Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blog #18 Trying to talk the RIAA to death, et al.

I made a few resolutions on this New Year. For one thing, I vowed that I would write more original material for this blog, and quote sources less. We’ll just have to see how well I manage that one, or whether I manage it at all. These next few paragraphs were written as we left 2007 and spiraled headlong into 2008. As we spiral we offer a few random thoughts and observations:
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How did that Merle Travis song go? (You know, the one made popular by Tennessee Ernie Ford on televisi0n in 1955?)

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ‘cause I can’t go,
I owe my soul to the company store.

For those of us into folk music that song and it’s companion, “It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines” were like anthems. Merle Travis (who also wrote the country hit songs “So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed,” and “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette”), wrote and recorded his coal mining songs for an album called “Folk Songs of the Hills” in 1946. They were based on his own family's experience in the mines of Muhlenberg County, Kentucky as he was growing up. He wrote “Sixteen Tones” to call attention to the plight of the coal miners who lived in company owned houses, were forced to make their purchases through the company owned store, and thereby found themselves totally indentured to the company that owned both the mine and the store. When Tennessee Ernie Ford sang the song on his television show in the middle fifties Wikipedia notes that the song’s fatalistic tone contrasted vividly with the sugary pop ballads and the rock and roll just starting to dominate the charts in the mid 50’s, and the song struck a chord with audiences all across the country. We further note that the song and the feelings it evokes still ring true today, because in a very real sense we all owe our souls to the company store? Or to the bank? Or to the mortgage company? Or whatever?
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Goodbye 2007, Hello 2008! In John Lenn0n’s Happy Christmas (War is Over!), you can hear Yoko Ono singing above the crowd, “A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any tears.” May we echo that hope. It is one helluvan important year, that’s for damn sure. For thing Numero Uno, it is a presidential election year. And if ever there was a year crying out for the importance of our vote, this is the one. You know the old saying, what goes around, comes around. Well, Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over If You Want It!) is just as appropriate today as it was when he first sang it during the Vietnam war.

As a people we never seem to learn, do we? We elect this “good-ole-boy” president thinking he’s going to be safe and not shake that booby trapped Tree of Peace, the shaking of which unleashes bombs which kill and maim our young soldiers. But then what does he do? He uses the tragedy of 9/11 to get us up to our ears in another bottomless, not winnable Vietnam style morass, only now instead of our fighting people of a different economic persuasion (communism), this time we are fighting people with another religion, or at least people from a radical wing of that religion. Lord help us! Bush in Iraq is threatening Muslims with a kind of twenty-first century Crusades. Didn’t he ever hear the phrase, “live and let live?” Where is John Lennon when we need him? A pox on you Mark David Chapman, may you live out your life in perpetual captivity, and your may you eternal soul, if you have one, rot in hell.
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There was a breath of fresh air emanating from the Iowa caucuses Thursday evening. The good news for me was that the turnout for the Democratic caucuses was almost double from what it was four years ago, and the size of the Republican turnout was down. Hopefully this is the first sign of a Democratic sweep in November. It is far too early to speculate anything of the kind, of course, but we can dream, can’t we? Dreaming hasn’t been outlawed yet in our so-called free country, has it?
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As we leave the old year and enter the new my own personal kudos go to the following. I salute Apple Computer for selling me the easiest to use, most user friendly computer I have ever owned. And that’s saying an awful lot, for I have owned Apple computers since December of 1990, when I got my first Macintosh Classic. Two color computers followed that first black and white all-in-one job, and in 1999 I bought one of the original CRT iMacs which purred away until two years ago. In 2002 I bought an Apple Cube, in point of fact, I bought one of the last Cubes Apple made. The Cube’s hard drive has gotten finicky in it’s old age (five years is old in a computer’s lifespan) and so as insurance against being without the internet on January 10, 2007 I got myself one of the new lcd iMacs, the kind that hides the computer’s guts behind the screen. Bless it’s heart, it promises to make the rest of my life interesting and creative. And even though I am not into cellphones or iPods, I admire Apple’s filling the nation’s needs and desires in those arenas. The pre-MacWorld rumor mill has Apple coming out with a new, super thin notebook which will use flash memory, and also reports that Apple’s high definition tv support will lean towards having a blu-ray player/burner in some of it’s higher end systems. Good for them, blu-ray has lots more room than the other, and sounds like it deserves to win that fight. And on the other side are lined the forces of mediocrity, Microsoft, Dreamworks, etc.

