Thursday, December 31, 2009

Canadian Recording Industry Faces $6 Billion Copyright Infringement Lawsuit


Sent to you by James via Google Reader:


via Michael Geist Blog by Michael Geist on 12/6/09

Chet Baker was a leading jazz musician in the 1950s, playing trumpet and providing vocals. Baker died in 1988, yet he is about to add a new claim to fame as the lead plaintiff in possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history.  His estate, which still owns the copyright in more than 50 of his works, is part of a massive class-action lawsuit that has been underway for the past year.

As my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes, the infringer has effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million and the full claim could exceed $6 billion. If the dollars don't shock, the target of the lawsuit undoubtedly will: The defendants in the case are Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.

The CRIA members were hit with the lawsuit [PDF] in October 2008, after artists decided to turn to the courts following decades of frustration with the rampant infringement (I am adviser to the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, which is co-counsel, but have had no involvement in the case). The claims arise from a longstanding practice of the recording industry in Canada, described in the lawsuit as "exploit now, pay later if at all."  It involves the use of works that are often included in compilation CDs (ie. the top dance tracks of 2009) or live recordings. The record labels create, press, distribute, and sell the CDs, but do not obtain the necessary copyright licences.

Instead, the names of the songs on the CDs are placed on a "pending list", which signifies that approval and payment is pending.  The pending list dates back to the late 1980s, when Canada changed its copyright law by replacing a compulsory licence with the need for specific authorization for each use. It is perhaps better characterized as a copyright infringement admission list, however, since for each use of the work, the record label openly admits that it has not obtained copyright permission and not paid any royalty or fee.

Over the years, the size of the pending list has grown dramatically, now containing over 300,000 songs. From Beyonce to Bruce Springsteen, the artists waiting for payment are far from obscure, as thousands of Canadian and foreign artists have seen their copyrights used without permission and payment.

It is difficult to understand why the industry has been so reluctant to pay its bills.  Some works may be in the public domain or belong to a copyright owner difficult to ascertain or locate, yet the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Bruce Cockburn, Sloan, or the Watchmen are not hidden from view.

The more likely reason is that the record labels have had little motivation to pay up.  As the balance has grown to over $50 million (Universal alone owes more than $30 million), David Basskin, the President and CEO of the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency Ltd., notes in his affidavit that "the record labels have devoted insufficient resources to identifying and paying the owners of musical works on the Pending Lists." Basskin adds that some labels believe addressing the issue would be "an unproductive use of their time."

Having engaged in widespread copyright infringement for over 20 years, the CRIA members now face the prospect of far greater liability.  The class action seeks the option of statutory damages for each infringement.  At $20,000 per infringement (the amount owed on some songs exceed this amount), potential liability exceeds $6 billion.  These numbers may sound outrageous, yet they are based on the same rules that has led the recording industry to claim a single file sharer is liable for millions in damages.

After years of claiming Canadian consumers disrespect copyright, the irony of having the recording industry face a massive lawsuit will not be lost on anyone, least of all the artists still waiting to be paid.  Indeed, they are also seeking punitive damages, arguing "the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers."

Update: An earlier version of this post noted that record label liability could exceed $60 billion in this case.  A reader helpfully noted the math gremlin - the correct number is $6 billion ($20,000 per infringement X 300,000 songs). Toronto Star correction is here.


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Public Enemy Lacks SellaBand Believer$


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via hypebot by Bruce Houghton on 12/14/09

The press releases were flying on October 6th when Public Enemy announced that they were going to their fans via SellaBand for $250,000 to record and promote a new album.

image from "Through its partnership with SellaBand, PE is offering a total 10,000 parts for Believers at a value of $25.00 each to raise a total of $250,000. The $250,000 will be used to: a) fund the complete recording costs and expenses for its next album and b) fund a strategic marketing plan for the worldwide release of the SellaBand album in 2010.

Public Enemy has created an exciting incentive plan for Believers and looks forward to successfully completing fund raising by the end of 2009."

Now, more than two months later, and less than 20 days before the end of 2009, the band has only raised $71,620 or just 28% of its goal. This is despite offering "exciting incentives":

  • "Believer" Level = 1 Part ($25) Incentive: Exclusive, numbered CD in Digipak 1
  • "Hype" Level - 4 Parts ($100) Incentive: Exclusive, numbered CD Digipak, opportunity to buy 2nd CD at 50% off, & Name in booklet 4
  • "Rebel" Level - 10 Parts ($250) Incentive: All of Above plus Exclusive Limited Edition Public Enemy T Shirt 10
  • "Posse" Level - 20 Parts ($500) Incentive: All of Above plus Autographed Copy of CD signed by Chuck D 20
  • "Terrordome" Level [Limited to 50 investors] - 40 Parts ($1,000) Incentive: All of Above plus Unlimited use backstage pass for 3 years 40
  • "Bring The Noise" Level [Limited to 15 Investors] - 200 Parts ($5,000) Incentive: All of Above plus Executive Producer Credit on Album 200
  • "PE Number One" Level [Limited to 5 Investors] - 400 Parts ($10,000) Incentive: All of Above plus Studio Visit during recording session 400

No word yet on whether or not Public Enemy will extend the deadline for fan contributions.


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Monday, December 14, 2009

MP3 links are volatile.

One of the biggest challenges in maintaining an mp3 search engine is the short life span of most mp3 files on the web.  We call this "volatile" content - it's always changing and one can't rely on a file being alive for very long. 

To combat this, at SkreemR we are continually testing to see whether or not links in our index are still valid.  The trick is to do this without downloading any files which would eat up our (and the host sites) bandwidth very quickly.  So we have a program that checks all the links and does a "HEAD" request to see if the file is still available and hasn't changed.  The HEAD request is quite handy - there's a good post about it here if you are interested:

The article sums up the value of HEAD quite well: "You can verify that a file exists, and is the proper MIME-type, without actually downloading all of the data contained within that file."  One problem is that some servers block or do not implement HEAD requests, but mostly it works quite well for us.

We try to validate each link every 24 hours.  With an index of over 10 million links, our program has to be very fast (it is!).  Occasionally you may come across a link in SkreemR that doesn't work but that means you have hit it sometime in that 24 hr window between checks.  For the most part, I think compared to other mp3 search engines we have the best ratio of working vs broken links.  That's probably why people like to use our API and why people who do not use our API like to try and scrape our site for links...but that's a post for another day ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Music RSS Feeds

I thought I would share some of the music news sites I follow in my feed reader, so I added a blog roll feed to the sidebar as well as an RSS widget with the latest headlines.  I can't believe how easy Google makes it to do cool stuff - thanks, Google!  There might be some of you out there looking for some new sites to follow so for those interested, the link to my public shared feeds is here:

A few of these may be defunct or updated very infrequently.  However at one point or another each has offered some good insight into the digital music or audio search sphere.


Hi! welcome to the "unofficial" SkreemR blog.  I say unofficial because these are just my thoughts and ramblings on the state of audio search and digital music in general.  Hopefully from time to time there will be something useful and/or informative.

thanks for reading!