Thursday, March 29, 2012

OK, here's one case in which music downloading WAS a bad idea

If you believe the RIAA and its allies, illegal music downloading is a multi-trillion dollar industry that directly led to the 2008 financial collapse.

If you believe that SOPA no people, downloading of music results in multiple trillions of dollars of benefits for the music industry (plus a whole lot of Facebook likes).

The truth is somewhere between these two extremes. However, I've run across one case in which music downloading truly was bad.

Since it's an Associated Press article, I won't directly quote from it. (On the other hand, I won't like to it again in this post.) But the article concerns the Arab Shooting Championships, which were recently held in Kuwait. I have never heard of these championships, but competitive shooting is certainly a popular sport that requires a lot of skill. So the Arab Shooting Championships honored the winners with a traditional medals ceremony, in which the national anthems of the winners were played.

According to AP, the people responsible for the ceremony (reportedly contractors) downloaded the national anthems from the Internet.

So when Maria Dmitrienko won a gold medal, the awards ceremony was held, and the national anthem of Kazakhstan was played.

Well, it was supposed to be played. Unfortunately, the wrong music file was downloaded, and instead of hearing the real Kazakhstan national anthem, a song that appeared in the film "Borat" was played instead.

This literally resulted in an international incident. As you may know, the Sacha Baron Cohen character Borat is not all that popular in Kazakhstan.

And I'm sure that some RIAA lawyer is saying, "See, we told you so."

Monday, March 26, 2012

The RIAA and the First Amendment

To begin, we should note what the RIAA is, and what it is not. The RIAA is the Recording Industry Asociation of America, and its members are

legitimate record companies with main offices in the United States that are engaged in the production and sale, under their own brand label, of recordings of performances for home use.

Individual recording artists cannot join RIAA. And there's one category of businesses that is specifically prohibited from joining:

Eligibility is not extended to companies that are currently engaged in, have within five years of application been engaged in, or are controlled by any person, firm or corporation which has within 5 years of application been engaged in the unauthorized creation, duplication, sale, importation, or other use of sound recordings in violation of state or federal law.

So if Megaupload starts a U.S. record label, it need not apply for RIAA membership.

But while RIAA is focused on the needs of the record labels, it expresses its care for the artists that work for those labels. Not to the extent of arguing for higher royalty rates, of course, but it clearly cares about the content of the artists' recordings.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) takes an uncompromising stand against censorship and for the First Amendment rights of all artists to create freely. From the nation’s capital to state capitals across the country, RIAA works to stop unconstitutional action against the people who make the music of our times--and those who enjoy it.

So what does the First Amendment mean to RIAA? According to this blog post:

RIAA has long been on the front lines in defense of the First Amendment, challenging government censorship and restrictions on the ability of artists to freely express themselves.

It is important to note what the First Amendment itself is, and what it isn't. The First Amendment only covers actions by Congress (and, by extension, to other branches of government). It (usually) does not extend to industry; if an employer fires an employee for calling his/her boss a jerk, the employee's First Amendment rights are not being violated.

This distinction is important when considering the RIAA's primary First Amendment battle - the PMRC hearings.

Ironically, the site linked above apparently does not believe in the Fair Use Doctrine, but suffice it to say that the RIAA, rather than agreeing to government regulation of the music industry, instead proposed that the music industry regulate itself - thus ensuring that artists can freely express themselves.

Of course, critics have asked whether the RIAA believes in the First Amendment for anyone else. For example, take a 2007 case in which the RIAA asked the University of Oregon to identify seven students that the RIAA accused of file-sharing. Daniel Solove wrote:

One issue involves students’ First Amendment rights. Although the Supreme Court has held that copyright infringement isn’t protected under the First Amendment, Harper & Row, Publs. Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539 (1985), protected speech may be involved in some cases. According to the Court, copyright has “built-in First Amendment accommodations” via the fair use doctrine. Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003). Copyright protection is thus compatible with the First Amendment because of the existence of fair use. What this means is that it is possible that in any given case, some of the uses of the music may be fair use, and that is protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, a person may have made statements online along with engaging in piracy. So, for example, an anonymous person might maintain a website where he posts music files for trading along with the statement that “the RIAA is a big bad bully.” That statement is protected speech, and identifying an anonymous speaker triggers heightened First Amendment standards for the subpoena.

The RIAA might argue something like this: “But the people whose identities we’re seeking are engaging in illegal piracy. They’re trading music files. There’s not a strong argument that any protected speech is involved.” Even if they’re right about this, it still doesn’t extinguish the First Amendment interests of the individuals suspected of piracy. Suppose, for example, a person anonymously posted a comment about another person that looked clearly defamatory. The fact that it might look like a slam-dunk case still doesn’t obviate the need to establish the heightened First Amendment standards for subpoenas. Copyright should be no different.

