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July 22, 2007

OT: When the Law Is Entertainment [4:54 pm]

Riding the stormy sea of celebrity lawpdf

While it’s unclear how the case will end, Birkhead’s allegations have the potential to seriously dent Opri’s once-promising career as the next Greta Van Susteren or Nancy Grace, one of those tough-talking, camera-ready legal eagles on call to opine about the day’s courthouse skirmish. To journalist and author Diane Dimond, who first noticed Opri at the second Michael Jackson trial, Opri was at the vanguard of a “disturbing trend of attorneys that began to show up at high-profile trials like Scott Peterson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson.” Lawyers, Dimond explains, who essentially show up for the cameras to “get face time.” With law and celebrity increasingly intertwined in a tabloid and 24-hour-news-dominated culture, the matter of Birkhead vs. Opri is more than just a nasty spat. It’s also a revealing excursion into a high-stakes world where punditry and legal representation can collide and where six-figure deals between newsmakers and the media are part of the game.

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A Crime? [4:42 pm]

While I agree that the LATimes has every right to publish any sort of review that they want, I find their choice of counterpoint somewhat strained: Embargoes on ‘Harry Potter’ boil down to moneypdf

Here it’s necessary to distinguish between the newspaper critics and the cyber crooks, who may have posted sections of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on the Web. That’s theft, and if we don’t protect the intellectual property of even fabulously wealthy creative people like Rowling, they’ll have less and less incentive to produce the things that entertain and delight us. Her publishers are right to go after these looters with laptops with every lawyer they hire.

Embargoes on reviews and discussions are another matter. All the outrage surrounding this particular book notwithstanding, contemporary publishers impose these blackouts not in the interest of readers but to protect the carefully planned publicity campaigns they create for books on which they have advanced large sums of money.

This is the economic imperative that leads publishers to withhold the contents of even nonfiction manuscripts that contain news that the public has a vital interest in knowing. It’s also why newspapers, including this one, routinely break those embargoes without any pang of conscience.

Our first and most compelling obligation is to our readers’ right to know and not to the commercial interests of publishers.

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Technology, Music and Geography [12:45 pm]

In the Band but Out of State. Or the Countrypdf

Hannah and his session mates are using the test version of a service called eJamming that aims to bring the musicians of the world together into online music rooms. Thanks to the Internet, you’ll never have to be late to band practice again.

Users of the eJamming software can chat in the service’s “lobby” via text messages, then start private chats or fire up a jam session. A session’s creator has control over how many places or “seats” are available — up to four musicians — and can invite in or kick out people at will. The players can talk to and hear each other using microphones hooked up at their computers. Sometimes eJamming throws events, such as last week’s karaoke night, in a community-building effort.

[...] I’m in that market, as it happens, and tried the service last week with high hopes — and no success. [...]

[...] This isn’t the only company trying to match musicians and keep them connected, though it may be the most ambitious. While eJamming tries to bring musicians together in a real-time environment, a few other new sites have been developed to let musicians trade music files and build on each other’s creations one piece at a time: You post a bass line, for example, and your online bandmate adds, say, a guitar line and sends it back.

[...] Of course, you don’t need the magical Web to collaborate with musicians from afar. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and producer Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel decided they wanted to work together a few years ago, but the two live in different states.

The pop group named itself after the communications medium that made their long-distance collaboration possible: The duo calls itself the Postal Service.

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More on Internet Cockfighting [12:39 pm]

(See earlier A Nexus of Law, Culture and Technology) Cockfighting on Web Enters Legal Arenapdf

The change in the focus of the debate — from live fights to video depictions of them — has expanded the argument over cockfighting’s cruelty into one that involves the First Amendment and, its defenders say, cockfighting’s cultural significance in other countries.

“It’s a historical sport; they’ve been practicing it for thousands of years, and I’m just documenting it,” said Jason Atkins, whose Hollywood, Fla., company is behind the Web site.

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LATimes on NFL’s Copyright Policy [11:43 am]

NFL’s copyright defensepdf

THE NATIONAL Football League is famously protective of its teams’ intellectual property, especially their lucrative television broadcasting rights. This is, after all, the league that threatened churches to keep them from showing the Super Bowl to parishioners on big-screen TVs.

Now the league is expanding its control beyond the gridiron. It’s limiting what news organizations can do on their websites with recordings made at team facilities between games. In exchange for credentials to cover the sport, newspapers, local TV stations and other media have to agree not to post more than 45 seconds of audio or video a day (or 90 seconds in markets with two pro teams). [...]

[...] The NFL’s goal is to make midweek footage more valuable by making it scarce. If you want to hear Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs holding forth at length on his preparations for the game, you’ll need to go to redskins.com — where you’ll watch not just the footage chosen by the team but also the ads it sold. In the brave new world online, the league doesn’t want its sites to compete with the news media. It wants to hoard.

