July, 2007

Copyright Extensions Rejected – The Music Industry Response

The coverage of the Government’s rejection of extending performance copyright in Music Week (the industry trade magazine – all behind a paywall) is surprisingly muted. There’s just a piece on page 6 indicating that the fight must now be taken to Europe, and an editorial that somehow saw this singular decision as a failure to show that “the superficial years of Blair spin were over.”
I may be wrong, but I somehow suspect that Gordon Brown has better things to worry about than this. And instead, the new minister, James Purnell, has simply read the Gowers Report and made his decision off the back of that. The music industry would have preferred that the Government listened to the DCMS Select Committee. The problem is that they rarely get to the bottom of issues in quite as much detail. While they can have decent question and answer sessions, my watching of them tends to lead me to believe that they don’t tend to be as informed as someone independent like Gowers, who had time to fully explore the issues.
There is one hilarious piece in the editorial which I think the author, Music Week editor, might have re-appraised before sending to the print:
“The signal from the Labour Government is that it is happy to take all the Brits tickets and boozy nights out on the Thames, but when it comes to delivering on a point of great importance to pretty much everyone in the business – and how often can we say that? – Gordon Brown and co will turn their back.”
Far be it from me to tell an industry how to respond if it’s disappointed with a Government decision, but I’d humbly suggest that they don’t just throw all their toys out of the pram. I wonder which ministers will want to come to the Brits next year?
By the way, there was a great documentary about The Beatles losing their own publishing rights to their songs in a Radio 2 documentary, Only A Northern Song. You’ve got until Tuesday evening to Listen Again (A shame that there’s no radio on the iPlayer to allow downloading and replay without necessarily having internet access).

Digital TV Switchover

As many now know, digital television switchover begins in the UK this autumn with Whitehaven being the first town to go fully digital. Then, starting next year, a rollout across the rest of the country begins, starting in the Borders TV regions and ending in London, the southeast, the northeast and Ulster in 2012.
Regular readers will know that I’m still a bit worried about how easily this is all going to work. From what I can see, most retailers are still selling the bulk of their television sets without DTT built in natively despite the fact that a TV you buy today is likely to last well past 2012. And just getting a single Freeview box into a home is not enough; consumers need a separate box for each TV and VCR (if they want to record from it), that they have. This means SCART cables and remotes galore.
A report today from Zenith Optimedia says that they expect 88% of UK households to have digital TV by the end of this year, and it to reach 100% by 2010. That’s quite a jump given that the percentage was 78% at the end of 2006, so I’m a little suspicious.
But that’s nothing to what’s going on in the States. They’re also turning off analogue TV and getting everyone to switch to digital. The freed up bandwidth is being eyed greedily by all the telecoms companies, as well as Google. Obviously the industry is different in the States, with 58.8% of homes receiving cable services. On top of that you have to add satellite TV subscribers (relatively fewer of them compared to the UK market), as well as those who’ve already upgraded to a digital terrestrial signal.
However, according to this Reuters report, there are an estimated 20 million households – something approaching one fifth of all households – who still rely on free analogue over-the-air television signals. The US switchover date is set for February 17, 2009. That’s actually quite soon! Less than two years to go, and a fifth of your consumers not ready.
Coupons will be available, on request, for affected parties from next January. But even the relatively low sum of $50 or $60 still needed to buy the converter box might be high for families on, or below, the poverty line. Many of these people don’t have medical care, for example.
The situation will be worth watching closely. And as I always do, I’d remind any passing politicians that depriving your constituents of television is never the smartest thing to do if you plan on being re-elected.

