Category Archives: music

Expelled without a license

Word on the street is starting to trickle in that the popular music was not licensed:

* John Lennon’s “Imagine” was definitely used without permission. The Lennon estate + EMI are suing. (See Reuters, 4/23 (link from pharyngula); the NYT, 4/24; and Paste Magazine. (I can just picture the graphic on The Daily Show: “Ono you di’n’t!”)

* I’m also hearing that The Killers (“Personal Jesus”) didn’t authorize. (See comments on earlier posts.) … And now I’m hearing that they did authorize, but were duped into doing so. See the playlist.

Updates as available.

4/28 update: It looks to me as if copyright infringement was at least anticipated and planned for, and the case that the copyright infringement was an intentional gambit by Premise Media to inspire litigation is considerably stronger: Check out this press release by Premise. They’re trumpeting the litigation, and note that they reference it as litigation by the “beloved Yoko Ono.” Tapping into popular dislike of Yoko Ono — which had significant racist and sexist over-, under-, and in-the-middle-tones — Premise Media continues to demonstrate that they are a class act. Their behavior reflects on the religion they profess and promote, of course.

Other discussions on the issue:
* metamagician
* Lippard Blog

“Expelled” music licensed or not?

Josh Timonen wrote a detailed synopsis of the movie “Expelled”, the creationist film that tries to argue that creationist views are “unfairly” excluded from the academy.

What piqued my interest about this particular post (there have been hundreds by now about how bad the movie is, the deceptiveness of the filmmakers, P.Z. Myers’ being prevented from attending, the NCSE’s excellent “Expelled, Exposed” website, and so on) was that Timonen noted the proliferation of popular commercial music, including John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and a song from “The Killers”; maybe others. Timonen says:

Either Expelled has a disproportionately-large music budget (for how bad of a film it is), or they are using songs they haven’t paid for in their Director’s Cut private screenings (that may be changed before the official nationwide release). John Lennon’s “Imagine” is played (original version) over B&W scenes of what looked like communist China, with a parade of soldiers. The lyrics to the song were subtitled on the bottom of the screen. I think I remember a shot of Stalin saluting somewhere in here as well. The part of the song played was of course “…and no religion too…”, implying that no religion equals communist China. Does Yoko know about this? I doubt she’d be pleased.

The excellent “Mad Hot Ballroom Dancing” got dinged for a lot of money for a lot less music use than this. Could the Expelled filmmakers really not have known they needed to license music? Did they have a giant music budget? Are they relying on fair use? Maybe one could make a fair use case for using “Imagine” to illustrate communist China, although it seems a bit of a stretch to me since the point of the film isn’t China or John Lennon, or even atheism per se.

I’ll be interested to see what happens when it’s officially released. Same music? And what’s the story with the licensing? Does Yoko Ono not control the Lennon estate? Would she really license the music for that purpose? Questions, questions.

Supposedly, the film also includes animations of cellular functions. There have been lots of such animations made in the last few years. P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula described one such animation out of Harvard and XVIVO being edited and used without in creationist lecture tours. What’s the licensing on these, I wonder? Studio Daily describes the animation process and says they can’t provide it, because it belongs to Harvard & XVIVO; there’s a version at Harvard’s MCB website. These were funded by the HHMI and the licensing notes the copyright to Robert Lue & Alain Viel, Harvard University, and says “For educational use only. The use, duplication, or distribution of this material for any commercial purpose is strictly prohibited.” Well, creationist lectures are arguably “educational”, at least in the broadest possible sense, but editing it to create a derivative work — that seems a bit different.

Nine Inch Nails offers CD downloads for remix

Machinist at Salon has the scoop. Yaay Nine Inch Nails! It’s been a while since I’ve broken out my NIN collection but this inspires me to dip back in.

It’s not just a web download, either; there’s a torrent at PirateBay.

Wow, this sort of means that NIN is to BitTorrent was Mr. Rogers was to the VCR. Heh.

