Google, Music and Copyrights

Fast on the heels of announcing Google Music, Google has now acquired RightsFlow, a company founded to help artists and labels get paid for the use of copyrighted music. While Google has said it plans to integrate RightsFlow into YouTube, it doesn’t take much of a sleuth job to see how valuable this will be to Google Music too.

At the heart of it, RightsFlow tracks songs and labels.  Their database now includes more than 30 million songs, from nearly 10,000 labels.  RightsFlow technology can then identify when a song’s been played, determine quickly how much is owed for the copyrighted use, and facilitate the transaction working with established digital music services–or when a song is used as the soundtrack to say your grandparents’ wedding anniversary video.

YouTube’s been scrutinized for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material facing several lawsuits since its founding in 2008. Because YouTube doesn’t view videos before they’re posted, they rely on the copyright holders to issue a takedown notice pursuant to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  RightsFlow can certainly make it easier to facilitate this exchange.

Does that mean fewer fun amateur videos?  Probably not.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been tested in court, and for the random fun vid, most content owners haven’t pursued payment. Google positioned its RightsFlow acquisition as supporting  “more music for you all to enjoy, and more money for the talented people producing the music.”  The money will come from somewhere, so changes are clearly afoot.  However, just as Apple muscled the traditional label model to change by enabling the ability to purchase a song at a time, copyrighting for actual use instead of using a tired blanket licensing approach is sure to better serve musicians and users alike. This change will help make the whole pie bigger, not just the copyright slice.

It is high time technology was brought forth as a superior alternative for determining and preserving the earning rights of authors and performers without squelching the very sharing which builds business for labels and musicians as well. With the power of Google now behind RightsFlow, the days are surely numbered for the tired formulaic guesses as to who is owed what under the blanket licensing plans.  RightsFlow is now poised to shake the foundations of traditional music licensing models in a big Google-sized way.

Steve Jobs and Music

So simple... so perfect!

It is with great sadness I write this post.  Last night the world learned Steve Jobs had lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  He will be remembered for helping define and repeatedly elevating the tech space with people-centric innovations.  We came to appreciate how he envisioned possibilities.  He will be missed.  From a FreePlayVL perspective, our most fitting tribute is to review how Steve Jobs made music sublimely portable and forever altered how we consume, purchase and experience music!

The iPod was released just ten years ago–strangely enough this very month.  Under Steve Job’s leadership, Apple helped us download the soundtrack to our lives.  The iPod was sleek and deliciously free from a bunch of buttons or dials.  At first it was a bit intimidating, but then it quickly became indispensable because it was so easy to learn and use.  With iTunes, we could load up all of our music, and take it with us almost anywhere!  And the battery didn’t let us down either.  We learned to sort by genre, artist, or our own playlists, or rely on Genius to dynamically create a playlist based on our music and our preferences.  And when we didn’t want to work that hard, perhaps we’d opt to surprise ourselves with shuffle.

In addition to Steve’s vision and product development genius, he was a masterful marketer.  Where others considered the package a necessary evil, Jobs made the package part of the experience.  Remember the pleasured satisfaction upon opening your first iPod? Apple products are not only visually pleasing, they are also fulfilling from a tactile perspective too–they just feel good in our hands.  But what sealed the deal creating rabid Apple fans along the way, was how intuitive, reliable and easy Apple products are to use.  Even my two-year-old granddaughter can navigate the iPad to find her apps.

After hearing the news, I heard Jobs described as a modern equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci–another genius who imagined “insanely great” things.  Jobs was an inventor and innovator, but he was also a shrewd and capable businessman.  Making the iPod simple to use, also meant Steve Jobs had to turn the legal framework backstopping the legacy music industry on its ear.  That was probably more difficult than the design challenges of the device!  While record labels lament the shift of control to the consumer, the simple truth is more music is purchased today than at any other time in history.  And now it can happen instantly… wirelessly!

Many brag about the wide variety of music they have on their iPods–another indication Steve knew what we wanted, even though radio stations at that time focused only on genre.  Purchasing music that appeals on a personal level, when and how we want–a song at a time for about a $1–changed everything.  While the iTunes/iPod music experience is clearly personal, sharing music, even buying and emailing a song for someone as a gift, also means music has never been more social.

Because Steve’s vision came to life through Apple’s products, like many other fans I felt like I knew him, and the news of his passing is a blow.  He will be missed.  In some small way we thanked him every time we purchased an Apple product.  Earlier this summer he did get to see Apple briefly become the most valuable company on the planet.  Not bad for a guy who dropped out of a college.

Steve was driven by making possibilities real.  Did he do it alone?  No, but he was clearly an effective and passionate leader.  Are there criticisms of Steve Jobs over the years?  Of course.  Some earned.  Most not.  What is indisputable, however, is Steve Jobs changed the world.

