Thoughts on File-Sharing and its Fallout

I remember well the eighties, music-wise. The music industry itself was getting used to the megastar who sold millions and millions of copies and went on year-long tours to rapturous audiences. The underground was developing, and college stations and stores were creating the stars that would become the true household words in the next generation (REM, U2, etc.). And millions of cassettes were being bought and taped on.

The record industry and its bitch (The RIAA) tried to get people to stop the taping. They put a skull-and-crossbones type picture on the record sleeves (instead of lyrics) and trumpeted “Home Taping Is Killing Music!” Nobody believed it, of course; some punk groups put out cassettes with blank B-sides, complete with the comment “Home Taping is killing the record industry. Keep up the good work.”

Then came the coup-de-grace: a study by — you guessed it — the RIAA showed that the home tapers were the buyers of music. Indeed, they found a relationship between the level of taping and the level of music purchase.

Surprise, surprise — I knew that! Simply put, the cassette collections were always the inferior collections, with albums you didn’t care to buy and cuts you liked from albums you didn’t. Not only that, but often if you liked the songs on the tape you went on to buy the album(s) they were on.

So when Napster came along, I was all for it. Mind you I couldn’t take advantage of it; but I saw it as a plus for music lovers.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So what happened?

Some say the record stores kept raising their prices above what sane people would pay for their CDs. Some say the recording companies cranked out crappier and crappier records, eating up the genres as they went. Others pointed to DVDs and video games eating up the entertainment dollars that once went to records. Further blame can be cast on the radio, which had tried for the so-called holy grail of “one nation, one playlist, one taste” and failed miserably (Note that “The Jack” radio format is a continuation of this rot, as it’s an oldies format that tries too hard to be cool).

However, Napster and its latter-day cousins are as guilty as all of them — maybe put together.

Probably the one thing I miss greatly is the new record stores that used to dot every College downtown and many other places. Used to be I could walk into the Wherehouse or Tower in East Lansing and look through the selection. There’d be stuff to listen to, so I could hear the songs on the record. And if a song on side “B” or a cover caught my attention, I’d buy the CD.

Those record stores aren’t there anymore. And the Bookstore/Record store doesn’t fit either, as the focus is on books with a smaller selection CDs in the back. And while used record stores are wonderful, they’re only as good and the new record stores that are nearby.

This has caused the impoverishment of mainstream music. With nothing hip or unusual being bought, the people running the music companies have been forced to latch onto teenie-boppers, or lame imitations of older songs. Hence Britney Spears and the American Idol stars beginning to clutter our airwaves. Why not: since that’s what’s selling, why should they go out and try out ten people who don’t know about when there’s someone who’s just like someone else you know sells well?

And during this time when the record stores were going out of business, the college students were happily Napstering themselves to music collector’s nirvana. They had the high speed connections, they had the free time, and they were using everything to their advantage.

And down went the record stores. Thanks to Napster.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Admittedly there’s other ways to get stuff. The used record stores have done an admirable job in filling in the spaces left by the old record stores. The Internet stores (Amazon and others) offer a larger selection than the record stores ever could.But there’s something about coming into a record store, picking over a seemingly random choice of albums, meeting with others to exchange opinions, hearing a song so wonderful you can’t leave without owning it, talking with an employee or owner whose dedicated their life to music, and buying something that will benefit the band directly and in the future. ALL of the above could only happen in a new record store.

And the music industry’s change could be deeper than a mere change from downloading to buying. As with Cassettes, much of my mp3 collection that I have I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy. And most of what I have in mp3 format I own (or owned). And with Video Games taking the place in the heart that music once owned, there’s more to the change than a mere forcing of buying. If I were the record industry I’d do what I could to regain the love of my customers, not focus on sueing the fans into legalized slavery and keep earning the disdain and hatred they presently deserve.

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MGM vs Grokster: The potential fallout

Grockster, Streamcast lose case versus MGM. Question is, how far does this go?

