Rapidly downhill

Friday, June 16, 2006

What to watch for

The major american pirate-hunter organization, the RI*A, have not only started to crack down on home videos where music is playing in the background, they have also found a number of "piracy hotspots" that they will now presumably raze and level to protect their earnings. These hotspots are Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, San Diego and San Francisco. If you live in one of these cities, you are scum and hereby warned. Bulldozers will appear when you least expect them.
On their home page the courageous vampire hunters publish a list of things to watch for when buying music. Let us see...
  • Remember the Adage “You Get What You Pay For”: Even if you are hoping to get your favorite albums at a discount, new or used, extremely low prices might indicate pirated product.
This means "It SHOULD be expensive, and inexpensive music is suspect". The punk movement made a point of releasing cheap records that the fans could afford. NOT the corporate punk bands, of course (see reason above), but the small independent bands. The idea that something inexpensive has to be wrong is perverted on so many levels that I nearly cringe as I see it.
  • Watch for Compilations that are “Too Good to Be True": Many pirates make illegal "dream compilation" CDs, comprised of songs by numerous artists on different record labels.
The very thought that record labels could cooperate to give customers what they want is completely alien to the RI*A. This viewpoint is rather antisocial, but I refrain from using the word "psychopathic". Damn, I wrote "refrain". This probably makes me a pirate...
  • Read the Label: If the true name and address of the manufacturer are not shown, it is most likely not legitimate product. These products often do not contain a bar code. Furthermore, if the record label listed is a company you’ve never heard of, that should be another warning sign.
There should be three large record companies and anything coming from a non-infamous company is probably illegal. "True name" is an interesting concept, considering what some record companies are named. How about "Stiff little fingers" for instance? Sound like a real company to you?
Scanning and pasting on a bar code on the artwork is so simple compared to actually mastering a CD that any time a barcode is missing you can bet it has been omitted on purpose. A barcode is not a thing of beauty, and a cover artist pleased with his work would probably not foul it by pasting a barcode on it. So if something has a barcode, it's probably a result of corporate greed overruling artistic expression.
  • Look for Suspicious Packaging: Carefully look over the packaging and beware of products that do not look genuine. Packages with misspelled words, blurry graphics, weak or bad color should all raise red flags. Inferior quality print work on the disc surface or slip sleeve cover, as well as the lack of original artwork and/or missing label, publisher, and distributor logos on discs and packaging, are usually clear indicators that the product is pirated. CDs with loose or no shrink wrap, or cheaply made insert cards, often without liner notes or multiple folds, are probably not legitimate product.
Back to the punks again. Punk record covers were more often than not assembled from newspaper clippings, photocopied on dirt-cheap equipment and folded by the band members themselves. The result did not look professional, so we can safely assume these musicians were in fact crooks stealing money from the major labels. A wonder they were not outlawed. Well, the Sex Pistols were of course banned from airplay, and US punk clubs were raided by police more often than not but no actual law was passed against people performing music without paying 80% to major corporations. This is just about the only law they have not managed to pass. Yet.
Shrink wrap is another fine angle - a wrapped disc cannot be played in the store to check out what the band sounds like. This means that all your choices (your "favourites" as they helpfully state it in point #1) are based on big media input. That means MTV (famous for "MTV Cribs", "Fabulous life of various assh*les" and "Pimp my ride" and other highly musical entertainment). If not MTV, then Clear Ch*nnel, owners of several thousand radio stations broadcasting the same pap all around the world. If all you listen to is top-twenty hits, chances are you are not listening to your favourite music since you have never had any choice to begin with.
  • Watch for Product Being Sold in Unusual Places: CDs sold in non-traditional venues, like flea markets or street corners, are probably not legitimate.
Buying used CD:s is not yet illegal either, but subtle hints have been made that it will be outlawed in time. Nintendo made an attempt to make resale of their cartridges illegal, and if they had not been laughed out of court you bet the recording industry would have been next in line.
Street vendors of used CD:s beware! Your days of callously robbing the industry are numbered.
Ten years ago buying music at gas stations was uncommon here. Now a huge percentage of record sales are made as people pay for the gas and see something interesting in a bin. The (knee)jerk response of the recording industry was probably to ban gasoline, because a gas station was an unusual venue...
  • Trust your ear: The sound quality of pirate CDs is often poor or inconsistent.
The musical qualities of various boy bands and other "studio frankenstein" projects leave lots to be desired too. Anyone remember a 90:s one-hit-wonder called "the New R*dicals"? He, it was just one guy, had a hit based on a bizarre half-yodel reminiscent of the Cr*nberries. It had novelty factor that faded the sixth time you played the song. In those days "M" in MTV stood for "Music" and they plugged it for weeks.
I could have murdered the suit that OK:d that record. This goes for tons of no-talent rap as well. Really, guys, if all you have to say is "I have a big penis and I like to shoot people", by all means hit the streets and walk around with no pants and shoot bypassers at random. Just don't force us to listen to you yap about it in boring monotones.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What price a politician?

