Thursday, November 12, 2009

tell me what it's like to be the queen of it all

Do you feel sad when returning to an old MMO? It's a good question. And some good answers, there.

Nortel and Mellanium are hosting a me-unfriendly (it's at nine ayem PST, I don't plan to be awake, then!) stress test of their virtual world this Friday. They're wanting to see if their engine really is robust enough to handle five hundred avatars at once. To help them with that, they're throwing registration wide open for their system.

Just download, install, and drop by during the stress test. See if you can break their system.

They dare you.

Eventually, we come around to music on the grid. And this one's going to be tricky.

Dear Lily Allen,

The rules for internet broadcast are labyrinthine and somewhat surreal. On the one hand, the RIAA exists to ensure that proper fees for product are paid by any broadcaster; but unbeknownst to many, they've been maneuvering to have more paid to them than is paid to artists, while starving the artists they're supposedly there to 'protect'.

Remember when you pretended, Lily,
that you were truly independent, Lily?
Faking like you made it all alone
but you were legally with Regal, part of Parlophone
oh yeah

While broadcasters and stations who use AM and FM channels to broadcast music do so legally, for set fees that are generally paid to them, internet broadcasters face an entirely different--and far more horrifying--stricture: the RIAA still wants royalties paid, but wants them paid under specific principles of the DMCA.

So when you lectured me,
I thought I'd fileshare my thoughts on your mp3, Lily.

Under those principles, every time a song is played, in any format (and they want to charge per song, per format change, which gets even more ridiculous), and each time a broadcast/podcast is downloaded, they want a cut of the profits.

Most internet broadcasters survive on donations only; SomaFM, one of the largest net broadcasters, nearly closed in the face of these restrictions, because their fees would have been $7,500 over what they made in donations each month.

Now first I must sing your praises -
I love your singing but I'll just say this:
I saw on your MySpace pages
saying file sharing's a new ice age,
but the industry's a recent innovation--
music's been alive, thriving since cavemen.

They're alive now, and still commercial-free, but it's a struggle each and every month--and it's not because fans of the service aren't paying in; it's because the RIAA-suggested fees for webcasting are so insanely high no one (barring big corps like AOL and Yahoo) can afford to pay them and keep broadcasting.

Folk songs so long have had a place in communities
that you should be amazed at it.

So where did music begin? Live performance. In caves, in stone circles, in forests, in meadows; moving to thatched huts and island beaches and castles and mansions, as the culture evolved. Soon stages were built, some temporary, some permanent, where performers of music and theatre could gather to present their art to the public. Sometimes the public paid for this; sometimes they didn't. Even back then, there was a division between those who could afford to support the arts, and the working poor who struggled to support themselves.

Then one day came intellectual property,
meaning if I think a thought, you can't copy me.
And if honesty's the best policy,
I'd say songs are better off without this monopoly.

And there were always private performers singing professional songs--maybe not always in professional fashion, but schoolchildren, church choruses, family members playing around the feasting table of an evening. Bar singers, private dancers, performers to one, performers to one hundred--on that scale, one doesn't think of paying royalty fees, and in general, one would be absolutely correct.

It'd blatantly be a major fail
if they'd patented the major scale.
And downloads don't equate to sales,
so taking them away won't make me pay up--
just precludes me from sending your tunes to my friends,
so we all lose in the end.

Let's talk about that fan/professional split again, because that's really the issue on the grid, not the absolutes (or even vague threats) of royalties and correct fees. You go out and ask most DJs on the grid, they'll tell you straight up--they were never DJs before Second Life, or if they were, it was just privately, on some chintzy little webpage broadcast service.

You lose potential fans
and we lose respect for the fact that you're desperate for cash.

But in the end, most grid-based radio stations (note: I said most, not all) have no interest in broadcasting on the web at large. But is Second Life the web? If a stream is tossed out, for the most part, it works in SL. Yet, if it doesn't, we're generally instructed to open WinAmp or iTunes (or local equivalent) and pull up the actual numerical or HTML feed.

And that does bring up a stream that is then broadcasting from the web, right? Which means that radio station is a web broadcaster. Isn't it?

But what do you expect from the lass
who's collecting a fat bank cheque from the man,
while her fans are collecting the glasses for minimum wage they'll spend on her tracks?

The problem, inherently, is the RIAA wants a cut, of whatever profits are being made (even if they're nonexistant), or for the "offending" broadcaster to cease operation. Fine, they're empowered to do that, more or less--if the broadcaster is using the existing AM or FM channels to broadcast music or protected media.

Dear Lily, why you being this silly?
Yours sincerely, Dan Bull--

But if they're on the net? Do the rules that apply to physical radio stations apply to web stations? No, and that's the problem--the RIAA aren't going after net stations using broadcast rules. They're going after net stations using portions of the DMCA--which, again, was never intended to be used like this.