While I’m about it let me also toss a hearty salute to Google, the company whose search engine has finally made the web as useful as was originally promised by giving us a fair shot at finding whatever information we are seeking. Google is now extending a host of other free services to go along with its search engines, offering them to any of us who might want them. Services like gmail, blogging, photography, maps and directions, and a complete range of office programs, etc., all at absolutely no cost to the user.

Bill Gates might hate the word free being attached to the type of products which have made him the richest man on the planet, and Dan Lyons might use the voice of the Fake Steve Jobs to echo BG’s rants about freetards, but to those of us who aren’t rich, free is beautiful. Particularly when it is in in the form of a well constructed computer program. Take my blog for example. I write on a Mac because “it just works” and lets you go about your business in an intuitive way, without it’s technology constantly getting in your face. When I began thinking about starting a blog I copied a piece I had written in AppleWorks onto my computer’s clipboard and then went to Google, signed into their blog section, and with one click I pasted in what I had written and saved into the blog template Google had provided me with. At the bottom I clicked on the Publish button. And when I clicked on the View Blog button on the resulting screen, voilĂ ! There it was. Like magic. I swear to you that was all there was to it. A painless blog. Well, painless to write and publish, I don’t speculate on how painless it is to read. But the point is, you can do it too. It is every bit as easy as typing words on paper is. And for tips on using Google search more effectively check out:

YouTube is another Google adventure that lies there free to all for the giving and the taking. And while not seeming to be conscious of it YouTube is merrily documenting our age for future ages to see. It is notoriously easy for us to put our personal video creations online, but it also makes it equally easy for those of us who publish on the web to feature a YouTube video on our websites or blog, thereby making YouTube indeed a video program for everybody. I couldn’t believe it the first time I copied the data needed to embed a YouTube video to the clipboard and then pasted it onto my blog. And when I opened the blog, there stood the clip in all it’s glory, just as surely as if I had known what the hell I was doing.

The first clip I managed to put onto my blog was that delightful “Here Comes Another Bubble” by Richter Scales in blog #16. But to me the most impressive one was last week’s clip called Battle at Kruger, a small screen spectacle of life and near death photographed from the rooftop of a Land Rover type vehicle in Africa. A bounding pride of lions chase a thundering herd of water buffalo cutting a calf from the herd and running it into the river. There several lions begin chewing on the calf, but when a crocodile joins the party and tries to pull the calf further in the lions manage to pull the calf up on the shore. At which point the herd of buffalo returns, surrounds the lions, and after getting their nerve up, begin chasing away the lions one by one. You can’t help but cheer as the buffalos succeed in chasing away the lions, and especially when the calf frees itself from the remaining lions and seeks refuge in the herd. It’s indeed a video which has all of the elements of a true epic drama. If you haven’t yet had a chance to experience it drop down to blog#17 below and click on the arrow. I promise you as exciting an adventure as you’re likely to get from the small YouTube size screen.
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As 2008 dawns I hereby offer my first curse of the New Year, a curse accompanied by wads of spitballs and swarms of creepy, crawly, biting insects. This curse is being directed at Cary Sherman and the rest of the legal scumbags of the RIAA, may their nightmares be filled with the screams of John Lennon’s Cold Turkey, and may their hopes and dreams be consumed by maggots. Do you know what those pitiful, unfunny, completely paranoid, don’t-have-a-clue clowns are saying now?

The column Blog Runner, published in the NY Times, had a special thread entitled The RIAA and Personal Use, and it includes 60 news stories and blogs. What brought it on was a legal document in a federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer. The industry is maintaining that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music onto his computer. The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally purchased CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings. Well, excuse me!

