Friday, August 31, 2007

The RIAA and the EFF "If"

The recent white paper report released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation confirmed the obvious -- suing dead people, 12-year olds and others doesn't stop illegal downloading. Nor do extortion letters sent to colleges and universities. Illegal Internet downloading continues to thrive.

The EFF proposes a modest solution: make virtually all music downloading legal, and assess a fee to downloaders. The money would be collected and administered by an agency similar to ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. These agencies collectively represent songwriters and gather performance fees from radio stations, nightclubs, stores and other venues playing music. They then tabulate the frequency of everything played by their clients and divvy up the money collected proportionally.

The EFF has a good idea -- but it doesn't go far enough. I propose that instead of trying to persuade individuals to pay up just make this fee part of the cost of going online. Imagine that one dollar paid by every subscriber to every ISP went to a Download Administration Agency (this would be a non-profit organization, not a government agency). The mandate of the DAA would be to monitor as best it could the transfers and downloads of all copyrighted material, and disburse the money collected to the copyright holders whose intellectual property was being used.

This would cover not only music but images, articles, videos -- any kind of creative content.

The goal would be to ensure that everyone would be paid for the use of their material. I grant that wouldn't happen all the time in practice, but if it could be made to work for most content creators, think of the paradigm shift.

Instead of trying to lock down their content to the point of being virtually unusable, artists would be encouraging folks to enjoy their works -- and share them with others. After all, the more the file is shared, the larger the royalty.

Instead of trying to turn back the clock to the 1980's and alienating their customers in the process, the RIAA could simply enjoy the fruits of its members' labors. The more music downloaded the larger the label's paycheck.

Artists and painters could generate income from simply making their works available on the Internet. Every blog that snags an image for a post means a slightly bigger royalty payment.

The Internet could finally realize its potential to be a free-flowing forum of ideas and creativity.

Someone who loves a band and shares their music with all their friends is currently considered a thief and a pirate by the RIAA. With the DAA, that same person would be actively supporting their favorite band by sharing their music, thereby raising their circulation numbers and thus be seen as a desirable asset by the band's label. Which scenario do you prefer?

OK, there are some technical problems to work out, but with ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC the models are already in place. If the RIAA would face reality and adopt the EFF's proposal, we'd all be heading in the right direction.

(And note to the RIAA -- it's where the money is)

- Ralph

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fire Over England

While most people seem uninterested in movies released before 1995, I've often found entertainment in older film -- and sometimes they contain concepts that give me pause. That's what happened recently when I watched Fire Over England.

Produced in 1937, this British historical drama set in Tudor England had a deliberate subtext. The film makers used the invasion by the Spanish Armada as an allegory to contemporary England's threat of invasion by Nazi Germany. Philip II is portrayed as a coldly cruel tyrant who rules his subjects in a fashion similar to that of Hitler (as seen through British eyes).

Here's Philip II (Raymond Massey) delivering his philosophy on how to rule a country.

video

Only by fear can the people be made to do their duty -- and not always then.
Not relevant today? How many laws, policies and practices contrary to the Constitution have been enacted since 9/11? And how many, until recently, have gone unchallenged through fear?

Consider this scene, where Don Pedro (Robert Newton) gently chides his wife (Tamara Desni) for wanting to help an Englishman who's a family friend.

video

You see, Elana, the whole trouble comes from treating your enemies like human beings. Don’t you see, my dear, that when you do that they cease to be enemies? Think what that leads to. It’s the end of patriotism. It’s the end of war. It’s the end of – everything.
Now there's a chilling thought. When written, those lines were meant to characterize the fascist outlook -- so why do they ring true today? There are many Americans who share Don Pedro's view -- and you don't have to search very hard to find them.

For me, Fire Over England worked on many levels, and it was a rollicking good film to boot. Vivian Leigh, Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier, James Mason and Flora Robeson -- a great cast turning in performances that few could equal today. Check out this interplay between Queen Elisabeth (Flora Robeson) and the Spanish ambassador (Henry Oscar). There's no question who the bad guy is, but his barely concealed arrogance hits just the right note. And Robeson delivers her lines with subtlety and wit, while never letting there be any doubt about the fire of her resolve.

video

All this, and a great score by Richard Addinsell proving the perfect sonic backdrop.

