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Facebook’s Campbell Brown Demonstrates the Ontological Smugness of the Ship Jumper

August 15, 2018 Comments off

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We’ve all experienced the sneering smugness of the executives at YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Amazon looking down their noses at artists and labels (especially independents).  (Never a problem with Apple in my experience, by the way, gee I wonder why.)

But the ontological definition of smugness is often found in the smuggest of the smug–former executives from a business in one of the copyright categories who quisling their way into a job defending surveillance capitalism at one of the big social networks.  There is no better example than Campbell Brown.  Yes, that Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN.

Ms. Brown, you see, is now Facebook’s “global head of news partnerships” or something like that.  She’s the one that Facebook sends out to try to convince news organizations that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t out to destroy or at least censor them and their readers.

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According to multiple reports, in The Australian, The Sun, The Guardian and others, Ms. Brown is quoted as telling a group of Australian news media executives (this from Olivia Solon in The Guardian):

“We will help you revitalise journalism … in a few years the reverse looks like I’ll be holding your hands with your dying business like in a hospice,” she said, in comments corroborated by five people who attended the meeting in Sydney on Tuesday.

Now ask yourself this–how many times have you heard this exact kind of thing coming from Big Tech executives?  I know I’ve been hearing it since at least 1999 if not before.  That stuff is really, really getting old.

But wait, there’s more of the same.

During the four-hour meeting, Brown also talked about the company’s decision to prioritise personal posts from family and friends over journalistic content within the news feed. The move has hit some publishers who rely heavily on referrals from Facebook hard.

“We are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals anymore. That is the old world and there is no going back – Mark wouldn’t agree to this,” said Brown.

Of course, the real problem is that because of a variety of safe harbors, it is difficult for news organizations to cut off “journalistic content” from Facebook altogether which is exactly what they richly deserve.  If you’re going to the hospice anyway, wouldn’t you rather go to that big news conference in the sky on your feet than on your knees?

And here’s the height of smugness from Ms. Brown:

The Australian also reported that Brown said that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, “doesn’t care about publishers but is giving me a lot of leeway and concessions to make these changes”, although both Facebook and Brown vehemently deny this comment was made, referring to a transcript they have from the meeting.

Facebook would not release the transcript from the meeting.

Of course they wouldn’t.  They have all the data in the world that they sell to anyone with a pulse, but they’re not going to release that transcript.  Presumably this is on the advice of Facebook’s soon-to-be-departed general counsel, the eponymous Mr. Stretch, he of the Dickensian name.

The upshot of the story would appear to be self-aggrandizement by Campbell Brown–who many would have thought better of–that your business is dying unless you deal with me because Mr. Big is too big for you but has deputized me to throw you some scraps.

Even though Ms. Brown and Facebook deny the event ever happened that way, I have to say that it all rings very true to me.  I think it will ring true to anyone who has dealt with those who jump ship but then go sell themselves based on their past work experience to a buffoon like Zuckerberg (who kowtows like Bozo to authoritarian regimes, literally).  Amazing what a few stock options will do to elevate one’s opinion of oneself.

All that’s missing is for the journalist trades to hail Ms. Brown’s expertise and deal making ability simply because she was once a passenger on the ship she jumped from.  That would complete the ontological smugness of it all.

 

 

 

 

Must Read: @AnneMarieSteele: An insightful interview with Jody Gerson about songwriting and breaking artists

August 14, 2018 Comments off

[This interview is one of the best statements of what signing and breaking a songwriter or an artist is all about.  When I was reading Jody Gerson’s interview I remember when I asked David Anderle once why we didn’t do bidding wars at A&M.   He said quite simply that A&M helped compelling artists make great records and then stuck with them until they found an audience.  They didn’t always work out but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  That had nothing to do with bidding wars.]

I think it is a difficult time for songwriters who aren’t writing massive hit songs. When I first came into the industry, you could write a cut on a big album, like for Whitney Houston, and it would sell a lot of records, and you could make a lot of money as a songwriter. But unless you’re writing hit singles or you have pieces of songs on enormous numbers of streamed product, it is very difficult right now….

A lot of people are relying on data today. I don’t go in that direction. I judge music based on what I feel. Does it move me? Is that a lyric that articulates a feeling that I have better than I can articulate it? Is there a driving beat that makes me want to move? Is there a melody that makes me want to sing along? I have found in my career anytime that I have trusted my instinct, I’m right….

What everybody’s missing is the role of the record company. There’s talk about whether artists need to be signed to a record company. I would like you to show me one streaming platform that has broken an artist, made a major investment in breaking an artist. It is not easy.

