India Acting To Protect Whom?

James Grimmelmann posts India to Forbid Song Covers? over at LawMeme.

An amendment to the Indian Copyright Act has been proposed, and will likely be passed in Parliament in a couple of months, after sustained pressure and lobbying by the music industry in India. The effort has been led by Universal Music India (among others) with some prominent composers and musicians acting as the figureheads and personally lobbying important Cabinet ministers.

Currently, the Copyright Act, in S.52(1)(j) explicitly allows the making of cover versions of songs (called “version recordings” – the provision is actually broader than just cover versions and encompasses things like remixes and so on), two years after the original recording is released, on a compulsory licensing+royalty basis. However, the music industry wants to delete the entire section so that “version recordings” are banned completely (barring permission at the discretion of the copyright holder of course, and we know how likely that is).

More on the Blues

This upcoming PBS special on The Blues is inspiring all sorts of interesting commentary on the history of the record business. See, for example, this piece from the NYTimes: First the Birth of the Blues, Then the Fight Over Who Owns the Baby [pdf] It’s interesting to note that even the first season of The Sopranos has an episode (#10) that touches on this issue. It’s stunning that, if true, this PBS special doesn’t even give it that much attention.

The alchemy that transformed the blues music into jazz, then rock ‘n’ roll — and later on into rock music and rap — did its work in the speakeasies, brothels, juke joints and churches that sat cheek by jowl on the South Side of Chicago in the early 20th century. Among the millions of black people who fled the South in the Great Migration, hundreds of thousands came to Chicago, including the talismanic blues stars Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and the bass man and songwriter Willie Dixon, all of whom recorded for Chess Records. Depending on who tells the story, Phil and Leonard Chess, the founders, were either benevolent patrons or rip-off artists who created the paradigm for how to fleece musicians.

[…] But the series scarcely mentions the bitter controversy over how much the Chess brothers and the music publishing company they partly owned exploited these artists. The segment that should tell this story — the one on Chess itself — dismisses the exploitation as a figment of the bluesmen’s imagination.

[…] The real money came into play when British rock bands — like the Rolling Stones and Cream — began to rerecord blues standards, paying out millions in royalties that should have gone to the blues artists who wrote the songs. Many bluesmen found that the rights to their work belonged to publishers associated with their record companies.

The lawsuits flew hot and heavy in Chicago, where the big artists associated with Chess Records filed nasty claims charging that the publishing firm owned partly by the Chess brothers had swindled them. Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon received undisclosed settlements and eventually regained ownership of the disputed songs. Howlin’ Wolf died while his case was still tied up in litigation — a lesson to other musicians to settle while they could.

[…] Even rappers fresh off the street who couldn’t name a blues song if you paid them know that many of the musicians who came before them were cheated. These rappers show up at the record company door demanding deals that allow them to own their works, which allows them to get rich — and to sing about getting rich. These songs, too, are a legacy of the blues.

What Ownership of Culture Gets You

Placement on the Vegas strip, apparently: I Dream of Royalties [pdf]

A CLUTCH of suited dignitaries, standing beneath a makeshift thatched roof of dried palm fronds, don floppy white sailor caps on cue as a band blares the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. One of them, Kenny C. Guinn, the governor of Nevada, is struggling to retain his dignity as he shares a spotlight with Gilligan, the Professor and Mary Ann — the actors Bob Denver, Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells — during the opening ceremony of the gambling industry’s big annual trade show, held here earlier this month.

The three castaways were among a cavalcade of celebrities — some faded or forgotten — who turned out at the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center to help sell slot machines created in their images.

[…] Slot machines account for more than 70 percent of casino revenue in the United States, according to William Eadington, an economist at the University of Nevada at Reno. And the most profitable machines, slot makers have discovered in recent years, are those that tap into the recognizable and nostalgic. The manufacturers are spilling tens of millions of dollars licensing such brands, hoping that they will help their machines stand out in the crowd of games clamoring for gamblers’ attention.

[…] “Before the `Wheel of Fortune,’ the theming of slot machines was generic — cherries, lemons, pots of gold, four-leaf clovers,” Mr. Christiansen said. “Stuff in the public domain that didn’t cost any money to use. But that changed as soon as `Wheel of Fortune’ hit. Consumers suddenly were demanding something more than cherries and lemons.”

That meant greater development costs for slot makers, but also greater profits. A slot machine typically sells for around $10,000, adding maybe $4,000 in profit to the company’s bottom line, I.G.T. executives said. By contrast, a successful revenue-sharing machine can provide a steady stream of cash, adding as much as $16,000 a year to the bottom line.

A highly entertaining article — with much more than I have posted here.

Ed Foster’s Latest: Insidious Rights Management

Ed Foster’s Gripe Line this week is about the integration of DRM into Office and beyond: Insidious Restrictions Management

But beyond the fact it’s from Microsoft, the real problem is that IRM is just DRM (Digital Rights – or Restrictions – Management) with a slightly different name. That it’s DRM partially in the control of users won’t make it any easier to tolerate the limitations, complexity, bugs, misapplications and outright disasters IRM will inevitably cause. Like DRM, IRM will just make it a little harder to deal with the digital world we live in.

Tasteless (Isn’t that the Point?) Humor from BBSpot

But indicative:

RIAA Reanimating Dead Musicians To Eat Brains of File Sharers

The RIAA can expect a legal fight from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “We realize that the DMCA gives the RIAA the power to eat the brains of file sharers without the issue of a warrant or subpoena, but we think the law is wrong and we’re lobbying to have it repealed,” said EFF spokesperson Francine Parker. “We could end up with a case where an innocent person is swarmed by the undead members of Lynyrd Skynyrd if this law isn’t changed.”

[…] However, not everyone outside the RIAA was disgusted by the news. Many fans were excited by the possibility of a zombie Elvis or John Lennon visiting their home even if it meant that they would be killed. “Do you think this means that The Dead could get back together and tour again?” gushed one fan.