Fine acting, a good story, and plenty to think about after the movie ends. Now that's entertainment!

- Ralph

Sunday, August 26, 2007

WCNR and the Question of Identity

A recent cover story in the Hook about WCNR "The Corner" touched on the struggle for the hearts and minds of a certain demographic between the station and WNRN (mentioned here in a previous post).

In the article, Mike Friend -- the general manager and founder of WNRN -- shares a new station policy, banning the use of the phrase "the corner" from the station.

"We don't say the word for any reason," says Friend. "It used to be that we said it eight times an hour because a lot of our underwriters were Corner businesses. But we're not going to be in the business of advertising for a multimillion dollar corporation."
I've heard several folks point to this policy as an example of Mike Friend being vindictive and petty. I see it as an example of how well Friend understands radio. Friend knows what many others in radio know -- most listeners have only a vague idea what station they're listening to.Arbitron measures listenership by sending out journals to a representative selection of a market's population. Participants are asked to log their radio listening, and at the end of the survey period returns the journals for tabulation. You can tell when the Arbitron books are sent -- every commercial station ramps up the frequency of their station IDs. Sadly, most people don't really know either the call letters or the frequency of the stations they listen to -- a significant number of books come back with mismatched call letters and frequencies, forcing the evaluator to guess which one the participant meant.

When I worked at WMJA in Orange, I often fielded calls meant for WCUL, WFLS, and other local stations. Listeners would look up "Radio Stations" in the Yellow Pages, and -- not knowing what station they were listening to -- made their best guess as to which one to call.

It still happens to me at WTJU. It's not uncommon for my Wednesday morning classical music program for me to get requests for "Acoustic Sunrise" (WNRN), or have someone breathlessly ask if they're the tenth caller for the "Big Greasy Breakfast" contest (3WV).

And it happens at Plan 9. I've often waited on folks who want some classical piece they heard on public radio. The key to figuring out what it was (seldom do they remember the name) is checking the playlist of the station during the time the piece was heard. What station did you hear it on? WVTF? WMRA? Perhaps even WTJU? They don't know, nor do they remember where it was on the dial ("Um, somewhere on the left side, I think").

A colleague of mine works at a public radio station that shares a market with another public radio station tells me this can sometimes be an advantage. He always knows when the competing station has a fund drive -- his station starts getting phone-in pledges out of the blue. The callers have only a vague idea which station they're calling to pledge support for.

And finally, although WTJU has run a complete opera every Sunday afternoon for years, the program's hosts (and me personally) have talked with several long-time listeners who think they're listening to WVTF!

So Mike Friend's decision to ban "the corner" from WNRN makes perfect sense. Every iteration of the phrase only potentially confuses their listeners. And even though they'll hear the call letters and frequency (WNRN/91.9), if they also hear the phrase "the corner," dollars to donuts when asked sometime later what station they listen to, a significant number of WNRN's listeners will respond "The Corner."

- Ralph

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Copyright II - The Orphan and the Manger Dog

Sean Tubbs of the Charlottesville Podcasting Network posted an excellent question to my recent entry on copyright. He wanted to know:

Who would come after you if you decided to use music from the 1930's, say, in a podcast, without permission? Who would you get permission from?

As the law's currently written works copyrighted after 1922 are protected for 95 years (and ones after 1978 even longer). So everything between registered between 1922 and 1978 is off-limits until 2019 at the earliest.

If for example, you wanted to use a recording from 1923 in your podcast, you would have to get permission from the current copyright owner. For an RCA Victor release, for example, you would have to contact Sony/BMG. Okeh Records was independent in the 1920s but was eventually purchased by Columbia, which was bought by Sony and is now part of Sony/BMG -- who you would have to contact to get permission.

But what if it's an "orphan" work? That is, what about works copyrighted by companies that no longer exist, and whose assets were never purchased by another company? Under the current system, these abandoned works do not automatically lapse into public domain. It is incumbent upon the user to make a diligent search for the copyright owners, and even if they cannot be located, the work is still considered to be used without proper clearance.

