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WIKIPEDIA GOES DARK AS THE SOPA DEBATE RUMBLES ON IN THE US
As previously reported, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales first proposed taking Wikipedia's English-language pages offline for a day last month, inspired by a similar move made by the Italian Wikimedia community in protest at new web legislation there. Though by the time Wales first suggested the black out, the wheels were already starting to fall off the SOPA bus, as those who oppose the measures it proposes became ever increasingly vocal, buoyed by support from some of America's biggest web and tech companies.
The most controversial bits of SOPA relate to so called web-blocking, the establishment of a fast-track system whereby copyright owners could seek injunctions forcing internet service providers to block access to websites they believe primarily exist to infringe copyright. A similar system is already being launched in Spain, the Spanish parliament having passed laws to allow such a thing last year. In the UK, web-blocking was included in the Digital Economy Act, though with a 'wait and see before we do this' clause that all but removed the measures from the legislation. The coalition government has since expressed concerns about this particular anti-piracy measure.
Some, though, think that web-blocking is actually a more reasonable system for attempting to combat online piracy, being less expensive and time consuming than the three-strikes alternative, where warning letters are sent to individuals who file-share, with threats that their net access will be reduced if they continue to access unlicensed content sources. Web-blocking would require fewer individual actions, focusing on those who operate websites that prolifically infringe, or which enable others to commit infringement on a mass scale, rather than the millions of individuals who access such services.
Such infringing websites can be, and have been, successfully sued - and shut down - under existing copyright laws in most countries, but such litigation is time consuming and expensive, and shut down orders are hard to enforce when an infringing website is based outside a court's jurisdiction. Web-block systems would speed up the litigation process, and, by forcing ISPs to block access to sites, overcome jurisdiction issues.
Of course everyone knows web-blocks can be circumvented by anyone with a little bit of tech know-how - and some infringing websites will publish guides to by-passing blocks on their blogs or social media profiles - but it seems likely more mainstream web-users wouldn't be able or inclined to try to get around blocks, and would be less likely to discover infringing services in the first place while searching for specific artists via Google et al.
Opponents to web-blocking - as well as stressing that more hardline file-sharers can always circumvent such blocks - argue that systems like that proposed in SOPA give traditional rights owners the power to censor the internet, predicting that big content firms would abuse any such system to try to take smaller opponents offline. They also fear that the investment community would stop investing in sites that involve users contributing content, because they would fear that said users might upload copyright material, giving big rights owners a case to have the site shut down under any fast-track web-block system.
Many of those who oppose SOPA cite past examples of big rights owners using existing US copyright law to have content taken down off user-upload sites which it then turned out the complainants didn't actually own. One such incident they will almost certainly cite is the recent 'Mega Song' debacle, where Universal Music ordered YouTube remove a video made by MegaUpload; a company the music major accuses of copyright infringement, but a video in which the music firm had not copyright claim.
With opponents to SOPA being much more vocal than its supporters in recent weeks, the proposals were already starting to wobble in Congress, despite the best efforts of the music and movie industry's lobbyists, though it was concerns expressed by the White House last week that will most likely force a rethink. But those who oppose the new anti-piracy laws say SOPA is far from dead in the water, while also pointing out a separate set of proposals called PIPA, that would introduce similar measures, is still on the table.
Hence Wales's decision to go ahead with the Wikipedia black out, to rally more public support for the anti-SOPA campaign. Those trying to access English-language pages on the online encyclopaedia through a desktop browser today (the black-out doesn't affect Wikipedia's mobile site) get a one second glimpse of the page they are trying to access, before being presented with a notice that reads: "For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia".
Users are then taken to a page outlining the concerns of Wales et al about SOPA and PIPA, including details of how Wikipedia readers - including those outside the US also affected by the strike - can take action. A number of other mainly US-based websites are also joining in with the black-out, while other web giants have put their name to an ad campaign opposing SOPA and PIPA under the heading "we stand together to protect innovation".
Whatever your viewpoint on web-blocking - or the specifics of SOPA and PIPA - it's hard to deny that those who oppose it all are winning the public debate at the moment, which must be irritating for the American music and movie industry execs who have spent months and in some cases years lobbying to get such anti-piracy measures onto the political agenda in Washington.
The Motion Picture Association Of America attempted a bit of a fight back last night by accusing Wikipedia et al of "staging stunts that punish their users" rather than "coming to the table to find solutions", tough talking which might accurately represent the frustrations of those lobbying for tougher anti-piracy rules, but which is unlikely to win SOPA any new supporters.
The statement, from MPAA CEO Chris Dodd, reads thus: "Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging".
He continues: "It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests".
And he concludes: "A so-called 'black-out' is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this 'black-out' to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy".