Lines that stand out in my mind are boxed in; my thoughts are below the boxes.

When a widely shared product is used to commit infringement, it may be impossible to enforce rights in the protected work effectively against all direct infringers, so that the only practical alternative is to go against the device’s distributor for secondary liability on a theory of contributory or vicarious infringement. One infringes contributorily by intentionally inducing or encouraging direct infringement, and infringes vicariously by profiting from direct infringement while declining to exercise the right to stop or limit it. Although “[t]he Copyright Act does not expressly render anyone liable for [another’s] infringement,” Sony, 464 U. S., at 434, these secondary liability doctrines emerged from common law principles and are well established in the law, e.g., id., at 486. Pp. 10-13.

In short, companies who push actions they know are illegal are responsible when everyone does the illegal actions. Nothing odd about that.

Note that Sony didn’t go around saying “You can make billions of copies of these things and spread them around the world” when their case was in the Supreme court. They made their case out to be a simple “personal use” case, and won the ability to market Betamaxes that could record. VHS came in under this line, movie rental stores sprung up all over, and now Hollywood has no choice but to profit off any movie it makes.

Nothing in Sony requires courts to ignore evidence of intent to promote infringement if such evidence exists. It was never meant to foreclose rules of fault-based liability derived from the common law. 464 U. S., at 439. Where evidence goes beyond a product’s characteristics or the knowledge that it may be put to infringing uses, and shows statements or actions directed to promoting infringement, Sony’s staple-article rule will not preclude liability. At common law a copyright or patent defendant who “not only expected but invoked [infringing use] by advertisement” was liable for infringement. Kalem Co. v. Harper Brothers, 222 U. S. 55, 62-63.

This goes further, stating that you don’t NEED a written law in order to hold companies pushing AND profiting off illegal activities responsible for the actions of those using their product.

In addition to intent to bring about infringement and distribution of a device suitable for infringing use, the inducement theory requires evidence of actual infringement by recipients of the device, the software in this case. There is evidence of such infringement on a gigantic scale.

In short, the fact that you’re successful in causing people to do illegal activities makes you guilty.

So, in the end Sony still stands — in theory. Home, individual use is still accepted, as it’s merely an extension of what one has paid for. It’s profiting off the making of copies — whether by selling or by profiting indirectly from the copying.

Whether the music and movie industries will stop at this is doubtful, of course. More often than not, what’s allowed is not so much a question of what’s legal or illegal but what’s accepted or forcefully denied. Don’t be surprised if we see a bunch of lawsuits made not so much to enforce the law but to effect a change in the atmosphere — make p2p too risky to try out, thus cutting down on file sharing through that route.

Next Post: My Thoughts on mp3 trading, cassettes and the present state of the music industry

Public Broadcasting Needs To Think Over Some Things

So Public Broadcasting has dodged yet another bullet, getting precious federal funding for its television and radio programs.

These guys need to get a clue, and quick:

The U.S. government today is run by Republicans. They own the Presidency and sizable majorities in both houses, plus they’ve been pushing their judges into positions of high judgeship for years. Plus they’ve developed their own media from top (Rush Limbaugh, Faux Television, Family Life Radio, The Washington Times) to bottom (The Blogosphere is but the most obvious version of this), with constant incursions into “enemy territory.”

And what does your average liberal/leftist/progressive do? Hide themselves in “Green Zones,” write among themselves, blithely assume the rightness of their stands to be blindingly obvious, and whine about the rest of the nation.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget: They expect the goverment to insure that their Sabbath Service runs on time.

Meanwhile PBS takes on a greater rightward lean. Can All Things Considered be next? How long before Garrison Keillor starts lecturing on why God had no choice but to take six days to make the world — and seriously, may I add?


