Archive for April, 2013

Fetishized Royalties Through Tim Quirk’s Google Glass

April 29, 2013 1 comment
Race to the Bottom Glass

Schmidt’s Law: Royalties vary inversely to computing power, so royalties are cut in half every two years.

According to the Nashville Business Journal (“Google to Nashville’s music biz: Don’t fetishize the past“):

Tim Quirk, head of Android global content programming, had two takeaways for a room filled with people from Nashville’s music business at today’s Google for Creators event: Don’t fetishize the past, and music is priceless….[Quirk said:] “We are here to help you through that maelstrom of musical choice,” he said today at Anthem. “We don’t do it the old-fashioned way, by annointing a handful of artists as geniuses and declaring selected albums as masterpieces. We do it by building services that let thousands of potential masterpieces find their ideal audiences.”

Yes…it’s a race to the bottom.

Welcome to State Sponsored Theft: Iceland is Becoming a Pirate Utopia

April 28, 2013 1 comment

“Pirate utopias” have been a twenty year fascination with the anti-copyright crowd, spillover from the  “information wants to be free” cult.  The anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson writing under the handle “Hakim Bey” wrote what is probably the best known book on the “pirate utopia” under the title “The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism” (1991) or, as it is known perhaps affectionately in hacker circles, simply “TAZ.”  (I for one am not quite sure what makes “poetic terrorism” different from unpoetic terrorism, utopian terrorism, anarchic terrorism, or just plain old terrorism, but I’m sure someone at Harvard knows all about it, thank goodness.)

If you were paying attention to Julian Assange over the last few years, you would have heard echoes of the TAZ in his speech at the 26th Chaos Communication Congress in 2009, the hacker convention in Germany (named after the Chaos Computer Club as documented in the cyber espionage non-fiction book, “The Cukoo’s Egg“).  The TAZ influence is especially prevalent in the Wikileaks “Here Be Dragons: Going from Defense to Attack” project to create an “offshore publication center” to provide a specialized set of laws that would allow Wikileaks to do what it does–a permanent TAZ that Assange identifies as Iceland in this case.  Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the current leader of the Iceland Pirate Party, has skipped around a bit politically, but was (and is) a leading defender of Wikileaks.  She also was one of the founders of “The Movement” that morphed into the “Dawn” party.  She also sponsored the “Icelandic Modern Media Initiative” that essentially codifies Assange’s goals.  Inexplicably, Iceland is a member of NATO but has a zero defense budget (meaning that taxpayers of NATO member countries subsidize Iceland’s military defense.)

So the concept has been around for a while–putting servers for various illegal items on Sealand is another example.  There is no question that the concept has a serious fascination at the highest levels of Google–see the transcript of Eric Schmidt’s recent meeting with Assange, for example, in which Assange asked for leaks from Google.  (“Transcript of Secret Meeting Between Julian Assange and Eric Schmidt [and Schmidt golden boy Jared Cohen“]

Leaks of what information, exactly?  Not clear what Google the government contractor might be thinking of leaking–Schmidt tells Assange “we are obviously sympathetic” to Assange’s views.  But it’s not much of a leap to see that Google thinks of itself as a kind of pirate utopia given Schmidt’s abiding and public disregard for the laws of nation states.  (Or as Susan Crawford once famously said, they want to “geek around the nation state.”)

So it should not be surprising to see that the Pirate Bay has found a home in Iceland from which it can continue its efforts to rob artists blind, which crass commercialism will no doubt continue to be wrapped in some civil liberties agenda.  And curiously enough, harboring these criminals comes just as the Pirate Party–no connection, remember–gets 3 seats in the Iceland parliament.

When you realize that Assange has been working at this for nearly a decade, it should come as no surprise that Iceland is the home of state sponsored theft.  Just wait for the no prescription pharmacies.

Should Kickstarter’s Commission Rate Be Reduced on Big Money Projects?

April 27, 2013 4 comments

Nobody in their right mind would ever give a money finder a flat “finder’s fee” when the finder is raising large amounts of money (see “Lehman Formula“).  After the religious experience of the Amanda Palmer Kickstarter project, followed by Veronica Mars and Zach King, it occurs to me that Kickstarter is making too much money on these deals.  (This assumes, of course, that experienced Hollywood types just hand over Kickstarter’s 5% vig without question–which is itself a question, but one I cannot answer yet.)

