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

August 15, 2018 Comments off

Emporer zuck

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.


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

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

August 8, 2018 1 comment


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.

@mikehuppe: Broadcast Radio Makes an Ironic Plea for Fairness — Artist Rights Watch

August 8, 2018 Comments off

SoundExchange’s CEO says it’s time radio starts paying all music creators fairly for their work.

On Monday, a group of radio broadcasters penned a letter in support of the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) push for deregulation of the $14 billion radio industry. Their letter was based on the NAB’s petition to the FCC this past June, in which the NAB sought to allow expanded broadcaster ownership of radio stations (i.e., increased consolidation) throughout the country. The NAB’s justification: broadcasters must adjust their business model to the realities of the new streaming world.

As a representative of the many creative parties who help craft music, we are frequently on the opposite side of issues from the NAB. And while I can’t comment on NAB’s specific requests, I was delighted to find so much common ground in their FCC filing in June….

I agree with the NAB that the law should “finally adopt rules reflecting competitive reality in today’s audio marketplace” and should “level the playing field” for all entities in the music economy.

If radio truly wants to modernize, it can start by taking a giant leap into the 21st century and paying all music creators fairly for their work. Stop treating artists like 17th century indentured servants, just so radio can reap bigger profits. If radio wants to have rules that reflect the music industry of today, then that should apply across the board.

We should resolve this gaping unfairness to artists before we begin talking about allowing radio to consolidate even further.


Read the post on Billboard


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


HFA is Getting Blamed Unfairly — Music Tech Solutions

July 31, 2018 Comments off

When you’ve been around as long as the Harry Fox Agency, you’re going to make some enemies, screw some things up, over react and over reach. You’re also going to do a lot of things right, make some friends and do some good. But most of all, you’re going to be the whipping boy […]

via HFA is Getting Blamed Unfairly — Music Tech Solutions

Rule Takers vs. Rule Makers: Congress Should Support Startups in the Music Modernization Act

July 24, 2018 1 comment

If you read the current version of the Music Modernization Act, you may find that it’s more about government mandates that entrench incumbents than a streamlined blanket compulsory license that helps startups climb the ladder.  Yet in the weeds of MMA we find startups dealt out of governance by rule makers and forced as a rule taker to ante up payments by their competitors in a game that the bill makes into the only game in town.

Billboard reports that Senators Cornyn and Cruz suggested a fix for this flaw—allow private market competition alongside the MMA’s government mandate.  (Vaguely reminiscent of the “Section 115 Reform Act” from the 109th Congress in 2006.)

Let’s review why this fix is necessary and how it could balance the roles of rule makers and takers.

It’s necessary because the problem doesn’t come from songwriters.  It comes from the real rule makers—Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Spotify.  And startups know which side butters their bread. 

Public discussion of MMA has focused on the song collective and the compulsory blanket license for songs, but the mandated digital services collective is more troubling given the size of the players involved.  MMA calls the services’ collective the “digital licensee coordinator” or the “DLC”. Rule taker startups are governed by the rule maker DLC but have no say in the DLC’s selection.  

Like Microsoft’s anonymous amici, startups know their place.  Especially against Google, Amazon and Facebook, whose monopoly bear hug on startups includes hosting, advertising and driving traffic.

The MMA authorizes these aggressive incumbents to effectively decide the price to startups for the “modernized” blanket license.  Why?  Because the MMA requires users of the license to pay for the lion’s share of the “administrative assessment,” the licensees’ collectivized administrative cost payment that the CBO estimates will be over $222 million for 8 years.

Senators Cruz and Cornyn object to MMA’s delegation of the government’s authority to one collective for songwriters and one collective for digital services—with an antitrust exemption.  Why only one game in town? Rather than have the DLC run by the usual suspect monopolists, why not allow competition?

This is important–if startups can’t afford to buy-in to the license, it does them no good, and their biggest competitors decide the price of that license through the DLC. 

Both collectives are to be approved by the Register of Copyrights, but MMA puts the Register in the unenviable position of being constrained to appoint certain types of entities by statutory mandate.

Here’s the mirror image language from the MMA instructing the Register on selecting both the song collective and the DLC:

“[The Register must choose an entity that] is endorsed by and enjoys substantial support from [digital music providers/copyright owners of musical works] that together represent the greatest share of the [licensee/licensor] market for uses of [musical/such] works in covered activities, as measured over the preceding 3 full calendar years;”

Startups–who are potential music users most in need of the statutory blanket license–need not apply to be the DLC. 

That clause alone justifies the Cornyn/Cruz solution.  

There is another toad in the weeds:  The allocation of the “administrative assessment” to each music user of the blanket license.  In a clause fraught with moral hazard, MMA authorizes the DLC to “equitably allocate the collective[’s] total costs across digital music providers…but shall include as a component a minimum fee for all digital music providers.” Plus, the DLC also gets to set the “dues” payment for each of its “members.” Plus startups pay royalties to the song collective.

Rule makers set a lot of payments. But curiously no one can tell a startup today the hard cost of their blanket license tomorrow.

If a startup wants the MMA’s blanket license, the DLC can compel it to pay a share of the assessment at a price determined by the DLC—as well as a membership fee.  These mandatory payments are enforced by the DLC and are required for any music user to get a blanket license.  If this sounds cumbersome and bureaucratic, that’s because it is.  But absent the Cornyn/Cruz amendment, the bill gives rule makers control of the only game in town.

Crucially, there currently is no budget for even the first administrative assessment or the membership fee—for the biggest change to the Copyright Act in 100 years.  That comes later—perhaps years later after appeals.   When asked by Chairman Grassley, DiMA was unable to come up with a number and referred to the CBO’s cost estimate of all things.  The ante for a startup with 0.5% market share would be $1.11 million before royalties.  Yet—if a startup fails to pay the DLC, they can lose the blanket license even if current on royalty payments. 

Senators Cornyn and Cruz are rightly skeptical. 

“Modernization” should make licensing easier, level the playing field for startups and protect them from famously predatory  competitor incumbents—as well as copyright infringement lawsuits from the rule takers. 

These are all good reasons for the private market solution.  Competition at least gives startups a hope for the pursuit of fair treatment.

A wise member of the Texas Congressional delegation once told me Big Tech gets to climb the ladder to the American Dream like everyone else. What they don’t get to do is pull the ladder up behind them after getting to the top.

Expanding competition rather than mandating an exclusive collective could keep that ladder available to everyone. 

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