Transformers

I had a bit of a hangover, and despite being one of the few sunny days, I thought I’d go and see one of this week’s big movies. I don’t normally talk about films as movies, but I think these two count.
So it was either The Simpsons Movie or Transformers. My local multiplex was basically just showing those two films and the latest Harry Potter, so you don’t have to worry about start times, as they all basically get a screening every half an hour all day long.
Now knowing me, some might be surprised by my choice – the title above kind of gives it away. And it’s not that I don’t like The Simpsons. It’s just that I really don’t watch it all that much. When I do watch it, it’s funny, but, it’s not the most important thing on TV.
So why Transformers?
I’m a bit too old to have every played with the toys, so it has no real heritage to me. Indeed, I’d no idea who the good guy was between Optimus Prime and Megatron (OK – the names do kind of give it away, but you know what I mean). But I’ve not really watched a major franchise film this summer with the exception of Die Hard – and that was a freebie. I didn’t see Spiderman 3. I certainly couldn’t bring myself to see Pirates 3. Fantastic Four means nothing to me, and I didn’t see the first one. Yet, I was intrigued, so I went in.
I really really should have known better. Two and a half long hours later, I saw the four words that every real film lover should hate to read: “A Michael Bay Film.”
Yes, I knew it was by him before I went in. And yes I’ve seen previous examples of his oeuvre. But I’ll give the man a chance.
Let me first get out the one decent thing about the film. The effects are really good. It’s kind of shame that you don’t really get much of a chance to appreciate them, since the cutting and camera work means that everything goes by in a blur. Maybe they’re actually terrible, and by not having the camera dawdle, you can’t tell.
Everything else is pretty terrible. The script is too long, and is basically rubbish. It makes little to no sense, and while it’s always pretty ropey the way that young kids are roped into the plot, in this case it’s especially so.
The cast are inoffensive, but that’s about the best you can say for them. They mainly come from TV aside from cameos-for-cash from John Tuturro and Jon Voight. Megan Fox is a particularly unlikely romantic interest for Shia LaBeouf, with the camera lingering a little too long on her body when it gets the chance. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, except it some way shape or form, this is supposed to be a kids movie – albeit a 12A. She certainly doesn’t seem like a high school student. And while we’re at it, there’s an American Pie moment that also feels like it should be in another film.
Basically, the whole thing just doesn’t hang together. The plot makes no real sense, and there are holes all over the place. At various points different Transformers appear and disappear to meet the needs of the plot, but it’s never quite clear why Optimus Prime has only just chosen to appear, apart from dramatic effect. And I even found telling the difference between them all problematical.
The dialogue was just about drowned out by the sound effects, although that might actually have been a good thing.
Overall, then, an awful film with very little redeem itself.

Electricity


Another book recommended by Scott Pack via his blog.
Electricity is a novel about Lily who’s a teenage epileptic. She lives in a seaside town somewhere in Yorkshire, and the only real family she has is her brother Barry. There was another brother, but he was sent away when she was little, and she’s not seen him since.
Lily’s mother, who has just died, essentially abused her kids, and her death means that the kids can now sell their mother’s house. But what about the missing brother’s share.
And so Lily heads to London to look for her missing brother. We see events through her eyes, and sometimes, after the onset of a fit, it can be a disturbing vision. On the other hand, she’s never been to a city like London, and the scale of the place is overwhelming for her.
She meets people, and slowly the story unfolds.
I really liked this novel, and fairly well raced through it. And you can’t help but love Lily, albeit that her life has not been a good one.

Tour de France and Cheats

So what are we meant to think about the proceedings at The Tour de France this year? To re-cap, we first had T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone from a test during the beginning of June.
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He was immediately kicked out of the Tour, but in Germany things went a little further. The two state broadcasters who cover the Tour also pulled out leaving Germans with no coverage of the event. I’m not sure if I entirely agreed with their position, although it sends a very stark message to German sponsors – particularly T-Mobile who are behind the team with probably the most funding in cycling.
Then more news came out about Tour leader Michael Rasmussen. The maillot jeune had been dropped by Danish Cycling from events including the World Championships and next year’s Olympics.
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At the moment the situation remains complicated but it seems that he’s missed a series of random drug tests. Like many athletes, he has to inform the authorities where he’ll be at given times so that they can come to him to test him. There’s a three strikes rule, and he’d missed two Danish cycling appointments as well as two UCI appointments. Normally three together would have been enough, but two pairs of two was suspicious in many eyes.
However the rules did not mean that he could be withdrawn, and despite the Tour organisers’ obvious distaste, they wanted to abide by the rules and weren’t going to kick him out. They made him do a press conference however which he clearly didn’t enjoy.
But the biggest shocks were to come. On Saturday it was the first time-trial of the tour since the prologue in London. Alexandre Vinokourov stormed to victory minutes ahead of the rest of the field. This was all the more amazing since he’d been having a very hit and miss Tour. He started as favourite, but a crash on stage 5 left him with multiple stitches in both legs, and it was then touch and go whether or not he’d be able to continue at all – never mind continue to be a contender.
On the big stage in the Pyranees on Sunday he seemed to have used it all up on the previous day, but then on Monday he was resurgent and stormed to another stage victory. Although overall victory remained unlikely, the Tour’s hard man was showing what he was made of and fans cheered him on.
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That made it all the more terrible when on the rest day on Tuesday, news came out that he’d failed a doping test after the time-trial and a blood test had indicated that he had someone else’s blood in his body. His team, Astana, immediately pulled out of the Tour, and everyone was left reeling.
Then on Wednesday, another rider was found to be positive – Cofidis rider Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone.
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He owned up immediately and his French team, including British rider Bradley Wiggins, pulled out. This was a particular shame because Wiggins is certainly clean, and obviously still had high hopes for the time-trial this coming Saturday before entering Paris.
But that was small beer compared to what happened next. Wednesday’s stage saw Michael Rasmussen win another stage, blowing everyone away on the famed Col d’Aubisque.
But behind the scenes, Rasmussen’s claims about his whereabouts during some of those missing were seemingly falling apart. He had claimed to be in Mexico yet had apparently been spotted in Italy at the time. Finally Rasmussen’s team, and undoubtedly their main sponsor, Rabobank, decided enough was enough, and even though Rasmussen was leading the race, wearing the famed yellow jersey, he was pulled from the Tour.
So is the Tour dead? Should it have been stopped this year? Is professional cycling over?
I’d answer no to all those questions. It’s certainly going through its darkest moment since the infamous 1998 Tour when doping first really hit the big time. But I genuinely believe that these cheats are actually far fewer than they once were, and cycling is washing its laundry very publicly in getting rid of these people now.
It’s likely that more big sponsors will pull out in the short term, but cycling will come out the better for it in the long term. It’d be unfair to those clean riders to cancel this year’s race now. Everyone’s hoping that nobody else is found guilty, but better we find the cheats than we pretend that they’re not there.
I wonder if every other sport can really claim to be as clean as it might be?