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The Stakes in the Google Auction Proposal [10:18 am]

Architectures of control, demonstrated: When Mobile Phones Aren’t Truly Mobile

WIRELESS carriers in the United States are spiritual descendants of dear Ma Bell: they view total control over customers as their inherited birthright.

[...] In most European and Asian countries, a customer can switch carriers in a few seconds by removing a smart card from a cellphone and inserting a different one from a new provider. In the United States, wireless carriers have deliberately hobbled their phones to make flight to a competitor difficult, if not impossible.

If you, the long-suffering subscriber, decide that you have had enough and wish to try your luck with another company, you’re free to pay your early-termination fee and go. But you most likely will have to abandon the phone you’ve already paid for, even when the technology is shared by the two carriers. (Sprint, for example, whose network is based on the CDMA standard, forbids the use of CDMA-based cellphones obtained from Verizon.) The odds are better than even that your cellphone is either locked by your incumbent carrier or forbidden for use on the network by your new one.

Tim Wu’s work also gets a plug:

The pressure to provide consumers with more cellphone and software choices has been building for some time. In January, the F.C.C. took another step to loosen the exclusive grip of the cable operators’ control over the set-top box that feeds the cable signal to the TV, a move that showed that the commission is open to changes that give consumers more equipment choices.

Then, in February, Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, published an influential paper, “Wireless Net Neutrality,” which made a well-supported case that the government should compel wireless carriers to open their networks to equipment and software applications that the carriers did not control. Mr. Wu called his proposition a call for “Cellular Carterfone,” referring to the 1968 Carterfone ruling by the F.C.C. The Carterfone was a speakerphone-like gadget that permitted a phone sitting in a cradle to be connected with a two-way radio. Over the objections of AT&T, the F.C.C. ruled that consumers could plug it or any phone or accessory into the network so long as doing so did no harm to the network. The ruling set in motion the changes that provided consumers with a cornucopia of equipment choices like answering machines, fax machines, modems and cordless phones. Among Mr. Wu’s readers was Mr. Martin of the F.C.C.

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Moving On To The Next Music Model (updated) [10:09 am]

A look at Prince as he explores ways to leave the old model behind: The Once and Future Prince

I’VE got lots of money!” Prince exults in “The One U Wanna C,” a come-on from his new album, “Planet Earth” (Columbia). There’s no reason to disbelieve him. With a sponsorship deal here and an exclusive show there, worldwide television appearances and music given away, Prince has remade himself as a 21st-century pop star. As recording companies bemoan a crumbling market, Prince is demonstrating that charisma and the willingness to go out and perform are still bankable. He doesn’t have to go multiplatinum — he’s multiplatform.

[...] Prince’s priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it’s purchased or not. “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it,” his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. (After the newspaper giveaway was announced, Columbia Records’ corporate parent, Sony Music, chose not to release “Planet Earth” for retail sale in Britain.) Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music — impossible as that is in the digital era — and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.

Of course, not everyone is happy with this sort of play: Bands and brands going hand in handpdf (earlier post on the Doc Martens ads)

At a moment in the musical continuum when Iggy Pop’s ode to deviant hedonism, “Lust for Life” — a song in which he repeatedly pledges against temptation: “No more beating my brain with liquor and drugs” — plays in spots for Royal Caribbean Cruises, and bubblegum diva Fergie recently inked a reported $4-million deal to sing about Candie’s teen apparel on her next album, the use of pop in ads no longer carries the sellout stigma it held for the Woodstock generation, or even in the ’90s, when “Alternative” was a stand-alone musical category and indie music was still heard on commercial radio.

As has been reported, that’s due in part to more artists reluctantly warming to the idea that licensing agreements are a necessary evil, generating revenue and creating “exposure” in an era of plummeting record sales and dwindling opportunities for commercial airplay — even if that means losing some existing fans in the process.

Advertisers, for their part, are harnessing pop’s powerful potential for cross-branded synergy more aggressively and variously than ever. One side effect: Commissions for original music for ads are down, and licensing music from established and emerging artists is through the roof, marketers say.

It’s a mixed blessing that can introduce underground artists to a wider fan base (as a current Motorola phone spot has, creating a minor ring-tone hit out of glitch-hop artist Dabrye’s “Hyped-Up Plus Tax”). But just as often, ad pop adulterates musical chestnuts (such as EMF’s 1991 hit “Unbelievable,” repurposed as the jingle “Crumbelievable” in the service of Kraft cheese) and can distort a song’s original intent, as a 1995 Mercedes-Benz commercial did by using Janis Joplin’s lampoon of consumer culture “Mercedes Benz” as a straight-ahead product endorsement.

[Speaking of multiplatforming as a model, this article on Domo-kun, a Photoshop staple, moving to another platform: With nary a broadcast, a TV star is born (pdf)]

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