Stupid music industry tricks, part two

Another developing theme this evening: the supremely awesome density of the record industry. After a record industry executive threatens a university professor for linking to a critical blog post (see my post below), we now have the spectre of a recording industry representative — Jay Rosenthal, who runs SoundExchange, the entity that collects royalties for digital performances of music, such as Internet radio — saying, and I quote:

“I sincerely am starting to hate the Internet. I know you see the Internet as some incredible invention that has opened the door to unlimited distribution of music—and your lofty goal is to bring music to as many as possible. But all I see is a tidal wave of artist abuse.”

Rosenthal goes on to say that the Internet “is not becoming a beacon of light, but a cesspool of darkness.” Wow. That’s quite the well-reasoned argument there, Jay. Nice work. The comments come during a debate with publisher Kurt Hanson of the L.A. Times. In his thoughtful response, Hanson notes that:

“Your industry’s “success” here brings to mind what would have happened if the film industry had succeeded in its efforts to block the development of the home video industry. Had those lawyers succeeded, they would have deprived their companies of a future revenue stream (VHS and DVD sales) that’s now worth billions of dollars a year.

Your lawyers did succeed in shutting down the centralized service, so by forcing P2P file sharing into an uncontrollable environment, they deprived your companies of what could have eventually become a multi-billion-dollar revenue stream of monetized file sharing.”

Again, some nice work there. And when in doubt, blame the Internet.

Stupid lawyer tricks, part two

Not to get on a rant against lawyers or anything (see previous post about Avvo being sued), but I couldn’t help mentioning the little brouhaha Dell got into recently with the Consumerist blog, after a lawyer for the company company wrote the website an email asking them to take down one of their posts — specifically, this post, which contained 22 suggestions from a former Dell employee about how to get good deals and/or good service. I encourage you to read the whole thing and email it to your friends.

snipshot_e4pt1ajvq9k.jpgIn the letter, which is quoted verbatim on Consumerist, Tracy Holland of Dell says that the spot in question “contains information that is confidential and proprietary to Dell,” and that this is “in violation of his or her employment agreement and confidentiality obligations.” As I was reading, I imagined the editor of Consumerist reading the letter and wondering “and all this relates to me how exactly?” Which is pretty much what the lawyer for the blog said in her response: “We came by this material entirely legally: we were provided it by a third party voluntarily, we did not use any improper means to solicit any Dell employee to breach any agreement he may have had with you.”

One of the funny parts is when the Dell lawyer sends a second email at about 2 a.m., saying “Thank you. Note, though, it has been almost nine hours since we made the request, yet the posting is still up.” In her response, the Consumerist lawyer starts with:

“Despite some suggestions to the contrary among some of our fellow beings, most humans need to sleep. Some of us also receive hundreds of emails a day and have to deal with every one of them. I received this email at 12am last night. It is 7am now. That’s a pretty good turnaround.”

Hilarious. I have a feeling my friend Lionel Menchaca, the head blogger at Dell — who we had on a panel at mesh a couple of weeks ago and who is a wonderful guy, and the architect of Dell’s successful blogger outreach program — would cringe if he read any of that exchange. Update: In fact, Lionel has cringed (or at least it reads that way) and has responded with a mea culpa here. Much props to him for doing so.

Do you have a right not to be indexed?

From Rob Hyndman’s blog I learned that Avvo — the lawyer-ranking site that was started by a lawyer friend of Stuart MacDonald’s from the old Expedia days — is being sued by a lawyer who doesn’t like the fact that he has been included in the startup’s index. There seem to be a lot of issues at stake here (depending on whom you believe), and several lawyers who have commented either to the media or on the Avvo blog seem to think that the company’s business is somehow unethical and/or illegal.

lawsuit.jpgBut the part that interests me is the argument that Avvo is doing something wrong by ranking lawyers without their permission (not to mention getting things wrong along the way, as a CNet story describes). One commenter on the Avvo blog equates this to <a href="http://avvoblog.com/2007/06/14/defending-avvo%e2%80%99s-right-to-provide-information-and-guidance-to-consumers/#comment-59“>being conscripted by the company into modifying his own profile, because not doing so would mean a lower ranking:

“Of course, Avvo welcomes me to correct their misleading post … yes, if I work for Avvo and increase the value of their database, I can correct their misinformation.”

and then:

“Now that’s a great business model: publish very limited (essentially disparaging) information about people that conscripts them into being your researchers and data-entry employees (and do it as a surprise to them)!”