The big content firms, such as those the MPAA represents, might have even more to worry about in the next week than just seeing their efforts on Capitol Hill untangle. Major peaceful protests often result in some more violent skirmishes on the peripheries, and word has it that the Anonymous group of hacktivists are planning to follow up the Wiki black-out with a few attacks on the servers of the big entertainment groups, with Sony seemingly a hot target once again.
Amongst the plans being discussed in the hacking community, according to Australian IT title SC Magazine, are to fill Sony's websites with links to unlicensed BitTorrent feeds and the personal details of senior execs, and to alter any prices on Sony sites down to zero. Whether such chatter represents genuine intent - and whether the hackers are able to realistically achieve such things - remains to be seen. But next Monday seems to be currently set for the big hack.
GROOVESHARK DEMANDS INFORMATION FROM DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS AS PART OF UNIVERSAL MUSIC LEGAL SQUABBLE
As previously reported, a commenter on a Digital Music News story about Grooveshark last November claimed to work for the streaming firm, and said that they were routinely told by bosses there to upload music to the company's servers from labels with which they had no licences.
Officially Grooveshark's users upload music to the site, which means that when music from record companies which haven't licensed the platform appears, the service's owners can avoid liability for copyright infringement under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, providing they take action to remove said content when made aware of it.
But Universal Music, in its latest copyright infringement lawsuit against Grooveshark, says it has evidence that staff members at the company also upload unlicensed content, which would prevent the firm from using DMCA provisions to fight copyright infringement charges. Universal's claims are based on upload data it received from Grooveshark as part of an earlier legal dispute, and the anonymous DMN comment. Grooveshark insists that Universal has deliberately misinterpreted the data it provided the major, and that the DMN commenter is a fraud, ie he or she has never worked for the streaming firm.
According to DMN, as they prepare to fight Universal's latest lawsuit, Grooveshark's lawyers, from an LA firm called McPherson Rane LLC, have requested access to any correspondence between DMN, Grooveshark employees and Universal, and any information that would help identify the anonymous alleged whistleblower. DMN calls the subpoena filed against it by Grooveshark's legal reps "aggressive and broad-reaching".
Commenting on the legal papers it received this weekend, DMN writes: "The aggressive and far-reaching subpoena from Grooveshark is probably based on the assumption that Digital Music News is small enough to be intimidated, legally or otherwise. That could prove a drastic miscalculation, especially considering a wide body of legal protections and precedents that protect journalists and their whistleblower sources, not to mention a determination by this publication to protect all informants. The subpoena action may also stir additional information from unfriendly sources, which could be entered into the case and prove incredibly damaging to Grooveshark's defence effort".
US BODY COMMENDS CONRAD MURRAY PROSECUTORS
The organisation says that Deputy District Attorneys David Walgren and Deborah Brazil successfully grappled with complex issues to ensure a conviction which, the Center adds, it hopes will encourage other prosecutors to pursue what it calls Dr Feelgoods, medics who prescribe unnecessary and sometimes dangerous prescription drugs on demand to rich clients, sometimes resulting in the patients' deaths.
Presenting the two prosecutors with 'awards for excellence', the Center said: "The successful prosecution of Dr Conrad Murray by Deputy District Attorneys David Walgren and Deborah Brazil was professional and impeccably presented to the jury. Their work serves as a guide to other deputy district attorneys as we in Los Angeles County prosecute 'Dr Feelgoods' whose indiscriminate dispensing of prescription drugs so often results in needless deaths".
Meanwhile CLAAD spokesman Michael Barnes added: "[The LA District Attorney's] office has set an example for other prosecutors across the country. Walgren and Brazil obviously did their homework. They handled complex medical and legal issues with extraordinary preparation and professionalism".
As previously reported, Murray is currently serving four years in jail for causing the death of Michael Jackson by negligently administering the anaesthetic propofol as a cure for insomnia. He plans to appeal his conviction and sentence.
NEW ALBUM "ABOUT HEARTBREAK", SAYS TAYLOR SWIFT
The 22 year old, who last year broke from a high-profile relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, tells Vogue that her fourth record - the successor to 2010's top-selling 'Speak Now' - will be inspired by "earth-shattering, not recent, but absolute crash-and-burn heartbreak".
Says a now single Swift: "That will turn out to be what the next album is about. The only way that I can feel better about myself - pull myself out of that awful pain of losing someone - is writing songs about it to get some sort of clarity".
Noting the various "red flags" she's now wary of when searching for her perfect match, the singer points out that, "if a dude is threatened by the fact that I need security [guards], that's a bad sign".
She adds: "I don't have security to make myself look cool, or like I have an entourage. I have security because there's a file of stalkers who want to take me home and chain me to a pipe in their basement". Ah, that seems fair.
