June 7, 2009
Near the end of 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America announced that it would no longer sue individual users for sharing music on the Internet. Instead, the RIAA said that would enlist the aid of Internet Service Providers to combat piracy. The RIAA intended for ISPs, like AT&T and Comcast, to help them avoid lawsuits and thwart music pirates on a large scale.
Six months later, however, that plan has not materialized. An article published last week on CNET points out how the RIAA announced its ISP-driven plan months in advance, without concrete details or contracts to support it. Despite the fact that a few ISPs thought they would partner with the RIAA earlier this year, many are still wary of making such a deal. The RIAA is trying to turn ISPs into “their own Internet cops,” says Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “What the ISPs appear to be saying is that this isn’t our job.”
More on After Six Months, RIAA and ISP Partnership Wavering
June 5, 2009
ART OF SONG
“Throw Out the Line”
1995 | Vernon Yard Records
For those unfamiliar with the band, Low was formed in Duluth, Minnesota, a husband-and-wife duo serving as the band’s core. Although the aforementioned husband, Alan Sparhawk, concentrates on guitar and his wife, Mimi Parker, plays drums, the twosome’s shared vocal duties is part of what makes Low memorable and acclaimed. Parker and Sparhawk each have their own distinctive singing styles that, perhaps because of their marriage, complement each other well, without hindering either.
On “Throw Out the Line,” off 1995’s Long Division, Sparhawk and Parker showcase their aptitude for harmonization.. Taking their trademark minimalistic approach, “Throw Out the Line,” a song about a passenger falling overboard a ship, rests on a clean, repetitive drum beat layered with a drawn out guitar that manages to mimic waves collapsing upon a shore after a storm. The song stands out from Low’s catalogue, however, due to Parker and Sparhawk’s vocal interplay during verses. Parker croons angelically while Sparhawk half-mumbles, half-sings lines like, “Maybe the angels’ll take him/Come back no more.” Parker lays the drowning passenger down to rest, Sparhawk gives him one last call from the living. Since Duluth overlooks shipwreck-prone Lake Superior, the song’s influences and content make sense – and the frigid temperatures and last-ditch attempt of saving a life come alive through its dynamics.
by Ben Benson
May 31, 2009
iTunes may be a trailblazer by eliminating Digital Rights Management (DRM) from its music. A recently published study by a Cambridge law professor provides evidence in support of what copyright activists have claimed for years: DRM hinders communication and sometimes violates consumer’s rights, pushing people into piracy.
Over the past few years, Patrícia Akester’s empirical study led her to interviewing and surveying hundreds of lecturers, librarians, students and consumer groups about DRM policy. In particular, Akester concentrated on studying areas where DRM laws disrupt learning, like a video lecture, and harm certain consumer segments, like blind people.
In the end, Akester found that DRM laws often prevent consumers from using media in legal manners.
Take the case of Lynn Holdsworth for example. In the UK, blind people are legally permitted to transform digital books into a format that allows for screen reading software, which can read the text aloud. Holdsworth ordered a digital copy of the Bible from Amazon. DRM coding restricted Holdsworth from using a screen reader on the book, and both Amazon and the publisher refused to offer her a refund. Eventually, Holdsworth pirated an electronic copy, only because it was the easiest method manner to obtain the Bible.
Other examples include video lecturers who have legal rights to transform video for educational purposes. Lecturers and professors with the knowledge to circumvent DRM software do so, usually illegally. Those who do not possess the technical skills stick to creating lectures and presentations from VHS videotapes.
Akester’s also interviewed consumer rights advocates like National Consumer Council’s Director of Policy Jill Johnston. Johnston claims that DRM laws put more pressure and constraints on consumers. She said that “technical restrictions prevent all activities that companies wish to prevent, even when these are activities that previously courts have accepted as legitimate under ‘fair dealing’ exceptions to copyright law.” In other words, DRM infringes with established laws that gives rights to consumers.
Akester points out that DRM restrictions harm consumers across all media formats, including text, video and music. Hopefully, with time, Akester’s findings will help convince other companies and media services to ditch DRM restrictions, giving the power back to the consumer in a digital world.
by Ben Benson
May 24, 2009
Despite its widespread popularity, Internet radio has been in financial duress for several years – due, in large part, to hikes in royalty rates. Even Pandora, the innovative website that headed up the Music Genome Project, faced possible bankruptcy. Less than a year ago, Pandora founder Tim Westergren told the Washington Post that his company was facing a “pull-the-plug kind of decision.”
But Pandora won’t shut off its servers just yet. In a bid to generate revenue and become less dependent upon advertisers, Pandora has begun to offer a premium service called Pandora One. For $36 per year, Pandora One users experience upgrades in nearly all aspects of the service. Pandora One streams music at a higher bit rate, eliminates advertising, extends timeout sessions, and allows users to skip up to six songs every hour.
Pandora One also offers a desktop application, which allows for full control over Pandora, without the need of a browser. Depending on the operating system, the desktop application operates from the Windows taskbar or the Macintosh dock. And Pandora users who have previously subscribed to the premium service will be upgraded to Pandora One freely.
