Tag Archives: music

It’s got a good beat!

Damn my forgetfulness! In my banning things post I forgot to include my gag about the irony of the UK government defending something which can be described as ‘wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats‘ (if you’re under 30 or over 45 and don’t get this, trust me: it’s fucking hilarious. Really).

The Mosquito sound also randomly reminded of cake and make me wonder if those crazy kids are getting off on it (see 4.30 into to video):

IP Wars: Episode Two

Thanks to all concerned for all the positive comments I’ve had regarding my post last week on intellectual property. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the response despite the article’s glaring flaws.

One of the things I meant to write about, which Jock reminds us of (via Mises Blog) was the whole Radiohead/In Rainbows phenomenon. Amazon currently rates this album, released this week, at 2 in its music sales chart, and 1 in rock and indie. Not bad for something being given away for free a few weeks ago (speaking personally, I really didn’t think much of the album being a pre-Kid A kind of guy, but each to their own).

It does make me wonder however if the future of physical music purchasing lies in the 70s. Back in the days of vinyl, bands would often turn their LPs into wonderful must-haves, with large, glorious artwork, books and sleevenotes. The scrappy booklet that can be found inside most CDs doesn’t compare. Already all major releases (including Radiohead’s) have a limited edition; at what point will these become standard issue?

Doctor Vee also highlights another omission: the argument in 2007 about whether or not to extend the copyright of recordings, lead by the rather deep pocketed Paul McCartney and Cliff Richard. He points to a paper by Rufus Pollock arguing that the optimal length of copyright from an economic viewpoint should be around 15 years. I haven’t read the full paper yet but it looks interesting.

Anyway, it made a nice change from the endless strings of memes and goodwill messages that dominate the blogosphere at this time of year.

Intellectual Property – the big 21st century faultline?

Eqypt are set to pass a law forcing royalties to be paid to, erm, Egypt, every time anyone makes a copy of a pyramid or an ancient Egyptian relic. This presumably means I’ll owe them money every time I press the arrow (^) key. But of course, this isn’t the first time a government has passed a special law to protect a specific piece of intellectual property: after all in the UK we have given Peter Pan protected status specifically with a view to bankrolling the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and who could object to giving money to sick children?

This is a rather extreme example of the what is increasingly emerging as a major faultline in civilisation which seems set to dominate much of the 21st century. On the one hand we have global multi-media empires which look set to exploit – and extend – IP as much as possible. What some economists call “superstar economics” means that a piece of IP – pretty much any piece it seems can be exploited for millions, even billions of euros at a global level. On the other hand, there is the open source movement, the idea that the future lies in collaboration and sharing. Largely voluntary movements such as Creative Commons may seem benign enough, but Bill Gates has already denounced open source as a new form of communism, and beyond the obvious face offs such as Napster, we have yet to see how more sophisticated ideas about opening up other mediums and industries might challenge the status quo. One thing to look out for in my opinion is how the movement for opening up access to public data develops. Already there are rumblings objecting to the idea that people should have free access to something that the government has been flogging to private companies for years. Crown copyright has effectively lined the pockets of companies such as Dod’s for years; what will lobbyists do if large amounts of what companies such as this do suddenly becomes available to every Tom, Dick and Harriet? Somehow I doubt Dod’s is going to take this lying down.

One thing is sure, the traditional industries are feeling insecure and starting to behave in a manner not unlike a cornered animal. The ridiculous behaviour of the Performing Rights Society, described on this blog last month, is far from unique. Buy or rent a DVD, or go to the cinema, and it is now par for the course to essentially accused of theft by the very company you have just increased the coffers of in the form of their insulting and bossy FACT warnings (to be fair, their recent cinema adverts are somewhat gentler and might even be accused of having a sense of humour, if you don’t mind being talked down to by a cartoon rodent).

Over the past few days there have been a number of articles in the press about the music industry (and now MPs) taking a stance against websites such as eBay selling on tickets. We are now to understand eBay and the like as being virtual “pimps” – an analogy which is fine so long as you accept that the same basic description applies to estate agents (indeed any kind of agent) and indeed anyone working as a middle man in any industry (including, erm, record companies).