Read Taylor's full Vogue cover story here: www.vogue.com/magazine/article/taylor-swift-the-single-life/
PARIS HILTON WORKING ON NEW ALBUM
Speaking to MTV, Hilton said: "It's completely different from my last album. I'm going with a whole new genre. I have Afrojack executive-producing the entire album. So we've just been coming up with the most incredible tracks. I was just in the studio with RedFoo the other night, so we're going to be doing my new single with LMFAO".
She also explained that the ever busy LMFAO weren't as hard to pin down as collaborators as they might have been, explaining: "I've known them since I was a little girl. We grew up together because our parents are friends, so I'm just so proud of them and all their success and what they've done because they've just created this whole 'Party Rock' brand and it's just so awesome".
As for the naysayers out there who apparently think Hilton is just some heiress to a multi-billion dollar fortune playing at being a pop star, she added: "I think a lot of people don't know that music is my passion since I was a little girl. I'm very musically talented. This [album] is more my thing [than my debut], more of a club scene, more dance ... The single's done; it's in the can. That's probably going to be out [within] the next month or two".
Well, we'll all look forward to it, I'm sure.
ODD FUTURE PLOT ENSEMBLE ALBUM
Also anticipated in the way of Odd Future releases this year are Tyler, The Creator's third album, 'Wolf', and the sophomore suite from Left Brain and Hodgy Beats' joint project Mellowhype. Frank Ocean's debut LP 'Nostalgia, Ultra' is also slated to secure an official release, though I wouldn't hold my breath.
JÓNSI RELEASING FILM SOUNDTRACK
So enamoured was Crowe with Sigur Rós that he made 'We Bought A Zoo' stars Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon watch the band's documentary film 'Heima' as preparation for their respective roles. The director says: "The actors listened to the music during their takes; it quickly became part of the film's DNA".
Having co-created a track titled 'Gathering Stories' with Jónsi, Crowe has this to say of the singer-songwriter's contribution to the score: "[He] arrived from Iceland with a toy sampler keyboard and a head full of ideas. Within a week, [he] had composed a series of themes that would reflect everything we'd hoped for. In his music were all the highs and lows and passionate in-betweens of the film itself. The instinct that made the movie come full circle".
'We Bought A Zoo' will open in UK cinemas on 16 Mar.
RUSKO ANNOUNCES SECOND LP
In related stuff, you can watch an elderly romance blossoms in the video for lead single 'Somebody To Love', which is screening just here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcGLppGzu0g
BRETON OFFER FREE EP
Featuring the tracks listed below plus previously released bonus 'The Well', the band's 'Blanket Well' set acts as a precursor to their debut album 'Other People's Problems', which is released via FatCat on 26 Mar.
The band will appear at the first of several UK tour dates on 27 Mar at the Academy 2 in Dublin.
Certain Little Facts
IRON MAIDEN ANNOUNCE CONCERT DVD
Filmed back in April at a stadium in Chilean capital Santiago as part of the band's Final Frontier World Tour, the DVD package features split-screen perspectives of the performance and, on a bonus second disc, Iron Maiden's lengthy 'Behind The Beast' documentary. The set-list combines classic tracks with selections from the group's 2010 long player, 'The Final Frontier'.
Says bassist Steve Harris: "It was really important to me that we filmed in South America as we're always so overwhelmed by the fans' reaction when we go to that part of the world, and I wanted to reflect that in the filming".
He adds: "We chose the Santiago show as we felt it was one of our best performances of the entire tour, and to play at the prestigious Estadio Nacional was a landmark moment for us".
MICHAEL JACKSON'S ROBERT BURNS SONGS TO BE GIVEN TO SCOTLAND
Explaining how the record came about, Gest told BBC Alba in a recent documentary: "I said to Michael, let's do a play [based on] Burns' life and he said he would help me with the music. Michael believed in the project so much. We took about eight or ten of Burns' poems and put them to contemporary music, such as 'A Red Red Rose', 'Ae Fond Kiss' and the story of 'Tam O'Shanter'".
The songs were both written and recorded, but never released, and it doesn't look like the Jackson estate has any plans to give them an airing now the king of pop is dead, motivating Gest to try and regain control of the songs, so he can hand them over to the Rabbie Burns museum, who might even release them.
Nat Edwards, the Director of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum told The List: "We had a chat and thought it would be great if we could play them at the museum and he offered to look them out and provide copies so we could do that. We would very much be looking forward to getting hold of these recordings and if possible for us to produce some sort of CD that could help raise money for the museum. That would be fantastic".
SABBATH STILL SET FOR DOWNLOAD APPEARANCE
Speculation about the metal outfit's Download slot followed news that Iommi's illness meant the band wouldn't be able to play at Californian fest Coachella as originally planned. But Download boss Andy Copping told the NME: "As far as I'm aware everything is fine. I've been told that Black Sabbath are going to be playing Download. I don't want people to worry unduly about that, we should all just send our thoughts and best wishes to Tony Iommi".