Copyright Extension Rejected

The government has come out and rejected calls to extend copyright on music performances from 50 years as it currently stands. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, this is suddenly a hot potato because Elvis and Beatles tracks are suddenly falling out of copyright in this country, and a cash cow is finally coming to an end. At the same time, record companies have managed to screw up their own business models by not adapting to the needs of their customers. So if some traditional revenue streams have dried up, they think they can make it up by increasing copyright periods, just because the Americans managed to do the same thing!
I might begin to have some sympathy if some of the labels – step forward Apple – hadn’t been taking the mickey for all these years. I’d say that it was only since Sgt Pepper’s 40th that I’ve seen a reasonably priced Beatles album. Great works they may be, but there’s no excuse for still charging a premium price so far down the road.
I’d also be surprised if many session musicians are losing vast amounts of cash. They tended to be given a one off fee. Nope – it’s the name artists who are losing out. I don’t know the jazz market too well, but I do know that most stuff that’s not by famous artists just sits in a vault (like others have said, I’m pretty sure that you can’t just go out and rip a freshly remastered CD and issue that yourself). And at least now, some of that stuff will start to become available again, and some of those songwriters will start to earn money from it once more.
What seems to have happened is that the Government has read the Gowers Report.
It’s important to remember that copyright doesn’t exist to provide a performer or their beneficiaries with a guaranteed income for many years to come. It was originally put in place to give artists an incentive to create new works – without that protection, anyone could record and sing your song, or republish your book.
There’s a great quote in Gowers’ report from Thomas Babington Macauley made in the House of Commons in 1841:
It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.
The same report also notes that actually very few performers will actually benefit from an extension of the 50 years performance copyright:
Furthermore, it is not clear that extending term from 50 years to 70 or 95 years would remedy the unequal treatment of performers and producers from composers, who benefit from life plus 70 years protection.
This is because it is not clear that extension of term would benefit musicians and performers very much in practice. The CIPIL report that the Review commissioned states that: most people seem to assume that any extended term would go to record companies rather than performers: either because the record company already owns the copyright or because the performer will, as a standard term of a recording agreement, have purported to assign any extended term that might be created to the copyright holder.

The Gowers Report goes on to explain why any arguments about record companies not being able to invest in talent are specious – nobody banks on a fifty+ year return when most albums don’t sell beyond the first ten years.
Furthermore, Gowers notes, of all the US sound recordings published between 1890 and 1964, an average of 14% has been reissued by the copyright owner and 22% by other parties.
These statistics suggest that the costs of renewing copyright or reissuing copyrighted material are greater than the potential private return, but that these works may have enduring social and cultural value.
The lack of commercial availability impacts upon consumers and users, but it is also worth noting the impact this has for all creators and musicians. Chapter 2 noted the increasing prevalance of licensing and the complexity of rights clearance. If works are protected for a longer period of time, follow-on creators in the future would have to negotiate licences to use the work during that extended period. This has two potential implications: first, the estates and heirs of performers would potentially be able to block usage rights, which may affect future creativity and innovation; and second, this would make tracing rights holders more difficult. Thus extending term may have negative implications for all creators.