How much does a politician cost to maintain and feed?
The question pops up because of the amazing things that have happened to copyright as a concept in the last two decades. Copyright can be extended indefinitely, apparently. Every time Mickey M*se is about to slip into the public domain some handy senator pops up and suggests an increase of 25 years or so. The US Patent office rubberstamps everything that comes in, handing out patents on absolutely anything and letting the various parties fight it out in court instead of doing its job and finding out if a certain invention actually is an invention, and whether it is useful or just a pipe dream. Thus, we have insanities like patenting or copyrighting the sound of an engine, for instance. Amazing. All that bureucratic effort put to such splendid use.
In what way did these changes make sense to the lawmakers? Follow the money, who profited from these asinine changes?
In sweden we suddenly have a debate about copyright and its application. It is a year too late, but no-one was interested in the public opinion when the current (all but unenforceable) law was passed. Now it's election year, so now it's an issue.
What people have found out is that the record industry, which apparently is the only industry more corrupt than the heavyweight boxing establishment, has been dictating its own laws to our politicians for nigh on three decades. For some reason, they have made politicians sit still and write laws on their behalf, including such gems as the "cassette tax" that has since been expanded to cover all media that can be used to store music.
Let's examine that one for a second. A tax on anything that can store music (DVDR:s, CDR:s, cassettes, MP3 players and soon to come: hard drives) to compensate music corporations for their losses due to piracy. Except that no-one knows how many of these CDR:s or DVDR:s are actually used to copy music. What data is there to say that the music industry actually loses revenue? None that the general public has seen.
So what does it take for a private corporation to invent a tax on goods, to benefit itself? What kind of ball-twister grip do they have on the lawmakers? Is some old juror in the habit of wearing ladies underwear, or is it simply a case of buying enough vacation trips for the right people? Maybe a week in Belize or the virgin islands may ease the passing of a special tax? The music biz has been inflating record prices since the seventies and there has never been a crackdown on this behaviour. Even oil companies do not get away with this blatant rigging of prices.
What do we get for this tax? Is copying of music legal, now that I pay for it? No. So, what am I paying for and who gets the money? What do I get in return for my money? Insults in the form of "anti-piracy" ads on tv and in newspapers.
Now that the debate is actually on, all these well-conditioned politicians and a lot of what spies call useful idiots start all their arguments with the question: "but, how do we make sure everyone gets paid?". Shouldn't the question be "how can the record industry set up new payment systems that actually work in the modern media environment"? Why is it "our" problem to solve this very narrow special interests problems?
The latest suggestion from the ruling few is a "broadband tax" to compensate the media companies for the still unproven loss of revenue.
FINE. Let's do it, let's go. Put a blanket tax of $30 on every broadband account regardless of speed, and as a balance to that legalize all file sharing of all material for non-commercial purpouses. Make it legal to both up- and download anything. We pay a blanket fee, we get full access with no restrictions. The record industry is still free to sell its overpriced records like it always has, and we'll buy them like we always have (despite what they say), but we would finally be free of the goddamn whining from these greedier-than-thou suits.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A copy better than the original