When these stars–yes, the hated star system–come to Kickstarter, they could literally go to any of several sites to raise their money.  Or do it themselves as Lewis CK demonstrated.  The fact that it’s Kickstarter is of no significance at all.  Kickstarter’s 5% would mean it made $285,000 and counting off of Veronica Mars for doing essentially the same amount of work as they would do to make a documentary about Veronica’s dog.  (Because as we all know, on the Internet, their marginal cost would be zero, right?)

This isn’t to say that Kickstarter doesn’t provide a valuable service, but it is to say that the reason that Kickstarter made bank on these deals has nothing to do with Kickstarter, and everything to do with the brand value of the project that pre-existed the fund raising.

So Kickstarter should start taking less the more that’s raised like anybody else.  The normal Wall Street finder’s deal starts at 5% and goes down 1% in million dollar increments to a 1% floor.  Given that the vast majority of the projects on Kickstarter raise less than $100,000 and only 28 have raised more than $1 million, it seems that the reduction in commission should start earlier to be democratic so it’s not only the 1% who would get the finder fee reduction.

I don’t know what the right formula is, but what I know is that it is absurd for Kickstarter to be taking 5% of multi-million dollar projects to which they add no value.

Texas Laws Helping Live Music Venues

April 24, 2013 Comments off

Music Technology Policy

The State of Texas has lead the way in leveraging its live music business, and it’s not all Austin a city that has branded itself the “Live Music Capitol of the World”.  There are bills introduced in the Texas legislature that incentivize venues to book more live music as well as supporting live sound and lights and all those who work hard to make the live show valuable.  This also includes capital expenditures on sound mitigation that helps residents who like to live near live music venues.

Because there’s no state income tax in Texas, these incentives are created through relief in the sales tax and alcoholic beverages tax.  If you live in Texas, please consider supporting these bills by calling your State representative and senator–you can find them at and fill in the blanks in the “who represents me” fields.

The bills are:

Senate Bill 1179, introduced by…

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Interesting Letter about USC-Annenberg Innovation Lab Brand Sponsored Piracy Study to Internet Advertising Bureau from Reps. Goodlatte and Schiff and Senators Hatch and Whitehouse

April 23, 2013 Comments off

It’s always great when the government follows up on an important issue to artists.  Representatives Goodlatte and Schiff and Senators Hatch and Whitehouse sent this letter to Mr. Randall Rothenberg of the Internet Advertising Bureau that had this choice passage:

We were pleased that your November 1, 2011 letter highlighted the IAB’s Network and Exchanges Quality Assurance Guidelines (Quality Assurance Guidelines), which “strictly prohibit” the sale of ad inventory on sites with “content in violation of U.S. law, and more specifically, Warez including P2P, torrent sites, illegal downloads, pirated software, Spyware and Malware, and sites that host or stream infringing content.” We understand from your letter that IAB has promoted the Quality Assurance Guidelines to help address this problem, and we further understand that IAB is currently in the process of updating them.

As you may have seen, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab has released three “Advertising Transparency Reports,” listing the “top 1 O” ad networks that it found placing ads on sites engaged in piracy. Without endorsing the methodology employed, we note that IAB member companies that are “certified” under the Quality Assurance Guidelines are named in the reports.

We would welcome an update on your progress in implementing and updating the Quality Assurance Guidelines, and promoting the industry’s adoption and – most importantly operationalization of such measures.

Oh, wouldn’t we just.

What are you authorizing when you allow YouTube to monetize your songs?

April 23, 2013 Comments off

Right after Google bought YouTube, Google lawyer Zahavah Levine spoke on a panel at the Beverly Hills Bar Association during which she described the “whack a mole” aspect of how infringing content is posted, reposted, and reposted again on YouTube–unless you want to make a deal with YouTube.  (I happened to be speaking at the OECD’s digital future conference right before Google bought YouTube and got the distinct impression that the concept of UGC as a way to both steal copyrights and add another of the 1,000 cuts to the industry litigation budget sprang from the depths of the imagination of one Fred Von Lohman and one Terry Fisher–meaning this was all part of Google’s acquisition strategy–but that’s another story.)