What an absurdity! Where have these sad retards been lo these many years? With their heads up their you-know-what’s, that’s where! In the early days of VHS, Sony legally established the public’s right to “time shift,” or in other words Sony established the right of a consumer who had rented or bought a movie to make a copy of said movie for his own use to watch at a later, more convenient time. And if you can legally do that with a movie you can sure as hell do it with a record album.

For one little minute think about what the RIAA is trying to tell us. If you cannot put your cd’s on your computer, you can’t play them on your iPod, or the other MP3 player of your choice without breaking the law. Is the RIAA going to march all iPod owners off to jail? Football stadiums aren’t going to be large enough to hold all of America’s musical lawbreakers under this bizarre line of reasoning. But that’s exactly what happens when you have a bunch of money grubbing Republicans in charge of the economy. They don’t give a damn about you and me. They totally dance to the tune of big business, and the bigger the business the more profane the dance. Keep that in mind as you enter the voting booth this election year. has a blow-by-blow summary of an on-air debate that was broadcast on National Public Radio between the Washington Post's Marc Fisher and Cary Sherman, representing the RIAA. Sherman claims Fisher weeded out too much from the brief filed by the RIAA, but he still won’t promise that ripping CDs is a legal right. And Sherman can talk himself red in the face but he will never convince me that the strategy of suing the nation’s college students who put Mp3 files on their computers is a healthy one for the music industry.

Here is an enemies list for your perusal. These are the music companies that financially support what many of us believe to be the RIAA’s criminal campaign of blackmail. They include Virgin Records America, inc. a California corporation; Capitol Records, Inc. a Delaware corporation; Arista Records LLC, a Delaware limited liability co.; Interscope Records a California general partnership; Warner Bros Records Inc. a Delaware corporation; and UMG Recordings, Inc. a Delaware corporation. These ladies and gentlemen, are the companies and organizations which deserve our deepest contempt. Like minded individuals will not only refuse to buy cd’s from these companies, but will also inform their local record purveyors why they aren’t buying the products manufactured by these cheap Rico lookalikes so that the message might travel to the offenders.

The Motley Fool investment web site echoes our sentiments, saying "Investors beware" of "Sony (NYSE: SNE), BMG, Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG), Vivendi Universal, and EMI.” In an article entitled "We're All Thieves to the RIAA", a Motley Fool columnist, referring to the RIAA's pronouncement in early December in Atlantic v. Howell, that the copies which Mr. Howell had copied from his cd's to mp3's in a 'shared files folder' on his computer were "unauthorized,” writer Alyce Lomax said, "a good sign of a dying industry that investors might want to avoid is when it would rather litigate than innovate, signaling a potential destroyer of value."

So far 2008 is bringing us several additional rays of sunlight and hope. As we previously noted here, every fall the RIAA’s team of legal scumbags greets the new academic term by sending out a raft of letters to universities and their students threatening them with legal action unless they go to a special website and “settle” with the RIAA. (Evidently the average cost of this litigation-free solution is $3000.) In a normal society this would easily be classified as blackmail, but in our society which seems to worship the Great God Capitalism over the God of Good Sense, this procedure is evidently looked upon as a legitimate, if failing, business strategy.

Well, according to a story by Adam Liptak in the N.Y.Times online, the RIAA got it’s first ever surprise in the state of Oregon. When it subpoenaed the University of Oregon this year to identify 17 students who had made available songs from Journey, the Cars, Dire Straits, Sting and Madonna on a file sharing network, for the first time a major University decided to fight back. Represented by the state’s attorney general, Hardy Myers, the university filed a blistering motion to quash the subpoena, accusing the industry of misleading the judge, violating student privacy laws and engaging in questionable investigative practices. Cary Sherman, the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the industry had seen “a lot of crazy stuff” filed in response to its lawsuits and subpoenas. “But coming from the office of an attorney general of a state?” Mr. Sherman asked, incredulous. “We found it really surprising and disappointing.” Isn’t that a damned, crying shame? Crocodile tears anyone?