Do people have a right not to be indexed by such a service, or should they have such a right? It’s an interesting question. Avvo uses publicly-available information about lawyers, drawn from attorney associations and other databases, in much the same way that Zillow.com (also started by a former Expedia exec) indexes all the info about houses.

Houses can’t sue, however, nor can homeowners sue because they don’t like the value of their house. Lawyers, as we all know, can sue over just about anything. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes out — and if I was running a site like RateMyTeachers.com, I would be watching closely.

No fair — I’m telling mom about your blog!

Today’s exercise in childish behaviour — which comes just days after the bitch-slap fest between eBay and Google — comes courtesy of a record industry executive with a skin so thin it’s a wonder his organs don’t fall out. BoingBoing has the story here, and a link to the website of one Andrew Dubber, who teaches at a British university and writes a blog about the music industry (his site was down for awhile but is now back up).

snipshot_e4ewergu49w.jpgIt seems Mr. Dubber linked to a Download Squad post that was critical of the RIAA’s lawsuit strategy, and a certain record executive named Paul Birch — who sits on the board of both the British record industry lobby and the international version of the same thing — sent an email saying that he didn’t think Mr. Dubber’s comments were appropriate, since his university gets government funding. At the end of the message, Birch said that “if you persist then I shall make a formal complaint to the University.” P2PNet has the text of the post.

Birch seems incensed that a university professor would post his opinion to a personal blog — imagine the nerve. As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, it’s this kind of ridiculous outburst that gives the entire industry an (even worse) name. Download Squad has a response to the situation here.

You have no privacy, etc., etc.

Scott McNealy of Sun said it many years ago, and we keep proving that it’s true in small ways (and sometimes big ones) every day. The latest is the news that a young woman’s Facebook and/or MySpace comments might become evidence in a court case (goes to state of mind, your Honor).

snipshot_e41gublsvfq8.jpgWhy should this surprise anyone? If emails and personal letters and so on can become evidence, why not Facebook comments? Because Mark Zuckerberg promised you they were private? In Canada, just off the top of my head, we’ve already had at least two cases in which a person’s postings on the social network known as VampireFreaks.com became an issue. Once you type them into your browser, your words become part of the public record — or at least they could become part of it. If you don’t want to take that chance then don’t type them.

A couple of ripples in the blog pond

Couple of things I came across in the feed reader and elsewhere concerning bloggers — one sort of funny (but with a serious point) and one that looks great on first glance, but less great on second glance. First, the funny: PSFK, the marketing and fashion blog, points us towards a rant from celebrity chef Mario Batali at the blog Eater.com about foodie bloggers. The great man says that:

Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere.

Batali goes on to mention some scurrilous rumours that were picked up by blogs (after being reported in the New York Post) and spread far and wide.

“This bit of shoddy journalism will be picked up and promulgated by the rest of the gray zone and march its merry way toward the center of the road. Eventually these blog posts become factual information lost in the sauce. But, in the end, I do not hate the blogger. I just expect, and want, more from many of them.”

Points to the chef for the use of the word “vituperatives” — nice work there. And he raises a fair point about blogs and the desire for gossip. But it seems as though Batali’s real issue is with the New York Post writer, not the bloggers. Tabloids have been dishing out questionable gossip since newspapers were first invented.

The second tidbit came from the sporting world, where the New York Islanders have set up a “blog box” for bloggers to cover their games (a slightly different approach from college baseball, which kicks bloggers out). Anyone can sit there provided they want to write about the game, and this seems like a great way to get fans involved in a game that seems to not have a very big audience in the U.S.

The only question in my mind is: Why a special box? Why not just put them in the press box? Presumably that would irritate the real journalists — although as Deadspin (which has an interview with the Islanders about the idea) noted in a post last year, bloggers should count themselves lucky they’re not in the press box, for a whole bunch of reasons.

