Don’t Cross ASCAP

A look at the mechanics of how ASCAP represents its members’ interests when a public performance of a copyrighted work is alleged: Skip’s Tavern has live music, again: S.F. bar owner pays royalties but still faces 2 suits alleging copyright infringement

If ASCAP didn’t seek such damages for prior infringements, “no one would ever get a license and we’d have to sue everybody,” [ASCAP’s Richard] Reimer said from his New York office.

Whether any musicians did in fact play copyrighted music at Skip’s is the crux of both lawsuits.

According to the first lawsuit, filed in October 2002, an investigator heard a band at Skip’s play three copyrighted songs in June 2002.

However, according to depositions given by Courtright and Regi Harvey, a musician who was on stage during the night in question, no such infringement took place.

In the second lawsuit, which Reimer said has been consolidated with the first, ASCAP said that musicians played copyrighted music at the bar illegally this past summer.

Pew Says the Lawsuits Are Working

Sharp decline in music file swapping: Data memo from PIP and comScore Media Metrix (see the charts on filesharing application usage and music downloading demographics) The Reuters wire article from Yahoo! and from CNet

Note that the graphs exhibit classic misleading errors — the KaZaA chart’s X-axis does not cross the Y-axis at zero, and the tables are all expressed in percentages of Internet users. Granted, earlier reports have suggested that the population of users is leveling off, but it’s difficult to tell what a table of percentages, particularly broken down by demographics, really indicates. Nevertheless, the data does seem to show that there has been an effect — its magnitude, however, is a little tricky to establish. And who knows what sort of substitution might be taking place.

The percentage of online Americans downloading music files on the Internet has dropped by half and the numbers who are downloading files on any given day have plunged since the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began filing suits in September against those suspected of copyright infringement. Furthermore, a fifth of those who say they continue to download or share files online say they are doing so less often because of the suits.

[…] While multiple factors may have contributed to the decline, every nook of the music downloading world has been affected, including the parts of the population that were the most prolific users of online file-sharing networks. Steep drops in downloading were recorded among students, broadband users, young adults (those ages 18-29) and Internet veterans. The groups that recorded the steepest plunges in the percentage of downloaders were women (58% decrease in the size of the downloading population), those with some college education (61% decrease) and parents with children living at home (58% decrease). The survey was conducted among those 18 and older.

Update: Slashdot discussion — Pew Study Says RIAA Tactics Are Working

A Couple of Pieces from The Register

  • Belgian watchdog sues record biz over copy protection (Slashdot discussion — CD Copy Protection Case Goes to Court

    Belgian consumer watchdog Test-Achats (Test Aankoop), known for its crusade against Nokia’s “unsafe batteries”, starts the new year with a fresh assault on the music industry. It is taking the music giants EMI, Sony, BMG Music and Universal Music to court for installing anti-piracy systems on their audio CDs.

    In a press release, Test-Achats says it has received lots of consumer complaints in recent months about CDs equipped with anti-piracy systems, in particular ‘Laundry Service’ by Shakira, ‘1 Giant Leap’ by Faithless and Bjork’s ‘Greatest Hits’. Often, these CDs can’t be read by PCs and car stereos, and prevent users from making legal private copies, according to Test-Achats.

  • Music sales are on the mend

    Despite launching a legal assault against its customer base, the recording industry appears to be benefitting from increasing music sales once again.

    While 2003 music sales were flat overall, the record labels enjoyed a healthy spike in the fourth quarter, hinting that the industry doom and gloom so often suggested by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) may be fading. Recent data from Nielsen SoundScan shows that an improving economy is having a positive effect on the music biz.

    In 2003, total music shipments slipped but 0.8 percent when compared to 2002. Sales also fell slightly by 3.6 percent year-on-year. In the fourth quarter, however, unit shipments surged 10.5 percent compared to 2002 with sales also rising 4.3 percent.

NYTimes on an eMusic Misdirection Scam

A Wary Eye on Sites for Music Sharing

On its Web site, Easy Music Download offers unlimited downloads from a catalog of more than 700,000 songs for an annual fee of $21.95. Theoretically, one could own tens of thousands of songs for the same price as just 22 tracks from the iTunes store. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

[…] What Ms. Tennant and others found when they subscribed to Easy Download Music was not a song-selling service at all, but merely information on how to download file-sharing services like Kazaa, which provide access to the unrestricted swapping that Ms. Tennant was hoping to avoid.

[…] “Since August of 2003 we’ve been identifying what we view as scam sites, which are trading on the technology and offerings of Sharman Networks and in our view defrauding consumers by failing to disclose the actual service they provide,” Mr. [Roderick] Dorman [of Sharman Neworks] said. Several other cease-and-desist letters had been sent, he said, and he is “exploring with governmental authorities whether the conduct of these sites is criminal and is the appropriate subject of criminal law enforcement.”

Plus, the Times offers up their list of legit services: A Crowded Bandwagon Yields Music Without Worries

Video Games and Ethnic Slurs

Feds to Hear Video-Game Lawsuit

Haitian civil rights groups filed the lawsuit because the game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, instructs players to “kill the Haitians” and awards points for each kill.

The New York-based Rockstar Games has agreed to remove the offensive line from future versions of the award-winning video that has sold 11 million copies.

But the Haitian organizations, led by the Haitian-American Coalition of Palm Beach County, have also asked for more than $15,000 in damages.

NYTimes Obituary: Steven Bazerman

Steven H. Bazerman, Who Extended Intellectual Property Law, Dies at 63

Companies today understand the value of such details as the shape of a bottle or the position of a label on a pair of pants. But the idea that these details could be protected under trademark law was largely untested until Mr. Bazerman began taking product imitators to court in the 1980’s.

His legal work helped to build a body of case law around “secondary meaning,” which Mr. Bazerman said could include the unwritten, unspoken signals about a product’s origin that are given off by its appearance.

Some Funny Statistics from Australia

Forget the spin, taping is not killing music (Slashdot discussion: CD-Rs and MP3s Not Hurting Record Sales)

A Record Industry Association survey suggests that an astonishing 40 per cent of us have received homemade CDs as gifts, typically four each during the past year.

The industry wants us to feel bad about this. It says we are guilty of theft (or at least of receiving stolen goods).

[…] But creating CDs is different from stealing CDs from a store, and the industry’s figures bear this out.

The recording industry survey was carried out by Quantum Market Research using a sample of about 1000 people. It suggests that 31 million homemade CDs are given away as gifts each year (about four for each of the eight million Australians it says receive them). If, as seems reasonable, 31 million homemade CDs are kept rather than given away, the total number created each year would top 62 million.

When something is stolen there is normally something missing. A dent of 62 million in CD sales in stores each year should be easy to spot. Except for this problem. CD sales in Australian stores have hardly ever been that high. They peaked at 63 million in 2001.

If, as the industry suggests, each of the CDs made on a home computer was indeed created at the expense of one sold in a store the entire industry would have been wiped out.

In fact while 2001 was the industry’s best year on record, 2002 was its second-best year, with sales only a few per cent lower.

[…] [University of Texas economist Stan] Liebowitz says we are in the middle of a “wonderful natural experiment” which will determine fairly quickly whether the latest high-tech copying machine causes the sort of damage the other machines didn’t. He adds that from an economist’s point of view it would be no real disaster if it did. The present recording industry would be replaced by something better able to make money in the changed environment.

But all the indications are that the recording industry we know will be around for quite some time yet – side by side with homemade CDs. In Australia CD sales through stores rebounded 5 per cent in the first half of 2003. The figures for the second half may well show Guy Sebastian has pushed the industry towards a near-record Christmas.