A pirated DVD has higher customer value than an original DVD if the viewer is only interested in the movie and nothing else. Any DVD bought today is likely to have extra goodies that appeal to movie fanatics but not casual viewers, and as sure as there are endless end credits mentioning everyone including the guy who cuts the poodle of the guy who calls the caterers there will be an anti-theft ad, a cop threat and usually some trailers before the movie starts.
Here, I'd like to administer a selection of kicks in the crotch for a number of people, beginning with the utter bastard who designed the DVD specs. I won't even go into how evil the region-encoding scheme is, since anyone with a room-temperature IQ or better will immediately understand how this feature is useless for anything but gouging customers and/or censorship. I'll skip that and go to the fact that the DVD-manufacturer can set "control bits" for any segment of content on a DVD to disable functions in the player. For instance disabling fast-forward or skip, while showing adverts for the upcoming bennifer movie or Disn*ys soon-to-be-released "classic" cartoon movie about the inquisition, with laughing and singing torturers sticking glowing pokers up the genitals of laughing, singing prisoners while lauging and singing wall fixtures make comedy remarks about what's going on. How anyone could argue for these control bits with a straight face is beyond me. All they can be used for is annoying people.
DVD seemed like a good idea at first, but since these swine misuse the control bits on every disc released, it means that VHS actually works better for the customer. VHS movies are cheaper, give at least tolerable picture quality and handles better. How pathetic is that?
The cop warnings are hilarious. The FBI wants to tell you that if you even think about watching this movie along with other people they will take you to prison for a term between six and eighty years, where you'll be gang-raped continuously for having the gall of seing a movie together with other people who didn't pay. If you make a copy, say for the reason the original is getting scratched, you owe the poor movie company up to 100.000 dollars in lost revenue for your already-paid-for copy. And you go to prison and get to meet Bubba again, as above. However, in the rest of the world, or "terra incognita" as americans know it ("terror inconita" if you are the president) the FB* are about as relevant as a flock of seagulls since they are an american branch of law enforcement. The seagull analogy may or may not be chosen because of the loud, screeching behaviour and copious shitting of said birds.
Now, as the day progresses and you begin to seriously doubt that starting a DVD was a smart thing to do, you get the MTV-cut "anti-theft video", where the long-suffering and near bankrupt movie company flat out accuses you of stealing their stuff. This makes sense to company executives with bodyguards and no-one else. In any other line of work, routinely accusing your paying customers of being thieves would lead to ruin. In a society where people had some semblance of backbone they would knock on these executives doors and go for their throats. How dare they?
What makes this completely idiotic is the fact that any pirate who knows ANYTHING about DVD authoring immediately cuts out the cop scares, the insulting accusations and the shitty ads when copying the DVD so the people who download never see them anyway. ONLY the paying customers get insulted by this crap. Therefore, the pirated version of the DVD actually has higher customer value than the original.
Way to go, boneheads. Your parents must be SO proud of you!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Various scumbags do the math

The record industry, like the computer industry, is built on several layers of lies and deceit and is in general so completely rotten that it make people wince. In the computer biz every salesperson lies about just about everything; release dates, bugs adressed, hardware speed, product requirements. The skilled buyer knows that when the salestwerp says it will run good on his current computer he probably has to make major upgrades. Whan the salestwerp says the cost will be a hundred dollars a seat he knows to multiply it by four, since the salestwerp is hiding the costs of additional support software and everyone has to get a hundred bucks worth of training to operate the new thing. Everyone knows it, so no-one rocks the boat by pointing these things out.
The music biz has been fleecing artists since day one: paying them too little too late, charging them for more or less fictional costs of making the record happen, and generally behaving like plantation owners of the past. Don't take my word for it - look at this insted. That is Courtney Loves article about where the cash actually goes. It isn't new, but I am convinced the contract basics are exactly the same today. I don't share her views when it comes to the Napster part, but the math is intriguing.
Another angle: Janis Ian has been around since the sixties and knew all the cool people before they stepped on a rainbow by taking all kinds of chemicals in the seventies. She has been around the block, and she if no-one else has cred with these things. Her take on the "Internet debacle" is here. It is a long read, but it is a lot better than this one so hop over and read it. NOW.
Still here? Don't think it's worth hopping over? Then download and listen to her song "Welcome to Acousticville", then buy the album. When you listen to that song you'll realize that she is in fact a genius and you will do the hop. If that song doesn't get you (remember, when you listen to it, that she actually knew Hendrix), you either know nothing of the blues or have a defective heart, and I pity you.
Anyway, what we have here are insider descriptions of what the biz does to the artists, and it ain't pretty. Maybe the porn racket is worse. Maybe.