Now please don't be offended, Lily;
I think your new CD's splendid, Lily.
Everybody's At It
and it's Not Fair,
I Could Say The Fear was Him but
He Wasn't There so let's
go Back To the Start, before 22--
all music's in the public domain, so Fuck You--

According to the DMCA--via the twisted ways it's been interpreted of late--any use is a use. So play a song once--that's one use. Play a song twice--that's two uses. Okay as far as it goes, but offer that song twice in an hour broadcast, and you're against the terms of service for approval. And gods forbid you should offer the podcast containing that song in any format, because that's another fee for that song. And if you convert it from .mp3 to .ogg or another listening format? It's another fee for that song, per use, per podcast, per format--and you can bet if they had a legal way to charge broadcasters per listener, they'd do that too.

It's never the amateurs
that reckon it's damaging us,
it's the major labels saying it's fatal;
like when Napster had to pack up,
wrecked by Metallica.

Even worse--it seems that, above and beyond web broadcast, most of the RIAA notifications to institutions of higher learning are almost entirely folder-based, not transmission-based. What's the difference? Simple: transmission-based violations purport to track that particular violation and respond to it; folder-based violations track each time that supposedly violating file in that folder is downloaded, or attempted to be downloaded, or accessed in any way.

The table's turned now--
the labels churn out
a new Jezebelinternetelevangelist--
and she's fit--
with a manuscript that was actually written by Mr. Michael Masnick.

With that, they can send out six cease-and-desist notifications to the same university because a student might have uploaded his personal copy of a song to his personal authorized folder--and then accessed that song on his laptop, his Palm, his iPhone, on a study machine at the library, at a coffeeshop box, and over at his friend's house so his friend could hear the song.

Can you get the irony?
And by the by, Lily, I like this beat--
I hope you don't mind me thieving,
'cause even doing a cover song's decried as stealing.

All of this from the same individual, who may well have bought the album in question, and has licensing to support that upload on his desktop in the dorm--but doesn't have the RIAA-specified right to listen to the song he owns on other machines.

But it's all right, still,
for you to plagiarise, and preach it--
Don't you believe it's maybe time to rethink, Lily?

And it's even worse with file-sharing at large--at times, legally available files--downloaded from the artist, or from the recording company--are deemed illegal copies because they were retitled. This is a lovely Catch-22 for the RIAA, because--according to their own internal rules in this matter--web stations have to title songs in a specific way to be compliant with the rules!

Put music back in the hands of the people;
make the majors and amateurs equal.
If anything labels strangle
the freedom you claim they're saving by banning this evil.

So let's take it back to personal issues again. If I have a party in my house, and I play five CDs in rotation at that party, I am not in violation of any broadcast rules. It's my house; they're my discs; it doesn't go over the airways.

That's the actual reason, you see;
and please don't compare sharing to stealing--
I've not took anything off you, I'm just spreading love for what you do.

Now, if I have a party in my house, and friends of mine have a party in their house, but, because we're in different cities, we can't attend each others' parties--but we have this keen idea to stream all the music played under WinAmp for both events and run speakers and microphones to talk to each other--well, it all gets sort of jumbled, for hearing people and music, but it's still private broadcasting.

Or is it?

Downloaded your songs for free,
then I bought my mom your CD.
She likes it too, she keeps telling me,
all because I pirated an mp3.

What if I take that further? What if I set up--under WinAmp (free), under SAM (paid), or other accessible net streaming program--a list of songs that I'm streaming to my parcel? It can be done, it has been done (both by me, when was alive, and by others who have better understanding of net broadcasting programs), but I'm not seeing wider net broadcast status, so what's the problem?

Now I've got Matt Bellamy belling me,
telling me I'm not a fan, I'm the enemy.
That's amusing, I've paid enough to see Muse in my time
I could buy them a museum.

The problem is the RIAA. And their narrow interpretation of the laws of broadcasting in the first place. And the fact that they want net broadcasters to be charged equal fees along with official major stations, when even small hobbyist radio stations are going under, because of the sheer cost of operation if you aren't one of the major players.

Did you see them on that programme miming?
Yeah, the "pirates" are "killing" live gigs.
Maybe we should have a ban CDs appeal -
then people would pay to see bands for real.

Okay, but seriously, most of the broadcasters on SL are not on the net; they're in Club X playing for, what, twenty people tops? For chump change, literally--a penny for every dollar that's spent, a dime if they're lucky, two thousand these days still works out to under ten bucks, most places (granted, the LindeX rates have gotten steeper, it used to be L$2500 for $5.00 flat, now it's L$2000 for $7.70, as of today). And yes, ten bucks won't even buy two drinks in a real-life bar, now, but it pays rent, buys outfits, supports art, architecture, performance and music on the grid--in world, L$2000 still means something.

