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Archive for October, 2003

Letters Hide Lawsuit Targets

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

WE HAVEN’T NOTED IT specifically in this space, but the RIAA’s new tactic of letters-before-lawsuits (they call it an effort to “go the extra mile”) is simply an attempt to keep the press and the public from finding out who they’re targeting. The major labels have sent letters to 200 people saying: pay a settlement or we’ll file a lawsuit. That’s not a compromise; it puts people in exactly the same position as the previous round: pay up or we’ll see you in court. It’s true that some of the people targeted the first time around felt their privacy had been invaded by all the press calls they received before the lawsuit even arrived, so cutting out the press does lessen that particular problem, and it is a serious concern. However, it also cuts a lot of people off from finding out where to turn. Many of the families that we spoke to when we were setting up the Peer-to-Peer Legal Defense Fund had no idea where to find a qualified lawyer and appreciated being directed to the EFF for some guidance. This time, similar families will be left adrift and will end up just going along with whatever the RIAA tells them. Of course, for the record companies it works out perfectly: the public hears about the suits and is still scared of being targeted, but doesn’t hear as many personal stories that show how cruel the lawsuit crusade really is.

p2pnet.net‘s Jon Newton has moved the site to a new host and says “it’s still not quite Business as Usual” but he expects everything will be back to normal in a few days. He’s also hinting at a new site that he’s going to be bringing on line within the week that he says “should interest everyone involved in this battle.” Stay posted.

We’ve got a new handout from Eberks on the flyer page, which she distributed at different CMJ events in New York this weekend. Bring a stack of them to the next show you get to (perfect for any event with sleazy record industry wannabes).

RIAA Overcounts Shared Music Files

Sunday, October 26th, 2003

WHY DO SO MANY of the people being sued by the RIAA insist that they
were sharing well under 1,000 major label songs even though the RIAA
says it’s targeting “major offenders” with over 1,000? We were a
little puzzled by this when we kept hearing from lawsuit victims with
500, 600, or 700 songs. We assumed that the RIAA was misleading the
press or trying to trick file sharers.

But according to one of the lawyers who is defending several people
who’ve been sued, the RIAA was actually just sloppy in
gathering evidence. Apparently, the RIAA is singling out people who
have over 1,000 files of any kind in their shared folder, even when
they aren’t all songs. One guy who had about 500 songs in his shared
folder was using Windows Media Player to listen to his mp3s. The
software automatically downloaded cover art for each song and saved it
in the same folder. When the RIAA went looking for people to attack,
they saw 1,000 total files and put him on the hit list. The take home
lesson: never rule out incompetency when trying to understand the
behavior of the record labels.

This was a great article 10 days ago in the Philadelphia Enquirer about what happens to art when the idea of copyright expands way beyond it’s original goal of encouraging innovation and starts to impede it:

“Artists in all fields are asking, ‘Is this going to get me sued?’,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. “When that is the first question the artist is asking about a work, we’ve already retarded the creative process.”

Read it.

Holmes is going out to Portland, Oregon on Monday to visit Trish. If anyone who lives out there would like to go out and wheatpaste some flyers or just meet up, email him.

Apple Gives in to Critics

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

NOW, THIS IS INTERESTING. We’ve hardly touched the iTunes iSbogus page since we first put it up almost two months ago, but we still get emails every day complimenting or criticizing it and we try to respond to all of them. One of our major points on the iTunes page is that Apple misleads customers when it says that the iTunes Music Store is “fair to the artists”. But two days ago, a guy wrote to us and said that he couldn’t find anywhere on the Apple website where they make that claim. We went looking for our original source, but we couldn’t find it anywhere either and we were pretty sure that we didn’t just make it up. After some self doubt and then some googling, we figured it out: when Apple updated their iTunes page a few days ago, they completely removed the claim that iTunes is fair to artists! Now we were hoping for some more concrete improvements, but at least this is a little more honest. We’ve just announced this small victory on the iTunes page: take a look.

Ben at Magnetbox wants to enter his brilliant RIAA Radar in the Webby Awards. RIAA Radar tells you whether an album was released by an RIAA record label which helps you avoid funding the music industry’s dirty deeds. It’s a crucial tool for fighting the major labels and it’s a perfect example of how the internet can be used to get information to consumers that they couldn’t find anywhere else. The entrance fee for the awards is $120 and Ben is asking for donations. Give him a couple bucks, winning would give a real boost to RIAA opposition. And look for a hot RIAA Radar / Downhill Battle collaboration in the next couple weeks.

Rest in peace, Elliot Smith. Fan site memorial.

Stop RIAA Lawsuits Boycott

Monday, October 20th, 2003

THE SECOND ROUND of lawsuits has begun, and the Stop RIAA Lawsuits site is up and running with over 120 websites signed to the RIAA boycott so far. We went to Best Buy yesterday to pass out a few flyers and take a picture. One guy who we gave a flyer to actually approached a Best Buy employee with the Time Warner CD he was holding and said “Could you put this back? I don’t want it anymore.” Seriously, it’s that easy. A good tactic is to slide a bunch between CDs in the racks before you start handing them out to people face-to-face. That way if the store kicks you out, there’s still flyers in the racks waiting for customers to stumble across. Reading this at work? Print up 20 pages right now, and give them to your kid for his or her next trip to the mall stopRIAAlawsuits.com.