Recording industry in England

John Naughton had a nice column last week in The Observer (at the guardian) trashing the British Phonographic Industry. Triggered by their spokesperson’s statement that “For years, ISPs have built a business on other people’s music,” Naughton awarded it “Fatuous Statement of the Month” and went on to excoriate their arrogance and the legislation they’re pushing to mandate ISPs to deal with copyright infringement. And properly Naughton pointed out that “ISPs have indeed ‘built a business’. They’ve done it by providing an internet connection for upwards of a billion individuals and businesses across the planet.”

But what I thought was funny was the spectacle of the phonographic industry, which represents record companies, complaining about someone else “building a business on other people’s music”. The irony kills.

more artist innovation in music distribution

A NYT blog is reporting that Radiohead is making digital copies of its next album available for pick-your-own-price amount — and the best part is they’re DRM-free.

Commenters on the post were almost all positive. A few salient points pulled out of comments:
* This will generate fans for and interest in its nice physical artifact versions of the albums — which are for sale for a fixed price, offering a solid profit point;
* This offers would-be downloaders an opportunity to get authorized DRM-free music at a reasonable price — a sort of come-in-from-the-cold attitude that, however small, will generate more revenue from these downloaders than they otherwise would have had;
* 100% of the proceeds — however small — are going to Radiohead, rather than 5-10% of the cost of a $15-$20 CD.

DRM-less online music sales and other good news

Well, Steve Jobs certainly looks prescient, what with EMI dropping DRM for its iTunes sales. Why do I suppose they were already in negotiations when Steve Jobs wrote his editorial?

Never mind, it’s still good news. (As is the decision from the Supreme Court on EPA’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases, a case that worried me. Yes, Virginia, if masses of scientific evidence show that human emissions are harming the environment, then the Environmental Protection Agency needs to deal with it.)

CD sales up, down, irrelevant

The large corporate music industry has been whining to all the major media outlets that its CD sales are down. Accordingly numerous stories have been written in the last month about the trials and tribulations of the industry, whose dreadful loss of CD sales hasn’t been made up by the sale of individual songs.

First – I note that the transition (back) from albums to songs is touted as a bad thing, somehow. This, I really don’t get. The vast majority of commercial albums produced in the last forty years have not been “albums”, but collections of (a) hits, (b) a few noncommercial interesting songs, and (c) several filler songs, in varying proportions. These artists were being forced to produce albums when they wanted to produce songs. It’s as if every short story writer were being forced to write massively long novels.

That’s actually not a good model for creativity or quality artistic production. Why would anyone bemoan this transition? The more viable economic models and methods of distribution there are, the better. Now, artists can produce songs, longer pieces, albums, etc., according to their degree of inspiration.

It really bugs me when people (read: middlemen businesses) get so wedded to particular models that they act as if those models are the natural, One True Way, despite manifest evidence to the contrary. I’ve grown used to this absurdity in terms of the music industry thinking they have a god-given right to sell music as if it were on degradable media to consumers who do not have quality reproduction material — to force us all to live in the 1950s, in other words. But you’d think that in at least one area, they would welcome what is obviously good?

Second – it may all be just so much BS anyway. Yes, the major record industries are reporting CD sales down (and their numbers have proven oh-so-trustworthy in the past), but Harold Feld at Public Knowledge is reporting on information from CD Baby that sales are up — for independent musicians. In other words, long tail economics are at play here: The top part of the curve may be flattening out to some extent (and Feld reminds of us of some of the reasons that the late 1980s/early 1990s were a golden age for CD sales) but music overall is more a part of our lives than ever.

reflections on the demise of Tower Records

“We’re going to have discounts for consumers to enjoy as they’ve never been seen before in the history of Tower Records,” said Andy Gumaer, president of Great American Group, a Los Angeles-based firm that won the auction …. [LAT 10/7]

Yeah, right.

Last night I stopped by Tower Records to see if I could pick up any deals at their going-out-of-business sale. Yow. No wonder they’re going out of business, when their average CD still costs $18-$20. Take 20% off of something that is 50% overpriced to begin with and, let’s see, do the math — it’s still really overpriced.

