Archive for March, 2007

Money, It’s a Gas

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Greed
Photo by Evoke — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Pink Floyd’s song Money might be the perfect anthem for the fight against a US Copyright Office rule change that appears to target independent webcasters, a.k.a. internet radio.

A government committee is hearing a lot of sound about the proposed performance royalty payment structure which would essentially shut down these music webcasters.

Every song has two copyrights attached: one is owned by the song writer or music publisher; the second is the “performance copyright” that is owned by the recording artist or, more likely, the artist’s record company.

All radio stations, including satellite and webcasters, pay royalties to the first category — song writers/music publishers — through organizations such as ASCAP or BMI.

Traditionally, radio stations in the US have not paid performance copyrights because broadcasters have argued that airplay is a promotional tool for the record companies that enhances their sales. (The record industry has always more than agreed — payola, anyone?)

However, since 1995 the record industry has been pushing the government to recognize that there is a difference between access to a song on the radio (analog) and on the web (digital). The latter is better for copying which hurts, rather than helps, sales. So, webcasters should be responsible for the performance royalties to be set by the US government.

No doubt cd sales are down, worldwide. No doubt iTunes commands 75% of all digital music sales. No doubt the iPod accounts for around 80% of all digital music devices. Should we doubt that independent webcasters might be helping sales? Should we doubt that this legislation would very much favor the large media companies that also stream on the web?

For those broadcasting solely on the web the US Copyright Office wants performance royalty fees to be based on the number of people listening, as opposed to the current system of royalty based solely on a percentage of revenue.

What would be the difference? According to Ann’s favorite webcasting station, Radio Paradise, their payment would jump from 12% of their revenue to 125% of revenue — in other words, they are out of business.

From their calculations, under the new rules a site with 1,000 listeners would owe $134,000 in royalties during 2007, plus $98,000 in back payments for 2006. In 2008 the fee would be $171,000 and $220,000 in 2009.

Webcasters already operate under rules designed to prevent digital copying: They are not allowed to announce upcoming songs; They are not allowed to play more than 2 consecutive songs by the same artist; They are not allowed to play more than 4 songs over a 3-hour period by the same artist; They are not allowed to offer portable recording devices. None of these restrictions is true for traditional radio companies. (Remember, “Is it Live or Is it Memorex?”)

Is this the sound of government bias against the small-time webcaster in favor of the larger multi-platform company?

To participate in a campaign to keep independent webcasters in the pink, as opposed to red, check out Bill Goldsmith’s “View from Paradise.”

To learn more about the process, check out Kurt Hanson’s Radio and Internet Newsletter.

To make art, let’s get The Buggles to do a rewrite: strike “video,” add “internet.”

- Bill Reichblum

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Interview: Ethan Zuckerman

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Photo: Ethan ZuckermanEthan Zuckerman has been dedicated to the creation of online spaces for dialogue since his work in the founding of Tripod, one of the pioneering web communities. In 2000, he founded Geekcorps, a non-profit technology volunteer corps, which pairs skilled volunteers from US and European high tech companies with businesses in emerging nations. Since 2003, he has been a fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He is also the cofounder (with Rebecca MacKinnon) of Global Voices Online, a non-profit global citizens’ media project, based upon an international network of bloggers.

Ethan talks with us about how different voices from all over the globe are coming together online around common themes and goals.

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Cultural Diplomacy: Listen

Monday, March 5th, 2007

Pere Lachaise - Vivant DenonYou know that political leaders are really making a mess of things when they feel the need to turn to artists to do their jobs.

Demos, the British think-tank closely allied with UK’s Blair and the Labour party, has issued a call to arms for “Cultural Diplomacy.” The report, written by Kirsten Bound, Rachel Briggs, John Holden, Samuel Jones, covers everything from the PGO (penetrating glimpse of the obvious) on how artistic works help build bridges between cultures to the old-time radical notion of culture not-by-but-for the government.

Example of a PGO: “Culture has a vital role to play in international relations.”

Example of old-time radical not-by-but-for government: “The UK must find ways to incentivise our cultural institutions to conduct work that contributes towards the UK’s international priorities.”

They are not talking about The Diplomats. Nor is the group proposing creating dual careers such as those of Rubens or Baron Dominique Vivant Denon. The former now known more for his artistic product, the latter earning a beautiful artistic monument for his accomplishments.

They are creating an atmosphere where cultural groups are “incentivised” by the British Foreign Office to follow, promote, and articulate government policy. (Here’s another PGO - beware of anyone who uses the term “incentivise.”)

Needless to say, this has created a lot more heat than Demos’ ideas on the “third way“ for good politics. Writing in The Independent, Tiffany Jenkins legitimately asks, “Why Should Artists be Agents for the Government?“

Of course, the strongest way to create a genuine meeting between diverse cultures, nationalistic attitudes, or religious beliefs, is through the honesty of artistic expression. How often have each of us had incredible moments of understanding and connection through a work on the stage, in a film, in a book, in a song, or through the simple act of telling a story.

However, the necessary component to this mutuality is honesty. That’s the problem with Demos’ recommendations. Once a work of art, or the artist, is perceived as a product of government bureaucracy the expression loses its immediacy, and its integrity.

Demos is not responding to a new cold-war kind of initiative where the battles take place as much in the cafes as they do in the presidential palaces.

Demos is responding to a new kind of desperation for understanding, for contact.

A few years ago, Joan Channick, a colleague in the world of theatre creation and international exchange, wrote a response to a cultural surge from the Bush administration:

There is a fundamental difference between the official approach to cultural diplomacy””where the emphasis is on the diplomacy, and culture is merely a tool or, worse, a weapon””and the approach taken by artists. Artists engage in cross-cultural exchange not to proselytize about their own values but rather to understand different cultural traditions, to find new sources of imaginative inspiration, to discover other methods and ways of working and to exchange ideas with people whose world views differ from their own. They want to be influenced rather than to influence.

So here’s my unsolicited advice to Secretary Rice: Listen to artists, who have been working internationally for all these years””collaborating artist-to-artist and artist-to-audience””finding shared values, mutual respect and understanding in the midst of difference. They are the true cultural diplomats””emphasis on the cultural.

Note Joan’s advice: Listen to the artists. That’s a lot better way to begin a relationship than telling them what to do.

- Bill Reichblum

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