Why the Celestial Jukebox Will Win

It can’t help it — how else are you going to successfully distribute this kind of stuff? Encore [pdf]

The past week was a big one for the music industry: three of the summer’s most anticipated albums hit stores Tuesday. Coldplay, Black Eyed Peas and the White Stripes dropped new releases amid a swirl of publicity and the high hopes of more than just fans. The triple-threat release underscored how the floundering recording industry operates today: by pouring major label resources into a handful of acts and praying for blockbuster returns. This is a year, after all, in which record sales are down around 8 percent from the same point last year.

“This is a hold-your-breath moment,” says Richard Kurin, director of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. But he’s not among those executives turning blue. The Smithsonian Institution owns Folkways, one of several small record labels that has embraced the Internet in a way that major labels, which blame their woes on digital piracy, notoriously have not. “Humankind has made music ever since we were human,” adds Kurin. “You don’t want to restrict the sounds that people make or the ones they hear just because of their ability for them to be sold for tens of millions of dollars. It’s insane!”

[…] The Smithsonian isn’t alone in seeing the digital light. Also putting back catalogs, archives and out-of-print obscurities up online are Rounder Records, Sun Records and Rhino Records. “We’re basically opening up our archives, alternative takes, releases that weren’t the hit version, and we’re slowly putting that all online,” says Sidney Singleton at Sun Records, the Memphis, Tenn., label founded in 1952 by Sam Phillips, who famously introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, to name a few.

[…] Other labels have begun selling physical copies of long-unavailable records exclusively through their own Web sites. “Online delivery will be the way of the future for much specialized music,” says Scott Billington of Rounder, which last week launched its Archive Series (rounderarchive.com). Around a quarter of the 4,000 titles that Rounder has put out since the roots label launched in 1970 are currently out of print. With the Rounder Archive series, fans of folk blues, jug band, Cape Breton fiddle and accordion dance music can log on to buy remastered recordings (and a few new titles for sale exclusively online). They even have a long-lost recording of an Allen Ginsburg reading. As with Global Sound, a trip to the Web site can be as much a learning experience as a listening experience, with liner notes and photos available for download in PDF format.

It’s Friday (and it’s *On* Topic!)

Anti gypsy-music virus welcomed by victims

Romanian security firm BitDefender has revealed that after releasing signatures to protect its customers from a virus that deleted files from their computers containing gypsy music, it was inundated with letters of complaint from customers who wanted the virus to spread.

The virus, dubbed Antiman.A, was discovered at the end of April and duped users into executing its payload by pretending to contain news about three Romanian journalists that had been kidnapped. When run, the virus searched the victim’s computer for files containing the names of Romanian gypsy music singers.

[…] One customer, whose details have withheld, said: “I appreciate your rapid reaction when new viruses are released… Nevertheless, when socially useful viruses are released, I think you could wait at least one day… This is not a virus, this is a utilitarian tool”. The message concluded: “If you know the author of this virus, please give him my e-mail address; I’m ready to offer him food and drinks for at least 2 weeks”.

Another customer was also hoping detection signatures were delayed but he went on to wish for a variant that could attack legacy systems: “Couldn’t you guys wait two or three more days, until my whole neighbourhood was infected? Is there a version of this virus that can erase the cassettes played in cars that are stopped in traffic?”

OT: It’s Friday!

And we’ve *all* been on a flight like the one David Sedaris describes here: Shouts and Murmurs: Turbulence

“Listen,” she said, “I’m not asking you to switch because it’s a bad seat. I’m asking you to switch because we’re married.” She pointed to her wedding ring, and when I leaned in closer to get a better look at it she drew back her hand, saying, “Oh, never mind. Just forget it.”

It was as if she had slammed a door in my face, and quite unfairly, it seemed to me. I should have left well enough alone, but instead I tried to reason with her. “It’s only a ninety-minute flight,” I said, suggesting that in the great scheme of things it wasn’t that long to be separated from your husband. “I mean, what, is he going to prison the moment we land in Raleigh?”

“No, he’s not going to prison,” she said, and on the last word she lifted her voice, mocking me.

A Note From Down Under

A reader points me to this article describing a copyright situation in NZ that, while probably formally a copyright infringement, also exposes the fact that this artist is clearly a prat: T-shirt design angers artist

For seven years it has been an Auckland landmark, but a Ponsonby sculpture is at the centre of a spat after becoming a Hallensteins T-shirt design.

[…] “The damage to my reputation as an artist to have my work displayed on a cheap T-shirt is immeasurable,” Mr [John] Radford said.

