Friday, June 14, 2002

LOOPHOLES and LOOSE ENDS: Mind Over What Matters weighs in on the raging debate over gun show "loopholes" at Protein Wisdom. Read the whole thing, of course, but I'm all the way down there at Comment #14. (As usually, I don't really take a position at all -- I just reduce the whole exercise to one of semantics. But that's par for the INTP -- always collecting more data, never committing to a judgmental position until all the data is in.)

Invisible Man? Naah -- I'm working on my reputation as an urban recluse again. Also, I'm feeling just a bit logy this evening -- the ol' hypothyroid must be acting up again -- and I don't really feel like being out in this soggy weather. So, I'm afraid I'll be a no-show at tonight's NYC Blogger Bash. Next time for sure, folks.

TUNEBLOCK!™ Those irrascible Brunching Shuttlecocks have the scoop on this bold new solution in the war to protect the rights of artists whose songs are "illegally hummed in public and strummed in dorm rooms":

Starting in a very short while, all new music published by RIAA members will feature TuneBlock™, a method whereby special harmonics included in the songs will erase all memory of the melody, chords, and words from your mind shortly after you hear it, leaving nothing but a pleasant sensation of having enjoyed something.

Think of it. Every musical experience will be like the first time. Every track will be exciting and new. And you'll never have a song stuck in your head again.

We're the RIAA: Shut Up and Listen !

Thursday, June 13, 2002

ZILBER IS HALF-RIGHT: So says Michael Lopez over at the excellent High-ed Intelligence:

"The recording industry cannot survive in any recognizable form," but it is not caused by an unwillingness to develop talent. Rather, it is the pressure under which recording companies have come that has forced them into a feast-or-famine mindset, where they must get the maximum return on their investment. The failure to develop new talent isn't a cause, it's an effect.
I'll grant you, some of what I was prattling on about in this space last week may have been a tad speculative. I'm not a professional recording artist; I have no dog in this fight, except as a listener and fan, on the outside looking in.

So let's hear from one actual professional musician who has come to depend on all file-sharing and distribution technologies to support his livelihood — and he's mightily pissed. Jim Infantino, the superego behind "Jim's Big Ego," one of the best little bands you've never heard of, addressed his newsgroup thusly on May 3:

Hey guys.

Yesterday I had lunch with Jonathan Watterson, whom some of you may know. I had an enlightening and endarkening discussion with him about the state of digital freedom and the current efforts of the RIAA to use our tax dollars to limit our freedom of expression in order to bolster their antiquated business practices. The RIAA stands for (evil and also for) the Recording Industry Association of America. They are collectively shutting down web radio (and have shut down much of it already) by pushing the FCC to levee taxes upon independent web broadcasters like RadioBoston (still webcasting somehow) and WERS (no longer webcasting.

Let me be clear — to play one of my songs on these stations they might have to pay $20 a shot and NOT ONE PENNY GOES TO ME OR ANY OTHER INDEPENDENT SONGWRITER/PERFORMER. As you know, I am fine with people trading my mp3s, Gnutelling my songs, ripping cds of mine, etc, but this feels like the worst kind of criminal thievery. I am enraged.

I urge you to get active. Please visit Jonathan's site. There is a lot going on right now that needs attention and needs to be stopped. The death of Napster was nothing compared to what is going on now. Our rights to videotape TV shows, use Tivo, and customise our operating systems is being threatened. The implications are disasterous to composers, programmers, any one who would be creative in the audio, video or digital.

Below is a letter I wrote to Michael Capuano, my Rep — please call or write your reps once you get informed. I will be working with Jonathan to organize some educational musical benefit this summer. In my small way I want to get the word out that we are all being ripped off by the RIAA. Read up. Thanks for reading my kvetchy email - here's more kvetching, if you want to read on:

> From: Jim Infantino
> Date: Thu May 02, 2002 04:42:24 PM
> To the Honorable Michael Capuano,

> I am very concerned about recent efforts on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America to limit the freedom of speech of Americans like myself. I am a performing songwriter unaffiliated with any record company and am very upset by the RIAA's attempt to discourage the creation, promotion and distribution of independent music world wide.

> I recently tried to tune into one of my favorite local radio stations on the web while I was out of town and found that WERS at Emerson College was no longer able to broadcast on the web because of new fees and requirements by an agency called the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel. I did some reading about the fees they would have to pay and found that they would have to pay .02 cents per song per listener for every song they webcast. If there are 50,000 listeners worldwide at any given moment, they would have to pay $10 to broadcast that song once.

> So WERS has quit webcasting — but it raises a more serious question: where does that money go? Having read some literature from the Copyright Office, it seems to me to go to the RIAA. I hope I am wrong. This is a federal tax on radio stations that play music by independant artists like myself, and not a penny goes to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC to be distributed to the songwriters and copyright holders. Why is that?

> Additionally, I understand that on April 23rd, representatives from the RIAA asked the Appropriations Committee for funding to prosecute copyright-related crimes. I am shocked that somehow our government has decided that the RIAA represents all songwriters in this country. Unlike ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, a songwriter cannot elect to join the RIAA to benefit from their profits — it is a collection of private companies. It seems that any suits on their part should stay private.

