July 29, 2005

Ugh [7:20 pm]

Missed this: Senators Grill P2P Providers

[Sen. Ted] Stevens closed the hearing by threatening to introduce bipartisan legislation if P2P companies don’t do something to stop piracy on their networks.

“If you don’t do it, I’m going to move over and meet with Sen. Boxer on this,” he said. “We’ve got to find some way to meet this concept of protecting our intellectual property. We can hardly accuse the people abroad of stealing our intellectual property if we can’t protect it at home.”

The hearing site: Issues Related to MGM v. Grokster; Washington Post’s Senator Threatens Crackdown on File-Sharing Industry [pdf]

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A Little Common Sense [1:18 pm]

‘San Andreas’ Rocks the ‘Righteous’ [pdf]

So — the justification for this use of our tax dollars is that Take Two misled the public by promising a game featuring enough violence to make Sam Peckinpah blush, but instead sprinkled it with near-hardcore pornography. (I use “near” as there isn’t any display of genitalia, at least as far as I could see. And it’s a cartoon graphic, not real people…)

Good heavens, citizens! What’s going on here? Oh yes, of course, we’re getting all bent out of shape over nothing again. I keep forgetting that this is a proud American tradition, on the same display shelf as the controversy over “Darling Nikki” and the fuss over video games in general from the early ’80s. I bet some of the folks who thought our children’s brains were turning to mush over too much “Centipede” aren’t looking at it this way today.

I’m going to echo the refrain that you’d expect from thirtysomethings like me who don’t have children to protect: I don’t like the sex and violence of the GTA series. As a result, I do what anyone capable of making decisions does: I don’t play it.

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Movies and Remix Culture [1:09 pm]

An art review: A Medium in the Making: Slicing Familiar Films Into Something New

Movie-loving artists divide roughly into two groups, fans and users. The fans flock to films, or the nearest video rental store, for both respite and inspiration; they discuss and sometimes write about what they see with distinctive intelligence. Their numbers are legion; their apotheosis is probably Manny Farber, the artist who had a distinguished career as a film critic before turning to painting full time.

The users are such impassioned, if not addicted, cinephiles that movies become the central component of their art. Films are not just inspiration for these artists; they are raw material that can be appropriated, manipulated and reshaped into another work of art, with their names on the credit line.

[...] Still, “CUT” brings needed curatorial clarity to an expanding genre that is challenging to survey. The catalog provides an expansive backdrop by flanking Mr. Basilico’s lucid discussion of the works with essays by Rob Yeo, on the history of film appropriation in underground film (starting with Joseph Cornell), and by Lawrence Lessig, on the creative chill that recent changes in copyright law are bringing to the arts.

You come away from this show with a new sense of film as a found object; as an immense reservoir of untapped form and feeling; and as a highly charged raw material by which artists can celebrate, examine and stave off the deluge of images bearing down on us from all sides.

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Two NYTimes OpEds on Payola and the Music Biz [1:07 pm]

  • The current situation with a look at record contracts: The Price of Fame [pdf]

    Payola gets a song on the radio. If it becomes a hit, radio works it to death. In this day of consolidated radio ownership and programming, my friend suggests, eliminating payola could mean that commercial stations would become even more monotonous, if that can be imagined.

    To my mind, however, the difficulty of picturing a world beyond payola is reason enough to cheer Eliot Spitzer along. Payola restricts access to the public airways; only artists whose labels are willing and able to pay get played. Listeners who might enjoy something else won’t hear it from stations on the take. And when fans go to the record store, they’ll find that payola has driven up the price of CD’s.

    By the end of our three-album run with MCA, Semisonic had sold close to two million records, but we were a long way from recouping the costs of radio promotion. Thus musicians, even some who have benefited from payola, will applaud Mr. Spitzer, even as they wonder what chance he has of bringing about vast structural reform. Knowing what it takes to get their songs on the radio and watching their share of record sales swallowed up along the way, most recording artists would love to see the current system brought down, even if they can’t imagine what would replace it.

  • A little history: Broken Record [pdf]

    Music professionals have always agreed that hits cannot be bought. To this day, when a label backs the wrong song, it loses money. Moreover, systems of “bribery” analogous to payola operate in many retail markets. Most supermarket chains, for example, make a chunk of their revenue from “slotting fees,” which are the rents that food distributors pay them for shelf space. That such rents are paid says nothing about the flavor or nutritional value of any given item on the shelves. Where music is concerned, however, the concept of payola somehow seems intuitively revolting.

    Yet, like it not, every popular song you’ve ever loved has reached you via some chain of pay-for-play machinations. The technological landscape has changed over time, as have the laws supposedly governing music promotion, but payola has been as constant and pervasive a force as gravity for more than a century now. A rational set of regulations would probably acknowledge this reality and aim at leveling the playing field so that small players can compete against big ones, just as they used to do in the early heyday of rock ‘n’ roll, when tiny labels like Sun briefly had the likes of RCA on the ropes.

    Mr. Spitzer is doing his duty by enforcing the existing laws. But he might want to at least acknowledge that earlier attempts to kill payola, when they had any effect at all, have tended to leave the beast stronger.

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