I know I signed up for that class action settlement on overpriced CDs (and I never got my check for that, by the way, which would have been a vast underpayment for my ~ 1000 CD collection, no small portion of which was purchased at Tower Records … but it would have briefly afforded me some moral feel-goodness). So what happened? Shouldn’t that have done something to get the prices to something approaching rationality? But no, I guess after the settlement the record companies paid attorney’s fees and shipped multiple copies of the same overstock crap albums to libraries and schools … and then everyone continued merrily on overpricing CDs.

Of course, Tower blamed it on illegal filesharing. “Can’t compete with free.” No, Tower couldn’t compete with reasonably priced. Amazon.com is cheaper even with shipping costs, and iTunes offers 12-track albums for $11.88 on a per-track basis or just skip the tracks you don’t like.

But Tower didn’t have to out-compete Amazon.com and iTunes. Most folks don’t mind paying some kind of premium for brick-and-mortar, which gives you an actual place to go for retail therapy or as part of a date, offers physical browsing and interacting with other people … So a reasonable premium might be, what, 10, 20%? Not the $18 CD. In this market, it’s amazing Tower has lasted as long as it has.

… The LAT (10/22) nicely summed up the goods and bads of this. After driving out all the local record stores with predatory pricing and economies of scale, Tower increased its own prices and proceeded to mismanage itself into bankruptcy. But it was a good record store in terms of selection. So Tower’s demise leaves us with sucky chain record stores and the big-box retailers who “out-chained” Tower and sell only “the hits” — a market that is obviously dwindling.

And the other thing I couldn’t help but notice as I wandered through the vast aisles of youth-oriented crap: There are vast aisles of youth-oriented crap. So what marketing geniuses decided to target the 15-20-yo boy market? Who decides, hey, let’s pick a small age group (a scant 3.4% of the population [US Census Bureau / 2005]) without a very high income, and make them our target demographic? … and the music & movie industries complain about filesharing. Geez.

music and rants in honor of south dakota

i’ve been too angry to post about south dakota — and really, too unsurprised and cynical to have anything particularly interesting to say — but some music has been particularly resonant to me the last few weeks watching the South Dakota legislators presume to regulate the personal lives and medical decisions of women. so here’s a few pieces i keep in my ‘favories’ playlist, plus a couple of others i dug out special from my music archives:

  • “Butyric Acid”, by Consolidated, from the album Business of Punishment (1994). [lyrics below the fold; you have to click on “more” to open up this page separately and then the lyrics link will work]
  • “Green Monkey” by Laura B., a spoken word piece on the album Cause – Piece of Mind: Rock for Choice (1992). [I’ll try to get the text but don’t have it now.]
  • “Femme Fatale”, by Digable Planets, from the album Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space) (1993). [lyrics below the fold]
  • A trio from Ani:

  • “Hello Birmingham”, by Ani DiFranco, from the album To the Teeth (1999). [lyrics below the fold]
  • “Lost Woman Song” by Ani DiFranco, from the album Ani DiFranco (1990). [lyrics below the fold]
  • “tiptoe” by Ani DiFranco, from the album Not a Pretty Girl (1995). [lyrics below the fold]
  • and just a couple more:

  • “Every Sperm Is Sacred” / Monty Python, from “The Meaning of Life” [lyrics below the fold]
  • And a special dedication goes out to SD state Senator, Bill Napoli: “Dead Men Don’t Rape”, by 7 Year Bitch, from the album Sick ‘Em (1992) and also on There’s a Dyke in the Pit! (1992). (Lyrics below the fold, but I think you can guess the refrain.) And don’t construe this as a threat because I’m a pacifist, but when I listen to this song I reflect on the ways that state-mandated pregnancy is a continuing, multi-month, invasion into a woman’s body. And I hold every one of those legislators and officials who signed off on this obscene legislation equally culpable for that violation. I’d call them fuckers but I really hope they never get laid again.

and here’s another I just thought of, and will get lyrics to after work tonight:

  • “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” / Phil Ochs. (Because the list of benighted states just keeps growing ….)

