December 3, 2004

Wired News on the Kahle v Ashcroft Dismissal [9:31 am]

Fight for Public Domain Goes On

For most of the 20th century, artists and creators had to register with the copyright office to get a copyright, and were granted a term of 28 years. At the end of that term, they had to renew their copyright to get a 28-year extension. Many didn’t bother to renew and the work entered the public domain. But Congress passed several laws that gave copyright owners far more power: It removed the registration and renewal requirements, so now anything “fixed in a tangible medium” is under copyright, and the term is the life of the creator plus 70 years.

The plaintiffs claim that removing registration and renewal requirements and expanding the term of copyright have made it virtually impossible for works to enter the public domain. Now, out-of-print albums and books — many of which are not commercially viable — are simply rotting away unused, but are still protected by copyright.

“The move from ‘opt-in’ to ‘opt-out’ creates a significant problem in the copyright law,” [Chris] Sprigman said. “It burdens speech, and we’re going to press that argument on appeal.”

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OT: Not Just A UK Problem [8:38 am]

As I learned at a recent faculty meeting: What’s the point of chemistry?

The chemical attraction that turned British scientists into heroes of the industrial age is wearing off. Two universities in as many weeks have announced plans to shut their chemistry faculties, bringing the total to five such closures in 18 months.

Of all the traditional academic subjects that have lost out to new, so-called “soft” subjects, chemistry is said to be in the most critical condition.

While universities have expanded massively since the mid-1990s, the number of chemistry undergrads has fallen. As recently as 1996/7 chemistry students outnumbered their media studies counterparts three-to-one. Today, media studies has overtaken chemistry (see table below).

[...] Image is not the only problem. In a competitive education market, universities are finding it harder to make chemistry courses pay. Lab technicians, glassware, chemicals, the cost of disposing of chemicals, even the fact that journals require complex illustrations, pushes up the price.

“Compare it to a purely classroom-based subject, like English or history, where you can achieve greater economies of scale by packing out a lecture room,” says Prof Smith, of Swansea University. “In chemistry, you would have to provide an equal amount of lab space, and that gets very expensive.”

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You Have To Ask “Why?” [8:32 am]

According to No US release for Band Aid record, "The new version of Band Aid’s charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas is not going to be released in the US."

Are the margins greater on the import version? Is this a demonstration of the benefits of digital distribution via downloads (which are available to US customers)? Or were US officials unwilling to give the same tax breaks, so it’s all about the jurisdiction where the purchase is recorded? It will be interesting to learn more about the why of this decision.

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*More* Irony [8:27 am]

What *is* a global market, anyway? Apple iTunes ‘overcharging in UK’ Get a load of this:

Back in September Apple defended the price differential, saying that “the underlying economic model in each country has an impact on how we price our track downloads”.

“That’s not unusual - look at the price of CDs in the US versus the UK,” an Apple spokesman said.

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Expanding the Market for Digital Downloads [8:15 am]

Fellowship of the Ring: Customized Cell Tones [pdf]

Brian Carkhuff makes a living pushing cell phones with the ever-personal touch. He works at a T-Mobile kiosk, clocking in about 60 hours a week, in the ground floor of the Pentagon City mall.

“Folks are willing to pay good money to put their favorite music and favorite photos on their favorite cell phones,” says the 37-year-old, who can sell you pretty much whatever you’re looking for. Motorola A630, which looks like a mini-BlackBerry, with instant messaging and e-mail capability, goes for about $300 list price. The Samsung P735, a flip phone with an MP3 player, sells for about $500.

Carkhuff has switched his own phone no less than 10 times in the past five years. He considers his current, clear-cased cell phone — a Nokia 6600, retail price $399 — a prized necessity. The phone, which he wears on his belt, takes up to 30 minutes of video clips and has a camera. Its screen saver is a photo of his daughters, 14-year-old Jordyn and 12-year-old Erin, in a pool at his parents’ house.

He’s got ring tones, too, of course, more than 20, which he buys online at $1.99 each, and they’re sent to his phone within 15 to 20 seconds.

“Between the Sheets,” by the Isley Brothers, plays when his girlfriend of six months calls; “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” by the Charlie Daniels Band, plays when his supervisor calls. The rest of the callers, friends or not, bring up “Lean Back” by Terror Squad.

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Making Sausages [8:06 am]

A look at what the record industry did (does?) when it comes to artist development — and the role of unconventional promotion: The Hit We Almost Missed:

Forty years after he recorded it, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was just named the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, a tribute it had previously been given by New Musical Express, Britain’s leading pop-music weekly. Quite an honor, considering that the single was almost never released.