Does it matter? A record company that went under in 1929 isn't likely to come after a podcaster today. But look at your terms of use agreements you signed with your Internet provider or web hoster. You could technically be considered in violation of the agreement by using a work that isn't cleared.

Legislation has been introduced to force the issue and get orphan works to lapse into public domain -- but it's being fought by the RIAA, MPAA, and other content owners. Why? Because they don't want any of their material that -- through oversight -- may be considered abandoned to automatically become public domain.

And the effect?

Books by publishers long gone molder on library shelves. Archivists don't dare scan them to preserve their content because they're not in the public domain.

Movies from film companies that collapsed in the Great Depression disintegrate in their cans. Preservationists can't reproduce them because they're not in the public domain.

Recordings from defunct labels remain unheard. Sound engineers can't transfer them and present them to the public because they're not in the public domain.

And so a large part of our past disappears into the mist of time while the Big Media dog furiously barks to keep the public at bay. The record labels, publishers and movie studios can't make any money from this material. It isn't useful to them -- but by God no one else is going to use it either!

- Ralph

Monday, August 20, 2007

Z - The Movie

According to the comments of a former Blockbuster employee who loved the cinema, it was frustrating waiting on people who only wanted the latest release, and were completely uninterested in anything made before 1995.

I wonder if its because they don't think movies more than a decade old have any relevance. It's a shame, because many times they do -- sometimes uncomfortably so.

I recently watched "Z" by Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras. Although not high on the Blockbuster check-out list, this isn't an obscure film -- it won two Oscars in 1969 as well as taking prizes at Cannes, BAFTA and the Golden Globes.

The story is based on actual events in Greece. Tensions run high as the military and the conservative government face criticism from the left about allowing the US to place nuclear weapons in Greece. The government's solution is tighter security and increased vigilance -- and more.

Yves Montand plays a JFK-like leftist deputy (that's an elected representative -- not law enforcement officer) who is the rallying point for those pushing for greater freedom in Greece.

The actual story involves the political murder of the deputy and the government's efforts to cover up the crime, which reaches to the highest levels. As the examining magistrate digs deeper, he's under increasing pressure to accept the official version of events and move on.

It's a great film that raises many questions to think about long after it's over. Expertly edited, it moves along at a rapid pace, and its realistic camera work recalls the faux-documentary style of "Law and Order," giving the film an immediacy that draws the viewer into the story.

And then there's the deputy's speech. The party's forced to hold a rally in a too-small hall by the police, forcing many of the attendees to cluster around outside listening to loudspeakers. Those outside will be set upon by right-wing gangs while the police run a blind eye, with the goal of starting a riot which the government can use as an excuse to crack down on the left.

Having a good idea what's about to happen, (and being attacked on the way into the hall) the deputy addresses the crowd.
They hit me. Why? Why do our ideas provoke such violence? Why don’t they like peace? Why don’t they attack other organizations? The answer is simple. The others are nationalists used by the government....

We lack hospitals and doctors, but half the budget goes for military expenditures. A cannon is fired and a teacher’s monthly salary goes up in smoke! That’s why they can’t bear us or our meetings and use hired thugs to jeer and attack us.

Around the world, too many soldiers are ready to fire on anything moving towards progress. We live in a weak and corrupt society where it’s every man for himself. Every imagination is suspect yet it’s needed to solve the world’s problems.

They want to prevent us from reaching the obvious political conclusions based on the simple truths but we will speak out. We serve the people and the people need the truth. The truth is the start of powerful, united action.
There's a lot in there that seems just as true today as it did 37 years ago.

And the ending? The murder of the deputy galvanizes the people. Faced with the prospects of an overwhelming defeat in the upcoming election, the government declares martial law and suspends elections until the "crises" is over.

Nope, nothing here for today's audiences....

- Ralph

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why skepticism's healthy

Yesterday I received a press release for YourFreeMusicDownloads.com, which appeared to be a ad-based legal music download site. It seemed interesting, so I visited the site.