Lyrics below the fold.

Continue reading

divine licensing: god and the gang of four

Two great tastes that taste great together.

Many “Daily Show” fans (well, okay, me) have been concerned about the future of “This Week in God” now that Stephen Colbert is leaving “The Daily Show” for his own spinoff. Today’s NYT (10/12) explains that the segment is going to stay, but with a new correspondent — apparently, because of divine licensing:

“God has an exclusive licensing agreement with ‘The Daily Show,’ ” Mr. Colbert said. “We’re trying to get the Devil for our show.”

In completely unrelated entertainment news, Slate informs us (10/5) that the Gang of Four is covering their own songs on what is effectively a tribute album by the Gang of Four, in tribute to the Gang of Four. (Hey, I think they’re worth it.) Go4 was a little less happy with their licensing arrangement than God, apparently:

A sraightforward repackaging of the old recordings, such as a compilation or box set, would only serve to enrich EMI, their original record company in the United Kingdom. And that’s something Gang of Four didn’t want to happen. “We have never made any money at all from record sales with EMI and still have unrecouped advances,” King wrote in an e-mail. “So we didn’t want them to benefit as they did nothing to support us.” As for their original American record company, Warner Bros., King claims that they deleted Entertainment!—easily one of the 50 most powerful and influential rock albums of all time—in 1993 and only rereleased it in 2005 in response to Gang of Four’s having become a fashionable reference point. Rerecording the songs—something that contracts typically allow artists to do after 20 years—puts Gang of Four in a strong bargaining position for negotiating a new deal with superior royalty rates. “It is our way of reasserting ownership of our own material,” says King.

download legally … somewhere

I saw this on 125th St. in Harlem the other day:

RIAA Ad, Seen in Harlem on 125th St - Feed a Musician, Download Legally

The RIAA has begun their new ad campaign (leading a new front group called “Music United”). Apparently it’s important for the RIAA to pump money into promoting a trend that is already happening even without ads. (Could it be … that legal downloading is finally happening just because the friggin’ recording industry finally started licensing its catalogs with semi-reasonable terms and price points?)

I found it particularly ironic given the relative dearth of wireless in Harlem. Starbucks and McDonald’s offer the usual paid access, but otherwise, Harlem is still essentially a wireless dead zone — just as it was in 2002 when Elisa Batista surveyed Manhattan.

Hey, RIAA, I bet the kids in Harlem would like to download legally! Why don’t you get behind some of the community wireless initiatives to help them do it? That might be a little more useful than promoting something people are already doing in a neighborhood where they have relatively few opportunities to do it.

update 2005/8/15: The RIAA campaign has sparked a lot of annoyance out there in the blog-o-sphere. Here’s a sampling: The vitriolic monkey says that The RIAA Wipes Its Dick On The Curtains. I don’t know what that means but it sounds icky. Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing snapped a couple of shots of posts in LA and posted on Flickr; a few other commentators have added other spotted locations. Jason Schultz posted on Flickr a couple of altered posters in SF. (“Fair Use Has a Posse”, which, while I must surely be counted among the members of whatever posse fair use has, I must admit just doesn’t ring quite as well as Andre the Giant or Charles Darwin.). Reasoner notes the Sticker Wars with the RIAA in San Francisco, and points out “the unfortunate truth … that many of the major record labels are screwing over all but the most ‘successful’ musicians”. Terminally Incoherent saw the same from BoingBoing and described it as RIAA Brainwashing Continues. … But in all of this I still haven’t seen any other new poster snapshots, which makes me sad. Surely more people out there are taking snapshots of these posters?

air guitar … celebrity impersonations

The NYT ran this article from New York’s reigning air guitar champ. [NYT 7/”10″] I wonder if these rock’n’rollers acknowledge the debt they owe to drag queens and lip-syncing celebrity impersonators, who have been competitively dragging since at least the 30s? [see Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town (1993) and Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America (1972), both by Esther Newton.] Probably — “clothes make the air guitarist” according to the author, and the clothes seem to be fabulous: Brooklynite C-Diddy won the world crown in 2003 “festooned with a Hello Kitty breastplate and crimson kimono”, and the author’s costume is a “silver jumpsuit and star-spangled armbands filled with dry ice”.

