October 22, 2004

Well! That Didn’t Take Long! [7:43 am]

Verizon to Extend Fiber Optics to Parts of Six Eastern States (see FCC Prepared To Say Cu == SiO2)

The company expects to make available its fiber-optic service - which will offer substantially faster connections than existing cable lines or telephone digital subscriber lines - to at least one million homes by the end of the year, and two million more homes next year.

To meet those goals, Verizon plans to hire as many as 5,000 new workers by the end of next year.

The regional Bell phone companies have been moving to replace more of their aging copper networks with fiber-optic lines as a way to compete with cable companies, which are introducing their own phone services on their broadband data lines.

See also Verizon Betting on A Bundle

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A Little More on the Peter Pan Prequel [7:35 am]

And the business of children’s bookselling and global copyright — and the joy of Dave Barry’s smart mouth (see the end of the excerpt!): Familiar Stories With Big Sales

In the age of Harry Potter, building a new children’s book franchise requires following a few simple rules: Stick with a popular genre like fantasy, right now the hottest thing going. Start with a familiar story. Rely on a proven cast of characters.

And it cannot hurt to have an author who is willing to dress up like a pirate.

Disney, it turned out, got two of those - Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, a wise-cracking duo of grown-up writers who, especially when wearing buccaneer’s hats and eye patches, seem little older than their preteen audience.

The pair brought to Disney’s publishing units one of the biggest children’s hits of the year, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” the first of a three-part prequel to J. M. Barrie’s classic, “Peter Pan.” The book is a long, digressive journey that by the end of the trilogy will attempt to answer the question, “Just how did Peter meet Captain Hook, anyway?”

[...] The stories have become more sophisticated as well. “We weren’t moved to do the guy in green tights,” Mr. Pearson said. “We made a conscious decision to take the story out of 1880 values,” avoiding the portrayal of Indians, for example, that makes the 1953 Disney film cringeworthy.

Still, there are unsettled details. “Peter and the Starcatchers” cannot be published anywhere in the European Union because that would violate the copyright of the original “Peter Pan” story, which is held by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in Britain. Barrie, the “Peter Pan” author, donated the copyright to the hospital in 1929. In 1987, 50 years after his death, the copyright expired. The following year, Parliament extended the copyright in Britain in an attempt to give royalties to the hospital in perpetuity. But actions by the European Union to standardize copyright terms mean that the Peter Pan copyright will expire in 2007 in all of the union’s other member nations.

That is, unless the hospital succeeds in another venture. It is now soliciting ideas for a sequel to Peter Pan, one that it hopes will extend the copyright on the central characters for 70 more years.

Mr. Barry professes unconcern about the copyright questions. “The good news is the sick children will get none of our money,” he said last month - jokingly, of course. And he professes full faith in the Disney lawyers: “We figured the people who will kill you if you use Mickey Mouse without permission would be the best ones to figure it out.” [emphasis added]

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Eliot Spitzer on a Roll [7:28 am]

Record Labels Said to Be Next on Spitzer List for Scrutiny

According to several people involved, investigators in Mr. Spitzer’s office have served subpoenas on the four major record corporations - the Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the EMI Group and the Warner Music Group - seeking copies of contracts, billing records and other information detailing their ties to independent middlemen who pitch new songs to radio programmers in New York State.

[...] The major record labels have paid middlemen for decades, though the practice has long been derided as a way to skirt a federal statute - known as the payola law - outlawing bribes to radio broadcasters.

Broadcasters are prohibited from taking cash or anything of value in exchange for playing a specific song, unless they disclose the transaction to listeners. But in a practice that is common in the industry, independent promoters pay radio stations annual fees - often exceeding $100,000 - not, they say, to play specific songs, but to obtain advance copies of the stations’ playlists. The promoters then bill record labels for each new song that is played; the total tab costs the record industry tens of millions of dollars each year.

The new scrutiny comes at an inconvenient time for the major record companies, which have been pressing federal and state law enforcement officials to shut pirate CD manufacturers and the unimpeded flow of copyrighted music online.

[...] Since the big companies severed their ties to the practice, record labels - suffering from piracy and other financial woes - have sharply scaled back payments to the middlemen, and by some estimates pay them as little as $30 million annually.

One promoter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Spitzer’s investigators “are not going to find anything; they’re 20 years too late.”

Slashdot: Spitzer Takes On Record Industry Payola

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Participation, Freedom and Distribution [7:23 am]

On the morning of the day that Sinclair plans to exercise the power that comes from media concentration, an argument for why the development and support of new means of distribution is so important: Filmmakers break down hidden images of the war in Iraq [pdf]

The MEF has distributed 10,000 copies of “Hijacking Catastrophe” on DVD. It has been shown on cable access channels as far away as Montana, and it has been screened in about 50 theaters. But Jhally and Earp hope to find ways of distributing this and other documentaries outside usual channels.

“We have to take back the media,” Jhally says, because corporate control of mainstream outlets limits what will be shown — and therefore limits discussion to the terms the administration has set. That, Earp argues, is why real discussion of the underlying reasons for the war has not made it onto the nightly news.

[...] Earp and Jhally see their work as a way to fight that combination of manipulation and acquiescence. By showing that the images we see over and over again on TV — Bush as a tough guy, war as a kind of high-stakes video game — are constructed for a particular purpose, not plucked at random from reality, they hope to get people talking about the ideas behind the images.

“What people need to do is they need to become informed; they need to take an active part in the world,” Jhally says. “The world is always created by someone, and you can either be a spectator in that or you can take an active part in that. Our job is to get people to see the world clearly. I’m confident that once people can do that, they’ll make their own choices.”

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