Owen Thomas takes the reins at Valleywag

So Business 2.0 magazine loses another writer/blogger, and Valleywag loses Nick Denton (again). Owen Thomas has jumped from his B2.0 blog duties to the editorship of the ‘Wag. Denton says he has been trying desperately to get rid of the editorship — although I suspect he has been having a pretty good time. As for Thomas, he could be forgiven for having a few butterflies about the move, given what happened to his predecessor, Nick “the other Nick” Douglas.

snipshot_e4×301ag0r3.jpgThe other Nick was fired by Denton and then-editor in chief of Gawker Media, the wonderfully named Lockhart Steele (the other Nick was let go for, among other things, joking about lawsuits). Douglas, who looks barely old enough to drive, went on to launch his own blog project called Look Shiny (and just launched a live-blogging effort as part of Justin.tv). Given his track record, which extends back from Business 2.0 through Time mag and a bunch of other jobs, all the way (as Om mentions) to the venerable Suck.com in the late 1990s — a veritable treasure trove of smart writing and sardonic wit that I miss a lot — it sounds like Owen can probably handle the job.

I sure hope that Thomas can keep the Wag on the roll it’s been on since Denton took over again. I know that Mike Arrington believes Nick is the spawn of Satan — or at least one of his senior lieutenants — but I confess that I find much of what Valleywag writes a refreshing antidote to some of the breathless coverage that’s out there, and as my friend Paul Kedrosky points out, Nick has done a pretty good job of breaking news too.

Nice try, Mr. Clinton — you go first

From TVWeek comes this howler from former President Bill Clinton:

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of marketers, branders and media executives from around the country, former President Bill Clinton challenged the press to “render complex messages to audiences without turning them into two-dimensional cartoons” as the next election approaches.

Pot, meet kettle.

Thanks for that question, ILoveObama1238

(cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

CNN — the real-time news star of a previous generation — has teamed up with YouTube, the king of “user-generated” video, to inject a little reality into the U.S. presidential debates (which are usually choreographed within an inch of their lives so that no one accidentally says what they’re really thinking). The two media giants have set up a joint venture in which average citizens will be able to submit questions, and CNN will choose two questions that will be played for the candidates during the upcoming Democratic debate.

citizentube.jpgAccording to a press release from the two companies, “select YouTube users” will also be in the audience during the live debate, which is scheduled for July 23 and will be moderated by Anderson Cooper. The plan is to do something similar for the Republican candidate debate, but one hasn’t been scheduled yet. According to a conference call with a CNN executive and YouTube CEO Chad Hurley, blog postings and discussion in online forums may also influence the debate.

YouTube political editor Steve Grove and Anderson Cooper describe how the video portion of the Democratic debate is going to work in (what else) a YouTube video. The YouTube Debate site joins several other YouTube “channels” related to the election: several months ago, the video-sharing site (owned by Google) set up a site called CitizenTube — which is moderated by Grove — and the site also has a channel called You Choose, where the candidates can upload videos.

Most of the candidates have embraced video to some extent, and both John Edwards and Barack Obama announced their candidacy with videos. Hillary Clinton recently recorded a video about her search for a new campaign song, in which she poked fun at her critics by using YouTube clips. But candidates have also been burned by video clips — such as the video of George Allen calling someone a “macaca,” which pretty much ended his campaign — and the public reaction to videos such as the Hillary1984 video (or the video mentioned in this blog post) is unpredictable.

For political purposes, the Internet is “a chaotic message environment,” Alan Rosenblatt says in a post on TechPresident.com, “precisely because it enables anyone, as long as they have access to a wired computer, to post their own ideas and opinions.” Sometimes that can be good, and sometimes not so much.

Barack Obama gets a groupie video

I don’t post a lot on politics, but this video by someone calling herself “Obama Girl” is fantastic — well done, and hilarious. Apparently put together by Barely Political, there’s some talk about it at TechPresident.com, including an excellent post on the whole phenomenon of “voter-generated video” by Micah Sifry (hat tip to Rob Hyndman for the link).

As Rachel Sklar of Eat The Press points out, the singing in this particular comedic effort comes from Leah Kauffman, who was also involved in another (somewhat adult-themed) popular comedy video last year. Amy Lee Ettinger, an aspiring actress and swimsuit model, plays the role of the woman who is obsessed with Obama. The video has gotten a mention on the New York Times Caucus blog, at ABC News and at the Daily Kos blog.

Is this kind of thing good or bad for the candidate? That can be debated — and is being debated, as I mention in this blog post, including in the Chicago Tribune — but one thing is for sure: it’s pretty funny. Apparently Saturday Night Live and Jon Stewart don’t have a monopoly on political humour any more 🙂

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