[...] the song had to be presented at Columbia’s weekly singles meeting, and that’s where the trouble began. Though just about everyone from the A & R (artists and repertoire) and promotion departments loved it, the sales and marketing people had a different opinion. And their opinion mattered, for sales and marketing was the engine behind the label’s success.

Their objection to the song came on two levels. The unstated reason was that they just didn’t like raucous rock ‘n’ roll. [...]

Of course, none of this was raised at the meeting about “Like a Rolling Stone.” What did come up was the length of the song. In 1965, three minutes was the average time for singles played on national radio. “Like a Rolling Stone” clocked in at one second under six minutes. The solution? Cut the baby in half, the wise Solomon of Sales decreed.

[...] Perhaps because I was a “club member,” the D.J. was very polite when asked if he would kindly play the acetate during a free moment. Deliberately neglecting to mention the name of the singer, I did say that the song was rather long and that he should feel free to stop it if the dancers got bored or tired.

At around 11 p.m., after a break, he played the acetate. The effect was seismic. People jumped to their feet and took to the floor, dancing the entire six minutes. Those who were seated stopped talking and began to listen. “Who is it?” the D.J. yelled at one point, running toward me. “Bob Dylan!” I shouted back. The name spread through the room, which only encouraged the skeptics to insist that it be played again, straight through. Sometime past midnight, as the grooves on the temporary dub wore out, the needle began to skip.

But not before the song had been heard by two important guests. One was a D.J. at WABC, then the leading Top 40 radio station in Manhattan. The other was a music programmer at the equally powerful WMCA. The next morning both called Columbia Records and demanded to know where their copy of the new Bob Dylan record was.

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The FCC Chair Speaks [7:58 am]

Frighteningly, he wraps the arbitrary “decency” decisions of the FCC in the emerging rhetoric of the “moral values” rhetoric that has emerged in the aftermath of the recent election in Don’t Expect the Government to Be a V-Chip

If one slices through the rhetoric, you’ll find that most opponents of the agency’s strong enforcement efforts believe that the government simply should not impose any decency standard at all. Berating citizens who believe in values and reasonable limits is insulting and polarizing and distracts from the legitimate issues of this policy debate. Critics of the law should instead focus their efforts on changing the law, if that’s what they want.

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Ahhh, Irony [7:48 am]

On so many levels - Fanning as savior, record companies investing now in a technology they should have developed when they turned to CDs for music distribution, a business based on combatting a problem created by its founder, advice from Hilary Rosen — the list goes on and on. Fabulous!

Music Industry Turns to Napster Creator for Help

The major record corporations, who accused Mr. Fanning’s Napster of ravaging CD sales and weakening the underpinnings of the industry, now say that a licensed file-sharing system could bolster their position in their legal fight against piracy as well as increase digital music sales.

Mr. Fanning, now 24 and part of a new venture called Snocap, has lately written software that would recognize songs being made available on a peer-to-peer network and let copyright holders set terms for its price and its use by consumers who wish to download them.

Snocap and the music corporations are envisioning an online community where visitors could trade songs without violating copyright laws.

[...] But if the industry has managed to set aside any differences it had with Mr. Fanning, it still faces troublesome questions.

Foremost among them is that for the plan to work, a peer-to-peer network still must decide to adopt Snocap’s technology. And then, as it reduces the amount of free music available, the network must find a way to attract paying music fans.

Also CNet News’ Napster founder unveils funding, label support and Fanning’s new swap shop

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In Case You Missed The Point [7:20 am]

Something to juxtapose with this earlier posting — is the Internet a public or private good?: Fast Internet Service for The People [pdf]

For the millions of people who cannot afford high-speed Internet access, some local officials think they’ve hit on the answer: Build government-owned networks to provide service at rates below what big telecommunications companies charge.

From San Francisco to St. Cloud, Fla., an estimated 200 communities are toying with community-owned networks, sparking a battle with cable and telephone companies over how public, or private, access to the Internet should be.

The companies are lobbying furiously to block such plans, fearful that their businesses would be hurt. Their efforts most recently paid off Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, where a new law bans local governments from creating their own networks without first giving the primary local phone company the chance to provide service.

Consumer advocates denounce the new Pennsylvania law. They say it amounts to governments now needing a permission slip from entrenched monopolies to put a vital economic and educational tool within everyone’s reach.

For them, government has a long history of providing essential public services, such as national highways or electricity in rural areas.

Later: Declan comes down on the side of those who say that internet connectivity is a private good in Wi-Fi for everyone?

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