He pushed all limits to create satisfying experiences, successfully and repeatedly delivering products that brought us all forward.  Steve also created multi-billion dollar markets in the process, including smart phones and tablets.  The new age of computers started with the iPod and iTunes fundamentally changing how we experience music, but he didn’t stop there.  Apple products do more because they are grounded in the potential created by a fully-integrated, rich media experience that includes not just standard business applications such as word processing, but graphics design, desk top publishing, and web design, as well as music, videos, and photos all backstopped by the cloud.  His ideas have made time and space moot through full-featured, robust–yet profoundly accessible–and portable computing.  This is his lasting legacy.  Because of Steve’s vision, we are all more open to ever greater possibilities.

Thank you, Steve.

Teddi Davis is Marketer, Taverner, and Editor. She specializes in social media advertising and operating a live music Irish bar in Westminster, CO.

Posted in Music. 1 Comment »

Between a Rock and Hard Spot: IP Piracy and Due Process

DangerPiratesSome intriguing and troubling questions about proposed legislation

As part of our mission here at FreePlayVL, we keep an eye out for copyright developments, so we gravitated to a recent article highlighting digital rights: “Digital Rights, Privacy, Social Media and The Cloud: Cocktail for a Meltdown? 4 Ways Not to Drink the Kool-Aid

Besides crafting an engaging title, author Andrew Edwards raises some intriguing and troubling questions about how proposed legislation introduced in May relates to Hollywood interests. From our perspective, this proposal could just as easily apply to music copyrights.  Sure enough, when we looked further, the list of supporters includes the Recording Industry Association of America.

“To prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property… to eliminate the financial incentive to steal intellectual property online.” S.968

We’re sure this sounds like a great tool, if you’re a motion picture or recording studio battling to protect IP from foreign piracy.  However, while this legislation is aimed primarily at sites operated from outside of the United States, it’s not hard to see how some may argue this is an appropriate approach to protect IP domestically too.

Slippery slope.

This makes the Protect IP Act (S.968) pretty scary.  The “Open Congress” website (which, FYI, is a pretty cool resource!), describes the proposed legislation as follows:

Establishes a system for taking down websites that the Justice Department determines to be ‘dedicated to infringing activities.’ The DoJ or the copyright owner would be able to commence a legal action against the alleged infringer and the DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. In some cases, action could be taken to block sites without first allowing the alleged infringer to defend themselves in court.

As proposed, it’s not enough that the alleged offending website be shut down, or cease and desist, this legislation would make third parties responsible for making the alleged offender invisible by demanding by rule of law that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access, AND that financial transaction providers (a.k.a., credit card companies) “take reasonable measures… designed to prevent, prohibit, or suspend service from completing payment transactions involving customers located within the United States and the Internet site.”

International and domestic laws protecting IP strive to protect owners rights, but must do so without negatively impacting the rights of consumers, artists, the entertainment industry, and technology manufacturers.  While the proposal is very clear on what must happen if a claim is made, it’s troubling the proposed legislation is vague on the cure if a site be shut down in error.  Equally problematic, no one is accountable IF a mistake is made, as all third parties are guaranteed immunity for complying with an order. Are we comfortable with the precedent that someone with a vested interest be in a position to make a claim and have it take effect without due process?

We fully agree there are a lot of bad actors out there intending to steal and profit from IP they do not own.  But what if there is a genuine conflict in claims? Near as we can tell, it doesn’t allow equally swift recourse, nor means whereby technology-enabled differences of opinion with respect to IP can be debated. It wasn’t that long ago that iTunes was questioned as a threat to IP rights in a post-Napster frenzy. It does not serve the greater good to circumvent due process where these questions would be debated before a judge and jury – where consistent rules apply and oaths are taken to help ensure that truth and fairness prevail.

This legislative proposal may help with some IP piracy, but it could also undermine the egalitarian and entrepreneurial spirit of the Internet which has resulted in so much innovation, and may well hamper the protections of due process that serve us all. We appreciate the objective, but the means must also be considered.

What do you think? Are there better ways to address IP piracy? This legislative proposal is worthy of making your thoughts known to your representative. Open Congress also publishes the special interests (that is, those with the ability to spend to try and sway the opinions of our legislators) and the contributions they’ve given to congressional supporters (as well as for those that oppose this legislation).

Good to know.

The funding to oppose this legislation is substantially less than those spending to ensure it’s passage, though VISA and Google are among the organizations fighting against it.

Our freedoms require vigilance, and we all have to be willing to take a stand. Give yourself three minutes to catch up on this proposal, and make your thoughts known to your representativesCongressional Directory.

Piracy image courtesy Crunchy Brain Doodles

Music in the public eye

experience music projectCommunity, Creativity, Opportunity

Just exactly how do cities encourage creativity as a key component for a financially healthy community?  Creating spaces for and about music is an obvious ingredient.  When trying to create a nexus for musical performances, supporting meaningful interaction between artists and fans is a key ingredient.  Is this harder or easier to create in a virtual or face to face environment?  A review of some physical venues–big and small–will help reveal what face to face venues may have in common, and whether there are any lessons for virtual venues.