With millions of Pandora users bogging down broadband cables, Pandora can expect a decent return off its new service – especially considering the cost breaks, down to three dollars per month. Hopefully, Pandora’s business model can breathe new financial life into Internet radio as a whole, a medium that would be foolish to lose to costly royalty rates.
by Ben Benson
May 17, 2009
Wilco, apparently, is not a band with much patience. Although Wilco (The Album) is not being released until June 30, the band is already streaming the entire album from its site. The stream is offered in both low- and high-quality formats, allowing even those with crowded cable connections to listen in.
The album’s premature debut coincides with Wilco (The Album)’s leak online – seeing as the album was already being dispersed freely to the masses, Wilco decided to take matters into its own hands. Still, Wilco was likely ready for the leak. For four albums now, Wilco has uploaded albums prior to their proper release, creating a pre-release tradition of sorts.
As Wilco is a big proponent of altruism, they are guiding possible pirates of the album to donate to Inspiration Corporation, an organization working to fight homelessness and poverty in Chicago. So even if you do succumb to the temptation for MP3s over streaming, you can do so without a guilty conscience.
In other free-music-from-Wilco news, the band recently posted a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “The Jolly Banker.” As always, the track is available for free, but with a suggested donation of two dollars to the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives.
by Ben Benson
May 10, 2009
The Pirate Bay’s conviction for making copyrighted material available online is already having spillover effects on other BitTorrent trackers. Popular Netherlands-based website, Mininova, has begun testing a third-party recognition system that would remove unauthorized files.
Mininova’s blog post on the subject: “If the system finds that the file corresponds to unauthorized content, we remove and block the torrent that refers to this file on Mininova.” In other words, Mininova is striving to cleanse itself of illegal torrents, even if it means going through millions of them.
Mininova co-founder Niek van der Maas told TorrentFreak that the filtering system will be tested for 12 weeks on a selection of movies. The new system falls in line with Mininova’s copyright policy, which allows people to request the removal of torrents if they can prove that they are the legal copyright holder.
Mininova’s test run, however, has drawn the ire of its users. On the previously mentioned blog post, people are decrying the move as the end of Mininova, predicting that The Pirate Bay will be the last pure torrent site left standing. Others are just flat out angry that Mininova’s founders are giving in to legal pressure early, instead of fighting copyright holders like The Pirate Bay. It seems that users may even begin an early exodus to other torrent sites, despite the fact that Mininova is simply testing the new system.
Mininova likely took premature action to better position itself for its court case against Dutch anti-piracy organization, BREIN. The BREIN is taking Mininova to court in order to create a content filtering system; the founders of Mininova realized the inevitable result. Though their strategy may prove effective, Mininova is likely to see a large drop off in the number of people using its service. They may have also unintentionally fueled the anti-piracy fire, providing the entertainment industry with an example of what might be done to prevent copyright material from getting into the hands of consumers.
by Ben Benson
Another week, another potential RIAA target.
Playlist sharing service Hypetape was launched last October, but press coverage over the past week is just now pushing it into the limelight. With the fall of Muxtape and Seeqpod, opportunities have opened for new music services to bloom. Hypetape has found its niche by allowing users to create sharable playlists that are built from externally hosted MP3s.
Hypetape is powered by the Google AppEngine, so potential users need only a Google login to begin creating playlists and sharing them with friends. The service is searchable by artist only, listing results as pertinent songs from within its database. When users play a song from Hypetape, however, they are actually streaming MP3s from somewhere else. For a preview of what one looks like, check out my sample grunge track list here.
A couple of kinks: Hypetape does not allow you to search by song or album, and once a song is taken down from the original site from which it was culled, Hypetape automatically removes that song from its database forever.
With any luck, Hypetape will not succumb to legal pressure. It does not actually host any of the music it streams and, like Hype Machine, the site acts in a semi-promotional manner. While it does allow access to every song ever made, it works well in giving people a taste of a musician’s catalog.
by Ben Benson
April 26, 2009
Earlier this month, The Pirate Bay copyright infringement case came to a close after several months of deliberation. In the end, the Swedish court sentenced the four Pirate Bay founders to one year in jail and ordered them to pay $3.6 million in damages to big media companies. Although The Pirate Bay hasn’t shut down and the four Swedes haven’t paid the damages, the case has come to stand as a landmark ruling in favor of copyright protection across international borders.
The Pirate Bay, however, has demanded a new trial. Ola Salomonsson, one of the defense lawyers for the site, claims that the judge’s involvement with pro-copyright organizations was a conflict of interest that led him to a biased ruling. The involved judge, Tomas Norström, is a member of The Swedish Association for Copyright and sits on the board of Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.
Norström has asserted that his affiliations with these copyright organizations did not influence the trial’s outcome. He told national Swedish radio, “Every time I take a case, I evaluate if I consider myself having a conflict of interest. In this case I didn’t find to have one.”
Still, the mere relationship with the copyright associations has sent the case to a higher court of Justice in Sweden. If the courts above find that Norström’s affiliations do, indeed, constitute a conflict of interest, the current Pirate Bay ruling will be thrown out (though it will probably be years before the case actually wraps up). In the meantime, The Pirate Bay sails onward.
by Ben Benson