Score one for the First Amendment. Now if only we could ensure that Congress doesn't establish a religion AND doesn't prohibit the free exercise of religion...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lack of Data - Aramis Estevez vs. Deathwatch Beetle Repairman?

I have scrobbled the Big River soundtrack to, which means that Aramis Estevez is one of the artists that I have scrobbled. I wanted to listen to Estevez some more, so I began playing Estevez's station on - and was greeted with a song by Those Damn Twins.

And then was greeted with a song by Deathwatch Beetle Repairman.

This seemed odd, until I realized that I was one of the few people on who has actually scrobbled songs by Aramis Estevez - and that therefore had concluded that all of the artists on my playlist were similar to Estevez.

I confirmed this by looking at Estevez's similar artists page.

As of this evening, the third artist listed - one with a "super similarity" to Estevez - is P.D.Q. Bach.

"Very high similarity" artists include Helen Sventitsky, Ontario Emperor, and

However, once gets more data on the artist, these types of things will be straightened out.

For example, a couple of years ago, thought that Sventitsky and Ontario Emperor were similar - primarily because both artists were listened to by FriendFeeders.

But now that a couple of years have passed, has figured out that Helen sounds nothing like me. And with this additional data, people who like Helen's music aren't being subjected to synthetic instrumentals.

Monday, March 19, 2012

lluismiras video for "The Alcoholic"

I go in weird spurts in album buying. I'll buy an album from a band or artist, declare it one of my favorites of all time...and then not bother to buy the follow-up.

I have owned Röyksopp's Junior for years, but have never bothered to buy its follow-up, Senior.

But I did want to share one song from the album. Röyksopp, along with, sponsored a competition in which people submitted videos for the Senior songs. The winner was a video by Iluismiras for the song "The Alcoholic."

Also see this blog post in Spanish (Iluismiras is from Argentina).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Metallica covers Bonnie Tyler (language warning).

(P.S. Not really.)

Shakira covers Metallica.

(P.S. Really.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Renting out a song (Liza Minnelli covers Pet Shop Boys)

The nice thing about is that if you allow it to do so, it throws all sorts of songs at you. On December 27, 2009, it served up the song "Rent" to me. But not the original Pet Shop Boys version - it served up Liza Minnelli's cover.

Now I should explain my feelings about the Pet Shop Boys. I love the Pet Shop Boys. I also think that they are the best comedy band ever recorded. When a FriendFeed user shared a private post that included Pet Shop Boys' video of "West End Girls," I offered a comment about Chris Lowe's visual performance in that video - while Neil Tennant earnestly sings the lyrics, Lowe nonchalantly stares off into space. But Pet Shop Boys' true comedy stylings can be heard in the songs themselves - whether they're rearranging "Always On My Mind" as the direct opposite of anything Willie Nelson ever recorded, or whether they're throwing out such lyrics as "Violence, religion, injustice and death" or "What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this," the Pet Shop Boys are consistently as funny, if not funnier, than Monty Python.

In 1987, they scored a hit with their song "Rent" - a song that Minnelli later covered. What I didn't know was that Minnelli's cover version was part of a 1989 album produced by the Pet Shop Boys themselves. While it sounds like most of the "Results" of the album were an odd juxtaposition of Liza's voice with the usual Pet Shop Boys synthesizer backing, the cover of "Rent" was more in Liza's traditional style. And for some reason, I think that Minnelli's version is preferable to the original - perhaps because the title "Rent" was subsequently used for an unrelated Broadway musical.

You can hear Minnelli's version here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Queen of the Road

There are certain people and bands who exhibit a variety of musical styles. One of those bands is Blondie. Blondie first came to my attention because of a shimmering disco song. During their years of popularity, they also released rock, calypso, rap, and probably seventeen other rock styles.

But it turns out that Deborah Harry's FORMER band exhibited a style that Blondie, to my knowledge, never attempted.

On Tuesday evening, Loren Feldman shared a Michael Pinto Google+ item about how paparazzi saw Deborah Harry coming out of a hotel and thought that she was Lindsay Lohan. Google+ user Dennis McCunney commented on the item:

I wonder how many Blondie fans knew her first band was a 60's group called The Wind In the Willows?

For the record, I did not know that. And Michael Pinto may or may not have known that, but he provided a link to the Wikipedia page on the band. I was reading the Wikipedia page, which described the band's one album release...

...and I stopped cold at track 4.

My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died

You see, that particular song was originally written and performed by Roger Miller. In his career, Miller often balanced the serious and the silly in the same song, with devastating effect. "My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died" had no such seriousness in it - as you can guess from the title, it's completely off the wall.

Which brings us to The Wind in the Willows' version.

If anything, TWITW's take on the song is even more outlandish than Miller's original. Miller never ventured into waltz tempo.

Now did Blondie ever do anything like that?