US students, alumni to get legal P2P

US colleges and their alumni may be offered the right to P2P file-sharing under one of the most radical copyright reforms in a hundred years, The Register has learned.

The amnesty would be part of a “covenant not to sue”, covered by a collective licence that offers the right to exchange major label repertory over a participating college’s campus network. Rights holders would be compensated from a pot of money drawn from students’ tuition fees.

Today, many US universities participate in a compulsory Napster or Rhapsody program; these only offer time-limited DRM-encumbered songs, though, and students are still liable for prosecution by the RIAA or its biggest members. Unexpectedly, the deal would extend outside the campus network to college alumni, too.

However, the proposals, which are still at the planning stage, have already drawn concern from publishers and smaller labels. Digital deals, and specifically collective licensing deals proposed by major labels typically offer songwriters little or no compensation, and leave the burgeoning independent sector as an afterthought.
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Should P2P filesharers be paid for filesharing?

Take that, pigopolists! A novel idea has been proposed to take the fight to the RIAA and the BPI. Since P2P filesharing has a discovery element which permits people to discover new music at no cost – why shouldn’t filesharers be compensated for filesharing?

The idea was floated on the Open Rights Group discussion list earlier this month.

“Studies point to filesharing as a driver for *increased* music sales (among the heaviest downloaders). Possibly filesharers should start trying to recover promotional costs from the music industry?” asked anti-copyright campaigner Rob Myers.

“The music industry should be thinking about business models in which it pays commission to filesharers,” echoed one poster.

It’s an intriguing idea, one which turns conventional ideas of “compensation” on their head.

However, ORG’s Becky Hogge told us that this emphatically didn’t reflect official ORG policy.

We also ran the idea by former Undertones lead singer Feargal Sharkey. Sharkey recently took the job of chairman of British Music Rights, a group that acts as a counterweight to the BPI, representing songwriters and composers. Feargal’s reaction?

“Fantastic!” he told us.

“The obvious thing is who’s going to provide this compensation? Shall I assume it’s the original songwriters and composers who don’t make much money as it is?”

“That’s one of the most fanciful and non-practical ideas I’ve heard for quite some time. But God bless them for making me laugh and cheering me up today!”

So alas, this might be a hard sell outside the Republic of Freetardia – where music is free, and compensation is always someone else’s problem.

File sharers: spare me the phony outrage

Last week, the ailing sound recording industry in America found someone even dumber to pick on. Kazaa user Jammie Thomas had got on the internet, and was doing just what the adverts and mass media say you should do once you’re there – fill your boots with free stuff.

This is a case that should make everyone involved feel ashamed of themselves – with no exceptions. But I’m amazed by the howls of outrage.

Without this free stuff, the internet would be worth very little: it’s simply an extension of the telephone network with added pictures, and would otherwise be priced accordingly, as a low-cost or free addition to your phone bill. Everyone knows that pictures of cats falling down stairs, or even feature-light web-based office suites aren’t really money spinners. Google and BT can’t say so explicitly, but most people are only here for the free music or porn. The rest are here for online games. The stuff about getting broadband “to help with the kids’ homework” is sanctimonious crap.
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Rick Rubin's subscription strategy: Right idea, Wrong price

The record producer and co-founder of Def Jam has only been “co-head” of Sony’s Columbia Records since May, but he’s already setting about destroying the old business so a new one can be built in its place.

It remains to be seen how effective he will be, but for now Rubin is prepared to say what seasoned executives think, but can’t say out loud. And he spelled out the future of the record label in a lengthy profile in this week’s New York Times:

“Columbia is stuck in the dark ages. I have great confidence that we will have the best record company in the industry, but the reality is, in today’s world, we might have the best dinosaur. Until a new model is agreed upon and rolling, we can be the best at the existing paradigm, but until the paradigm shifts, it’s going to be a declining business. This model is done.”

Rubin advocates a subscription model instead. Not one with a capped number of discrete downloads, but one where music “will come anywhere you’d like … a virtual library accessible from your car, from your cellphone, from your computer, from your television. Anywhere.”

Once that’s accepted, the music business will be much bigger than it is today, he believes.
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Babelgum: another new, new TV thing

“Frankly the business plan is subjective”- Babelgum chairman Silvio Scaglia

So P2P TV services really do conform to the proverbial bus cliche: you wait ages for one, then loads of cliches come along at once.

If you know Joost, then you’ll know Babelgum, which unveiled its service in London today. Both are PC-based upstarts to the industry’s own IPTV standard. Both are in closed beta, both offer TV over broadband, both RE free to end-users, as they’re both ad-supported propositions, and both have an element of P2P.

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Digital music nirvana isn't impossible, it just takes longer

An early look at on-demand streaming of your own music. The cloud buzzword hadn’t caught on back then…

The idea of being able to play your music anywhere, on any device, has become a cliche without quite coming to pass. Viewed from a distance, this looks like one of technology’s greatest failures.

If you’re acquainted with Orb, Sling Media, or MP3Tunes – all of which fulfill that promise to some degree – you’ll know how close we are to this goal. But for every breakthrough, it seems, there’s yet another setback.