One thing the computer and music biz have in common is the approach to creative accounting. What they are most adept at is describing their huge losses due to piracy. The arguments are more or less hilarious. ("Hilarious" may or may not be a word constructed from the name "Hilary Ros*n".)
In the software biz the approach has always been "people are stealing our product, and we lose X million/billion dollars a year/week because of this". Such as Micr*softs Office suite, costing somewhere between $500 and $800 depending on various options that are incomprehensible to the common user. It used to be that everyman needed something basic to write or count with, and since "most people" used Office it was logical to borrow it from someone who had a legit version. This way you could ask the lender for help when something went wrong. Of course, this meant that more and more people learned how to use Office and they helped influence companies to buy MS instead of other brands at their workplace. MS has always seen this as a huge problem, and counted every copy as a lost sale. That means they actually expect a single mother who uses Word ten times a year for writing personal letters and job applications to fork over $500 for the privilege? Yeah right. A solution is now at hand, thankfully.
Aut*desk makes the amazing Aut*cad system. Costs like a Buick, but in all fairness you can draw a Buick in it if you want to. In every minute detail. With the right add-ons you can use it to build one too. This is a heavy-duty tool used by heavy-duty designers, and the designers sometimes need to take the job home with them to continue working at home. Not so easy in a business environment, because the next shift may be using the computer so the hardware lock cannot be removed and taken home. Therefore engineers use hacked copies at home and legit versions at work. This costs the maker billions in revenue, based on the thought that the company would gladly pay for two licenses per engineer just in case. Seems likely? Even more interesting: this software is not for the newbie. It is HARD to use and requires skill. It's not likely that someone sits and doodles in it simply for his own amusement.

The record industry has another interesting way of dealing with numbers. It selects a year where something pretty devastating happened, like Mich*el Jacksons "Thr*ller" album. That thing sold about one copy for every three persons on the northern hemisphere, as my memory serves. Fantastic album. Should have been a top-seller year, so the biz sets its expectations based at THAT sales level. The next ten years are slumps in comparison, since no Mozart steps forward to produce a miracle. After all, an album like that happens once a decade, tops. These years are touted as "loss" years because sales are lower than expected, and that must be because of piracy. Never mind that the business made $40 billion in revenues, it wasn't 50.
This behaviour of fixedly staring at past highlights leads to the obvious question "how can you go forward if you keep looking back all the time?". You can't, and the record biz hasn't.

Apparently, the only sane man in music is Steve J*bs who actually has a court order on him that he can't be in music. His company (Apple) had a clash with the Beatles much older and bigger and more lawyerful company (Apple) over the name, and the Beatles let him keep his version provided he did not go into music. Now we have iTunes, and Steve has a legal problem.
The intriguing part is that unless I'm wrong, the remaining Beatles have a lot to say at Apple still. Sir Paul is the richest man in Britain. I think I can safely say that he does not need more cash. I wish he would merge the relevant parts of the two Apples and create a music company (as opposed to record company) that produces and sells music with a real and serious kickback to the artists. Let the performers keep the money, and finance the company by small fees from the artists and ads on the web pages.
Another thing that no-one has tried: most compressed music formats have a way to store information about the file, such as the MP3 tag. Why don't aspiring musicians simply write "if you like this, send two bucks to my paypal account" in the tags? I have NEVER seen or heard of anything like this in a tag, which means no-one has tried it. Come on people - look forward. If no-one puts up a cash register somewhere of course no-one gets paid. At least try. Same thing with authors - put a paypal line in the beginning and end of your text and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
There was an attempt back in early Napster days to put up a clearinghouse where people could send money and the clearers forwarded it anonymously to the artists. I seem to remember a check for six dollars going to Met*llica mostly as a taunt. I heard of the site but never found it myself. Maybe it was an urban legend. Can't Google put up a nice, huge adress book of paypal links direct to artists so we could send them money without involving the more hideous bastards in the recording industry?
Wouldn't this be a step forward, for once?

Life without antacids

I avoid people I don't like. When someone has an opinion or behaviour that I don't like I turn my back and walk away. They are entitled to their opinion, but I do not have to agree and I can't be bothered to tilt at all windmills I see. A man can only handle so many windmills.
I base this behaviour on a spoken word fragment from the philosopher J. Biafra; "When someone hands you a chunk of sh*t, you dont have to take it."
The man is right. Not about all things (I hope, since he says a lot of scary stuff), but spiritually we seem to agree on a lot. That is the reason I simply turn away when some horrible televangelist comes on the TV and tries to tell us to hate something-or-other. I consider them unpleasant assh*les and I choose to spend my time in better company, so Zap. This also excludes plenty of more or less crooked politicians, most of the people of F*X News and many other budgie-wankers of similar ilk. I even gave up on Met*llica, after they started their "let's sue the fans!" campaign a bunch of years ago. They have the right to be pissed, and I have the right to ignore them.
I actually own two records by them; one is a birthday party special for Lemmy of Motorhead, where they play only Motorhead songs. I consider it an apocryphical Motorhead album. The other is the "Enter Sandman" 12-inch. I routinely switch TV channels when Met*llica are on, but "Enter Sandman" is the only song of theirs I actually sit through on the music channels. I reckon I have a right to hear it since I own the record, but only god knows their position to fans listening to their music on TV without paying, so generally I choose to filter them. They are one of very very few bands that I won't accept MP3:s of. They and a couple of "White supremacy"-acts that I also squelch in exactly the same way.
When someone tries to convince me that gays are in some way bad I recommend the comics of Ralf König, an amazing cartoonist with very funny gay themes. When someone tries to sell me their religion I tell them I am Discordian, and I try to give them salvation. When someone tells me they like Met*llica, I tell them of Strapping Young Lad, or Megadeth, or Iron Maiden or some other metal act that as far as I know does not sue the planet at large. If possible, I play them samples or give them a handful of MP3:s and point them to an online record store.
I do not tilt at all windmills, but I can point them out to other people and tell them about the windmilling going on over there, and why they should stay clear.