Maybe what both National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting need to do is cut itself off fully from Uncle Sam’s teat. As long as this present bunch of Republicans remains in power the federal money NPR and CPB get acts as a millstone around the neck. Keep depending on it, and more and more they shall become an ugly parody of Faux News. Really — if you NPR and PBS fans keep up your dependency on federal money, the time will come when Ann Coulton and Michael Savage are the sane voices on your TV and Radio stations.

And if it means commercials, maybe that’s what it will take. Otherwise, you guys will need to give more money — like your Christian friends, who make no bones of giving 10% to their churches and more to missions (like radio and television).

Weekly Song Lyrics: Grey Street

by David Matthews Band

Note: The verses comes mainly from the Lillywhite sessions, with the first, second and fourth choruses from the official release and the third chorus from the Lillywhite sessions. Further changes in the lyrics are mine — tweaks mainly, and I’m not claiming ANY copyright on them.

Oh, look at how she listens
but says nothing of what she thinks
Just remembers all her yesterdays
And by the kitchen sink… 

She thinks, “Hey!
How did things get like this?
I once had dreams for my life
How did it end like this?”

There’s an emptiness inside her
That sucks all the life from her heart
And all the colors mix together – to grey
on Grey Street

Wishing things were different
She prays to God most every night
And though she swears He doesn’t listen
There’s hope in her that He just might

She said, “My prayers
forever fall on deaf ears
Must I take it all on myself
To get out of this place?”

There’s an emptiness inside her
That sucks all the life from her heart
That takes the colors from her vision
And leaves cold black ice in her veins
As all the colors mix together – to grey
on Grey Street

A voice from outside her door says:
“Take what you can from your dreams
Make them as real as anything —
Takes the work out of the courage”

She calls out, “Please!
There’s a madman screaming outside my door
I live on the corner of Grey Street
And the end of the world.”

There’s an emptiness inside her
That sucks all the life from her heart
That takes the colors from her vision
And leaves cold black ice in her veins
“Oh, when I walk out in the morning
All the sunlight blinds my eyes
And all the colors mix together to grey”
On Grey Street, On Grey Street, It’s Grey Street – you go

There’s an emptiness inside her
That sucks all the life from her heart
That takes the colors from her vision
And leaves cold black ice in her veins
She feels like kicking out all the windows
And setting fire to her life
changing everything around her
using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together – to grey
On Grey Street
On Grey Street
To grey…
Yeah, yeah…

If you don’t know who Dave Matthews is, I want to ask: What cave have you hidden yourself in all these years??

What Amtrak Needs

Once again we run across another threat to Amtrak. The National Association of Railway Passengers is asking for help to again keep funding levels for Amtrak.

I don’t expect to see a passenger rail network developed in America; indeed I believe it’s been kept at its skeletal level of service to insure that, once people tired of present level of service, they could quickly close it down, transfer whatever lines are owned by Amtrak to freight railroads (assuming they want them) and move on to closing down the commuter railroads (like Metro North in New York, Metra in Chicago and MUNI in San Francisco).

Sad thing is, the Mass Transit authorities are finally getting their heads together in trying to make their services usable. They’re creating intermodal centers and readjusting their schedules to make it easier to move between transit systems. Not only that, but the states are getting together to plan regional high-speed rail networks. There was also a plan in 1997 that had some good ideas for additional trains and hookups (including the development of a passenger rail hub in Dallas/Fort Worth and rail lines down the Eastern Florida seaboard).

Anyway, here’s some ideas I’d like to see to revive and enliven Amtrak:

