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November 16, 2011

Rebecca MacKinnon on the Protect IP Act [2:03 pm]

Firewall Law Could Infringe on Free Speech [pdf]

China operates the world’s most elaborate and opaque system of Internet censorship. But Congress, under pressure to take action against the theft of intellectual property, is considering misguided legislation that would strengthen China’s Great Firewall and even bring major features of it to America.

The legislation — the Protect IP Act, which has been introduced in the Senate, and a House version known as the Stop Online Piracy Act — have an impressive array of well-financed backers [...]. The bills aim not to censor political or religious speech as China does, but to protect American intellectual property. Alarm at the infringement of creative works through the Internet is justifiable. The solutions offered by the legislation, however, threaten to inflict collateral damage on democratic discourse and dissent both at home and around the world.

Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing: Hearing on: H.R. 3261, the “Stop Online Piracy Act

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November 15, 2011

A Little Identity Contretemps [12:14 pm]

Rushdie Wins Facebook Fight Over Identity [pdf]

As the Internet becomes the place for all kinds of transactions, from buying shoes to overthrowing despots, an increasingly vital debate is emerging over how people represent and reveal themselves on the Web sites they visit. One side envisions a system in which you use a sort of digital passport, bearing your real name and issued by a company like Facebook, to travel across the Internet. Another side believes in the right to don different hats — and sometimes masks — so you can consume and express what you want, without fear of offline repercussions.

The argument over pseudonyms — known online as the “nym wars” — goes to the heart of how the Internet might be organized in the future. Major Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter have a valuable stake in this debate — and, in some cases, vastly different corporate philosophies on the issue that signal their own ambitions.

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November 2, 2011

Rolling Stone on Music Economics [5:29 pm]

The New Economics of the Music Industry [pdf] (some nice charts with revenue distributions here)

In the old days, it was much easier for pop stars to keep up with how much they were getting paid. Somebody would buy a CD at a Tower Records for $15 and a few dollars would appear months later on the stars royalty sheet. Then iTunes took over the record business, and it was even easier if not more profitable – every time somebody bought a 99-cent track, a few pennies went into the artists bank account.

Those were such simple times. Today, music fans play free music videos on YouTube, stream songs for free on Spotify, MOG or Rdio, customize Internet radio stations on Pandora or Slacker and consume music a zillion different ways. The fractions of pennies artists make for each of these services are nearly impossible to track – at least for now. “People like to simplify this and say, Theres no money in it,” says Jeff Price, founder of TuneCore, which charges artists to place songs directly into iTunes, Spotify and others. “But its complex, its complicated and its still being worked out.”

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November 1, 2011

Artist’s Resale Royalties [2:59 pm]

This is going to be quite a case: Artists File Suit Against Sotheby’s, Christie’s and eBay [pdf]

When the taxi baron Robert Scull sold part of his art collection in a 1973 auction that is considered the beginning of today’s money-soused contemporary-art market, several artists watched the proceedings from a standing-room-only section in the back. There, Robert Rauschenberg saw his 1958 painting “Thaw,” originally sold to Scull for $900, bring down the gavel at $85,000. At the end of the Sotheby Parke Bernet sale, Rauschenberg shoved Scull and yelled that he didn’t want to work so hard “just for you to make that profit.”

The uproar that followed led the California legislature to pass a law, the California Resale Royalties Act, requiring anyone reselling a piece of fine art who lives in the state, or who sells the art there for $1,000 or more, to pay the artist 5 percent of the resale price.

That law is now at the center of a pair of class-action suits brought by the artists Chuck Close and Laddie John Dill and the estate of the sculptor Robert Graham against the auction powerhouses Sotheby’s and Christie’s and the online auction site eBay for failure to pay royalties.

“It’s a question of basic fairness,” Mr. Close said recently in an interview. When purchasers are getting extraordinary returns on their investment, he said, a royalty resale law allows the artist to share, at least in a small way, in the increase in value. (Under the California law, no payment is due if the price drops.)

[...] John Henry Merryman, a law professor at Stanford University and an expert on art and cultural-property law, said that advocates of the droit de suite ignore how the art market operates. The increased price for Rauschenberg’s “Thaw” at the Scull auction was due not only to the artist’s continuing creative efforts, he said, but also to the dealers, collectors, auction houses and critics who took a risk in supporting and buying Rauschenberg’s work before he was famous. He noted that the increased price for a single painting simultaneously raises the value of all the artist’s work.

Mr. Merryman dismissed the argument that the droit de suite was analogous to music or literary royalties. “The idea that somehow artists are hurt because they don’t have copyright is nonsense,” he said. Artists retain copyright and must be compensated if their work is reproduced. The difference, he explained, is that “the realization of a work of art is in exhibition, not in duplication.”

The Whitney Museum of American Art at one time compensated artists for exhibiting their work. The idea never caught on, but it makes more sense, Mr. Merryman said.

I look forward to an explanation of exactly how this constitutes “fairness” in this context. Absent a finding that US copyright law is going to move toward a wider application of European droit d’auteur (and, as the article states, droit de suite), I cannot imagine this is going to go very far — but never say never…..

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