I tried looking at the new releases, the downloads available, and the catalogue, but all required registration before showing any information. This is a marked contrast to Rhapsody.com, which lets you look through various playlists to check out the variety of their content before requiring registration.

Frustrated at the lack of information, I opened up YourFreeMusicDowload's Terms of Use. That's where things got interesting.

According to the press release,
Your Free Music Downloads.com does not embed ads within the music or before or after each selection. Instead, when registering, users are simply asked to complete a short survey that generates revenue for Your Free Music Downloads.com.
- Seems straightforward enough.

The first clause of the Terms of Use require registration -- fair enough. The second, though, says:

You must tell two or more friends about our website. You must only enter the names and email addresses of people you know and who trust and accept email from you.

- Not mentioned in the press release. Personally, warning bells always go off when I'm required to sell to friends.

While the press release talks about a "short survey," the fifth clause of the Terms of Use gets to the meat of the matter.

5. Verification of Sponsor Offer Participation. Each Sponsor must provide written verification to Your Free Music Downloads.com that you have successfully qualified for and completed that Sponsor's offer. Following Your Free Music Downloads.com receipt of such verification from the last of the requisite number of Sponsors, Your Free Music Downloads.com will send an email message to you asking you to confirm your account registration. The qualification time varies by Sponsor, but may take up to 30 days. In some cases an additional step by you is required to satisfy the Sponsor's qualifications. By way of example... a Sponsor offer for a credit card... may require you to use the credit card to make a purchase, take a cash advance, or transfer a balance, to satisfy the Sponsor's qualifications.

- So in order to get "free" MP3s, you have to accept the promotional offers from several sponsors. In other words, you have to receive and use a credit card, spend money purchasing products, and so on in order for your registration to be validated.

And notice that "Each sponsor music provide...verification" before you have access to the catalog. Based on the language, if you don't participate in all the offers, your registration is invalidated, and no free music for you!

After reading the Terms of Use, I googled "yourfreemusicdownloads" and found, amidst the many repostings of the press release, an article from Wired that confirmed my suspicions.

The moral of this little tale? A little bit of research can save you a whole lot of trouble. It only took me about four minutes to go from reading the initial press release to finding the Wired article. Look before you leap (or click).

- Ralph

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Three Faces of Copyright

With the recent decision in the UK to continue their current copyright system and the economic study released by Rufus Pollock, it's now possible to examine three aspects of copyright law side-by-side: the ideal, the practical, and the insane.


1. The Ideal - 14 Years
In his study, Pollock outlines through economic theory and a good deal of number-crunching that 14 years is the optimal length for a copyright. According to Pollock, this provides protection for the work during its peak earning capacity and releases it to the public domain about the time it stops bringing in significant income.

What does that mean?
In such a world as Pollock posits, everything copyrighted before 1983 would in public domain. That would include all of KC and Sunshine Band's output, as well as the Beatles, most of the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, James Brown, and more.

What are the effects?
Popular works from the past that continue to sell, such as the Beatles catalog would no longer be income streams for their owners. A massive revival of many forgotten, underappreciated and cult films and bands would begin almost immediately, fueled by fan-driven rereleases.

2. The Practical - 50 years
British copyright protection for sound recordings lasts for 50 years, at which time the work passes into public domain. This was recently challenged when record labels realized that early recordings by Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones would soon have their copyrights lapse. Fortunately, the government stood firm, and the current rules stand.

What does that mean?
Popular works from the past are still protected, but the clock's ticking. Personally, I believe that if you can't make money off the Beatles catalog in fifty years, then maybe you should be in another line of work. The half-century of protection ensures that artists who enjoy a revival in popularity can still profit from their back catalog (such as Bill Haley when "Happy Days" started a 50's craze).

The effects?
Basically, the music of three generations is protected. Glen Miller's recordings are in public domain, as well as "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock" by Elvis, "That'll be the Day" by the Crickets, and "Love Letters in the Sand" by Pat Boone. While the Elvis material (and a few others) may represent some loss to the labels, most of the material coming into public domain is only of interest to nostalgia buffs and older listeners -- a demographic the major labels ceased to serve some time ago. These niche markets with their limited sales continue to present opportunities for small specialty reissue labels.