  • Impliment the ideas from the 1997 plan. These would include adding on the Crescent branch from Meridian to Dallas, the realigning of the Sunset Limited through Dallas/Fort Worth and East Florida Line, as well as the Cross-Country train and the Philly-Chicago line running through Ohio and Indiana during the daytime.
  • Institute the Midwest High-Speed Rail System. Eight states linked together via High Rail, with direct connections to downtown and the airports. O’Hare becomes able to handle what it has!
  • Desert Wind and Pioneer routes reinstated. This would rebuild the passenger rail system in the west to what it was in the eighties and early nineties. If they actually synchronized the trains so they met and left at the same time in Salt Lake City, that would be much better.
  • A line from Duluth to San Antonio via Minneapolis, Kansas City, Topeka and Oklahoma City. Along with the Desert Wind and Pioneer routes, this would add flexibility to a system which is too dependent on Chicago to switch everything. People in Minneapolis would experience the greatest benefits, although there’d also be benefits for Texas, Oklahom and Kansas City..
  • A (Philly-)Pittsburgh-Columbus-Indy-Saint Louis(-Kansas City) route. Another Chicago bypass, this one bringing service to the capital cities of the Midwest..
  • Revive the Chicago-Florida Route. Why should the east coast get all the easy trips to Florida?
  • Detroit-Toledo (with a stop in Monroe). Maybe this could go from Cleveland to Chicago via Detroit.
  • Rationalize Iowa Service. Send a line through Iowa City and Des Moines.
  • Electrify the line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Another idea whose time has come, gone and returned.
  • Create a second Empire Service Route. Expand the service through the north, maybe have them go at different times so that some areas only served at night will get some day service. That way, even if they have to split the route, you’d still serve a larger area and give better service to areas stuck with late-night rail service.
  • Transfer the Chicago-Milwaukee route to Metra. This would free trains to go elsewhere, plus there’d be better service between the two cities as the Metra trains would make more stops.

Not that I expect any of my suggestions (outside the Chicago-Milwaukee idea, which is being studied at the moment) or any of the other ideas not yet implimented to happen. There are lots of rail lines which would need to be rebuilt, and the Rails-to-Trails movement is nothing more than a movement to insure that rail lines are kept closed down (who’d dare take over a public park for a rail line, even if it’s meant for public transit?). Not only that, but government’s main focus seems to have shifted from the idea of the public good to insuring that corporations and the rich get their fair share of tax money from the rest of the nation, and building rails for the use of public transit would drain money from that goal. Plus, the automobile companies may be about to disappear (or sell out to Japan) and oil is about to fall into an unstoppable decline, but hell if they’re going to give us a chance to develop a way of getting around that doesn’t depend on them.

Still…one can hope.

J. J. Jameson/Norman Porter: Four Thoughts

Norman Porter talks about his life in Chicago

I knew of this guy for the six-plus years I lived near Chicago. While I can’t say I was a fan of his poetry (or of his reading style, as it seemed he was forever struggling to read his stuff), I must say I found him an interesting character.

After his arrest, as I heard from friends and read the articles, I found myself of four minds concerning the man:

  1. The guy has rehabilitated himself. The man I knew in Chicago had indeed made himself a credit to the world, and to the people who knew him.
  2. There is the issue of the two deaths. While none of them could be pinned to Jameson/Porter with intent, he did admit to an accidental killing and was probably used as a set-up man in the guard killing. Admittedly there has to be some payment for this, and while I’d like to say it’s enough I’m not the one allowed to say.Indeed, it’s amazing how strong victim’s rights are when they’re used. I know of a guy who made a mistake over thirty years ago in shooting a couple of cops, and another guy at the hospital swore to the perp that he would make sure he lived his life in prison. Since then, the prisoner has studied, graduated, repented of his crime and gained a skill. Even the person who swore he’d stay in prison believes the guy has fully rehabilitated himself. Guess what: the guy is still in prison because the other buy continually keeps his word. Indeed, I expect the prisoner to die before the other guy.
  3. Who’s to say he didn’t turn himself in? After all, the guy is sixty-five years old, is actually quite sick, and has nothing in Social Security. He goes to jail, gets medical attention for free, and will probably publish to some acclaim (if not profit).Plus, he wouldn’t be the first person to do that. Anyone hear of Ronnie Biggs?
  4. While J.J./Norman had indeed rehabilitated himself, it took a damn long time for him to do it. The guy seemed to find trouble aplenty, getting arrested four times over a six year period for petty things. And the fact that he claimed to be halfway through his troubles in 1999 would seem to tell me there were more recent travails going on with him.Some people seem to work out better with greater restrictions on them than others. I think that J.J./Norman may have been one of them, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he still WAS one of them.