The story goes on to say, “The recording industry may not be selling as much music these days, but it has built a pretty impressive and innovative litigation subsidiary. In the past four years, record companies have sued tens of thousands of people for violating the copyright laws by sharing music on the Internet. The people it sues tend to settle, paying the industry a few thousand dollars rather than risking a potentially ruinous judgment by fighting in court. “People get pushed into settlements,” said Fred von Lohmann, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group. “The Oregon attorney general is showing what a real fight among equals would look like.”

It must be catching, this new backbone that western universities suddenly seem to have grown. It would seem that the easy ride for the RIAA from universities may well be over. First the University of Oregon, now the University of Washington is refusing to be the RIAA's mailboy. The university says it won't forward letters demanding cash for alleged file sharing unless it can be assured the students were, indeed, illegally file sharing. The RIAA had provided the University with threatening letters and asked for them to be passed to users with certain ID codes; the university is worried this approach fails to cope with students who share internet connections.

Another ray of hope comes to us from the other side of the continent, from the great state of Maine. According to a p2pnet news story, two University of Maine law students of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic are taking up the fight for fellow students. “Hannah Ames and Lisa Chmelecki from the Cumberland clinic are now officially representing two Maine students. “Ames and Chmelecki are being guided by clinic director and U of M associate professor Deirdre Smith.” P2pnet added: “This could be the true beginning of the end for the RIAA in its attempts to bring students to heel, turning them into compliant consumers of corporate product under threat of legal persecution and severe financial penalties no student can afford.”

It added, “now if you think that these law students might not be up to the legal shenanigans that can go on the real world this is what Ray Beckerman; the lawyer behind Recording Industry vs The People, said to “An experienced practicing lawyer, I reviewed the brief prepared by student attorneys Hannah Ames and Lisa Chmelecki, under professor Smith’s supervision, and these young people did a bang-up job in exposing the fact that the RIAA has no case.”

If either of these approaches succeeds they might well snowball through other universities and it could signal some interesting times ahead. In the meantime David Pogue, the technology columnist of the NYTimes, was speaking to a group of 500 young people when he posed the question, “you want a record album but you don’t want to pay for it, so you download it online. How many think that is wrong?” David reported that only two hands out of the 500 went up. He concluded, “I don't pretend to know what the solution to the file-sharing issue is. (Although I'm increasingly convinced that copy protection isn't it.) I do know, though, that the TV, movie and record companies' problems have only just begun. Right now, the customers who can't even *see* why file sharing might be wrong are still young. But 10, 20, 30 years from now, that crowd will be *everybody*. What will happen then?”

Well, let’s look at the problem. In the glory days of the vinyl record album groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones used to give us incredible printed material stuffed into their 12” albums. Song lyrics, photo essays of the artists, even posters that could be put up on dorm walls. Then the media changed, first to cassettes, and then to compact disks. In so doing the size of the media dropped significantly, and gone were all of those extras which in some cases used to cost more to produce than the album itself but which added real value to the musical content. But the price of the albums didn’t drop. No sir ree! The price spiraled upwards from about $8 for a vinyl 12” lp to $16 to $18 for a cd. Music lovers had to put up with those inflated prices for several years. Then along came this computer technology which since the music encoded on the cd is in digital form, allowed the user to make an absolutely perfect duplication of the music on a separate disk. And blank recordable cd’s these days sell for pennies. And the next step in this evolution was the development of the bit torrent technology which allow people to access other people's folders for content they desire.

In this day and age how many people out there in the real world who truly love music are going to refuse to take advantage of this technological windfall? Damn few, I can tell you. The solution? Who the hell knows? But I agree with David Pogue, the solution is not adding DRM which restricts how the music you buy is used. And the solution is definitely not suing the lovers of music. That strategy is sick and futile, for you cannot change human nature with punishment, all you do is further alienate the lover of music.