> Finally — it is upsetting to read about HR2281 — the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Hollings Bill or the Consumer Broadband and Digital TV Promotion Act. These acts would restrict innovation and invention and make the software that I use to record and encode my own songs at home illegal.

> As a songwriter and performer who relies upon the digital realm to distribute my music, I am firmly against legislation and regulation aimed at curtailing what I consider my freedom of speech. I am further infuriated by the RIAA's urging that fees paid by distributors and broadcasters of music be increased without any intention to pay the independent artists who supply a significant amount of that music.

> I don't know if you are involved in any of these proceedings. But you are my representative — so I am writing you first. I don't do a lot of this. I hope I have expressed myself appropriately and clearly.

> Sincerely,

> Jim Infantino
> Brighton, MA

THOSE ROTTEN CAPITALIST SATIRE-MONGERS! It was bound to happen sooner or later: China's state-run Beijing Evening News was actually snookered by a story in The Onion, which "reported" last month that members of Congress were pressing for construction of a brand-new Capitol, complete with a retractable dome and luxury boxes, in order "to stay competitive."

After being forced to run a retraction and acknowledge its own error, the Chinese paper nevertheless proceeded to criticized The Onion, "apparently still not fully aware of the publication's mission as a purveyor of satire and laughs," according to the L.A. Times.

"Some small American newspapers frequently fabricate offbeat news to trick people into noticing them, with the aim of making money," the paper said. "This is what the Onion does."

(Thanks to Mike Flynn for the tip.)

Meanwhile ... back in the real world ... The Onion reports this week that the body of Mad Magazine reporter Phil Fonebone — kidnapped at the hands of Blecchistani extremists three months ago — has been discovered at an undisclosed location near Potrzebie.

The motivation for the attack remains unclear, but, according to a report by the Al Jerkzeera News Network, the kidnappers were seeking a ransom of "$35 million—CHEAP!" from the editors of Mad.

Though many of the specifics regarding Fonebone's murder remain unclear, some details are known. The body was badly decomposed, but coroners identified it by its oversized, folded-over feet.

As for the identity of the perpetrators, reports suggest the involvement of one or more mysterious, trench-coated espionage agents dressed in either all-white or all-black clothing, and described as "angular, birdlike males with wide-brimmed, pointy hats."

DEPARTMENT OF INEXPLICABLE REFERRALS: Okay, I'm stumped. How did anything on this page produce a successful match to the following search?

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

I'M AN ENGINEERIST! Finally, a label I can wear with dignity.

Monday, June 10, 2002

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: Again from the New York Times -- David Bowie embraces the inevitable:
"I don't even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don't think it's going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way," [Bowie] said. "The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity"; he added. "So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen."
Depressing news for those of us who dabble at music composition, but who are not so technically proficient that we're prepared to perform in front of a live audience. Still, it's hard to imagine a scenario -- the RIAA's protestations to the contrary -- where all historical protections afforded to intellectual property will remain rigidly, permanently in place in the digital age. Guess I'd better start practicing my arpeggios again.

Quoting the same passage, Dave Copeland adds: "[W]ouldn't you love to be able to download an album and then spend the $16 you would have paid for the CD on tickets to a show? If only, Dave. If only. A pair of tickets for the upcoming Yes reunion show at Radio City just set me back over two hundred bucks! God bless'em that a bunch of aging prog-rockers, who never had a #1 hit in all the years since the band was founded in 1969, can command that kind of tribute at this late date. But they shouldn't expect to sell many CDs the day after. My discretionary entertainment budget for the year is completely shot.

HOMELAND INSECURITY - PART TWO: Writing for the New York Times, Frank Rich echoes what I'd said in this space last week -- and more. Here's an excerpt:
The cure Mr. Bush now proposes for such ailments — a big new federal bureaucracy with 169,000 employees that stands apart from the F.B.I. and C.I.A. bureaucracies — is still another avoidance of accountability and still another repudiation of the efficient, lean-government corporate Republicanism that he supposedly champions. (No wonder Democratic leaders are falling over each other to take credit for thinking of it first.)

This Rube Goldberg contraption will take months to pass in some form and may not be in action before Google arrives at the F.B.I. It allegedly requires no new funds (a feat to be achieved only by Enron off-balance-sheet bookkeeping) and reshuffles the same deck of lightweights we have now. That includes the irrepressible John Ashcroft, who this week announced a plan to have the I.N.S. fingerprint 100,000 Middle Eastern visa holders. The day after he did so, his own department's inspector general testified before Congress that the I.N.S. and F.B.I. were still "years away" from integrating the fingerprint files already in their possession.

Instead of creating a new organizational chart, Mr. Bush might have enlisted one man to hose down our security bureaucracy: Rudolph Giuliani. Instead of speechifying that "only the United States Congress can create a new department of government," he might have followed the suggestion of Stansfield Turner, the former C.I.A. chief who, like others, has called for the president, "with a stroke of the pen," to give the director of central intelligence the authority to coordinate the 14 entities in our intelligence apparatus. Rather than take such old-time C.E.O.-style action, the president wrapped himself in the mantle of Harry Truman. These days that's a sure sign that the buck-passing will never stop.