Just because a song is on a digital platform doesn’t mean you’re breaking that artist. The companies that put the most into the development of artists are still record companies. The investment in breaking artists still is something that we can’t underestimate, and platforms do not do that.

Hit artists, superstars, are never flukes. It just doesn’t happen that way. It takes a village to break an artist.

Read the post from the Wall Street Journal

h/t Artist Rights Watch

Thank You Senator @MarkWarner, but Senator @RonWyden is the Perfect Leader in the Fight Against Behavioral Addiction

August 13, 2018 Comments off

Senator Mark Warner has released (or leaked) a comprehensive plan to combat fake news and foreign manipulation of the American electorate through Silicon Valley.  Unfortunately, however appealing or appalling some of Senator Warner’s proposals are, it’s likely that he may just be expanding the game of whack-a-mole that Silicon Valley loves so much.  We’ve seen the whack-a-mole movie before and we know how it ends.  They won’t help, you spend money to fight them, and if you ever look like you might be winning, they outspend you on lobbying to create a new safe harbor.

Senator Wyden Can Help Solve the Fundamental Problem With Social Media

There is a more fundamental problem with Silicon Valley that the Congress is actually well-suited to address, probably needs no new laws, and if fixed would go a long way to addressing some of Senator Warner’s issues—the problem of addiction and how Silicon Valley profits from creating that behavioral addiction to smartphones, likes, views, retweets and other fakery that turns the science of addiction on its head.

And the really good news is that there is one currently serving U.S. Senator who is the perfect person to take on this issue, one Senator who has shown his chutzpah in the past, and one Senator who above all others is well suited to deal with the problem of behavior addiction for corporate profit—Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon.

It was Senator Wyden who created that classic exchange in 1994 between the heads of the Big Tobacco companies which you’ve probably seen where Senator Wyden got each of them to say that nicotine was not addictive, only to discover that these companies used biological and behavioral research to make their product as addictive as possible (see The Insider, a film about Big Tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand portrayed by Russell Crowe).  

The tobacco class actions resulted in a $3.4 billion payment over 25 years–in 1997 dollars.  We know how much Big Tech hates real class actions they don’t control, but face it–a comparable settlement today would be chump change for the most valuable companies in commercial history.

This is why Ron Wyden is the perfect Senator to reprise his role of champion of public health by holding Silicon Valley’s feet to the fire.  And let’s face it—there’s lots of material to work with in the business of social media that is founded on fakery, well beyond Senator Warner’s recommendations.

YouTube’s Fakery on Display Again

It’s not surprising that fake YouTube views are again in the news in what is becoming a series of exposes on the fakery in social media.  The latest deep dive into the skullduggery behind fake views is by Michael H. Keller in the New York Times and is recommended reading by Artist Rights Watch.

Everyone in the record business who has been paying attention has seen a version of this story play out many, many times for many, many years.  Remember the radio promotion exec who always seems to get the same adds at that same stations for a few weeks?  And when the plays stop, the exec says “the record is not reacting”?  Fake YouTube views are essentially the same scam—with two exceptions. The scale is vastly bigger at YouTube and no DJ has the motto “don’t be evil.”

Mr. Keller’s post ends with this provocative conclusion:

View-selling sites continue to advertise with apparent impunity. A post on the YouTube Creator Blog warning users against fake views has numerous comments linking to view-selling sites.

“The only way YouTube could eliminate this is if they removed the view counter altogether,” said Mr. Vassilev, the fake-view seller. “But that would defeat the purpose of YouTube.”

That’s an interesting proposition.  Why would removing the view counter defeat the purpose of YouTube?  Aren’t we told that artists can’t reach an audience without YouTube?  So isn’t the purpose of YouTube to reach an audience rather than produce public views information?  Granted, the person making that assertion is a fake view seller and not a YouTube representative, but a YouTube representative would likely never say such a thing even if they knew it to be true.  Why not?

Behavioral Addiction Additives 

One reason might be that the view counter, friend counters, the likes, the retweets, the various measurements that demonstrate the re-enforcement of acceptance by “friends”, are an important component of what makes YouTube addictive, just like tobacco companies added ammonia and other chemicals to tobacco to increase its addictive powers.  And the evidence is starting to come in suggesting that it is that addiction that is the real purpose of YouTube and other social media sites.

One source of that evidence is from Professor Adam Alter of the NYU Stern School of Business whose book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked describes in shocking detail just how devious sites like YouTube and Facebook are in delivering the dopamine fix to our brains, and worse yet to our children’s brains.  As Professor Alter told the New York Times:

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to….

We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.

And of course those buttons include YouTube subscriber and view counts, Facebook friends and likes and the various other feedback mechanisms that enforce a measurement of popularity.  So far, social media is good business as Spotify billionaire Sean Parker tells us:

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” 

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.