Harvey Goldsmith is proposing legislation to make it illegal to resell tickets to music gigs along similar lines to the existing legislation that applies to football matches. Yet this legislation is there for a very specific reason: it is designed to prevent football hooligans from buying their way onto their rivals’ terraces. Whether you approve or disapprove of this legislation, its intent is to stop people from being maimed and even killed; Goldsmith is calling for nothing more than the protection against their own gullibility.

Much of what seems to be developing appears to be perfectly legitimate. For example, what’s wrong with creating a futures market for ticket sales? It sounds like a perfectly good service for sports and music fans.

The solution to all this seems to be obvious to me: rather than trying to shut down the auctioneers, who are only providing services at the price people are willing to pay, why not sell all tickets in this way in the first place? The music industry appears to take great delight at how quickly they sell out of mega-gigs, yet all that ensures is that the tickets go to the most enthusiastic, the luckiest and the most organised. The average punter loses out at every turn. Surely auctioning tickets would not only ensure that the company (and artist) gets the right price, but would limit the potential resell value. We don’t need new laws, we just need new business models.

(The music industry in particular doesn’t seem to get market economics. If it isn’t complaining that the value of tickets to gigs is to high, it is complaining that the value of CDs is too low. The CEOs of Sony, EMI et al wouldn’t look out of place in the management board of a tractor factory in Stalin’s Russia)

But it doesn’t end there. Both global patent and copyright laws have been extended in recent decades. The original idea behind such laws appears to have been forgotten and pure greed has taken its place. Globalisation means that the earnings potential from a new idea has massively increased; yet at the same time we’ve artificially increased it further still, and long lives will extend this still further. To take one example, J.K. Rowling, a rich woman who can afford the very best in healthcare, is likely to have a very long life. Let’s assume she lives to 100, in 2065. The copyright on her books will stay with her estate until 2135. That means that her great-great-great grandchildren will still be profiting from their ancestor’s books. Is there really any justification for that? I’m all for an artist’s work being protected, but when a work becomes a global brand, doesn’t there come a point when the money made from it is no longer reflective of that work’s value and more based on the value of the marketing behind it? Doesn’t there come a point where these laws no longer protect creativity but stifle it?

Compare Batman to Robin Hood. Anyone can make a Robin Hood movie; the character is in public domain. To make a Batman film (or comic for that matter), you need the permission of Time-Warner. Who does this serve? Isn’t Batman now an iconic enough figure in popular imagination in such a way that is bigger than any corporation?

It is, I readily acknowledge, a moot point. But I’m less concerned about the here and now than I am about the prospect of a century of corporations owning vast catalogues of intellectual properties archived from the 20th century and trying to find ever more creative ways of exploiting them. As a civilisation, we’ve never had to face such a privatisation of ideas before. Technology will make it easier for corporations such as Disney to take legal action against anyone using their IP without permission – on the web and, without wanting to get too sci-fi here, ultimately in your mind? – yet what moral rights do they have over such cartoon characters that have become part of our folk memory?

It strikes me that all this could take a turn for the much worse and inevitably there will be a backlash. And ultimately this is deadly serious because it goes far beyond books, music and cartoon characters; much of the value of our stocks and shares are rooted in intellectual property; challenging the laws allowing Marvel to keep hold of Spider-Man could have enormous consequences for instance. And that means huge vested interests are at stake here.

As with land, I can’t help but feel that the debates on intellectual property that were raging at the turn of the last century will increasingly be revisited in the not so distant future. At stake is nothing less than who owns our very culture.

Who is closer to the heart of the nation – Bowie or God?

Brian Eno and Nick Clegg with da yootI find these so-called Clegg gaffes rather perplexing. I’m not a great believer in either Bowie or God, although I do at least respect the former.

It’s interesting to see that as far as the Telegraph is concerned, the Bowie and Pogues gaffes were far more serious than admitting to atheism, which only goes to show how times change (note also that while the Telegraph feels the need to point out who Nick Clegg is in the caption accompanying their photo, they take it for granted that everyone knows what Brian Eno looks like, even though he is rather less hirsute than he used to be).

I have to admit – I’m human – that I find it rather odd for the fan of a recording artist to list a greatest hits compilation as their favourite album or for a non-Martian to have never heard Fairytale in New York. The latter provoked an immediate reaction from one of my friends listening to him on the radio who texted me immediately (while I was sitting next to Clegg in fact, and I was planning to ask him about it if he had stuck around for a bit longer).