All Black Top Ten

Thursday, October 16th, 2003

LAST WEEK, ALL TEN of the top ten singles in the US were by black artists, the first time that’s ever happened (article). If you’ve listened to commercial radio in the past 5 years, you know that hip-hop is by far the most innovative and creative pop genre today.

Mainstream hip-hop is also showing that alternatives to the bloated major label artist development track are more effective. The biggest new rap acts (Eminem, 50 Cent) are being signed by other rappers, not by A&R guys taking a shot in the dark. Rappers are establishing reputations with underground mixtapes and shows; the best can filter up through clubs and radio DJs until they catch the ear of a successful artist. A big part of why major label musicians get such a tiny cut from record sales is that the labels spend millions of dollars finding, signing, and ‘developing’ new acts only to drop a majority of them within a year. The labels are so inefficient that anything less than half a million CDs sold is considered a loss. At a time when it’s never been easier to make money from small CD runs, major labels continue to rely on an outdated, top-heavy approach.

And always on the lookout for ways to squash creativity and innovation, the major labels have started launching raids on stores that carry mixtapes. Not only does this crackdown cripple small hip-hop record stores and crush an art form (look at what the label cartel has already done to choke sample based music), but shutting down a free pipeline to popular new acts is business idiocy. The only silver lining is that this idiocy might be what finally brings down the majors and saves music. Don’t worry, we’ll be doing our part too.

Weed Distribution Model

Thursday, October 16th, 2003

WE ARE VERY IMPRESSED by a new music distribution model called Weed. Using Weed artists can distribute songs freely over peer-to-peer networks and fans can listen to each song 3 times with no charge. If you like what you hear, you can buy the song for 99 cents– %50 goes to the artist, 35% goes to the people who shared the file (seriously), and Weed takes 15%. It uses DRM (digital rights management), but we’ve been won over by the cleverness of the model. While all the other so-called business models are trying to fight or manipulate p2p, Weed takes advantage of it. And as a general rule, you can tell the shady online music ventures from the respectable ones simply by seeing whether they are honest and open about where the money goes (Apple, we’re still waiting to hear from you). Try Weed.

Folk-pop musician Scott Andrew and the Walkingbirds has teamed up with Downhill Battle to support the victims of the RIAA lawsuits. When someone buys a copy of his new CD "Where I’ve Been", they can choose to pay extra above the $5 cost to be donated to the Peer-to-Peer Legal Defense Fund. Many people are giving double the asking price and Scott has already raised almost $300 for the fund. This is a great example of what happens when musicians have a real connection to their fans– support flows.

As you can see, we’ve started expanding the site (horizontally, for now). Forums will be added soon, we’ve been tinkering away. By the way, is anyone interested in doing some outreach at the CMJ music festival in New York? Drop us a line.

iTunes iSbogus: Napster Sucks Edition

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

LAWSUITS OR NOT, major label CD sales will continue to plummet. Last week, worldwide sales were reported to be down 11% in the first half of 2003. For a well developed industry, that is a simply devastating figure. The major labels are also getting caught in a downward spiral: CD sales fall, CD stores close, buying CDs becomes harder and harder, CDs sales fall some more, more stores close, and so on. The only way the majors can try to preserve their iron grip on musicians and fans is by forcing their way onto the internet. And today is a big day for that push because the new “Napster 2.0” is being unveiled for the first time.

The new Napster has nothing to do with the old Napster. The original Napster was free, peer-to-peer music downloads. The new Napster is pay, centralized music downloads. Roxio simply bought the Napster name after the company collapsed and slapped the logo on an iTunes style pay-for-download service. They hope the Napster name will get them some attention and that maybe all those former Napster users will have some weird brand loyalty. Of course, what bothers us is that, like iTunes, Napster helps the major labels continue to exploit artists and rip off fans. You pay for music that you could find for free and 90-100% of what you pay is siphoned off to middlemen. It’s ridiculous. So we figure, if Roxio can slap the Napster logo on top of iTunes, we can too. After minutes of effort, we give you the iTunes iSbogus: Napster Sucks Edition.

Our other new project is a coalition of websites that will be calling for a one week boycott of RIAA music when the next round of lawsuits are filed. Of course, at Downhill Battle the major label boycott lasts all year long, but we think that having a one week boycott can bring together a lot of different websites that oppose the suits. If you have a website or blog, you should sign on– when the press reports that a new round of lawsuits has been filed we want them to hear that a chorus of websites is calling for a boycott. Take a look at stopRIAAlawsuits.com and join us.

Still the most important thing going on is the Defense Fund. If you haven’t visited it yet, take a look at the quotes from people being sued and consider making a donation.

Go to the Defense Fund