Of course, as one Silicon Valley entrepreneur who also survived the Dot Bomb Implosion once told me, there’s something really wrong about a world in which Sean Parker is a billionaire.

Do Fake Views Produce Fake News?

Here’s a couple thoughts about the fake view issue.  First, why doesn’t Google refund the sums spent on fake views?  Maybe not to the repeat user PR firms but at least to the individuals who were lured in by the promise of fake views who didn’t know any better?  Or would they prefer to put together one of their pre-packaged fake class actions that funnels money to their favorite shills in cy pres awards?

But going forward, what is so unusual about getting rid of view counters, friend counters, like counters, follower counters, and so on?  Twitter did something similar when they stopped the counter on Twitter linking buttons.  If YouTube is really such a great tool for consumer engagement, do we think fans are going to stop watching videos of the artists they love just because they don’t have a counter telling them what’s popular when there’s a better than 50/50 chance the counter is a fraud to begin with?

Let’s face it—one reason YouTube music videos are popular is because artists and labels drive traffic to YouTube.  That helps the view count as much as anything else.

Also, it’s not like there’s no ranking going on.  Google can rank YouTube videos in search with no problem.  Of course, they’re so good at ranking in the background that they are being fined for it by the European Commission. 

Senator Wyden, Where Art Thou?

While I appreciate Senator Warner’s effort, the real rock star in taking on Silicon Valley could be Senator Ron Wyden.  The addiction issue would be a perfect opportunity for his consumer protection legacy with tobacco addiction to enter the digital age.

The Times of London Confirms that Google is Behind Astroturf “Opposition” to Article 13

August 8, 2018 1 comment

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Since the earliest days of MTP, we’ve been pushing what has come to be called the “value gap”–the margin of profit that Big Tech makes from playing games with the DMCA safe harbor (and the Section 230 safe harbor in the Communications Decency Act).  In 2006 we called this “The DMCA is Not an Alibi” and pointed the finger directly at the biggest offender–Google and in particular its YouTube subsidiary.

We’ve also pushed the facts on how Google creates fake astroturf groups which has been going on for years and in countries other than the United States.  While no one has ever looked too hard at what happened in SOPA opposition in the US and ACTA resistance in Europe, the circumstantial evidence suggests that there’s a mismatch of grand proportion between the number of “people” who show up for anonymous or near anonymous online “protests” yet nearly zero warm bodies show up in person to protest, say, Copyright Office Roundtables on modifications to the DMCA safe harbor.

This was even true of the White House petition on SOPA–there were no geographical boundaries on who could sign up to a White House petition, which is the least that you would think that the President of the United States would try to accomplish on a petition that directly affected U.S. law.  We’re assuming that the same rules applied to all White House petitions, but it ain’t necessarily so–given Google’s White House influence, restrictions could have been dropped for SOPA alone.

We saw it once again with the Article 13 vote in the European Parliament.  Millions participated in what could legitimately be described as a last minute DDOS style attack on the European Parliament–again, anonymous or near anonymous and largely unverifiable communications shrouded under the shield of “constituent communications” with no way to verify in real time exactly who these people were.

This makes no sense–why is it that the only time the anti-copyright crowd can summon large amounts of data is when no one knows who they are?

David Lowery and Volker Rieck writing in The Trichordist have put their finger right on exactly how Google accomplishes this policy bombing with stunning exposes of OpenMedia and New/Mode, the two organizations that seem to be funded by Google and are as close to what Mr. Rieck called the “political hack” of the European Parliament as one is to two.

We also posted on MTP about this issue and called on EU public prosecutors and the European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager to investigate the entire process.

The reason we mentioned Margrethe Vestager is because the week of the Article 13 intimidation campaign, the European Commission fined Google some $5 billion.  Understand that Google got involved late in the Article 13 debate and stood up its astroturf campaign very late in the cycle–this would have been right about the time that Google knew it was about to be the subject of yet another multi-billion fine for its bad behavior.

These competition actions don’t happen in a vacuum and there is a lot of dialog with the companies subject to the fine, so it is hard to believe that the timing of the announcement by Commissioner Vestager as well as the amount wasn’t well-known to Google when it dropped the hammer on Article 13’s astroturf campaign.  Not only that, but when the usual suspects called me out, I knew I was onto something.

Fortunately, David’s first rate investigative report on the astroturf campaign caught the attention of as august journal as The Times of London (“Google funds website that spams for its causes”) which confirmed David’s story with its own independent investigation.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, do we take these aberrant behaviors as normal or do we question them?

None of Google’s attacks on government should be surprising–anarchy is in their DNA.  As former Obama White House aide and Internet savant Susan Crawford tells us:

I was brought up and trained in the Internet Age by people who really believed that nation states were on the verge of crumbling…and we could geek around it.  We could avoid it.  These people were irrelevant.