3. The Insane - Life plus 70 years
American copyright protection has lengthened over the years, in part (some suspect) to ensure that Mickey Mouse never enters public domain. The current legislation, called the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act jumped the previous protection of life of the creator plus 50 years to life of the creator plus 70 years for works registered after 1978, and extended from 75 to 95 years those registered before (which fell under a different version of the copyright law). It is perhaps not a coincidence that Senator Bono was a recording artist and songwriter who benefited from this legislation (although ironically, his premature death in a skiing accident started his copyright protection clock ticking sooner than he had perhaps imagined).

What does that mean?
Basically, just about everything is out of reach. The current law protecting works registered after 1978 means that the earliest these recordings could enter public domain would be 2048. Works registered between 1924 and 1978 are protected for 95 years. So tunes popular in 1924, such as "Alabamy Bound" and "Wreck of the Old 97" are still under copyright -- as well as the recordings of Rudy Vallee, Glenn Miller, Big Momma Thornton and others.

What are the effects?
Because the law's basically an extension cobbled onto an extension of an older statute, things are a mess. Only works copyrighted before 1922 are in public domain. Nothing will enter public domain until 2019.
This is in stark contrast to the ideal and practical models above, where new works enter the public domain every year. And because everything's locked down under copyright, the only recordings that are reissued are the ones either by the major labels or those they authorize. Want some Bunny Berigan? Good luck with that. The legendary jazz trumpeter of the 1930's had some of his hits reissued on LP in the 1950's but as far as legal recordings go, that's it. All out of print, with virtually no chance of reissue -- at least in America.

Virtually all the recording artists from the 1930's and before are dead, and their music mostly out of print. The recording companies long ago made whatever significant money there was to be had from them, and in many cases recouped their investments many times over. Economies of scale make most of this recorded legacy impractical to reissue. So there it sits, locked away unheard, and generating no income -- but still protected!

And therein lies the insanity.

- Ralph

Greenberg Guides Anew


Although this blog deals a lot with tech issues – especially those involving the distribution of information over the Internet – I've always stated that the Internet was not the be all and end all.

I think most anyone who delves deeply into any topic would agree. You can only find on the Internet the information others have placed there -- explore too far and you hit a wall. I was again reminded of that when my wife returned home with an old Erector set she bought at an auction.

The box illustration (above, left) seemed to suggest the set was made in the 1930's but the pieces didn't look that old.

Fortunately, my father was visiting at the time. Dad happened to know quite a bit about the Erector set, as he had previously done some research on items in his collection. He pointed out that some of the larger pieces were unpainted – typical for later postwar, but not for 1930's sets. Once we started sorting the parts, he could even make an educated guess as to which parts (and how many) were missing.

Sure, we went online to find out more about the set, but beyond some eBay listings, there really wasn't much.

I repeatedly hear people say "I don't need to know that – I can just look it up online." Well, we were online and no, we couldn't. Dad's first-hand knowledge gave us the info to refine our search. But beyond confirming that it was made in 1949, and finding pictures of the set, we didn't discover much else.

Greenberg to the rescue. Although Dad isn't really a collector of Erector sets, at one time he had purchased "Greenberg's Guide to Erector Sets" to research the few in his possession.

As with the other Greenberg guides, this two-volume reference work is well-organized, well-written and well-edited. Facts had been carefully checked by A.C. Gilbert and Company historians and collectors, and remains, nine years after publication, one of the standard authorities for Erector sets.

Dad's first-hand knowledge gave me a good idea of what my wife had purchased. Thanks to the Greenberg Guide, I'll soon have a complete list of what originally came with my No. 4-1/2 set, which will help me figure out what's missing.

I've said it before. Not everything's online. A significant amount of information remains offline, locked away in reference works and other books. And some of it is bound up with the first-hand experiences of people you know – readily accessible just for the asking.

- Ralph

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The RIAA and the Numbers Game

We've been hearing dire predictions from the major labels (and various commentators) about the trend of declining CD sales. It’s the excuse the RIAA uses for prosecuting real and imagined illegal downloaders in a willy-nilly fashion, and it's the mantra well-lobbied congresscritters cite as the reason for increasingly restrictive and intrusive legislation.