So what exactly are you agreeing to as a songwriter when you agree to relax and enjoy it as it sounded like Ms. Levine suggested?  What are you authorizing when you agree to “monetize” your “content” on YouTube?  By the look of it, far more than you bargained for!  (Or didn’t bargain for)

Take this example of a YouTube ad for “”.  And by the way–I don’t mean pre-roll ads for other products on this particular video, I mean the video is itself an advertisement.  Against which other ads are sold.  What is it an ad for?  “Buy Pills Online Without Prescription”.  And what kind of pills?  Cialis, Arcoxia, Levitra, Cardizem (heart relaxer), Casodex (prostate cancer treatment), Cloud9 Human Growth Hormone, Cytoxan (cancer treatment), and of course more different species of Viagra than Carter has…ah…pills.

Google, as MTP readers will recall, is no stranger to the world of no-prescription pharmacies–the company’s senior management team (apparently going up to Larry Page and Eric Schmidt) were nearly indicted in a multiyear sting operation for which it paid $500,000,000 of the stockholders’ money.  So it’s not like they don’t know what they are doing when they allow these pill pusher ads onto YouTube.  In fact, this type of YouTube video may themselves violate the Google Nonprosecution Agreement that allowed them to get out of jail free (to the executives involved). OPM, man.

And guess what is being advertised next to the drugs?

Chrome Drugs

Yes, Google Chrome.  You don’t suppose that YouTube serves Chrome ads based on the keyword “tablet” do you?

So this is how we know that the “no prescription” drug ad is “monetized”.  How is this relevant to songwriters?  I’d suggest that it’s yet another version of whack a mole, Google’s favorite game that Ms. Levine, Mr. Von Lohman and Professor Fisher foreshadowed way back when.

Listen to the music bed of the video:

Sound familiar?  Yes, it’s the Theme from House–it’s actually a song by Massive Attack called “Teardrop,” but these days everyone knows it from its very close identification with the House television show.

When music is “licensed” on YouTube its usually in two licensing buckets–user generated content and music videos.  (Unless of course it’s in the YouTube “partner” multichannel networks, in which case it’s not licensed at all the vast majority of the time.  Don’t forget that YouTube describes these MCNs as “partners”.  We’ll come back to that in another post.)

Music is not licensed for use as commercials, particularly not commercials for illegal pharmacies (that run for 4:22).  Any guesses for how much a commercial use of “Teardrop” would set you back?  If the writers even agreed to license it for a drug commercial?

But what has probably happened in the case of the drug advertisement on YouTube is that the song was authorized for “monetization” but YouTube failed to tell anyone that the song was being used in the bed of a commercial made for YouTube.  A drug commercial.  In other words, they can tell you that the song is being used, they just can’t tell you what for.

This is pretty clearly the exact conduct that is prohibited by Google’s nonprosecution agreement as YouTube becomes the leading music source of choice for kids.  You know–the kids that Health and Human Services Secretary Joseph Califano was concerned about when he wrote to Eric Schmidt in 2008 to implore Schmidt to stop the drug ads.  That Schmidt ignored.

So when you “monetize” a song on YouTube, just remember that you are giving up control of where your song appears because YouTube’s ContentID will not block these ads and no human will either.  And as we know from the Google sting that resulted in the $500,000,000 fine to keep its executives out of jail, Google will actually look for ways to get around its own filters.

How hard is it to automatically flag anything with the line “buy pills online without prescription” on a site largely devoted to kids?  Is that so very hard to figure out?

As Ms. Levine indicated back in 2006, there’s nothing you can do to actually stop Google from promoting dope on YouTube.  Not even fine them $500,000,000.  Maybe some day there will be a government that won’t let them buy their way out of jail, because that’s probably what it’s going to take to get their attention.

But until then–what YouTube will likely say is that by deciding to monetize your music, you have authorized using it in the bed of an ad pushing drugs to kids and desperate people, even addicts.  And they’ll be all happy and smug about that.