This is the key to a long life without antacids, folks. Avoid people that give you heartburn.

Oh dear, it speaks again.

The Chief Justice of sweden is outraged that people accuse him of strong-arming due process, just because instructions went out from his office to conduct a raid against a "pirate" site there really was no legal reason to mess with. He has stated, handsome chin set at a determined angle, that he will conduct a thorough investigation into these matters.
Two things spring to mind.
1) Odds are that he won't have time for this thorough investigation into his own possibly illegal behaviour until after the elections that are about 100 days away.
2) Strangely, a lot of people think that perhaps the person accused of violating the constitution should not lead the inquiry about what happened. I am not accusing him of being a crook, and the rumors that he is just one fluffy cat away from being a Bond villain are just spiteful. However, the Chief Justice investigating himself gives a whiff of banana republic justice and that simply is not proper. Sweden is NOT a banana republic.
OK, it is true that before he became Chief Justice he was mostly known for being a decent footballer and the son of a prominent politician (ex foreign secretary, no less). It does not mean a thing - lots of the current parliament members are sons and daughters of older parliament members. Or, in some cases, married to other parliament members. There is nothing wrong with that. Even the Prime Minister is married to a nice lady who incidentally happens to run the state monopoly on alcohol distribution, and no-one suspects him of furthering her career.
This is not a banana republic, and that is not entirely due to the fact that no bananas grow here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I actually had a dream.

This will sound silly, but it still is the truth. I actually had this dream about six months ago, and I grinned like a maniac when I woke up.

In the dream I was standing next to a long table full of records. Thousands of copies of the same album, and I was working sweatshop style opening the shrinkwrapped albums, taking out a misprinted flyer that was inside and replacing it with a corrected flyer from a stack on the table. Then I put the album on a huge stack on my right, and picked up a new faulty album from the stack on my left. Mindless job. Along my table was about half a dozen people, and there were more tables with about a dozen more guys doing the same unskilled labour.
I picked up one of my reassembled albums and looked at it in more detail. The cover was a 12-inch gatefold on heavy card stock. Beautiful full color print on both front and back. Inside, on the left side was a slot where the replaced flyer sat with all lyrics and comments from the band. Behind it were more pictures. On the right hand side of the gatefold was a small foam plastic dot holding a normal CD. The quality of the cover was the standard quality of an album cover in the seventies or eighties. I actually think it was a Hipgnosis design, but I am not sure.
I looked up and met the eyes of another sweatshop guy at the table in front of mine, and he said "Retails for six bucks. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, asshole pirates!". I laughed so hard I woke up.
THIS is what the record business should be doing instead of suing the fans. Give us good art, a reasonable price and something of value that cannot be duplicated online. Let us download the content off the net, decide about buying the record and then sell us something that gives that extra bonus feature, whatever it may be. Make one edition of the album with the lyrics, and another with guitar tabs and the true fans will buy both! The extras are the reason DVD sales actually increase despite the always-increasing file swapping on the net. Good pirates never copy the DVD extras, to give extra incentive for the fans to buy the original DVD:s. I kid you not, a lot of them actually think about this - I know because I have talked to them.
Replacing the fragile, stupid and too-small jewel box with a full size cover would actually make albums worth looking at again. It has been a LONG time since I saw a cover that really caught my attention like the old LP covers of yesterdecade. The playing card size area simply does not cut it as a billboard to present something, especially when there are five lines of copyright legalese printed as well. Beautiful? No.
The sweatshop guy in my dream does not share my attitude toward pirates. Pirates are generally my friends, as long as we talk about not-for-profit sharers. The assholes are the people trying to make some bucks off someone elses art, and they deserve whatever rotten karma they get. Back in the day before pressure groups redefined what "pirate" meant, they would have been called "thieves" and the file swappers would have been called "traders", as they were when Grateful Dead fans swapped concert tapes. Nowadays all people who touch someone elses copyrighted stuff are called "pirates", and all employees of various business associations are called "bastards". Language has sure come a long way.