The Perfect Pad of Paper

As an amateur writer, I like to carry a pad of paper with me to write when inspiration hits. This way I get something down, which I can work with (or from) when I get on the computer.

I started with those Mead pads with the spelling words on the covers. Then I found a pad of paper that had a strong back. Unfortunately, they were hard to find and soon were only available with Yellow paper. I found this one odd pad, overdesigned (steel backing???) and destined as a faddish product.

Then – by accident – I discovered Oh Boy Notebooks in a paper products store in Chicago. Everything I was looking for, even when I didn’t know I was looking for it, was in it:

  • strong back and front covers
  • good, thick paper with perfect lines
  • a place to stick your pen

Unfortunately, the company stopped printing books soon after I discovered it.

Went a couple years with what I had (Bought a few. Gave a couple out as gifts. Regretted that decision). Then, finally, I found this entry in the Obvious Diversion weblog talking about a possible replacement. Not quite, but it can work and it actually works well as a sketchbook and practice drafting book.

As you can tell in the comments section, I soon found there were some new Oh Boy! Notebooks. Bought a bunch, and while I’ll still give out gifts I’ve made sure I got plenty for myself.

Anyway, here’s the links for you to go and buy the notebooks before these makers run out:

Jury Duty 2: Bias towards the defendants in our courts.

My first posting on this subject.

Micheal Jackson declared “not guilty”…makes sense.

Not that he was innocent — just that the jury found enough reasonable doubt in the charges to declare him “not guilty.”

One thing everyone needs to understand about jurisprudence: There is a strong bias towards the defendant in the trials. This is shown by how the judgements are defined:

  • Guilty: Obvious beyond a reasonable doubt that that person HAD to do the acts (s)he’s accused of.
  • Not Guilty: There’s enough reasonable doubt that a guilty verdict isn’t warrented.

Notice that one has to be pretty much sure of the defendant’s guilt in the specific instance to judge the defendant guilty. Whatever “reasonable doubt” is (my definition: if I can easily see a scenario that doesn’t damn the defendant going on, I can assume “reasonable doubt.”), if it exists you must accept it.

Then how to explain that (outside of Hollywood cases) there’s a very high (I heard 95%) level of successful prosecutions? Part of it is to public bias (“if the guy’s on trial, they gotta be guilty”), but a major part of it is that many cases aren’t brought to court because the prosecution believes the proof isn’t there. It’s basically a question of whether the prosecution feels they can get a guilty verdict (or at least a plea bargain) out of the trial.

As for these Hollywood cases, it’s more a matter (I believe) that the prosecution feels they have to do SOMETHING or they’ll be seen in the public eye as doing nothing. Hence the half-baked cases and abortions that come up regularly when a celebrity is brought up.

And, as an article I read online said, MJ’s trial was about celebrity, not child molesting. The charge was merely the cover.

Weekly Song Lyrics: Flowers of Romance

A song which has been going through my mind recently.
By Lydon/Levene, 1981.

Now in the summer
I could be happy or in distress
Depending on the company
On the veranda
Talk of the future or reminisce
Behind the dialogue
We’re in a mess
Whatever I intended
I sent you flowers
You wanted chocolates instead
The flowers of romance
The flowers of romance 

I’ve got binoculars
On top of boxhill
I could be Nero
Fly the eagle and start all over again
I can’t depend on these so called friends
It’s a pity you need to defend
I’ll take the furniture,
Start all over again

For the uninitiated, Public Image Limited was Johnny Lydon’s group for ten years after the Sex Pistols blew apart. The best album is Metal Box/Second Edition.