A great place to start is Seattle’s phenomenal EMP (Experience Music Project) which opened in 2000.  This place is all about popular music—rock, jazz, soul, gospel, country and even the blues.  It’s a bit like a music museum too, with amazing artifacts from the earliest electric guitars, as well as chronicling Seattle’s longstanding and vast rock tradition including Jimi Hendrix, Heart, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the EMP is visually spectacular inside and out, and feels more like a massive piece of art that pops against the Seattle skyline.  But the best part of the experience, is the interactivity!

roots and branches by trimpinGreeting visitors is a vast sculpture made from hundreds of guitars and other instruments, entitled “Roots and Branches,” created by the artist Trimpin.  The piece is visually stunning, soaring above the crowds up to the vast ceiling.   What’s even more incredible is the sculpture can be played!

Moving through the rest of the exhibits, visitors are treated to recorded interviews and performances, and can even take their turn with a microphone in the studio.  One visit isn’t enough to appreciate all the EMP has to offer, but there is no doubt that all of the exhibits bring visitors closer to music and musicians.

Millions have visited the EMP since it opened adding upwards of $650M to date to the local economy.  What better way to demonstrate  Richard Florida’s argument that fostering the creative class broadens economic opportunity across the community.

While the EMP is fantastic, creativity can happen in far more modest circumstances.  We’ll continue our tour of creative spaces in our next post.

Teddi Davis is eMarketer; Owner, The Exchange Tavern; and Editor, Free Play Virtually Live.
EMP images courtesy Experience Music Project

Denver Music Summit

denver music summit image

The Future of Music: Music and the Creative Economy

I recently had an opportunity to listen in on discussions at the Denver Music Summit.  The event was put together in partnership between The Western States Arts Federation and The Denver Office of Cultural Affairs.  Not unlike virtual spaces, the city of Denver is trying to drive financially relevant impact through music.

This has been a focus for Denver for some time, as two-term Mayor, John Hickenlooper, discussed Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, as part of his vision for this city during his initial election bid.  Florida described the positive impact of new ideas flourishing within a community, and made his case in the book that a thriving creative community is the foundation for broader economic vibrancy.  He defined the creative class as those who work to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content. Florida captured Hickenlooper’s imagination as he argued cultivating creativity had broad economic benefits for the entire community.

In this spirit, Denver continues to explore ways to build and foster a sustainable music culture.  Communities with longstanding traditions:  New Orleans, Chicago, Austin, Seattle… earned their reputations spontaneously over a considerable time period.  How cool is it to create opportunities to ponder and support ways to proactively engage in a similar journey?  Smart move—yay, Denver!

The first discussion of Denver’s Music Summit, The Future of Music: Music and the Creative Economy, set the pace.  The first panelist to speak, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, dean and director of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was very articulate in showcasing that arts education has applicability across our economy.  Innovation is, after all, creative in nature.

Does a strong music curriculum drive broader economic benefits?  The answer is a resounding, YES!  Dr. Kim noted this impact extends beyond the direct opportunities for career pursuit across the music food chain, such as sound engineers, songwriters, and performers.  Many of the skills a musician learns are highly portable, such as collaboration, rule-based management, discipline, managing ambiguity, and working as part of a diverse problem solving team.  The demand for these skills stretch far from music—very positively so.

For this reason, it was keenly understood amongst the panelists that music education tangibly supports and fosters a more vibrant economy.  This goes far beyond the tired mindset of “those that can’t, teach.”  The talk around the table focused on how to strengthen advocacy for music as an economic principle.

While education is a great first step, how else can a community encourage creativity in support of a financially vibrant community?  Creating spaces for and about music is crucial.  Next time we’ll review some well known face-to-face venues that are for and about music to see what they may have in common, and whether there are any implications for virtual venues.

Teddi Davis is eMarketer; Owner, The Exchange Tavern; and Editor, Free Play Virtually Live.
Logo image courtesy
Denver Music Summit
Denver image courtesy Jeff Pittman Art

Posted in Music. 1 Comment »

The Bedford at SXSW

bedford tony moore sxsw 2011 South by Southwest is the annual Austin, Texas music and film festival. The Bedford, Balham, Greater London is the nightly live music show produced four times a week by Tony Moore. Every year, The Bedford plays at SXSW live, and by live web simulcast. This year’s schedule is listed below, including artist links.

The Bedford at SXSW venue: Creekside EMC – Hilton Garden Inn, 500 N IH 35 (between 5th and 6th Street), Austin TX
Streaming Live in the Volta Theatre, Dublin 3 Read the rest of this entry »

Popular Voting Open For Is One Life Enough Theme Song Contest

Dublin, Ireland – November 15, 2010 – Popular voting is now open for the Is One Life Enough Theme Song Contest. Artist awards include recognition and prizes from Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin Virtually Live. Voter awards include great music and “I Voted” in-world tee-shirts. All Second Life Residents are eligible to vote at the IOLE Song Contest Web Site [http://www.siterma.com/iole/]. Winners will be announced December 1st. Virtual Environments: Is one life enough is an award-winning, university-level course on the professional use of social media.