Rock on, dudes! I can’t wait to go to my first drag king air guitar show.

penguin remixed: boys, boys, boys

Penguin Remixed. a cool project. But it misses half the world.

Penguin Remixed is a competition of music remixes of various “classic” quotes & texts. Out of 29 clips they have one from a female-authored book (Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; with a male narrator) and one by a male author with both a female and a male narrator (Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll); one by a male author with a female narrator (Frances Barber narrating Nick Hornby’s How To Be Good). These include some obvious classic works and a good chunk of “alternative” canon like “Status Anxiety” by Alain de Botton; “Spot’s Playtime Storybook” by Eric Hill; “The Go Between” by L. P. Hartley; “Solo” by Pen Hadow; blah blah blah. Maybe there are some women’s voices or perspectives in the uncredited “various” offerings: Four male-authored works include “various” narrators; one “variously” authored work also includes “various” narrators.

If you’re looking to mix works involving a woman’s voice or perspective you won’t do very well in this context. I guess boys mix boys, too.

Ethnic diversity? Well, try Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, read by Renu Setna.

covers & licenses to cover

Slate just ran an article on cover albums (“Copycats – The cover album makes a comeback” by Franklin Bruno, 2005/6/23), which is interesting timing considering that the Register of Copyrights has proposed to eliminate the compulsory cover license. [Lessig covers (ahem) the issue and responds to commentary from Importance of Being Ernest and Joe Gratz].

Bolivian Activist HipHop & Copyright

The NYT ran an article today (5/26) about rap/hiphop music in Bolivia. Young artists are using hiphop & rap to get their message of social justice, democracy, and peace. One young artist talks about copyright infringement:

The one CD the rappers recorded, called “Wayna Rap,” sells robustly on the streets of El Alto, pirated by the hundreds – just as the rappers like. “I do not live off hip-hop, and I did not plan to,” said Grover Canaviri, 23, who sings for the Clandestines. “I do not care if my music is pirated. The money is not important. What we want is to send out our lyrics so they can influence.”

— Juan Forero, Young Bolivians Adopt Urban U.S. Pose, Hip-Hop and All, NYT 5/26

Mercury Rev, 50 Cent & Halsey Burgund

The Boston Phoenix ran this article (“Singled out: Mercury Rev’s big Internet gamble” by Mac Randall) [5/19]. Mercury Rev is experimenting with “building fan anticipation” by releasing the album in EP-size dribs and drabs, via iTunes, and then pulling the EPs:

The CD won’t reach stores till May 17. But on January 25, an EP with selections from the disc went on sale on the Web through iTunes. Six weeks later, another EP with a different set of Secret Migration songs went on sale as the first EP was pulled from iTunes. The process repeated again six weeks later, with a third EP replacing the second. Once the album goes on sale in stores, all of the songs will again be for sale on-line, but the EP configurations will be a thing of the past. (Unless, of course, you want to program them into your iPod that way.) More to the point, every song on the CD will have been made available to the public well in advance of the “release date.”

What about the possibility that downloading will destroy the album sales? The company’s marketing director had this to say:

So far, according to Dan Cohen, the iTunes EPs’ sales figures are “good but not astounding. My head of sales hates when I say this, but the greatest thing that could happen is that there are so many MP3s circulating on-line that we’re like, ‘Oh God, this might hurt sales.’ It hasn’t happened yet.”

Jason Schultz posted 50 Cent’s answer to a similar question (from Spin, cited in copyfight):

Selling music is like selling drugs. If you want your clientele to keep coming back, you need to consistently supply a quality product. People know what they want. People talk about how the music industry is struggling, but there’s no strain on Eminem records. There’s no strain on the Game. There’s no strain on 50 Cent records. My first album was downloaded 300,000 times before it went on sale, but we still sold 872,000 copies the first week and 822,000 copies the second week. I don’t believe in the oversaturation of a quality product.