At the heart of the argument is an underlying assumption: the trend will continue in a straight-line progression. Such predictions are seldom accurate. Most trends tend to generate a curve rather than a straight line.

But let's give the RIAA their premise, and assume CD sales will continue to decline at a steady rate. Interestingly enough, there's precious little discussion in the RIAA camp of the trend in download sales. You'll see citations that download sales while rising, haven't made up for the losses in CD sales – leaving the unspoken assumption that they never will.

OK, but if the RIAA can assume that CD sales will continue to decline at a constant rate, why can't we assume that the rate of change for download sales remain constant as well?

The RIAA provides sales figures for various years, breaking out physical sales and downloads. According to their report, CD sales declined 13.8% in 2006, while downloads increased 74.4% in the same time period. Total digital sales represented less than 10% of the total for physical product, a fact which causes the RIAA to loudly gnash its teeth and dramatically rend its garments.

But let's play a little bit of "if this goes on" and see what happens – according to the RIAA's own numbers – if CD sales continue to decline and download sales continue to rise at their current rate.


For 2007 and 2008, things don't look so good. Both years show a net loss in revenue. Three years from now, though, total sales will be greater than 2006 (net gain). And by 2010, total sales will exceed those of 1996, those halcyon days when dinosaurs ruled the earth – er, I mean when CDs ruled the charts.

And look at what happens next. Six years from now, net sales will be double what they are today. And by 2015 projections show the record industry making 12 times what it does today.

According to our straight-line projections, the major labels will have two more years of (relative) famine before the money starts rolling in. And if these projections aren't realistic, then I invite the RIAA to provide better ones – but include both CD sales and download sales in the mix.

Apple iTunes sales just hit the three billion mark. It took two years to sell the first billion, a year to sell the second and six months to sell three. If this goes on, indeed!

How fast or slow will this change occur? That's up to the RIAA -- will it continue to buck the trend, or finally embrace the change?

- Ralph

Monday, August 06, 2007

Getting Out More

We spent the weekend in Abingdon, enjoying the Virginia Highlands Festival (and visiting family). I also took a little break from the Internet -- not difficult when you only have dial-up!

Although the TV usually blares unheeded as background noise, this time, it was turned off -- and remained so almost the entire weekend.

Yes, "CE Conversations" deals a lot with Internet issues and news, but as I try to point out as often as possible, the Internet is not the be all and end all -- no technology is.

Our daughter was also in for the weekend. She's an outdoor recreation major, and during the visit, she called "Nature Deficiency Disorder" (NDD) to my attention. As kids turn more to electronics for entertainment, they become increasingly disconnected from the natural world. Less time spent outdoors means less time physically active, less exposure to natural light, and less interaction with other people -- resulting in NDD.

This past weekend, we practiced a little of the cure. We spent the weekend walking around Abingdon, swapping stories with family members, and, in general, being decidedly non-electronic. It wasn't deliberate -- it just turned out that way.

And it was wonderful.

People often tell me to go take a hike. Glad, I finally did.

Ken would be proud.

- Ralph

Friday, August 03, 2007

Where's Ken?


If the "CE Conversation" has been a little one-sided recently, it's because half of our blog contributors have been busy elsewhere. Ken's been involved with some major races (see the details at 70.3 for Me).

Ken's also been indulging an urge to do some fiction writing and did some serious scam baiting over the past few months. For those not familiar with the sport, the goal is to discourage Internet scammers by tying up their time pursuing marks that don't pan out.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian 419 scam is going strong, and enough people fall for these ruses that a cottage industry has evolved that takes in millions from naive folks all over the world.

Ken isn't one of those. With his permission, I'm posting his recent correspondence with one such scammer. It's a tale of high finance and intrigue -- and for those familiar with the Superman canon, it's full of humor, too.

Since this PDF was constructed after the scam had run its course, some of the original e-mails are missing, but enough remains to follow the story arc.

My writing partner has promised to return to this blog, but in the meantime, here's what our friend has been up to.

The Kent Saga PDF.

- Ralph

#nigeria