Make Sense TV

Great TV shows thrive on the internet. Battlestar Galactica broke new ground as fans recorded and uploaded episodes for the whole world to see. At least the small fraction of the world that a) live in the north-western hemisphere and b) has broadband connection and a computer with grunt enough to play fullscreen video. So, we are talking about a quarter of a percent of the world in reality. Hm. Significantly, it is a quarter percent with money to spend and influence over friends.

Anyway, the following happened; The alpha geeks (thanks Tim O'Reilly for the term) downloaded and watched, and LOVED it and recommended everyone else to see it as well. Mouth to mouth is the best promotion you can get, you really can not buy that kind of passion, and it created more pull for the show as the bulk of the population that does not have broadband etc tuned in to see the regular network or cable feed to check out what people were talking about. Most people, even the alphas, do not have a computer hooked up to the big screen TV so a lot of them saw the episodes again when they aired. The networks did not lose any viewers because of this downloading mechanism. Also - watching a show on a computer screen is a solitary thing and more focused. Gathering a couple of friends and some junk to eat in front of the show demands a TV screen.
A wiser blogger than me wondered some time ago why no company makes its own show and puts its own logo in the corner of the screen instead of F*X Network or whatever. If the show is good, people will download it and spread it and their logo will be seen by a bunch of people. Nothing keeps AlternaCola Corporation from sponsoring a cool show on the net first and then selling it to cable or a major studio and recouping most of the cost. By using the p2p networks to spread it early they would create exactly the pull I speak of above, where the alpha geeks tell other people that they should keep an eye out for Show X. The cable company would simply paste their logo over the original (or choose a free corner on the screen) and air it with all the free publicity already in place.
Why do I want this to happen? I want to see more good TV without ad breaks. I can easily live with AlternaColas logo in a corner the whole time, and trust me: if they make a good show AND good cola I will buy the cola to go with the show. The show would be better without breaks for singing tampons or whatever, and perhaps a company that is outside the Big Media Business would have the guts to try something new and different. Right now HB* makes most of the right moves, and F*X has a couple of hits on its own. Everyone else is, well, somewhere. Not in my computer tho'.
Notice that I actually have memorized what company makes what show? Believe me, this is not because I want to remember it - it simply proves the corner logo thing works if done right.
We, the audience, want good or at least better entertainment than we get right now. We want it both legally available on the net without ads but with logo-brand as token payment, and we want it on TV if possible without the awful ad breaks, but we'll live with the shampoo ads if we really have to. We want this and we want it now.
Personally, I like a character in the series NCIS. I think she is the best female role model on TV at the moment, and I would really like to have her as a friend. Yes, I know she is a fictional character, and I don't care. I want to be pals with Han Solo too, so piss off. Point is; on the satellite service I pay for there is a one year delay in screenings of NCIS. I reckon I pay for the show since I pay my sat fees, so I download the episodes as they appear on the net. I can in no way think of this as being a crime. I pay, I view. If I could make my sat company get their act together and show the actual current season I'd be even happier, but the computer screen will have to do for now. In about a year, my current version of Abby will return in larger size on another screen in my home, and I'll eat more popcorn and enjoy it again. No-one loses a cent off this. Why no company JUMPS on this as a distribution model is beyond me.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rampant production costs

In the olden days, musicians walked into the studio and played as a group. They did a couple of takes, and the recording engineer decided which one was the "keeper". Nowadays musicians go into the studio one at a time and record in their own little booth. There is no group interaction. This might make sense if the group is Met*llica, where the members apparently hate each other as well as their fans, and simply do not want to meet. Most of the time, it takes away some of the dynamics of the actual performance. Rarely does this method make the music come alive more than the group-going-flat-out-together method.