If the record companies want to once again compete in this digital age they are going to have to offer us more bang for our buck. Give us true value as a reason for laying out our money. In the form of booklets? By putting the videos made to help sell the album onto a DVD containing the music? Or possibly something that no one has yet thought of. As John Lennon so aptly pointed out in his song “Watching the Wheels Go By,” “there are no problems, only solutions.” Get off your lazy asses, record industry, and start thinking and dreaming. Or else die peacefully alongside the dinosaurs.

And from Mashable, by Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins, “The end for the RIAA may be coming much sooner than we had previously imagined. News comes to us today that EMI is attempting to cut its funding to the “industry’s trade bodies,” which is code for RIAA. The unnamed source said that EMI was looking at ways to “substantially” reduce these payments. The RIAA and the lesser known but similar IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) receives funding primarily from EMI, Warner, Sony BMG and Universal. Estimates put the combined funding at an approximate $132.48 million a year. Sony and Universal haven’t been recently vocal about their feelings on the RIAA, but Time Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman recently confessed that, “We were wrong to go to war with consumers.” Bronfman also admitted that when his own children download music, he assures us that he punishes them, but said he prefers to keep their punishment in house rather than out in the courts. It’s a shame he allows his company to continue to fund the legal persecution of other people’s children.

Finally Jamie Thomas, the young mother of two from Minnesota who was recently ordered by a federal court to pay the recording industry $222,000 for offering 24 songs on her computer, doesn’t have enough money to fund an appeal and is looking for a new attorney to handle the appeal, according to her current attorney, Brian Toder. Although she has no money her appeal should be good for publicity so any 0f you would be Perry Masons out there should run, not amble, to her assistance.

And one more thing:

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In one of my various incarnations I was a radio disc jockey, on KXYZ in Houston in the 1940’s and on Pacifica radio’s Houston affiliate KPFT when I returned to Houston from NYC in early 1970’s. I did two programs on KPFT, cohosting FolkSay with the late Joe Lomax, and then I created a program called NightSong, on which I put together mixes of many kinds of music, folk, rock, jazz, and otherwise, in a program I fashioned as surreal. I think NightSong was the most creative endeavor I have ever done, and to this day I still love putting mixes of music together, though these days for better or for worse it’s for my own amusement.

My blog #15 was called A Day in The Life, and celebrated the life and work of John Lennon. In fact the charcoal drawing of Lennon by Kristin Turberville that I put up to decorate that post seems to fit this blog so well that I’ve kept it up ever since. Lately for my own amusement I have been putting together a kind of super mix of John Lennon’s life in song and in doing so I have discovered much about Lennon.

For one thing most of us don’t think of John Lennon’s songs as political. Lennon might not have been as dedicated an activist as a singer like Pete Seeger, but he was extremely effective in what he did. In his most famous case, he wrote and performed a song to free John Sinclair, an activist poet, one time band manager, and leader of the White Panther party who was arrested in 1969 for giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics officer and was sentenced to 9 1/2 to 10 years in prison. His supporters considered his prosecution as political persecution and actively worked to free him.

On December 10, 1971 John Lennon and Yoko Ono headlined a Free John Sinclair Rally at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lennon performed his song John Sinclair, “Let him be, set him free, Let him be like you and me” in front of 15-20,000 people. Three days after the concert the Michigan Supreme Court released Sinclair after 29 months of capitivity, and later overturned his conviction. The event is considered one factor in the adoption of Ann Arbor’s famously lenient "five-dollar pot law" in the early 1970s. One can easily imagine the panic this display of Lennon’s amazing power must have sent through the pro-war secret government movement, the clandestine group which many of us hold responsible for our country’s many and various political assassinations, including those of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John and Bobby Kennedy. As you might remember from my own Lennon blog, #15, I include Lennon’s assassination in this group. More about Lennon will appear in future blogs.

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And finally, here is a video for all of you who are parents of little girls.

Lesson: Real Beauty is within, not without. So don't think you can outdo your creator for all that does is the enrich the cosmetics industry. And there you have Little Eddy’s first post for the New Year. Hello 2008! May you bring us all Peace, Wealth and Happiness, in any order which might please you. And please, dear God, before the year is out please bring us a Democratic president.

The Real Little Eddy

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