Something tells me that, miraculously, a measure will be found.

CDT/ACLU Take On Another Ill-Constructed State Digital Porn Bill

This time it’s Utah’s H.B. 260 (Third Substitute Bill), as noted by Susan Crawford. As Prof. Crawford points out, this looks like the CDT Pennsylvania case all over again:

The complaint [pdf] carefully explains just what the internet is, why ISP blocking of sites deemed “harmful to minors” by the Utah AG (who will make his determinations without the benefit of any judicial review) will lead inevitably to the blocking of wholly innocent speech, why forced labeling and distribution liability and prior restraints and all the rest — all the ugly and familiar machinery of censorship — is violative of the First Amendment, and finally, why this entire ball of twine enacted by the Utah legislature violates the Commerce Clause.

CDT posting; ZDNet’s ACLU to challenge Utah porn-blocking law; InternetWeek: Kids And The Web and ACLU Sues To Block Utah Law Restricting Internet Content

Later: Utah Takes the Porn Challenge [pdf]; ACLU to Challenge Utah Porn-Blocking Law


Hollywood Hardball

Hollywood does not like it when outsiders play certain games.

That was the message sent this week to Microsoft and its agents at the Creative Artists Agency by movie studios outraged at the aggressive proposal being shopped for the film version of the popular Xbox video game Halo.

[…] What irritated studio executives most was Microsoft’s demands for broad creative control, even though the company was not spending a dime to make the film.

Ultimately, Microsoft, Universal and Fox tentatively agreed to a complex arrangement on reduced financial terms, though all parties involved say creative issues could still scuttle the deal. The talks were to continue through Friday.

“If you are going to play the toughest hand of the year, you better have the goods,” said Bruce Berman, a former Warner Brothers Pictures executive who now runs Village Roadshow Pictures and was not involved in the bidding. “I think it’s great that the studios didn’t buy it on the terms first offered. It shows restraint.”

[…] Aside from the $10 million upfront fee, Microsoft was asking for 15 percent of the studio’s first-dollar box- office gross receipts. The budget could be no less than $75 million, not including the fees for the actors and director. If the studio did not make the movie, it would forfeit the $10 million fee.

Microsoft also wanted creative control, with the script and characters unchanged. The studio would have to pay to fly a Microsoft representative to watch all cuts of the movie, and the studio would forgo merchandising rights.

Such an approach was a gamble for Microsoft, given that it does not have a proven track record like the high-priced Hollywood actors and directors, like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, who make similar demands.

University Filesharing Policy Report from EFF

Ernie points to an EFF report on campus filesharing: When Push Comes to Shove: A Hype-Free Guide to Evaluating Technical Solutions to Copyright Infringement on Campus Networks ( press release)

[C]ontent problems are not network problems, and treating them as such will have negative side effects without enough benefit to justify them. One would imagine that combining CopySense with a soft policy (“If it matches our copyrighted materials database, rate-limit it”) would be the ideal. But it’s not ideal for three reasons: CopySense will still have false positives and false negatives, non-copyrighted data transfers might still be hogging all the bandwidth, and the application may create privacy-related risks to the university.

A better solution may be to dynamically generate fine-grained (e.g. at the transport layer circuit level) policies based on administrator-defined constraints. […]

[…] [T]here are no easy technical “fixes” for copyright infringement on campus. In some cases, university administrators risk threatening a wide range of legitimate university objectives for an expensive, temporary, or minimally effective solution. In others, as is the case with technology bans, administrators are choosing to restrict or remove actual educational resources – putting students with both formal and informal interests in such diverse topics as computer science, engineering, digital art, and online journalism at a distinct disadvantage, especially when compared to students at universities with less restrictive policies. While fighting infringement is important, it shouldn’t mean that universities are forced to invade users’ privacy or offer a “second class” education to students entering a world where technological expertise is increasingly important.

This is why many universities may want to minimize or reject technical solutions altogether and choose instead to emphasize other strategies for combating infringement. As discussed earlier, there is no general legal obligation on universities to implement technical measures to monitor networks or to police infringement.

[…] We encourage university administrators to look beyond the hype surrounding P2P and evaluate their options with a dispassionate eye. Technical solutions can be useful, but they are also frequently blunt instruments for dealing with a complex problem like infringement on campus networks. Rather than rush to join the technology “arms” race, we hope that universities will take a moment to consider the ramifications adopting such technologies can have on both the academic environment on campus as well as their IT resources and priorities. In the end, we believe a solid focus on providing an environment that fosters education on a range of issues, including copyright, is the best solution.