That Iommi will be able to keep a British festival date, despite being in the midst of his cancer treatment, doesn't seem totally unlikely, given the band plan to continue working on their new album, but in the UK rather than elsewhere so Iommi can balance his work commitments with treatment dates. Presumably UK gigs will fit into that plan better than live commitments which involve a trek across the world.
The Download Festival takes place in Donington Park between 8-10 Jun.
FESTIVAL LINE-UP UPDATE
APPLE CART FESTIVAL, Victoria Park, East London, 3 Jun: A sister event to indie fests Field Day and Underage, the musical portion of this year's family-friendly Apple Cart programme includes the varied likes of Billy Bragg, Noah And The Whale, Jeffrey Lewis, Neneh Cherry, Stornoway, and Kid Creole And The Coconuts. There'll also be comedy courtesy of Josie Long and Shappi Khorsandi, tricks and illusions from The Magic Circle, and a children's film-making workshop as run by The House Of Fairy Tales. Hurrah! www.theapplecartfestival.com
HEINEKEN OPEN'ER, Gdynia, Poland, 4-8 Jul: The xx and Justice are just-confirmed as companions for lone headliner Björk, with Open'er organisers promising more announcements in due course. www.opener.pl/en
SXSW, Various Venues, Austin, Texas, 13-18 Mar: The latest raft added to SxSW's sprawling 2012 line-up include Lana Del Rey, Youth Lagoon, Oneohtrix Point Never, A$AP Rocky, Chairlift and Best Coast. They join a bill that boasts just about every breaking artist ever, with A-list acts to be unveiled closer to the event. www.sxsw.com/node/9746
LOOKOUT! NO MORE
That Lookout! is no more was confirmed by one the label's artists, the aforementioned Ted Leo, who told fans that his records were not currently available via digital platforms because his record company had ceased trading. However, he said the label had granted him ownership of the sound recordings he made for it, adding: "I have to go through some legal stuff with the digital services to get the records back up online, and I'm hoping to have that all taken care of very soon".
It's not clear if other artists whose catalogue Lookout! controlled will likewise get ownership of their recordings. Lookout! was launched in the late 1980s by Larry Livermore and David Hayes.
WILL WARNER OPPOSE UNIVERSAL'S EMI DEAL?
The Legal Times has noted that Warner Music has just hired the lobbying services of US law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, seemingly to work on anti-trust issues. As the EMI sale is the biggest story in which competition laws are relevant in the music business just now, the Legal Times reckons that Warner Music plans to oppose the EMI/Universal deal (and possibly the Sony deal, though the Universal transaction is more likely) as US regulators consider the proposed takeover.
As previously reported, in Europe indie labels trade body IMPALA is already opposing both the Universal and Sony takeovers, arguing that further consolidation of the music industry would be anti-competitive, and detrimental to the wider creative industries.
Warner, of course, also bid for the EMI record companies, but was pushed out of the race by Universal which was able to offer more money. Warner bosses have since said they don't regret losing the bidding war because they believe Universal paid too much money for EMI's recorded music business.
However, a combined EMI/Universal will create a colossal competitor for Warner, and also ensure it is by far the smallest of the three majors. Whether that fact would motivate execs there to try and block the deal remains to be seen. The engagement of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck possibly suggests it is, at least, something being considered.
BOX TV TO PILOT NEW ASIAN MUSIC SHOW
Box TV's Director Of Music Simon Sadler told CMU: "At Box TV, we like to push the boundaries to create new and compelling programming formats. With the rise of stars such as Jay Sean, British Asian music is in demand and the 'Asian Beats Chart' is a reflection of this. We like to experiment with new formats and new genres of music; Kiss TV is renowned for championing diversity and 4Music has developed its own identity when to comes to new music after introducing the VIP Track in 2009. We're proud to be able to produce shows like the 'Asian Beats Chart' and it will be interesting to be part of the rise of British Asian music scene".
NME PLANS SPIN-OFF VENTURE IN INDIA
An IPC spokesperson said: "We are pleased to confirm that NME has partnered with Pilot Ventures to launch the NME brand in India. More details on the partnership and launch will follow in the coming weeks".
DIE ANTWOORD WANT CELINE DION COLLABORATION
"I fucking love Celine Dion", rapper Ninja told SPIN. "Celine is the ultimate. We want to work with her more than anybody. I'm going to keep saying it interviews because I want it to happen so badly. I drive around listening to [Dion song 'Think Twice'] stupid loud. I nearly crash the car because I get emotional overload. It's dangerous. I shouldn't listen to it while driving any more".
As for what she would add to a Die Antwoord track, Ninja said: "She'd bust the most beautifullest hook in the whole word".
"We need this to happen", added the duo's usual hook buster Yo-Landi.