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EUROPEAN COUNTRIES SIGN ACTA, BUT WILL WIDEPSREAD OPPOSITION COME AFTER THE FACT?
As previously reported, the ACTA aims to introduce some harmony around the world on IP matters, helping content owners protect their intellectual property rights on a global level. The agreement obliges signed-up countries to ensure some basic intellectual property rights are protected by local copyright and other IP systems.
Negotiations have been ongoing for years, with the European Union representing its member states in the proceedings, though yesterday the individual European nations also signed the agreement in Tokyo in addition to the EU itself. Only five EU countries did not sign up yesterday - Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia - though they are expected to do so in due course. Despite the EU having added its signature to the treaty, its support is still conditional on a vote in the European Parliament scheduled for June.
As with all new anti-piracy legislation and agreements, ACTA has not been without controversy, though its coverage in the mainstream press has been much more low key than with new national laws, such as Hadopi in France, the Digital Economy Act in the UK, and, most recently, SOPA and PIPA in the United States. Initially those involved in negotiating ACTA were accused of shrouding their early discussions in secrecy, with rumours that severe anti-piracy measures were being discussed in private. Though after a number of leaks, and the insistence of some parties that a draft should be made public - most notably the EU - a version of the agreement was made available for all to see.
There were also concerns that ACTA could be used to force unpopular anti-piracy measures - in particular three-strikes - on participating countries, allowing the content industries to say national governments had a duty to introduce such systems, even if against the public will, in order to comply with the global agreement. Though, once published, claims by ACTA negotiators that a global obligation to introduce a three-strikes anti-piracy system was not part of their plans were proven to be true.
In reality the treaty does not commit signatories to any of the more severe anti-piracy measures some expected or predicted, and supporters in Europe insist the agreement will simply force other participating countries to ensure IP protections that already exist within the EU. But that's not to say the agreement isn't still controversial in some circles, and while a penultimate and then final draft were made public, some feel those involved in negotiating ACTA failed to properly engage in any public debate, possibly deliberately because they knew elements of the agreement would be unpopular.
And concerns can be found in the political community as well as among web and consumer rights organisations, with the French MEP charged with the task of compiling background information about the treaty for the European Parliament this week hitting out at the way ACTA has been handled.
Kader Arif wrote: "I want to denounce in the strongest possible manner the entire process that led to the signature of this agreement: no inclusion of civil society organisations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, and the exclusion of the EU Parliament's demands that were expressed on several occasions in our assembly".
He continues: "As rapporteur of this text, I have faced never before seen manoeuvres from the right wing of this parliament to impose a rushed calendar before public opinion could be alerted, thus depriving the parliament of its right to expression and of the tools at its disposal to convey citizens' legitimate demands. Everyone knows the ACTA agreement is problematic, whether it is its impact on civil liberties, the way it makes internet access providers liable, its consequences on generic drugs manufacturing, or how little protection it gives to our geographical indications".
He concludes: "This agreement might have major consequences on citizens' lives, and still, everything is being done to prevent the European Parliament from having its say in this matter. That is why today, as I release this report for which I was in charge, I want to send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation. I will not take part in this masquerade".
But unlike with the DEA in the UK and SOPA/PIPA in the US earlier this month, opposition to ACTA has not become front page news, except in Poland, where thousands took part in demonstrations in various cities on Wednesday, ahead of the signing session in Tokyo yesterday, expressing the usual concerns associated with new intellectual property measures, in particular that it will hinder free speech, especially on the internet. Polish government websites were also hacked as part of the protests, though the country's Prime Minister still signed the treaty.
Other opponents to ACTA, very possibly motivated by what the Wiki protest achieved in the US last week, when Congress was forced to backtrack on and pledge a total rethink of anti-piracy proposals, are now hoping to rally support as the global treaty is considered first by EU International Trade Committee and then the full European Parliament in June. Of course if each EU nation has signed the treaty in their own right by that point, even if the EU itself was forced to withdraw its approval it wouldn't really make any difference, though it might force the sort of public debate on some of the criticisms of the treaty which opponents say has been sadly lacking.
And perhaps it would add fuel to an emerging campaign in the US against ACTA. America, along with Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, quietly signed the treaty last October, but following all the SOPA/PIPA ranting of last week, some Americans are now calling into question the country's participation, with some disputing whether a US trade representative had the authority to sign the agreement without the matter being taken to Congress.
It seems unlikely after-the-fact campaigning will deliver tangible changes, though global interest in ACTA coupled with the continued fall out of SOPA/PIPA may ensure that the intellectual property debate becomes increasingly mainstream in 2012, which is a challenge for the big content companies, who have always been very good at persuading key political decision makers of the economic importance of strong copyright laws, though pretty woeful when it comes to engaging with the wider public on the issue.
WHO IS BENEFITING FROM THE MEGA SHUTDOWN? AND WERE MEGA'S D2F PLANS BEHIND THE MAJOR LABELS' ATTACK?
Filefactory, Depositfiles, Uploaded.to, Hotfile and Rapidshare - the latter of which has been regularly accused by European rights owners of enabling copyright infringement, more so than the Mega sites in fact - have all reportedly welcomed large numbers of new users this week, in some cases hundreds of thousands.