What’s most confusing though, is that painting Clegg as a young fogey simply won’t do. Young fogeys don’t set fire to cacti collections, drive around America with a Fistful of Theroux or hang out with Christopher Hitchens dressed as circus freaks. It just strikes me as odd that he wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions without trouble. My personal theory is that it was down to stress.

But casting Eno as a “youth” adviser? I’m not sure about the efficacy of having a youth adviser at all, but getting a man six months off from his sixtieth birthday strikes me as particularly odd. Eno strikes me as a pretty positive spokesperson for his own generation, the boomers who are slowly waking up to the fact that mortality applies to even them. Why not make him an adviser for that generation?

On God, I have to say Clegg’s first answer was better than his second. In this respect, it is a moot point whether we have made progress from Ming Campbell, who always seemed to get his answers correct on the second attempt.

His first answer, on Five Live, was a straight “no”. The follow up, a statement coming from his office, gushed about his agnosticism and emphasised that his children we being brought up Catholic. Without the clarification, this story would have had far fewer legs. With the clarification it makes him look like the epitome of the vacillating, anything-you-want-guv career politician. It would seem that Clegg’s instincts remain sharper than his office’s. The same office that nearly plucked defeat from the jaws of victory earlier this week (it’s called a P45 Nick).

It does put all this Christianophobia guff into perspective. Why should a politician feel the need to bend their knee to the pope in this way if we live in such an anti-religious society?

Another MP, who shall remain nameless, sent me their Christmas card. The front of it is a perfectly charming nativity scene. On the back, there is a still more endearing and funny picture of a polar bear which came runner up. I can’t help but feel that this polar bear lost out purely due to political correctness rather than any artistic merit, but where are the likes of Mark Pritchard denouncing it?

More PRS balls

As a follow up to my blog post a couple of weeks ago, ‘Ron‘ from Linksway Hotel has written the following:

I have just been contacted by this society and been advised that I need to pay some £1800 per annum for hotel guests to view and listen to music in their rooms.

We pay for a Television Licence for the hotel.

The law states that once you have reserved a room in a hotel, it becomes your private residence,so any viewing of tv or listening to radio is deemed to be private.

It seems to me that someone at the PRS has gone a bit bonkers. I also received an email from an MP a couple of weeks ago saying that they had received a considerable amount of casework about this issue and was pursuing it further. Watch this space.

Performing Rights – should everyone be sued?

My office has just had a phone call from the Performing Rights Society (asking for a company that ceased to exist 10 years ago, natch) demanding that we take our a PRS license on the basis that some people in the office listen to personal MP3 players. Sounds like crap to me, but their leaflet is even more vague:

By law under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, if you use copyright music in public (i.e. outside of the home), you must first obtain permission from every writer or composer whose music you intend to play.

Essentially they are asserting that every time you walk out of your front door and put your iPod on you are breaching copyright. I’ve never thought about this before, maybe that is the letter of the law, but in that case isn’t the law an arse?

Alex Salmond: flying the flag or flying a kite?

It’s good to see Alex Salmond reminding us quite so quickly about why the Lib Dems would have made a terrible, terrible mistake to go into coalition with him. He knows he can’t get this plan through Parliament, so why bother? The answer to that question is too obvious for me to bother answering. Stick to claymores, Alex.

But fundamentally, why would Scotland want the burden that would be its own Olympic Team? Every four years Team GB returns from the Olympics with a handful of medals and the media eviscerates them for not having enough. If Salmond gets his way, Team WLOGB would not be noticeably affected, but Team Scotland would come back with even less. Just what would this do for Scottish pride?

It is fair enough that they insist on having their own football team. It keeps Del Amitri in work, anyway. But why is it such an indignity for the Scots to cheer on their fellow Brits every once in a while? What happened to all this guff about Salmond wanting to be England’s friend?

Now Eurovision on the other hand, that might be a different prospect. If we’re doomed to be screwed over by the Balkans, why not Balkanise our own entries and take advantage of the voting system? We wouldn’t be able to trust the perfidious Scots to vote the right way, but with our Skype accounts we could all rig the Scottish phone-in to give England votes. In any case the incomer English population would probably help, just like those pesky Russians in Estonia rigged that vote. Salmond could do worse than to wash his hands of all responsibility for Flying the Flag.

And, of course, Del Amitri might get some work on the side (on a semi-serious note, I suspect the Proclaimers would kick serious arse at Eurovision: how about it, lads?).