Napster Versus RIAA

The ongoing feud between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Napster over the past month reminds me of the ancient Atari game Pong, where two opposing on either end of the screen used a paddle to deflect a ball back and forth to each other in an attempt to score. Some of you might remember that you could set up the paddles so that the ball would endlessly bounce off one another, back and forth, without interference from the players. Blip --- blip --- blip --- No end in sight, the same arguments knocked back and forth, back and forth.

Things in July began with Napster filing a legal brief rebutting the RIAA's six core complaints in the request for a court injunction against the online music file sharing website. In the brief, Napster points out, among other things, that the Sony Corporation of America markets its own brand of MP3 playback devices (called VAIO), and that the advertising for VAIO encouraged people to download digital sound files from their favorite sites. This point by Napster seems to contradict Sony's (and other involved parties) belief that MP3 proliferation is hurting CD sales. The other is regarding Metallica, and I'll just quote the brief directly:

"The zenith of hypocrisy is the position taken by Metallica, which piously claims now that its money is being stolen by Napster's users. Not only did the band members themselves copy music rampantly in days before they were wealthy, but in August of 1997, when specifically advised that Metallica songs were being encoded into MP3 files and transferred via the web, they stated succinctly, "We don't give a f ***.'"

While interesting to read, the brief was really only filler as Napster and RIAA continued their public spitting contest. The big news came on July 26, when a federal judge granted the RIAA and Co. a temporary injunction against Napster, pending a trial. The injunction was to take effect at midnight on Friday, July 28th, and on that day Napster logged over 800,000 unique sessions (3% of all Internet traffic) as digital denizens hurriedly scrambled to download what they could before the doors conceivably closed for good. Of course, this was merely another high profiled Pong-styled serve return. On the 27th Napster filed an appeal with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court granted Napster the appeal and those supporters of Napster and their digital download philosophy anxiously awaiting for the biggest thing since the Y2K hype sighed in relief as at the stroke of midnight the site was still up and running.

Of course, the RIAA blanched at the appeal and is again pressuring legal recourse to stamp out illegal musical downloads once and for all. Over that weekend, Napster urged people to participate in a "buy-cott" by going to their local music stores and buying CDs of artists whose files they've traded online, in the process letting the stores know that "Napster sent them," as proof to Napster's documented contention that file sharing increases CD sales.

The game goes on. And while not as bad or as embarrassing as watching the O.J. slo-mo cop chase--where you can leave, go to the store, come back, crack a beer and still not miss anything--it still reeks of corrupt idiocy. Whatever the outcome, the issue of file sharing will persist. The RIAA and the music giants it represents don't seem to understand that you can stomp out a hive like Napster, but you will never be able to stop the process or the progression from continuing, from multiplying, from thriving. File sharing services like Gnutella and Scour, with their open source and de-centralized system means there is no one entity to hold legally responsible, merely the millions of people across the globe who are using its software to interact with each other.

As usual, the industry is behind in picking up and reaping the benefits of new technology. As with the big blank audio cassette and blank video cassette arguments that allowing people to copy legal recordings will decimate the industry, this too will prove to be false. And while protecting the copyrights of recorded works shouldn't be so naively dismissed, it would behoove the RIAA and Co. to rechannel the millions they're pouring into stopping Napster into a means of making digital music "reasonably" available.

It needs to be pointed out that the Corporate Monsters' primary argument in all this is protecting the copyrights of the music. They use this as emotional leverage, playing it like those who are using Napster are preventing musicians and artists from putting bread on the table, which simply isn't true. As pointed out in last month's "After the Labels," the labels themselves own most of the copyrights of the music in question, not the artists; and furthermore, the labels themselves are the ones robbing artists and musicians what should rightfully be their fair share of the pie (which is a lengthy discussion for another time). What this really is about is the Corporate Monsters protecting their chokehold on how music is made and distributed; the miser using whatever means necessary to secure his mountains of gold.

Those artists not contractually enslaved are finding a quick, easy and cheap means of distributing their music. Those consumers savvy enough to point, click and download are finding a convenient means to investigate and/or entirely acquire music they've heard about without having to go to Tower or Virgin and spending $18 on one measly album. If the Big Boys were smart, they'd lower prices and find a sleeker means to compete with online business while embracing it. Hopefully the craze and media Napster has spawned will force labels to start thinking about what the people they really represent, the artists and the consumers, and work towards something that is mutually beneficial: affordable music and proper compensation.

So while this Pong game continues, it won't be very interesting to watch individual moves, it won't really even be exciting hearing about the final outcome--it will simply be boring. It will be boring because the RIAA and Co. do not seem to realize that this isn't 1980, it's 2000. And while you're twenty years behind wasting your time fighting something you can't even properly grasp, the technology is pushing ahead. And it will always be ahead of you.

Woodstock '99 Versus The Facts

In the last week in July, Sonicnet ran one of the best pieces of music investigative journalism that has been published in a long while. Writers Chris Nelson and Brian Hiatt have spent the last year investigating Woodstock '99 and discovering that the event was not anything near the peace and love festival it was advertised. Sonicnet investigated and documented reports of no running water and overflowing toilets; members of Woodstock's "Peace Patrol" selling wristbands, attacking concertgoers and participating in the final night's fire riots; that the concert was in danger of being cancelled Oneida County (NY) Health Department for the promoters failure to guarantee the public's health and safety; and that the former Air Force base the festival was held on is currently on the EPA's toxic cleanup superfund list. These filed among the well-known news of Woodstock's final night of fire and riots, the several dozen rapes that were reported to have happened, and the promoters' failure with adequately handling them. As expected, co-promoters Michael Lang and John Scher deny most of the allegations raised by Sonicnet.

It's an amazing read and shout-outs to Sonicnet and Mr.'s. Nelson and Hiatt for a fine piece of journalism dedicated to something we find so rarely these days: the truth--plain and unfettered. Give it a read.

The The Versus Corporate Monster

The The's singular mastermind, Matt Johnson, has decided to make publicly known his dissatisfaction with his record label (Interscope) in particular for their botched handling of his latest release, NakedSelf, and with the record business in general by announcing that he will post and allow fans to download tracks off NakedSelf directly from the band's website for free.

"This is not a decision I've taken lightly, because as some of you may know, I've been widely quoted in recent months regarding my opposition to Napster. As musicians and songwriters, as in other professions, we have dedicated our lives to our art and craft and now face a situation of people stealing our work and passing it around the world for free. No one who has ever done a hard days work for a days pay would expect others to work for free, why should musicians? It's also a sad fact of life that the general public are still fairly ignorant as to how unfair most record company contracts really are. The artist pays for everything yet owns nothing."

Check out The The's website for Johnson's open letter in it's entirety.
Click here to view a picture of how Johnson views himself in relationship to the Corporate Monster.

Danish Police Hold Pearl Jam Responsible

In the wake of June's Roskilde tragedy, Danish police filed a report last month holding Pearl Jam responsible for the death's of nine fans by encouraging "violent behavior" and "whipping the crowd into a frenzy." Pearl Jam's management responded to the report "appalling and ludicrous"--and rightly so. Apparently the police overlooked the weather, the large crowd and, most importantly, the fact that part of the P.A. system had failed (Roskilde's negligence), making it impossible for many of the tens of thousands of fans gathered to hear the band. The crowd pushed forward to better hear the music and nine lives were horribly trampled underneath. Police had no comment when presented with the facts. How surprising.

Pearl Jam to Release 25 Live Albums

In other Pearl Jam news, the band is set to release 25 albums detailing their recent European tour throw the bands official fansite, 10 Club. The CDs will retail for around $10 and is the band's way of thwarting money making bootleggers by providing fans with high quality and affordable recordings of their shows. Pearl Jam plan on continuing these releases with their American tour dates, scheduled later this summer.

Turbo Negro Tribute Album

Bitzcore--you're one stop shopping center for all things Turbo Negro--announced that they will be releasing a tribute album to Norway's finest band, scheduled to come out in October of this year. Included in the lineup are: Supersuckers, Zeke and Nashville Pussy, among some 60 other bands. Yikes! That's a lot of rock 'n' roll.

Whatever Happened to Sportin' Greg Nortin

When Hüsker Dü broke up, Bob Mould and Grant Hart remained in the music business, but bassist Greg Nortin seemed to simply up and disappear. A longstanding joke among many was, "Whatever happened to sportin' Greg Norton?" Rumors had it he was a cook back home in Minnesota, but these were always heard by way of a friend of a friend of a friend. Well, we finally have an answer for you all who may/may not care (and you better care, dammit!). Culled from St. Paul, Minnesota's http://www.pioneerplanet PioneerPlanet came the following published on June 9 by writer Gita Sitaramiah:

"Greg Norton, Staghead

Overnight, Greg Norton went from playing bass for the seminal punk band Hüsker Dü in front of rabid fans to poring over the classifieds looking for work.

'All of a sudden, the band broke up, and I wasn't sure what to do,' says Norton, 41.

Before the band became known, Norton worked as a waiter to pay the bills. When Hüsker Dü disbanded, he went back to restaurants, waiting tables off and on while trying to form another group. Two years later when Norton was again unemployed, a chef friend called, saying: 'I know you need a job, and all my dishwashers walked out.'

The dishwashing gig at Faegre's proved to be a turning point for Norton. The friend, chef Lenny Russo, saw potential in Norton and asked if he wanted to learn to cook. 'You can't be chasing that rock 'n' roll dream forever,' Russo told him.

Norton started slowly, peeling potatoes and making soups and salads. He realized quickly that the job was a good fit. He'd already tested his palate, having eaten in restaurants around the world while touring, and even the late hours were a reminder of his time in the band.

After the stint at Faegre's, Norton went on to the Harborview Cafe in Pepin, the defunct River Reach in Red Wing, Aveda's Organica cafeteria and Table of Contents in St. Paul.

In 1993, planning to spend a summer in London, he spotted a picture of British chef Gary Rhodes while flipping through an issue of Bon Appetit. The spiky-haired guy looked like an average Hüsker Dü fan. Norton took a chance and sent the Michelin star chef his resume. Norton lucked out and got an internship at London's Greenhouse, where he honed his skills under Rhodes' watchful eye.

Inspired, Norton returned to the Table of Contents as sous chef and eventually went back to work for Russo, who had moved on to the Loring Cafe. Not long after, he met a couple who were opening a restaurant in Red Wing and became the Staghead's opening chef. Five years later, he's still running the kitchen and believes he's found his calling.

He doesn't get the instant gratification of watching fans slam dancing to his music, but a walk around the dining room gives him a similar rush.

'There's nothing like seeing people enthusiastic about your food,' Norton says. 'It's like music.'"

Glad to hear you're back on top your game and doing well, Greg! But do you still sport the moustache?

Craig Young
Editor, Earpollution

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