A portion of those will be people who used MegaUpload for the legitimate distribution of their own content, though the music and movie industries will no doubt suspect that a larger portion are on the look out for more free but illegal downloads of songs, films and TV shows.
As previously reported, many of those Mega competitors with key operations in the US have altered their services so to reduce the possibility of them enabling copyright infringement, presumably amidst fears they too could be targeted with criminal copyright actions.
Though many of those file-transfer sites based outside the US have simply blocked American IP addresses, in a bid to ensure they are operating beyond the jurisdiction of the American courts. Others are just watching the situation closely, but haven't actually changed anything about the way they operate, and are instead enjoying all the new traffic the closure of the Mega sites has delivered them.
To be fair to the RIAA's data man Joshua P Friedlander, he conceded that a portion of Mega's customer base would seek out other free and illegal content sources but, citing the impact the closure of LimeWire had on legit digital music sales, he said he was also optimistic the dramatic swoop against MegaUpload and MegaVideo would benefit legit services too, especially those which offer a freemium option. Whether said services have seen anywhere near the spike Torrentfreak claims the other file-transfer platforms have enjoyed, though, remains to be seen.
Elsewhere in Mega news, some supporters of the now shuttered file-sharing company are accusing the big record companies of making MegaUpload and its boss Kim Schmitz enemy number one because the Mega firm was planning on launching a direct-to-fan platform for artists to be called Megabox.
The conspiracy theory goes that the big record companies especially feared Schmitz's next business venture because it would enable artists to sell their own music and earn a 90% share of any sales. There were even plans to enable artists to earn from music giveaways, presumably via some sort of ad-funded platform. The labels knew this would empower artists and cut them out of the equation - the conspiracy theory goes - hence why they worked so hard to run the entire Mega company out of business.
Of course it is true that big content firms, once they have labelled an outfit as being an 'uber-pirate', generally aim to force that company out of business entirely, even if said company is concurrently developing legitimate content platforms alongside any service which enables piracy. Even though it's not totally unprecedented for rights owners to sometimes forgive past piracy when licensing those digital start-ups that have somehow avoided the uber-pirate tag. But I don't think America's big content owners - who have been quietly fuming about the Mega business for sometime - needed the threat of Schmitz launching a legit direct-to-fan platform before putting active pressure on the authorities to act.
And, of course, that's to assume a Mega D2F platform would be a huge threat to the labels. After all, numerous direct-to-fan platforms already exist, and some are gaining real traction amongst new artists and veteran acts out of record contracts, so Schmitz moving into this space wouldn't really change anything. True, Mega could promote its D2F offering to its large existing user-base, but then that's what Google Music is planning to do with its recently launched D2F system in the US, and that project is backed by most of the majors and big indie labels.
Record companies and movie studios just don't like seeing individuals get rich on piracy-based businesses, and while it may be childish to let copyright enforcement get personal, when said individuals flaunt their piracy-enabled riches, that's always going to rally label and studio chiefs to pursue whatever route is available to put that person out of business. Those individuals talking loudly about plans to launch label or artist friendly legit services may be part of that flaunting, but any threat those supposed plans pose is unlikely, in itself, to greatly impact on the fighting spirit in copyright land one way or the other.
BEN FOLDS FIVE CONFIRM NEW ALBUM
He tweeted: "It's happening fo sho - day one in studio with Robert [Sledge, bass] and Darren [Jesse, drums] through March #NewBenFoldsFiveRecord".
The album will be the band's first since 1999's 'The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner'.
COOKING VINYL ANNOUNCES THREE NEW ARTIST DEALS
Here's some quotes from key people, just in case you don't believe me...
The Proclaimers: "We are very excited to be joining with such a progressive and successful label and we look forward to the promotion and touring of the new album immensely".
Reverend & The Makers' Jon McClure: "I'm made up to be on a label that is growing seemingly by the minute and that contains on its roster at least three of my favourite bands".
Cooking Vinyl Director Rob Collins: "We are proud to add more quality artists to the label. 2012 is already shaping up to be great year".
EMELI SANDÉ WORKING WITH ORIGINAL SUGABABES
Asked about rumours that she has been working with the group, Sandé told MTV: "Yes, that is true. I've written for the original line-up of the Sugababes, which I'm very happy about because I just loved them when they first came out. I loved their sound, it was so cool. It was very different, so I'm happy to kind of be involved in what started the whole Sugababes journey. It sounds amazing".
Meanwhile, an unnamed source claimed in The Mirror recently: "The girls are very much back to their soulful roots, but this time around it's far more innovative. They've recorded more tracks too - and they're working hard to get a body of new work. Siobhan has left her job in the City and they are concentrating on getting material together for an album. They are very dedicated and it's working well".
It's still not clear what the group plan to do about a name, given that the current Sugababes line-up is using theirs.
