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October 1, 2006

Contracts, Collaboration and Copyright [7:48 pm]

‘Chorus Line’ Returns, as Do Regrets Over Life Stories Signed Away

On a snowy Saturday night in January 1974, after their curtain calls, 19 of Broadway’s best dancers gathered at the Nickolaus Exercise Center on East 23rd Street. They all sat in a circle on the floor. A tape recorder was turned on.

For the next 12 hours they spoke about their lives, telling stories of divorce, child abuse and the plight of the professional dancer. These tales, shaped by the choreographer Michael Bennett, would become the foundation of “A Chorus Line,” one of the most successful musicals of all time.

The dancers who told their stories that night sold them to Mr. Bennett for $1 each. And though Mr. Bennett later arranged for them to receive royalties from the show — at times up to $10,000 a year — they have always questioned whether they have been fairly compensated and acknowledged.

[...] The legality of the arrangements is not an issue. “At one point, when we were young and stupid, we kind of signed our lives away, and they exploited that,” said Wayne Cilento, who played the role of Mike in the original production. But reflecting the feelings of some of the other dancers, he added, “We were the authors of the show, and we should have been paid accordingly.”

The question of authorship on any collaboration can be tricky. There is no doubt that the dancers provided most of the stories, and in some cases large chunks of their words show up verbatim in the show. There is also no doubt that it was primarily Mr. Bennett who took 20 hours of interviews and had the vision to shape them into a groundbreaking musical.

“There never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without Michael,” said Kelly Bishop, who told her story in the character of Sheila, “but there never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without us, either.”

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LimeWire Pushback [11:58 am]

A File Sharer Fights Back

LimeWire is standing firm. In response to the industry’s lawsuit against it last month, the company that owns the LimeWire file-sharing software filed a counterclaim this week, accusing members of the Recording Industry Association of America of anticompetitive practices, restraint of trade, tortuous interference and other claims (info.riaalawsuits.us).

The countersuit is “encouraging,” wrote John Paczkowski, an editor at SiliconValley.com who writes Good Morning Silicon Valley (gmsv.com).

The biggest record companies, according to the lawsuit, are engaged in a “modern conspiracy” to acquire “a monopoly over digital distribution of commercially valuable copyrighted music.” In all, the suit names 13 record companies.

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Gambling on YouTube [11:53 am]

Here we go again. YouTube’s Video Poker

Chad Hurley effects a calm, almost detached demeanor, even as the Web site he runs, YouTube.com, has provoked a frenzy of consternation among executives of record labels, TV networks and movie studios. For millions of Internet users, the site that opened to the public less than a year ago provides a daily fix of odd and interesting video clips, from White House speeches to frat house pranks.

YouTube has also become a vast repository of video taken without permission from television shows and movies, not to mention home movies constructed — with nary a cent paid in royalties — from commercial music and imagery.

Mr. Hurley was surrounded by curious media executives at Allen & Company’s annual Sun Valley mogulfest in July. They wondered: friend or foe? Is he earnestly working to make YouTube and its exuberant users conform to the existing standards of copyright law and contractual obligations? Or is he cynically flouting the law to enable YouTube to grow rapidly, calculating that he will be able to cut a more advantageous deal later, or perhaps sell the company to someone else who will be able to sort through the mess of liabilities?

[...] Doug Morris, the chief executive of the Universal Music Group, said at an investor conference recently that YouTube and MySpace, the social networking site, “are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars.”

And Mark Cuban, who founded Broadcast.com, an early Internet video site that was bought by Yahoo, argued on his blog that YouTube did not have a viable business other than piracy.

“It is absolutely reminiscent of Napster,” Mr. Cuban said in an interview. “It’s nice that they say ‘it’s different this time,’ but it’s not.”

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Selling Online, Literally [11:47 am]

Consumed: Selling to Avatars

Inhabited by the alter egos of a few hundred thousand users, Second Life is not the most popular of these online habitats, but lately it has been attracting — yes — marketers. Toyota, Starwood Hotels and a variety of music and book companies have begun branding efforts in Second Life; the Virginia politician Mark Warner even gave an interview there recently. Longtime users like Gareth Lancaster have been expecting this. What’s not as clear is how well the new arrivals understand that there are already plenty of successful brands in this other world. Brands like Gareth Lancaster’s.

[...] Reuben Steiger, C.E.O. of a virtual-world-focused marketing firm called Millions of Us (which has worked with Toyota, among others), points out that for real-world brands the critical question is how to avoid tension with the “indigenous culture” of Second Life entrepreneurs. Just because clothing, for example, is a popular in-world spending category doesn’t mean that avatars are clamoring for real-world logos. Many virtual consumers already have favorites among the Second Life’s established clothing creators, like Fallingwater Cellardoor and Pixel Dolls. Lancaster compares the situation with a company doing business in China for the first time and belatedly realizing that the place is already teeming with companies that know the market inside out. The newcomers may see themselves as pros, Lancaster observes, but “what a lot of real-life companies don’t realize is that they’re going to have to compete against a completely different marketplace, which is basically the residents of Second Life.”

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