It’s time to start demanding far greater accountability from Google.  If they’re going to be using your music whether you like it or not, you should at least have the same control over the “new boss” that you would have over the “old boss.”  And it would be a cold day in hell that the old boss ever approved a sync for an ad for an illegal pharmacy.

Google’s Glass Brick: Permissionless Innovation Begins at Home….NOT!

April 22, 2013 1 comment

It’s really important that we protect the rights of really good looking people in this society,”

Attorney Andrew Bridges of Fenwick & West (frequently representing Google) quoted at Beautiful Person Derek Khanna’s SXSW Panel


In a strange twist of fate, we were recently regaled last year with the sudden ascent of an unknown Hill staffer from obscurity in the “50 Most Beautiful People” lifestyle pages of The Hill to a fellowship at Yale’s outpost of Googlers.  Why?  Because some memo he wrote somehow found its way into a blog that had a remarkably high degree of penetration in the radical tech press (a feat worthy of Michael Geist’s own blogging).  But mostly because of the latest solution in search of a problem–unlocking cell phones.

Yes, the survival of Free Culture turns on whether one is for or against unlocking all cell phones (regardless of whether the user got the phone at a price that was subsidized by a phone company in the first place).

And thus a first year law student suddenly found a new biography: According to CNN’s uncritical biography:

Editor’s note: Derek Khanna is a Yale Law Fellow with the Information Society Project, a columnist and policy expert [link to Khanna’s own site telling us what an expert he is]. As a staff member for the House Republican Study Committee, he authored the report “Three Myths About Copyright Law.” [Clearly a gloss on the facts intended to make the reader think that he wrote the memo for RSC, a allegation that is most definitely in dispute]

So this cell phone unlocking curiously found its way into the White House petitions (which allows all Citizens of the World to sign, not just U.S. voters or even residents), and…lo and behold, the petition gathered over 100,000 unverified “signatures”.  The White House let it be known that it would support this solution and like clockwork, legislation was introduced the next day that would give some in Congress an excuse to open the nasty DMCA notice and shakedowns…sorry, that would allow the Congress to protect consumers from subsidized cell phones.

After all this storm and fury from the beautiful people, one would think that it would not be too much to expect some consistency in the desire for permissionless innovation that we have heard so much about, including from one Vint Cerf, the Google lobbyist:

The Internet is threatened by governments that want to control content and use of the network. All of us have gotten accustomed to freedom of expression and freedom of access to content on the net, but we have also gotten accustomed to something called permissionless innovation, which is a phrase I use to explain why it’s so important to keep the network relatively open and freely accessible. It’s so that anyone who wants to try a new application out can just do so.

I’m sure Mr. Khanna remembers Mr. Cerf–Mr. Khanna has mentioned Mr. Cerf in Khanna’s Linkedin resume and then there’s this:


Given this history, one has a certain expectation that the permissionless innovation crowd will be up in arms over Google’s announcement that it will “brick” Google Glass if anyone tries to sell or even lend–you know, share–their pair with someone else.  According to PC World:

If you’re hoping to sell your $1,500 Google Glasses, think again. The search giant will brick your fancy specs if you put them on eBay or otherwise try to make a profit.  [One might ask, “How would they know?” but this is Google after all, and we may prefer fitful sleep to knowing the answer to that question.]

According to the Google Glass terms of service, buyers “may not resell, loan, transfer, or give your Device to any other person.”

If you do that without permission, “Google reserves the right to deactivate the Device, and neither you nor the unauthorized person using the Device will be entitled to any refund, product support, or product warranty.”

Why might that be?  You don’t suppose it has anything to do with the fact that if you buy Google Glass, you will be telling Google who you are.  As in your name.  And since Google will know who you are, when they use Google Glass to see where you are, what you see and what you say, they will know more about you than the FBI.  N, o more guesswork.

And if you were to do something as uncool as “share” your device with a “friend” or resell your device–you know, kind of like reselling a digital copy of a music or movie file–then Google would no longer know whose data they were scraping.  Which would make it much less valuable to them, so apparently they would not be willing to subsidize the price of a pair of Glass.

Kind of like a phone company might do with a subsidized cell phone.

So why haven’t we heard from Mr. Khanna about this latest affront to Free Culture?  It’s not like he doesn’t know anyone at Google.

khanna patry2

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