Copyright Office. The new rates will go into effect on Sunday, but are retroactive meaning that overnight all Web radio stations will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in accumulated payments. As noted, the amount of these fees exceeds the revenue generated by all stations other than big commercial broadcasters.

I guess we'll find out next week which Webcasters are hosted outside the US and thus potentially able to escape this crash-and-burn. The Internet Radio Equality Act of 2007 is still alive and slowly wending its way through Congress but there's no hope it will arrive in time to save the present landscape from clear-cutting.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations

July 6, 2007

Dadaism, Parody, or Just a Political Ad?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Crispin Sartwell has an interesting piece in the LA Times analyzing the unusual political ads put on YouTube by Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel. For those that watch mainstream TV, Gravel is probably best known for his blunt assault on the posturing and politics of the front-running Democratic candidates. For those that watch YouTube, though, Gravel is becoming known for the political ads he has put there.

The ads certainly have a tinge of surrealism (or as Sartwell would put it, dadaism) in that they don't contain the usual political speecifying or promotion of the candidate. In fact, they contain no dialog at all. The candidate's Web site is superimposed on the image, which is how you know it's a political ad of some kind, but the video consists of... well, Mike Gravel staring at the camera wordlessly for a minute, then walking off and chucking a rock into a lake.

Yes, really. Go watch it for yourself. There's another one called "Fire" that mostly consists of a camera steadily pointed at a campfire for seven or eight minutes.

Sartwell waxes rhapsodic about Gravel's avante garde approach to political advertising. I was most strongly reminded of John Cage's 4'33" which was avant garde for its time. I don't think this art form is likely to catch on with other candidates but it sure would be fun if it did. If nothing else, it'd be nice to see them shutting the heck up for once when a camera is pointed at them.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor

July 5, 2007

Don't Bother Me With Mere Facts

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

It's almost cute how some people still think actual facts are at all important in the Copyright Wars. I confess I used to be part of the reality-based contingent as well, back in the day. I used to take great glee in pointing out various facts that contradicted the RIAA's propaganda about music sharing. I did eventually come to realize that the facts weren't relevant. It was and is about control of language, thought, and behavior. Still, some people keep trying to make it be about facts.

Take, for instance, Greg Sandoval over at CNET. His analysis piece on Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko, shows that even though the film was widely distributed on the net prior to its theatrical release that doesn't seem to have harmed the movie's opening.

Of course the copyright attorneys can only respond with "no, no, no." Acknowledging any other reality would be at the very least massively inconvenient. But really it's beside the point. Whether sharing and word-of-mouth hurt or helped Sicko isn't the point - the point is that it wasn't something the Cartel engineered and controlled and therefore it must be bad. C'mon, Greg, get with the times.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies

July 3, 2007

The Cartel's Reach is Long

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

According to Jacqui Chang's piece in ars technica, the reason that shut down was nothing less than a threat to block Russia's admission to the WTO. As one of the largest trade organizations in the world, WTO membership is highly prized by many nations. To put a single Web site up as a blocking criterion for admission into a huge multi-national trade body, AND to get a law written specifically to take down that site, shows how the Cartel's power has grown.

In the past couple of weeks I've written about how much less power the Cartel has outside the US than it has inside, and how the Cartel's strategy may be a far-reaching grab for power over what people can and cannot do. This move certainly seems to support the notion that not only are they trying for that epic power grab, they're succeeding.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies