RIAA: No such thing as fair use, you thief

Classic. The record industry — or at least the big boys in the RIAA — get their first chance to air their sophisticated arguments in court as part of a high-profile lawsuit involving an individual who downloaded music, and what do they say? That even making a copy of a single song from a CD you paid for is theft. Mind-boggling.

snipshot_e4kepbash8n.jpgThis statement came from (no surprise) the chief litigator for Sony-BMG, the same gang that thinks installing a Trojan on your computer is a great business model. When asked whether it was wrong for consumers to make copies of music that they had purchased, Jennifer Pariser said: “When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making a copy of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’.” I guess we should pull all those law books out of the library and strike out any reference to “fair use” then. Nice work there by the RIAA. Of course as Ars Technica points out, this isn’t the first time they have made that claim, despite the fact that the courts have repeatedly disagreed.

Online media rules in M&A activity

This is almost like a follow-up to my previous post on TechCrunch and CNET (be sure to read the updates, because I added some worthwhile links), but PaidContent has a post up about a new report from Jordan Edmiston Group looking at M&A activity in the media sector: according to the report, the total value of media M&A during the third quarter was $95-billion, up 110 per cent from last year — and the largest single segment was online media, with 232 deals worth a total of $8.3 billion — up from 136 deals worth $5.7 billion last year.

CNET to buy TechCrunch — why not?

Boy, Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget is sure on a roll — or make that a troll. Today he’s got a post about how TechCrunch could be bought by CNET for $100-million or so. His post is actually a response to one by Doug McIntyre at 24/7 Wall Street, in which Doug hypothesizes about blog networks such as TechCrunch and Huffington Post and GigaOm and how much they might be worth to existing media entities.

Mike has a sarcastic response to Henry’s post here. And there’s no question that $100-million seems like a fairy tale price — a lot like Henry’s $2,000 Google post from yesterday. Still, the idea itself makes sense. TechCrunch or GigaOm would fit as a part of CNET or several other media entities. The ironic thing is that selling would probably be a mistake, because at the moment they are doing far better than most of the companies that would be thinking about buying them.


Is $100-million nonsensical or not? Let’s look at the numbers: TechCrunch says it has 1.5 million unique visitors a month — although a commenter below says those numbers may be high — and CNET Networks has about 10 million a month, according to comScore (Compete says about 6 million a month). But as we all know, it’s about more than just uniques, right? It’s about monetization.

CNET had revenue last year of almost $400-million, although it only made a profit of $7-million, which is pretty pathetic. No one except Mike knows what TechCrunch made last year (check below for some Valleywag scuttlebutt — I have no idea whether it is even close).

Still, CNET’s market cap is $1.2-billion. If you assume that someone could monetize Mike’s 1.5 million unique visitors better than CNET can monetize its uniques (which wouldn’t be a stretch) then you could easily come to the conclusion that TechCrunch is worth about 20 per cent of what CNET is worth — or about $250-million.

I’m not saying it is, I’m just saying $100-million doesn’t look all that crazy. Oh, and Mike? If you do a deal, Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy has some advice for you.

Update 2:

Dan Farber of ZDNet (which is part of CNET) notes that the rankings at Alexa and (presumably) comScore only measure CNET.com, but CNET’s family of sites get 137 million uniques a month. That’s an order of magnitude larger than the numbers I was using. That suggests TechCrunch might be worth in the neighbourhood of $20-million. Still nothing to sneeze at.

Henry Blodget reels in Mike Arrington

Mike’s got a post up at TechCrunch about Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget, in which he goes on at length about Blodget’s Google-related post at Silicon Alley Insider today — the one in which Hank argues that Google could hit $2,000 a share. Mike seems genuinely pissed that Henry is shooting his mouth off about such a thing, especially after the history, and says someone should “muzzle Blodget.”

blodget_200×250.jpgThe history, as pretty well everyone knows by now, goes more or less like this: in 1998, Blodget says Amazon is going to $400, it does so, stocks climb to the moon, then they crater, Blodget is investigated for fraud for misleading investors by publicly pumping stocks and privately dumping on them, etc. and agrees to a settlement in which he is barred from the securities industry for life.

As I said in a comment on Mike’s post, I could be wrong, but I read Henry’s post as a sarcastic response to a reader who complained he was being too pessimistic all the time (can you blame him, given what happened the last time he was overly positive?). I think the point he was making was that it’s easy enough to throw a few multiples out there, a few back-of-a-napkin financial projections, and get to almost any number you want. Heck, that’s what analysts do for a living — as Blodget knows better than just about anyone.

I think Henry was having some fun with his reputation, and maybe trolling to get a reaction. And he sure got one.


Henry has an update on what he was up to (and a response to Mike) here, and Kara Swisher has a take on it as well.

Getty wants to be your music broker

I must have missed the news that Getty Images — one of the largest image-licensing firms around, next to Bill Gates’s Corbis — had bought a company called Pump Audio back in June and was getting into the music-licensing business. Then I read this morning on TechCrunch that PumpAudio has relaunched as part of the Getty site, offering a song-tracking and licensing tool called (what else) Soundtrack.

sound-of-music-dvdcover.jpgAlthough the service is starting small, with just 20,000 songs from independent artists, Getty says it wants to expand through deals with the major record labels and others — and knowing Getty, it is likely to do so with a vengeance. Maybe it will even get into the “crowdsourcing” of music, the way it did with photos by buying Calgary-based success story iStockphoto.com.

Whether Getty succeeds or not remains to be seen, but there’s no question that the music-licensing business needs some organization. Insiders — including Spiral Frog CEO Joe Mohen, who I interviewed for this recent piece — say the process of getting all the required performance and publishing rights for a piece of music is byzantine and in some cases almost impossible, since there are thousands of different publishers and no central repository of information. A real “goat rodeo,” as a friend of mine likes to say.

If Getty can help to bring some semblance of order to that process, it will not only benefit anyone who is trying to license music — including perhaps the folks at Saturday Night Live, who had to pull a hilarious video from SNL off YouTube because they apparently failed to get a license for an Aphex Twin song — but will also benefit (theoretically) the artists who make the music.

Microsoft fiddles while Facebook burns

Say what you will about Valleywag (just don’t get Mike Arrington started) but Owen Thomas is a pretty smart guy, and I think he makes a good point amidst all the sturm und drang about Facebook and its market value, and how eBay’s $1.4-billion Skype-related writedown could affect the perception of that value (for more on that, just see this Techmeme thread or the Times Online blog).

It’s true that eBay’s writedown says a lot about the risks of paying bubblicious prices for things, and a $10-billion valuation for Facebook has certainly got more than a whiff of bubble about it. At the same time, however, Owen points out that there are just as many risks in not buying things. eBay is a great example of that too, having tried and failed to buy PayPal early on. And Yahoo has a boatload of missed opportunities, including Google and Facebook.

As for Microsoft’s hyperactive basketball-coach CEO, Steve Ballmer, his remarks to the Times about Facebook being a “fad” are just as likely to be an exercise in talking down the value of something before you buy a chunk as they are a thoughtful commentary on the company’s actual value. Or it’s possible that he really doesn’t get it.

In the end, I think Kara Swisher at All Things D probably has the right read on the situation: Facebook is likely to take some money, at a handsome valuation, but remain independent (unless $10-billion gets dropped off at Mark Zuckerberg’s flat, of course). If nothing else, MySpace shows the downside of being acquired too early.

HuffPost drafts a big hitter as CEO

From the New York Times comes word that Huffington Post, which started as a rag-tag collection of blogs and has become a new-media superstar, is hiring away the general manager of CBSNews.com, Betsy Morgan, and making her the new CEO of the Post. This is a big coup for Arianna Huffington and her team, and it’s probably no coincidence that it comes just before a U.S. election, one that the HuffPost and Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net have teamed up to cover.

It will be interesting to see where this new hire takes the site (Mike Arrington says that he smells an IPO). In any case, congrats to Arianna and the entire HuffPost team — which includes the lovely and talented (and Canadian) Rachel Sklar of Eat The Press — for creating something extraordinary.

Want some of that Skype cash? Call Atomico

An interesting tidbit from the very bottom of the blog post that Skype co-founder Janus Friis wrote about taking the early (and much smaller than anticipated) earnout from eBay on the Skype deal: Friis says that this will allow his friend Niklas Zennstrom and he more time to make venture investments through a “risk capital group” known as Atomico. Om Malik mentions this as well, but the Friis post was the first I’d heard of the company.

The website says that Atomico was founded by Zennstrom, Friis and their friends Mattias Ljungman and Geoffrey Prentice. Its investments so far include Joost, Last.fm — which was bought by CBS earlier this year for about $380-million — as well as FON, Wunderloop, Jott.com, Xobni and Technorati (I wonder how that last investment is panning out. Oh well; easy come, easy go). Atomico is also an investor in DECA, a “digital entertainment studio” founded by a couple of guys from Sony Pictures.

eBay waves wand, Skype value disappears

Well, now it’s official: Skype turns out not to be worth the $4.1-billion that eBay seemed to think it was back in 2005. As Henry Blodget notes at Silicon Alley Insider, the $1.4-billion writedown that the online auction company just announced effectively recognizes what everyone else has known for some time: Skype may or may not have been a mistake (I would argue it was, although Ash Karbasfrooshan disagrees), but one thing is for sure — eBay paid way too much for it.

In true contrarian fashion, my friend Paul Kedrosky says that all the breast-beating about eBay overpaying for Skype is overdone:

“Ebay is still motoring along, and this is lots of reason to be optimistic about the auction company’s future.

Over-focusing on the lamentable (and long past) Skype deal strikes me as a mistake.”

As I said in a comment on Paul’s post, I disagree. eBay may very well be motoring along, but the purchase of Skype was an error in judgment, and a fairly expensive one at that. I realize that a $1.4-billion writedown is small beer for eBay, but the fact that the company made such a decision — without any compelling synergies or anything else to justify the price — speaks volumes about the leadership of the company as far as I’m concerned (as usual, John Paczkowski has the best headline).

It’s nice for Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis that they not only get a big chunk of that $530-million earnout, but they can now get on with their lives (and with Joost, which launched as a no-invite-required app today) and quit trying to force some kind of fit between Skype and eBay — a fit I’m willing to bet they never saw either, although Niklas defends the deal in an interview with Thomas Crampton (Janus writes about it here).

As for eBay? Henry thinks they should sell Skype to Yahoo or Microsoft or someone like that, and he might just be right. Jeff Nolan thinks the company should turn it into a backend service-type offering, a la Amazon’s EC2.

Joost launches — will anyone care?

So Joost says that it is now finally open to the public (Liz Gannes at NewTeeVee and Kara Swisher at BoomTown have the details, including interviews with CEO Mike Volpi), after a long beta program that started as invitation-only. But the streaming peer-to-peer TV project from the guys behind Kazaa and Skype — Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom — has effectively been open for some time now. Although it took an invitation, anyone who was a beta tester had unlimited numbers of them.

joost500×375.jpgI have to admit that some of my enthusiasm for and interest in Joost has waned since I took part in the early beta, invitations for which were in hot demand (I wrote a piece about Joost for the Globe awhile back, which I cross-posted here). I kept up with the beta updates for awhile, but then gradually lost interest. Why? A bunch of reasons. The player is a resource hog, for one thing. But mostly it was the content. I didn’t mind checking it out now and then, but there was nothing compelling. As far as I can tell, Joost still hasn’t solved that problem.

One of the interesting things that Joost promised, but hasn’t really done anything with so far, is the ability for developers to use the Joost API to add widgets of various kinds, as Liz describes in her post. Apart from great content, this seems like the killer feature to me — ways to build in social networking (other than just chat) that can pull people in and make them want to use the thing. So far that appeal is missing, at least for me, although MG Siegler at ParisLemon still thinks that Joost is da bomb.