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Archive for June, 2004

Monty Python does OpenBSD

Saturday, June 12th, 2004

OpenBSD has been releasing a song with each version for a few years now. The latest one really cracks me up, especially compared to past years.

Songs = Ads

Friday, June 11th, 2004

The Houston Chronicle reported today on an amazing new form of payola, record labels playing new songs as ads. Most incredibly, these song plays get counted in the tallies that determine what’s a “top ten” hit. Other radio stations see that the song has charted and then they play it because it seems popular.

Let’s not forget that the old kind of pay-for-play is still in full effect– every major label pays ‘independent promoters’ when they release new music and the promoters then pay radio stations to play the songs. Somehow, payola, which used to be a scandal, has become an accepted part of how the music industry works, but it’s just as outrageous now as it was in the 50’s and 60’s when Congress first tried to make it illegal. here’s more on how it works.

Pay-for-play is the singlest biggest weapon that the major labels use to keep independent music off of the radio. And every time someone buys a CD from a major label, they’re propping up the payola machine.


Thursday, June 10th, 2004

This weekend, just down the road from Downhill Battle HQ in Worcester, MA is FANZILLACON, a giant fan film festival and the first one that’s been held in the United States. Fan films are homemade (but increasingly professional-looking) movies based on Hollywood movies. The Fanzillacon Fan Film Showcase will give you the idea. As you might have guessed, fan films and fan fiction can run into some tricky copyright situations. There are a lot of parallels to sampling in music, for example.

Many copyright holders, like George Lucas (Star Wars), are very flexible about fan fiction and films because it keeps their biggest customers happy. That’s fine, to a certain extent, but there are two troubling issues that it presents. The first is practical: what happens when fan fiction or film is unflattering to the original work? What happens is that the lawyers come out in force. So while the system works ok in benign situations, it breaks down right when things are getting interesting and when free speech is at stake. Which brings us to a second, more general concern: any system that allows copyright holders to selectively enforce copyright based on their own commercial interests, is going to have chilling effetcs and be bad for innovation. Selective enforcement is more insidious than an absolute prohibition because the appearance of flexibility makes it unlikely that there will be strong push for real Congressional consideration of the issues at stake. It seems pretty clear that non-commercial works inspired by other works do not discourage innovation or creativity (the goals that copyright is intended to protect) and should, therefore, be a part of our cultural stew. You know you’re glad that TROOPS exists.

Even if you’ve never heard of fans films, we really recommend coming to Fanzillacon if you live near Worcester, if only because there will be so many people there who are more excited about this event than anything they’ve ever been too– and that will be something to see. Nick and Holmes and other Downhill Battle associates are definitely going to stop by to see what’s going on. Maybe we’ll see you by the green screen special effects dojo, featuring Star Trek characters battling Star Wars characters (seriousy, I’m not making this up).

For more background, here’s an article about copyright and fan films that gets at some of the key issues and here’s another about the Harry Potter website crackdown.

Where did all the samples go?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004

There’s a great interview with Chuck D and Hank Shocklee right here at Stay Free! Magazine. Another first-hand reminder that creative, collage sampling didn’t disappear from hip-hop because it went out of style, but because it just got way too expensive and legally cumbersome. It’s not hyperbole when we say that the major labels shut down an art form. (but don’t worry, we’re gonna get it back)

Letters to Editors

Monday, June 7th, 2004

Write a Music Activism Letter to the Editor

Crunch time for Low Power FM

Monday, June 7th, 2004

We recently got a press release from Prometheus Radio Project about how senators John McCain and Patrick Leahy are co-sponsoring a bill that would bring lowpower radio stations to thousands more communities across the U.S. That is great news, and you should act now to support them. But the fact that Patrick Leahy is also the co-sponsor of the Pirate Act raises an interesting issue.
(An unrelated note: all coders should check out Page 2 right now – click on the tab above.)

First, some background:

When Congress kicked off the Low Power FM (LPFM) process in 2000, the corporate opponents of LPFM managed to create bogus fears about interference. It was really pretty shameless. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB – the RIAA of radio) made a “demonstration” CD that they passed around to members of congress: nice classical music cutting out into white noise (“uh oh, honey, it’s static from a low power broadcaster!). All of these claims were transparently garbage. Low power doesn’t have as many potential interference problems since, well, it’s low power, and every LPFM transmitter had to be high-quality and inspected by the FCC, so these weren’t bootleg devices. The radio giants just didn’t want the competition. But their cynical propaganda and quite earnest campaign contributions prevailed, and they snuck the “Radio Preservation Act” into an appropriations bill, for the most part stealing (or, hopefully, postponing) LPFM advocates’ victory (for more info see Free Press).

Thanks to this arbitrary law, LPFM stations can only apply for frequencies that are separated by 3 channels from established stations, which kept LPFM out of areas where the radio dial was crowded (i.e. most American cities). Luckily the bill also assigned $2M to study this potential for interference from LPFM.