Look a little closer, and we see that for the most part it’s not the fault of the basic technology components. The networks are in place, the hard drives are big enough and the processors are fast enough for “audio everywhere”. And all are fairly affordable to a critical mass of the market, although the cost we bear is undoubtedly higher than it was in the analog era.

“If I can play it to myself, then I should be stream it to myself on any of my networked devices,” says Orb Networks’ EVP of product marketing, Ian McCartney.

Politics and greed are the problems.

This week Michael Robertson’s MP3Tunes service enabled subscribers to play their iTunes music collection on their TiVo. That’s no thanks to TiVo or Apple, though. It’s possible because subscribers first upload their iPods to the “cloud”, in this case MP3Tunes’ servers, which then performs transcoding if needed.

Orb does something similar, although with a different architecture. In its case the PC punches a hole out to the network, and via Orb’s servers – which also transcode if necessary – allow any device to access the media. Another approach, taken by Sling Media and a host of consumer electronics companies, is hardware based. Like Orb, the media files remain on your own devices, rather than being cached in the cloud. Sling concentrates on TV access, but the problems all three face in getting an end-to-end approach to work as expected are very similar.
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Blanket digital licence fails in France

Under heavy pressure from the French government, the country’s parliament has voted against introducing the world’s first blanket licence for sharing digital media. A section that would have permitted internet users to freely exchange copyrighted material, effectively legitimizing file sharing, and hastening the demise of digital rights management (DRM) software, had passed an earlier reading in a vote last December.

The measure proposed a levy of between €8 and €12 for a compensation pool, had won cross-party support – with strong backing from the left, the Greens, and the centre right UDF inside parliament- as well as the backing of consumer groups. MPs walked out in protest after the blanket license proposal was struck down, AFP reports, leaving the government to carry the day.

Although a similar model of compensation has been historically adopted for the public performance of recordings (such as in pubs), for radio, and most recently for satellite TV and webcasting, the consequences of the French vote would have been dramatic and far-reaching.

With a billion songs exchanged illegally each month on the P2P networks, the most immediate answer is that artists continue to lose out: it’s taken Apple three years to sell a billion songs.

But the implications for technology companies would have been fairly immediate.

The need for digital rights management software would have vanished, replaced by an even more urgent need for the kind of counting technology being devised by Snocap. Snocap intends digital services companies that use its software – such as Mashboxx – to be able to identify the songs being traded on the illegal networks and turn them into legitimate transactions. Today’s digital music services, which offer a limited choice, encumbered with digital restrictions, all for a much higher subscription “fee”, would have had to drastically alter their business models. They’d find themselves in the business of collecting “finder’s fees”, earned good editorial judgement and fulfulling music lover’s needs – rather than services based on artificial scarcity, and technological restrictions.

Direct compensation through a broadband fee works out much cheaper to the citizen than a commercial for-profit service. In his book Promises To Keep published last year, Professor Terry Fisher of the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School estimates that a $6 per month fee for broadband users would compensate both the recording and movie companies for 20 per cent of their revenue – more than they’ve ever claimed they lost through digital piracy.

But the strongest opposition came from the record labels at the top of the physical distribution chain – with the most vociferous opposition coming from the biggest- Universal Music Group.

Speaking at the Digital Music Forum in New York a fortnight ago, flat fee advocate and former Geffen executive Jim Griffin said he could see why UMG opposed a blanket license.

“I agree with Larry Kenswil [UMG’s digital supremo] – this would be bad for Universal. When you’ve reached 30 per cent market share, when you’ve pulled off the last big merger, when you’ve built up the barriers, there’s not a lot of benefit from equalizing access. But what’s good for UMG isn’t good for everyone else.”

For now the prosecutions, the DRM, and the illegal file sharing which leaves artists with no reward – all look set to continue. However, France’s long debate is sure to embolden campaigners, as it makes the once unthinkable suddenly seem very practical. And next to the value proposition of a flat license – wider choice at a lower cost – even the best of today’s digital subscription services look pretty shabby.

File swapping MSPs – the future of digital music?

Don’t expect Bono to descend from a cloud. Or orgasmic praise from the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg. When PlayLouder quietly rolls out its music service in the UK, it won’t initially match the razzle-dazzle of the iTunes Music Store launch, Rhapsody or the other million dollar marketing blitzes.

But the initial, low-key ‘soft launch’ of the first legal file swapping service to be backed by one of the major labels is deceptive. PlayLouder MSP offers something quite revolutionary, and its fate is more likely to shape the future of digital music distribution than anything we’ve seen to date.

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After Grokster: why (almost) everything we're told about P2P is wrong

Emerging Bicycle

Grokster! Is it the end of the world as we know it? No, it isn’t. But before we examine how the two lobbies, the technology lobby and the recording industry lobby, have let us down so badly, let’s pause for a moment to consider how the press has let us down this week, too.

The first rule of punditry is that you must never, ever let the facts get in the way of an argument. Especially if it’s an argument you’ve been rehearsing for days, weeks or even years.
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