Overall, this is good news for music lovers.
But I do look forward to reading next Monday’s Music Week. They’re going to hate it!

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
Off to the Barbican to see Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform pieces under the heading Full Steam Ahead.
I saw him perform here a few years back and once again it’s a sold out crowd with just a couple more performances happening in the UK as part of the JLCO summer European tour.
As ever, the set-up is very simple, clarinets/saxophones are in the front, trombones in the middle row, and trumpets, including Marsalis most of the time, are at the rear. To the left of them are a piano, double bass and drums.
Marsalis is nothing if not an educator, and he introduces each piece with a little bit of background history. The Barbican has supplied a free programme, but one suspects that the exact set-list is relatively changeable, indeed Marsalis’ own site suggests that we’ll get ‘selections’ from the Full Steam Ahead repertoire. As a result, I try also sorts of mnemonic devices to memorise the pieces we hear.
For the first half of the concert, it’s pieces either written by, or usually performed by, Duke Ellington. And so we get Across the Tracks, part of the Deep South Suite, Daybreak Express, Take The ‘A’ Train, and The Old Circus Train Turnaround.
After an interval, it’s on to their own compositions and we get Due South, Expressbrown Local from All Rise, and Jump from Jump Start and Jazz, a pair of ballets. Then we finish with the final three tracks from 1999’s Big Train: Sleeper Car, Station Call and Caboose.
For an encore we get a 1925 piece which I think is called “I’m Alabama Bound” and finally end with a great trumpet solo.
All round, a simply wonderful concert with virtuoso performances from his immense band. Wonderful stuff.

Shock! Horror! Bear Grylls Series Not Quite As Advertised

Regular readers of this blog – and there are one or two – may be aware that, although enjoyable, I thought that the recent Channel 4 series Born Survivor featuring Bear Grylls (and know in the US as Man vs. Wild) was probably a little misleading in the way that it was shot.
An example of this was the episode in the Florida everglades where Bear has to cross a river that he believes is probably infested with alligators. He tells us that he’s going to cross in the middle of the day when the sun’s at its highest, and alligators like to bask rather than seek prey. He also lets us know that he’s going to wait 45 minutes, because that’s how long alligators can keep underwater for, before the return to the surface to take a breath. Cue long shots of Bear silently watching the stretch of river. Finally he decides to take the plunge, explaining that he’ll swim underwater to avoid looking like prey. He takes a large breath and off he goes. An underwater camera is at his side, and we watch him underwater all the way. Except that the camera is awfully stable, and keeps him in focus and visible all the way. An exceptional cameraman who can train his equipment on his subject without fear for his own life, and in such shallow water. Indeed, a cynic have believed that the shot was captured using someone who walked alongside Bear in the relatively shallow waters. When Bear emerges on the opposite bank, he appears very relieved. Fortunately, the hard as nails cameraman isn’t shaking too much.
As I’ve said previously, it’s not that I don’t believe that Bear did all his own “stunts” – it’s just that like so many shows these days, all is not quite as it was presented.
Anyway, this weekend more revelations have emerged about the series (and I believe that series 2 and 3 are forthcoming). According to an article in the Sunday Times, and picked up by the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sun, Bear often spent nights in nearby hotels, and many of the stunts were not quite as advertised on screen.
Channel 4 has seemingly initiated an investigation into the programme, made by Diverse Productions. A spokesman is quoted as saying “Bear does do all his own stunts and does put himself in perilous situations. But Born Survivor is not an observational documentary series but a ‘how to’ guide to basic survival techniques in extreme environments. The programme explicitly does not claim that presenter Bear Grylls’s experience is one of unaided solo survival.”
Well I’m not sure that this claim actually stands up. Yes, there’s a survival expert listed in the credits of each show, but the programme is presented very much as Bear being dropped into the wilderness somewhere and having to survive until he can make it back to civilisation. The programmes should simply not have presented the situation as it was. If it was simply a series of survival techniques, then fine. But it’s presented as a narrative, and as such, it’s misleading the viewer if the presenter is not hiking for three days to get back to a town or village, but instead is spending the night in motels and hotels.
The thing with this series is that there really is no need for obsfucation – Bear’s doing these stunts and showing us (semi-) useful things. So present these things honestly, and we’ll have more time for his programme.
As I mentioned above, the second series has already aired in the US (although the Everglades edition that was shown on Discovery in June was not the “World Premiere” their website would have you believe). One suspects that the shows will be significantly re-edited and re-voiced before Channel 4 show them over here.
[UPDATE] It seems that Discover is also re-evaluating the series according to Broadcast (free registration possibly required).