So now, two million taxpayer-dollars later, the study has found zero significant risk of interference, and John McCain thinks its a good time to trash the “Radio Preservation Act” and bring LPFM stations into urban areas. Even the FCC agrees. It is hugely important that we win this one: independent music needs payola-free radio, and communities need more local voices on the air. Widespread LPFM is to Clear Channel what filesharing is to the RIAA. If you live in the U.S., you should call your senators and tell them to support this bill (S 2505). Do it right now.

You might recognize Senator Leahy from our posts about another Senate bill, the PIRATE Act. There’s an irony here, and it stems from a strange kind of tunnel-vision that’s overtaken the left lately. I hoped to get to it in this post, but I’m short on time so it’ll have to wait ’till tomorrow.

For now, more reading on LPFM from Wired: Stealing back the airwaves and Senators back low-power radio.

Community Media Platform

Monday, June 7th, 2004

I talked with Ahmi Wolf yesterday, who we first met when he emailed us a few months back about our iTunes page. Anyway, he’s up to this new thing called Community Media Platforms, which is a general framework for nifty tools that let people share media. The first such tool is bass-station, a WiFi enabled computer-in-a-boombox (check out the pictures) that anybody within range can upload or download music to, and even play music off of. The second is the CoDeck which is a similar device, oriented more towards video, wrapped in the shell of a classy old Betamax VCR.

Anyway, “Sharing Media” is one of those academic turns of phrase that conceals the beauty of the thing it describes. So if “tools to share media” doesn’t evoke much for you, it’s not your fault. But take a second to think about how awesome it is that a growing percentage of the stuff we watch and listen to is delivered and even created by our peers. For the past 70 years mass media has been a pipe pointed at us: filthy rich 50 year-olds hiring moderately rich 27 year-olds to guess what 15 year-olds want to watch and listen to. Now it’s changing, and that can only be a good thing.

Most people aren’t going to stop watching TV. But as open platforms grow, the “TV” diet will increasingly include things like Gi Joe PSAs (inexplicably hilarious), the Meatrix (political), Fan Films (nerdy) or first-run movies camcorded in noisy theatres where everybody’s laughing and yelling at the screen (does that count as a remix?), or skateboarding dogs (simply awesome).

People look to mass media to satiate their imagination and give them viacarious experiences of life’s richness. Documentation of other people doing crazy shit should be plenty enough to fullfill that. And why not be fulfilled by others’ earnestness instead of some company trying to manipulate you into buying stuff?

Admittedly, the value of all this is intangible. Nobody’s going to get smarter, more political, or (certainly not) more highbrow overnight. But the world will start to have more texture, and fewer mind-numbing commercials. Pop culture will turn into an actually popular culture.

For some open TV platforms in natal stages check out: Xbox Media Center , MythTV, and the Hauppage MediaMVP. And if you’re a coder or designer interested in helping to make the p2p phenomenon jump to everybody’s television, get in touch.

Stay tuned for another video-related announcement tomorrow.

Battle Labs Needs You!

Sunday, June 6th, 2004

Things are really starting to roll at Downhill Battle Labs this week. We’ve released the source code for Battle Cart and Local Ink. They’re both in use on our site and represent the first public offering of what has been a lot of internal work. We still need developers to help out, and we’ve also had several people email asking how they can get involved.

Here’s how you can help:

The major thing we need doesn’t require programming or web design skills, so it isn’t always obvious: We need people to find bugs, suggest features and improvements, and generally give us feedback on what we’re doing right and what needs to improve.

The second major thing we need is programmers and web designers who can take that feedback and turn it into code. Building a community of users and developers who can submit a patch or two here and there is more important than finding full time developers at this point.

Another thing we need that people don’t think about because it’s non-technical is writing. We need people to write documentation for our software and write web pages that will really get people excited about our projects and make them want to help out.

If you’re looking to get involved more heavily, we still need that too. We could use full time developers on “Local Ink” and “Battle Torrent.” The “Donation Bats” software and the “Downhill Battle Chapter” site software are still in the very early stages. If you’re looking to get involved in these things, send us an email: we have lots of plans that we haven’t had the time to write out.

There are lots of ways to help. It all comes down to you. How much time do you have? What kind of involvement would you like? What are your skills? What project on our list excites you or maybe overlaps with some other need you have?

Letters To Editors

Thursday, June 3rd, 2004

Today we’re launching the first piece of a series of tools to help us turn Downhill Battle into an organizing force. To The Editor is a new tool that let’s you send a letter to the editor at your local newspapers (US only for now). The major labels have controlled the discussion about the future of music from top to bottom, but now we’re going to go bottom-up to redefine the issue:

Send a Letter to Your Local Newspapers.

This tool uses our new software, Local Ink, developed by Downhill Battle Labs. It’s a simple but powerful way to connect people with their local media outlets, and we’ll be making the software free and open-source. Organizations are paying thousands of dollars for this kind of functionality– now they don’t have to. That’s how the playing field gets leveled on the internet, and it’s exactly what we’re working towards in the music industry.