Thursday, March 29, 2007

Not keepin' it real on net neutrality

Normally, the FMC doesn't take things personally. We've been attacked repeatedly for stands we've taken on a range of issues. It just comes with the territory. But when a lobbyist who runs an operation funded by the telecom industry (which wants to do away with net neutrality) attacks a new net neutrality campaign (Rock the Net) as "lip synching" for liberal groups, it begs a simple question:

Who is the real Milli Vanilli?

Sorry Scott Cleland, it's definitely not Rock the Net. We have no problem with MoveOn, but this is a coalition founded by musicians, record labels and music fans to promote the principles of an Internet that is equally open to everyone.

Cleland calls Rock the Net a "cheap publicity stunt" and implies that Rock the Net is manufactured. The sheer number of bands and music labels -- more than 230 as of this afternoon -- show there is nothing cheap or manufactured about the campaign.

Actually, we aren't taking it personally. The attack -- as full of false information as it is -- is useful in a way. It shows just how manufactured the campaign against net neutrality is. When the only negative comment we could find about Rock the Net comes from a telecom shill, it
makes clear just how much support the anti-net neutrality folks have.

So Scott, stop parroting the telecoms. It's time to start keepin' it real!

(Disclaimer: the FMC apologizes to Milli Vanilli for associating them with a faker like Scott Cleland.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rock the Net!

It's official. After months of work, the "Rock the Net" campaign officially launched today. For those that don't know, Rock the Net is a coalition of musicians, music labels and fans pledging their support for the concept of network neutrality.

The roster of musicians that have already signed up include R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan, Ted Leo, Death Cab for Cutie, Boots Riley of The Coup and many, many more. In these opening moments of the campaign, things already look pretty good already -- nearly 150 artists and labels have joined. The effort has also got some attention in the blogosphere. Here are some early reports from The Washington Post tech blog and Wetmachine.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., spoke at a teleconference this morning announcing the launch. He said he would be working to pass legislation in support of the concept of net neutrality.

“The wonderful thing about the Internet is that no one has to ask to anyone’s permission to get their voice heard, to launch a service, to communicate with fellow citizens,” Markey said.

We couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Telecoms block conference call service

There is an interesting bit of news from Consumer Affairs this week that should sound eerily familiar to anyone concerned about net neutrality. AT&T, Sprint, Cingular, and Qwest have begun blocking subscribers' access to, a web-based service that offers conference calls for the price of a single long distance call.

Apparently, the telecoms weren't happy about the success of FreeConference, which according to the article, has become quite popular with a number of small businesses and non-profits. AT&T officials also claimed FreeConference violated the terms of its service, saying multiple people were never intended to be connected via a single phone call. Qwest has gone a step further and sued FreeConference and another similar service claiming they have cost the telecom $10 to $15 million by exploiting a loophole in telecommunications law. (The reasons are to complicated to explain here, but see the article in Consumer Affairs).

Naturally, FreeConference said AT&T is simply trying to steer customers back to its conference calling service. Consumer groups have cried foul over the move saying it limits people's choices to legitimate businesses.

With mobile phones becoming a more and more popular choice for music downloads, it will be interesting to see if mobile providers follow suit and consider blocking downloads from certain music providers that they are not aligned with.

The affair also underscores the power of telecoms and why net neutrality is so important. If the big telecoms are willing to interfere in phone service, why not Internet service as well? Of course, AT&T has signed a two-year commitment to net neutrality to gain approval of its merger with BellSouth, but some believe that might not apply to all of its offerings such as TV over the Internet.

A brief history of copyright

Kurt Hanson over at Radio and Internet Newsletter offers an excellent (and expansive) rundown on the history of copyright law leading up to the recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board to set higher royalty rates for webcasting. The history is to long to quote, but Hanson rightly diagnoses (with one major caveat) the problem with the ruling:

"And thus we end up with a situation in we're in right now, in which a trio of judges granted the copyright owners a royalty rate from Internet radio that is effectively, I believe, more than 100% of the total industry's revenues!...

Clearly the process has spun off the rails. Particularly if the CRB decision drives Internet radio off the air, the public clearly doesn't benefit, meaning that the purpose of copyright law is not being served.

The purpose of Congress granting copyright protections is supposed to be to maximize the availability of creative output to the public. In other words, from the copyright owner's side, it's supposed to encourage bands like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to keep recording music, and from the copyright user's side, it's supposed to encourage the development of new services like radio station's Internet simulcasts and "B" channels and LAUNCHcast and AccuRadio and Live365 and Radio Paradise and Pandora. When both sides are doing what they do, the public benefits. Copyright law is not supposed to shut down an entire industry."

Hanson is right in this section -- the higher royalty rates will doom many webcasters who are exposing independent artists and music genres that don't receive much attention. Losing them will move the Internet one step closer to the bland homogenization of commercial radio. But he goes to far when he seems to imply later in the conclusion that webcasters do not owe artists any digital performance royalties.

As the FMC points out in its new position paper on the webcasting ruling, the problem is not paying artists royalties, but a "one size fits all" system that charges small webcasters like LAUNCHcast and large commercial radio stations the same royalty rate. There should be a balance. Small webcasters should pay a lower royalty rate -- one that won't knock them off the air. Large commercial stations, who can afford the higher rate, should pay it. This is the best approach for ensuring artists and small webcasters continue the explosion in creativity we have seen online in the last decade and both benefit from the proceeds.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A turning point on DRM?

Fans and artists who are less than jazzed by major entertainment companies using DRM technology to lock up digital media have reason to be a little optimistic this month.

At South by Southwest last week, SNOCAP announced it had reached deals with major indies Sub Pop, Dangerbird and New Line to distribute their music via MySpace without DRM. As TechCrunch astutely points out, these labels operate under the umbrella of Warner, one of the nation’s biggest music groups. Last Fall, SNOCAP inked a deal with MySpace to allow artists to sell their music via their MySpace pages without DRM technology.

With the sheer number of people that will buy music through MySpace, this could be a sign that the major labels are losing the DRM war. View the SNOCAP press release. Incidentally, artists can actually get more money for the CD sales by registering for SNOCAP as part of CD Baby Digital Distribution. (Artists get about 3 cents more a track and don't have to pay annual fees, according to Derek Sivers at CD Baby).

Friday, March 16, 2007

EFF knocks down bogus Clear Channel patent

Clear Channel has cornered the market on the nation’s radio stations, but it won’t be able to extend that domination to digital recordings for live concerts. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has stripped Clear Channel of a patent it had held on a system for creating digital recordings for live performances.

The move was announced last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which staged a campaign to overturn the patent. Clear Channel claimed the patent gave it a monopoly on all-in-one, digital post-concert recordings, and the company threatened to sue anyone that made such recordings, according to EFF.

EFF’s investigation of the case turned up a really interesting fact: apparently a company called Telex had developed similar software more than a year before Clear Channel filed its patent. Here’s a link to a press release and the decision from the patent office.