The Big Disconnect

Could it really be this easy?

Ever since college kids started putting digitized music tracks on public ftp servers, the recording industry has been relying on legal might, bluster and intimidation to protect its music from illicit Internet distribution. From suing college kids to taking little old grandmothers to court, the industry has pushed the if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us meme far and near. And has spent big bucks doing so.

But another method for stopping illicit distribution of copyright works is now gaining traction. And when you compare it to the past few years of lawsuits, publicity stumbles and bad press, you just gotta wonder if record company execs are slapping themselves, saying, "Why didn’t we think of that?"

In this case, "that" is a variation of those "three strikes" laws. Specifically, if you receive repeated warnings about distributing copyrighted material, your ISP will disconnect you from the Internet.

France was the first country to consider cutting off access to repeated copyright offenders. At first it seemed like another draconian measure promoted by politicians unable to distinguish between gigabytes and music gigs. But after numerous online tech and music blogs denounced France’s efforts, another opinion started to emerge. An opinion that cutting off copyright bandits just might work.

And now Britain is considering such a method for its own copyright thieves, and politicians are suggesting a simple system that could easily be exported to the U.S. Or, for that matter, to just any country in the world.

One potential problem is the same one that results in those grannies receiving pay-up-or-be-sued notices from the RIAA. No matter who may be doing the infringing, it’s the owner of the account who will probably be targeted. However, it’s easy to imagine account holders cracking down on whoever is the actual music thief once they receive that first notice.

The idea is to reach a voluntary agreement between ISPs and the entertainment industry so that repeated offenders are the ones who are cut off. A voluntary agreement is preferable over a government’s decree, if only because there’s no telling what would happen if politicians start mucking about in the entertainment industry’s affairs. Or, for that matter, the ISP industry.

So far, the big solutions pushed to end, or at least limit, copyright infringement have been filters and lawsuits. But if past experiences are any indication, there won’t be a filter strong enough, or smart enough, to prevent distribution of copyrighted material while at the same time green light the distribution of legitimate, licensed content. No matter how tough someone designs a filter, there’s always someone out there ready and willing to defeat it.

And lawsuits aren’t any bargain either. If they were, the recording industry would have proved its point years ago and there still wouldn’t be widespread infringements committed daily across the planet.

But just cutting the thieves off. That could be THE solution to end years of copyright infringements, not to mention the rapid decline of record company coffers. For those who are cut off it would be like owning a car, but not having a driver’s license. These days a computer is pretty useless if you don’t have a connection to the Net.


Justice Department Looks Into ‘Total Music’

It was only two months ago when Universal Music Group and Nokia announced a deal where specific Nokia devices will be bundled with a year’s supply of music.

The name given to the idea is "Total Music," and it represented yet another way to market music. The concept received major play in the media, with several news outlets playing it up as a possible solution to music piracy. Although the brainchild of UMG, the label did pitch the project to its competitors, namely the three other major record companies.

Now, it appears the U.S. Justice Department is interested in Total Music. However, the JD isn’t so much interested in receiving free music as it is in possible antitrust violations.

Earlier this month the Associated Press, citing unnamed sources, reported that the Justice Department sent a letter inquiring about Total Music to UMG. What’s more, the Wall Street Journal, also citing the realm of the unamed, reported that Sony BMG had received a similar letter.

Apparently the Justice Department is concerned that record labels working together to provide total music for the Total Music concept might conspire to fix prices, or possibly commit other antitrust acts, such as limit or shut out competition. According to the WSJ, the Justice Department sent Sony BMG an inquiry because the label had "expressed the strongest interest in the project."

That Justice is interested in Total Music shouldn’t come as any surprise. By their nature, the labels are limited to what they can do as allies, and any effort to create or promote a product where all might benefit could be seen as anti-competitive.

Like when the labels got behind the first two online systems for delivering major label music – Musicnet and Pressplay. In that case, Justice spent two years investigating the matter before concluding that no antitrust rules & regs were violated.


ITunes’ London Sessions

Want to see artists like KT Tunstall, Jose Gonzalez, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Billy Bragg, Spiritualized and Roisin Murphy perform intimate acoustic sets in London with their own hand-picked guests?

Sure you do.

But you can’t buy tickets. At least not yet. You have to win them. The performances are part of "iTunes Live: London Sessions."

It all goes down February 21 through March 2 at North London’s prestigious AIR Studios. To enter the drawing for tickets, mouse over to, pick the show you want to see and … good luck!

Perhaps the hardest part, other than actually winning tickets, is trying to decide which show to see, for iTunes has put together some very interesting pairings. Like KT Tunstall with guitarist Leo Abrahams, or Jason Mraz with Ron Sexsmith.

All sessions will eventually be sold on iTunes. However, you’ll have to admit it’s more fun sitting in the seats experiencing the event than having a download of the affair.

But then, if you win tickets for a show and then download the session in March, you’ll join the select group of people able to say, "That’s me in that audience!"

So you might want to clap real loud.


Yahoo Hears A Rhapsody

It’s the old user-base shuffle as Yahoo dumps its in-house music division and transfers customers to RealNetworks’ Rhapsody service, after which Rhapsody will provide the tunes for Yahoo users.

The online music purveyors are almost identical in services rendered, offering music subscriptions, online streaming and download purchases.

But Yahoo Music Unlimited customers won’t be transformed into Rhapsody listeners overnight. Aside from moving Yahoo’s music customer database over to Rhapsody, they also need to figure out how to keep all that subscription music playing.

Subscription music services give their customers all the music they want for a monthly flat fee. However, cancel the subscription and the music stops playing. The trick in the Yahoo-to-Rhapsody conversion will be to keep all those Yahoo subscription songs playing once customers become Rhapsody subscribers.

So expect those changes to occur in the coming months, as Rhapsody settles into its new Yahoo digs.

The news comes on the heels of Microsoft’s hostile offer to buy Yahoo lock, stock and URL links for $44 billion. Microsoft has indicated that such an acquisition might be the only thing that could prevent Google’s march toward universal domination.

Terms of the Yahoo / Rhapsody deal were not disclosed.

"By partnering with Yahoo, we are connecting Rhapsody’s ‘jukebox in the sky’ with one of the biggest music audiences on the Web," said RealNetworks’ chairman and CEO, Rob Glaser. "Soon, tens of millions of Yahoo users will be able to access their favorite music through Rhapsody – wherever they go, whenever they want it."