Relatedly, Halsey Burgund, here in MA, just started a new project: he’s making a compilation of musicians saying, “I am a musician, and I support file sharing” (and whatever they want to add about why). [i followed the link from respectp2p.org 5/10]

update 2005/8/24: another 50 Cent story, this time on 50 cent’s position re: a trademark / right of publicity issue.

blatant copyright infringement!

Cool archive of NYC hip-hop posters from late 70s/early 80s. Reprinted without any permission from the poster designer(s), so far as I can tell. Why, that’s blatant COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT !!! Why, s/he’s a — a — a Pirate, that’s what. A Pirate and a Thief. Posting this archive, without seeking the copyright owner’s permission and perhaps paying a handsome licensing fee, why that’s like taking the lawnmower out of the garage of the poor hapless poster designer(s) or their great grandchildren or maybe their corporate assignees.

Luckily the US Copyright Office is looking into the problem of orphan works. Orphan works are those works that are copyrighted, but you can’t locate the copyright-holder to ask their permission to do something with the work.

Why is this a problem? Well, thanks to the 1976 Copyright Act (USC Title 17), all fixed works of original authorship are automatically copyrighted, without the copyright owner having to do anything (like putting a © symbol on the item). So, you know, that post-it note you left for your spouse/mate this morning — that’s protected by copyright! You “fixed” it by writing it down, and the threshold of “originality” is very low — so nobody better mess with your copyright by trying to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform or display, or derive any works from that post-it note, without your permission. And those hip-hop party flyers? They too were copyrighted upon fixation, and whether or not the creators felt the need for or intended to have criminal and civil penalties attached to their illicit reproduction. [See also US DOJ.] Illicit reproduction any time within 70 years after the original creator died, I might add.

Deep breath. The wicked foolishness of some laws just makes me kinda crazy. Sorry for the heavy sarcasm. Especially sorry for heaping scorn upon the value of the post-its and email jottings of the world, which are richly deserving of all the copyright protection that can be mustered for them. If we don’t copyright everything, then some iota of value might possibly escape exploitation! Oops. Sorry, slipped again. Sarcasm ranting hat officially OFF, and Serious Working hat, back on.

comments on bootleg browser

Thomas Bartlett’s “Audiofile” [2005/5/5] in Salon.com mentions the “Bootleg Browser” & says this:

Bootleg Browser is a new resource that lists links to MP3 downloads of concerts — currently featuring shows from nearly 350 artists. I’m interested to know how readers feel about the ethics of concert bootlegs. Personally, unless an artist has specifically stated that they don’t want their concerts to be recorded and traded, I have a hard time understanding why anyone would object. There’s no real way that bootleg trading can hurt an artist, and plenty of ways that it can help. Doubtless some of you disagree, and I’d like to hear from you. Write to me.

Good to hear someone making the obvious point that lawmakers & record companies have seemed confused about for years.

anti-racist protest also stings anti-bootleggers

While protesting the airing of “The Tsunami Song”, Asian-American rapper Cobra took shots at the anti-bootlegging “whiners”:

Though promoted as an antiracist event, the rally lamented the degraded state of the corporate music industry generally. One of the first performances at the demonstration came from Asian-American rapper Cobra. In front of an audience holding signs reading “Hot 97 Divides Our Community,” “Stop Hate 97” and “I Am Hip-Hop,” Cobra recited lyrics that earnestly expressed his grievances with the state of hip-hop: “With a hot producer/Hitler would still be popular, blinged-out with Medusa [a popular jewelry brand].” In another song, he castigated greedy artists who fail to recognize the boost in visibility they get from bootlegs and online music traders: “Now you mad ’cause your bootleg’s on the Ave.?/That’s the best promotion team that you’ve ever had!…/You whiners unnerve me/You’re just an old, white exec in a throwback jersey.”

Rap News Network – Hip-Hop Doesn’t Live Here Anymore