It also jacks up the costs something fierce, apparently. Although the equipment has become increasingly affordable, the studio and production costs have skyrocketed. How else can this be explained; the movie "Gladiator" cost 103 million dollars to make. It has a cast of dozens if not hundreds of people and took a lot of time to make. It was promoted like nothing else, there was complete media saturation. It sells on DVD for $15.
The latest record by James Bl*nt sells on regular CD for $19 in shops. That would theoretically put its budget at 133 million dollars, and only the Deity of your choice knows how many people were involved then.
Perhaps the newer DVD technology compared to the older CD solution is the answer; the sound off a DVD is quite a lot better than the sound off a CD. Surround, for starters, and higher sample and bitrates. No contest, ask any technician. Newer digital tech is always better and cheaper than old.

Or is it simply that the music business is taking us for one hell of a ride? Could it be that someone is gouging consumers in a way that would make the mafia blush and stammer?
The infrastructure of movie theatres is not cheap compared to the music business, where any half-broke music lover can set up a shop with just a stereo to play samples on and a couple of tables. The retail of a CD is certainly not more expensive than the retail of a DVD, so there can be no real difference in costs there. Without marketing neither record nor movie would sell, and movie ads are no cheaper than ads for records. And still, the huge production movie is cheaper than the music. And in this case, has much better music (Lisa Gerrard is a goddess!).

Could someone that has at least an ounce of credibility explain this to us?

Gone fishing

The swedish lobby/pressure group "Antipiratbyrån" (anti-pirate agency) has taken down its own web site. Apparently, they decided to do it instead of being taken out by a denial-of-service attack, something that has been used lately as a weapon of ridicule against the swedish police and possibly also the governments public web sites. Angry "hackers" decided that the temporary shutdown of swedish web sites and all-around eastern bloc style behaviour by the police warranted revenge, and the warpath was the sensible (for them) way to go.
Unfortunately for the lobbyists, this gives an embarrasing mental image. They were the instigators of the current badwill between hackers, file sharers and law enforcement, and as they shut themselves off from the net they look a lot like mean ten-year-old schoolboys, who kick an anthill and then run away a few yards to look at the commotion and frustration and laugh at it from a safe distance.
Sometimes, though, the mean kids get bitten. Sometimes what they kick turns out to be a hornets nest instead of an anthill. This time, the raid they called for had so much collateral damage that the general public felt the police had overstepped their bounds. Maybe the general public will ask for a real inquiry as to what power this pressure group really has over the swedish government, and WHY it has such a firm grip on their hearts and minds.
As the philosopher Friedman put it; "that would be killer bee". Wouldn't it be great if it really was?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

the Solution to the problem

A few decades ago, a group of strange young men went into a studio, rented for 600 dollars, and in two days they recorded a masterpiece of an album: "Black Sabbath". They changed peoples concept of what music could be almost overnight.
That studio was all analog. Hideously expensive, complicated, requiring specialists to operate and when the tape master was to be converted into salable disks, it was on vinyl which is also complicated to get good sound off and brittle to handle. No easy task.
Today, a bunch of musicians can pool together 15000 dollars and build their own all digital studio, easy enogh to operate to let them do everything themselves. No more one or two-inch master tapes costing a months salary. The sound quality is fantastic compared to what was available in the olden times. When it comes to distribution, blank CD:s are rugged and cheap and simple to burn. No vinyl cooking wizardry required.
The world should really be drenched in new amazing music. For some reason it is not. When the Beatles camped out in the studio for an eternity way back when, they emerged with Sgt Pepper and the world spun. Today, some hyped new act spends two months in the studio and the result gets a yawn and a polite golf applaud, while the record company charges them an arm and a leg for the studio time.
Where are the genre-creating new acts? Where are the death-defying artists daring to break the formulas and make musical history? The major record companies are not releasing them. Instead we get an army of "Britnilera" clones, just like Hollywood keeps hitting us with "Bennifer" films. Creativity may not be dead, but the near-comatose state is worrying.
As greed has run rampant, the "biz" goes for more and more of the same low-risk pap. Boy bands looking and sounding the same. Girl stars shaking their store-bought parts on camera. Rap acts where no actual singing or musical talent is needed at all, all you do is read from the prompter in a monotone and have a really bitching attitude when in public view. The profit margin has been maximized. This is progress?
Meanwhile, most of the old acts have been forgotten. The radio stations are now owned by another Biz that has one global playlist that not quite fits all, but is still the only choice. Everyone, everywhere has to listen to the Bluntness of this week, and next week another Sugacoated company construct takes over. No-one gets to hear the music made roughly between 1900 and 1980. All those fantastic acts, forgotten in time, because the Biz has no time to re-release them. No incentive.