Dear Lily, why you being this silly?
Yours sincerely, Dan Bull--

Why does the RIAA want a cut of the non-profits being made?

Because "on the grid" translates to "on the net"...and on the net, the rules are different.

Lily Allen went on record to say that file sharing was equivalent to killing music. Mark Bellamy went on record to say anyone who downloads anything from the net should be taxed for it. The RIAA says there are no hobbyist broadcasters, only professionals who will pay what's right, and thieves who'll be fined out of existence.

And the ones who are stuck in the middle just want to play music for their friends. When did that become a crime?

Fan versus business. It's going to become a very large deal, very soon.

P.S. - And I don't mean any offence or anything, Lily.

I just don't think the issue's
as clear cut as you're making out.
And I know you're going to carry on making music really.
But when you're between the devil and the deep blue sea,
you need to stop worrying about pirates,
and adjust

(Which, if you hadn't caught on by now, was precisely the reason I quoted the full lyrics of Dan Bull's excellent diatribe against Lily Allen. Who has apparently learnt nothing at all from her brush with file sharing and profit protection, and instead is flouncing off to act.

(Which, personally, I'm fine with her doing--go where your heart calls you, fight for your dreams, always--were it not for the fact that I strongly believe her stance against recording another record wasn't to foster artistic future expressions, but as a fit of pique against people saying she, also, was guilty of the piracy she claimed was killing music today.

(I guess, if one grows up as a child of privilege, and never struggled for anything in her life in the first place, it makes sense she wouldn't see the justice in the same laws she's propounding be emplaced to prevent other people from sharing files, being applied to her.)

(And if you haven't heard the song, you can do so here, with a link to download the freely shared protest song in .mp3 format itself. Or you can grab a version of Dan Bull's first album, Safe, on a variety of sources, from freely shared .mp3 versions to better-quality digital downloads on iTunes and Amazon. There are also links on that site to buy the album in full with case and cover art for £5, or $7.99 from CDBaby, if you're in the US.)


Rhianon Jameson said...

The DMCA was a horrible idea to begin with, and has proven to be an even more horrible idea than most thought at the time. And it sounds as though we're in agreement on the evils of the RIAA.

What I find sad about the hard-liners is that they're taking the position that what they are selling is a commodity, not art. And that's okay: they can view their output any way they want. I don't know whether file-sharing increases or decreases sales (two economists I respect, Stan Liebowitz and Steven Margolis, have a paper in the Journal of Law & Economics claiming to show that song downloads via non-commercial methods (i.e., no payment to the performer) are about equivalent to the decline in music sales; others come to different conclusions), but many artists are happy to have their music heard and enjoyed more widely than otherwise. They want to make a living at making music, but, beyond that, they don't need to be multi-millionaires living the life of rock star excess.

Would a painter prefer her canvas be purchased by a private collector and stored in an inaccessible room where a handful of people each year see it, or by a museum open to the public? For the same amount of money paid either way, I'll hazard a guess on the latter.

But, I suppose if some performers want as fans only those who can pony up $12 for a CD, that's their prerogative. I'll save my money for the ones who really give a damn about the music.

Emilly Orr said...

I'm pretty much in the same boat, on all points. I won't lie that much of my diverse musical collection has come from MySpace artist pages, freely shared songs (like the Dresden Dolls song page, and Emilie Autumn's page), and from listen-to-this communities and blogs. I'd buy more music if I had more money to buy music with; but then, I'd also buy more products in general (there's a crowd-surfing shot that's been made into a poster of Amanda Palmer's I'm dying to own).

I'm a big fan of reciprocation, though; part of why I focus so much on music is that if I can't immediately rush out and buy the latest of X, then I can at least review them and encourage people who can to support them. Eventually, I'll be able to support them on my own.

There's a very distinct split that's slowly growing, between artists who want to make art (a good thing) and be paid for it (a good thing) but who just want enough to live comfortably, and the ones who go in expecting the nine million dollar mansion with the guitar-shaped swimming pool on the lanai deck. On the one hand, an artist--any artist--makes it big, then okay, fine, if they want the excess, they have the funds to do it.

But far more these days are focusing on what will get them to the next show...dinner at the the show after at the end of the month. This seems a much more focused, realistic goal set.

But the RIAA--and most major recording labels--seem to want to push into that vacuum of space and take any other shred of profit beyond subsistence. That's just not right. AFP not making a dime off her last contracted album? What the hell? Alice in Chains having to record independently to support themselves? This is insane.

The sooner we realize the DMCA needs to be abandoned, and new law written, the better off everyone in media will be.