There seems little doubt that Google paid off Open Media to do its political dirty work–the question is, do the Members of the European Parliament want to sit there and keep getting abused by an antagonistic multinational corporation, or do they want to do something about it.

And You Know It Makes Me Wonder What’s Going On: @theDavidCrosby’s Streaming Royalties

August 6, 2018 Comments off

David Crosby was in this band called The Byrds which covered “Mr. Tambourine Man” aka Bob Dylan’s first #1 hit as a songwriter.  Then he was in another band called Crosby Stills Nash & Young.  He’s done a lot of other things, too, but I mention those two bands because each of those bands were inducted into the Rock Hall.  That’s right–David Crosby was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice.  And, one more thing–he is a pre-72 artist for many of his classic recordings and songs.

So here’s his reality.  Oh, and PS Spotify closed at $175.50.

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ipolicy: CyberTurfing: The Way Democracy Ends — Artist Rights Watch

August 5, 2018 Comments off

On August 3, 2017 the Moab, Utah Times-Independent published an innocuous-looking letter urging support for net neutrality. Moab, in Utah’s 3rd Congressional district, was facing a special election to replace retiring Representative Jason Chaffetz and the writer argued that support for net neutrality and Title II should be an issue:

It’s time for policymakers in Congress to take a firm stand for our access to a fast, free, and open internet. Unfortunately, we in Moab no longer have a congressperson whom we can urge to speak to this issue. We need a congressperson who will come out in support of strong net neutrality protections — specifically the Open Internet Order and Title II.

The letter was completely fake, however. It was generated by a “CyberTurfing” tool marketed by a company that runs fake grass-roots campaigns for any company or cause willing to pay its price. We know this because the company – New/Mode – brags about it on their web site (click on “like this one”). (The mention of Title II is suspicious in its own right since most people have no idea what it entails.)

Read the post on High Tech Forum

 

Billions and Billions: Carl Sagan Meets the Music Modernization Act

July 24, 2018 Comments off

According to a post in Variety, there seems to be a rather large chunk of cash sitting at the digital music services.  As Artist Rights Watch posted,  Variety’s initial story read:

The DSPs are holding some $1.5 billion in unmatched mechanical royalties. If the MMA passes, that money would be passed through to the MLC which would match it to the songwriters and publishers.

Variety subsequently updated the post (you might call it a “correction”) to read:

The DSPs are holding some $1.5 billion in unmatched mechanical royalties [ADDED — that total is the sum of all Notice of Intent (NOI) filings currently parked at the U.S. Copyright office, and is climbing.] If the MMA passes, that money would be passed through to the MLC which would match it to the songwriters and publishers.

Both these statements are rather odd.  If there’s $1.5 billion in unmatched royalties at services, one must ask what is it doing there?

On the other hand, if the “correction” is correct, the $1.5 billion sum includes, I guess, royalties payable for the NOIs at the Copyright Office.  Not clear from Variety, but this reference must be to the “address unknown” mass NOIs (since Variety refers to “at the Copyright Office” and I think that’s the only NOI that would get filed “at the Copyright Office”).  (See my post on Big Tech’s mass NOI loophole from the ABA Entertainment and Sports Lawyer.)

This “correction” is also very strange to me because the mass NOIs are royalty free–that (and escape from liability) is the whole point of the loophole.  I think we have probably bored everyone with many posts on just what a joke these filings are.   Everyone from Ed Sheeran to the Neville Brothers are subject to these NOIs, and I’m told that at least Ed Sheeran is getting paid under a voluntary agreement.  Having said that, I would be very surprised if there were anywhere near 1.5 billion NOIs filed at the Copyright Office, although there may certainly be tens of millions or maybe over 100 million.  I’m willing to be educated otherwise, but that 1.5 billion number just doesn’t scan to me.  (You can look these up on SX Works’ handy NOI Lookup, the best tool for finding out if you have one filed on your song.)

The only way I can think of that both Variety’s original statement and the correction could be true would be if there were a voluntary retroactive unmatched payment by the digital services as part of the deal for the Music Modernization Act.  Even so, $1.5 billion is awfully generous, even for the biggest companies in commercial history.  But then, if it is a voluntary payment, how would you ever know if it isn’t also voluntarily disclosed?

So I’m looking forward to seeing if there’s a further correction.  It could just be confusion on the part of Variety or their source.  Time will tell.  But the entire exchange shows that the Copyright Office should never have allowed Spotify, Amazon, Google et al to get this started.  Strangely enough, Apple seems to get by just fine without using “address unknown” NOIs.

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