I listen to a lot of music. Tons of it, mostly from the net. When I find something I like, I buy it if it can be bought. A lot of it is out of print, and even if I could find it on ebay the real artist would not make any money from it, just some vinyl hustler making his own profit as a middleman. Very uncool.
What I would really like for christmas is this:
Pass a law that gives the original musicians their recordings back after ten years, to do with as they will. This way the studios have a decade to make their megabucks so they wont whine us to death.
Then, let some neutral foundation set up a hu-uuge site as a repository with all this wonderful stuff for download, and with simple paypal links to let us pay the musicians directly. It would be free and voluntary for the musicians to participate. When someone dies, the foundation gets any further proceeds to keep this mammoth site in operation. No DRM crap, no obstructions, just the stuff up for the taking and a way for us all to pay without hassles.
NOTHING would go out of print again. Three decades after the release of some obscure but wonderful album the right people would still get paid by the right fans. New acts would be on a level playingfield and get their homegrown stuff out, and we could download it and try it out, and maybe give the guys who really should stick to driving a truck some spare change for their effort at least. Not everyone should be a musician, and not everyone should expect to live off it. Everyone should have a right to be heard, though.
Apart from the fact that a number of very fat cats would lose some marginal income, and the fact that copyright laws rammed through by the senator from Disney would have to be torn out of the books again, I can see NO problem with this scenario. This is doable right now. Not tomorrow, but today. Only greed keeps it from happening. Who can defend that?
I can not imagine why any recording artist would not jump at the chance of this. I really can't.
I actually own albums that I would happily pay money for every year. Rupert Hines "Immunity" and Eno/Byrnes "My life in the bush of ghosts" come to mind. I have bought them both in multple copies already, and if I could send the artists ten bucks a year for the enormous listening pleasure those albums still give me, I would. I am hardly alone in this feeling. I think that us true fans over time will compensate for the cheapskates out there. Good artist will always have good friends. People still happily pay for Elvis Presleys old masterpieces. Let's be honest - we all know someone who has his records. If we wanted to, we could bum a copy from them, but the stuff is magic so we do the right thing. Those albums have been in circulation since the fifties and still generate income, despite all the copies made over the years.

The current laws governing copyright and related concepts have been written by politicians acting as ghostwriters for the Biz. The interests of the very very few takes precedence over the needs of the huge majority. However, if the content creators (musicians, poets and other assorted mutants) actually said NO to the Biznizmen, this could be changed. Not tomorrow, but today. Slavery could be ended despite the squeals of the slave-owners. Let us free all musicians from the current system that keeps the vast majority of them obscure and out of print. Let no-one be forgotten ever again.

Friday, June 02, 2006

As expected...

...the swedish chief justice claims that he has NEVER taken instructions from foreign pressure groups and that the very thought is absurd.

This man represents the same government that claimed it had NEVER handed over two egyptian refugees to the CIA in the middle of the night for an extradition to Egypt, where they were later tortured. The very thought was absurd, and people should be ashamed of themselves. The swedish government certainly does NOT bow to foreign pressure.
Except that it was true, and just about everyone including the EU, the UN and the Red Cross has pointed out that is was a pretty serious human rights violation.
True, the chief justice was apparently not involved, but it certainly sets an interesting precedent for how seriously one should take this particular governments claims to innocense.

I am in no way saying that our chief justice is crooked. Absolutely not. The very thought is absurd, right?

Did you know

...that in Sweden, pressure groups nowaday can apparently request police raids on political opponents. As other countries try to develop justice-based systems the Swedes dismantle what they have and look to Brazil for guidance on how to handle "Justice for all, or at least some".
As the swedish police decided to take time out from chasing pedophiles and focus on stopping the vastly more important illegal file-sharing activities, they made a stunning and quite impressive search-and-seize on a medium-sized internet service provider. Instead of taking the servers suspected of containing contraband, they basically carted off the whole server room complete with routers and media converters. A couple of flat displays were also suspect enough to be hauled off. This accidentally put the lobbying group Piratbyran, the plaintiff pressure groups main foe, out of business since their server was also shlepped away.
The massive raid resulted in three arrests, one of which was the legal counsel of the other two. This legal counsel was requested to give a DNA sample, something that must be quite unique in a case of computer crime. I really do not want to know how you could leave DNA trace while committing computerized copyright infringement. The man does not look like a cyborg in the photos.
This is shaping up to be an amazing autumn.