SPIRITUALIZED TRICK REVIEWERS WITH UNFINISHED MIXES
Anyway, new Spiritualized album 'Sweet Heart Sweet Light' was supposed to be released in March, but has just been pushed back because, it turns out, mainman Jason Pierce hasn't finished mixing it yet. Even though review copies have already been sent out. And, says Pierce, this was his plan all along. He told SPIN: "I had the rather foolish idea last November that I could deliver the record that's been sent out and keep working on the real version. I'd meet the delivery date they need for reviews and things like that and nobody would be any the wiser that I'd be carrying on with the mixing".
As for how different the final version will be, Pierce said: "I think it's quite different. People say that all the little mixing moves I'm doing now are just for myself, but to me they're no different than the mixing moves I did at the start of the process. Balancing things is what mixing is. Some bits are more realized and closer to what I wanted them to sound like, but I'm in the unenviable position now where the [album] that's out there isn't finished".
He added: "[But] with the reviews, sometimes it's like they've got a different album anyway".
NEW FIONA APPLE ALBUM NOT QUITE SO IMMINENT
It's not all bad news though, the follow-up to 2005's 'Extraordinary Machine' is on the way, and will be out at some point this year. A spokesperson for Sony/Epic told Time: "[Reid's tweets were] taken a little bit out of context. It'll absolutely be this year, but timing wise, I don't know exactly when".
PORTISHEAD MAN DELIVERS LABEL SAMPLER
Additional content is credited to shoegaze set The Fauns, Bristol troupe Scarlet Rascal & The Trainwreck, and some-time Beak> vocalist Anika, who presents an arctic disco spin on Chromatics' 'In The City'.
With all that free to download below, you can find details of all future Invada releases here: www.invada.co.uk/geoff-barrow-2012-compilation
ODD FUTURE ANNOUNCE TOUR
28 Mar: Birmingham, Academy
GLASVEGAS PLOT LIVE RETURN
Though they remain unsigned, Glasvegas have denied any plans to split after being dropped from Sony/Columbia last year.
Guitarist Rab Allen of the band has published this Facebook note to accompany the tour announcement: "These are just wee shows to try out some of the new material we've been doing along with the older stuff. Hope you can make it down. I think they will be special little gigs. Hopefully more gigs in more cities not long after if all goes well".
Live dates as follows:
3 Apr: London, Garage
FESTIVAL LINE-UP UPDATE
BANG FACE WEEKENDER, Trevelgue Holiday Park, Newquay, 14-16 Sep: Aphex Twin is first on the guestlist for this re-located rave happening, which will this year offer camping facilities for the first time ever. www.bangface.com
BENICASSIM, FIB Heineken, Valencia, Spain, 12-15 Jul: New Order further their reformation trail with news that they (minus one Peter Hook) will play a set at this popular Spanish fiesta, as will other fresh additions Crystal Castles, Katy B, Example, The Horrors and Spector. These acts join existing headliners The Stone Roses, plus Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Miles Kane, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Vaccines. www.fiberfib.com
GUILFEST, Stoke Park, Guilford, Surrey, 13-15 Jul: As per GuilFest's first line-up revelation, pop persona Olly Murs is billed as Saturday evening headliner, while reggae icon Jimmy Cliff is also down to play the festival's Main Stage. www.guilfest.co.uk
HIDEOUT FESTIVAL, Zrce Beach, Pag, Coratia, 29 Jun - 1 Jul: Back for a second edition, Hideout is confirmed to this year house the likes of Benga, Chase & Status, Simian Mobile Disco, Seth Troxler and SBTRKT, with more acts of an equally beat-heavy ilk yet to be revealed. www.hideoutfestival.com
ROCKNESS, Dores, Inverness, Scotland, 8-10 Jun: Festival organisers score a major coup in booking Mumford & Sons, Deadmau5 and Biffy Clyro as triple headliners at RockNess 2012, also confirming performers including Ed Sheeran, Justice, Metronomy, Wretch 32, Noah And The Whale and much-hyped rapper Azealia Banks. www.rockness.co.uk
BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY SELLS SIGNATURE COFFEE
The singer-songwriter is stocking Kona Rose Coffee Bonny Billy Blend, an organic coffee he had a hand in creating, on his label Drag City's official site: www.dragcity.com/products/bonny-billy-blend-kona-rose-coffee
In the grand tradition of there always seeming to be a silly description to match these artist-affiliated products, I should mention that the coffee is described as having "a clean body and fresh finish". Drag City, meanwhile, claim to detect "overtones of chocolate, leather and non-wacky tobaccy" in the brew.
So, that all sounds very nice. The coffee is being sold by the half-pound at a price of $20. Which seems a lot, but let's face facts, it's organic and was blended by a Prince. Will it be as nice as Mr Scruff's tea though? That's the big question.
IMPALA RESTATES EMI SALE OPPOSITION
As previously reported, the trade organisation confirmed its plans to lobby against the EMI sale, which is subject to regulator approval in both Europe and the US, as soon as current owner Citigroup announced its intent last November to sell the EMI record labels to Universal and the EMI publishing catalogues to a consortium led by Sony/ATV. The deals will make the world's two biggest music companies even bigger.
IMPALA's latest statement doesn't really add anything new to its campaign against the EMI sale, rather aggregating a number of existing statements and documents, possibly ahead of next week's MIDEM shindig in Cannes, which will bring together music industry reps from across Europe.
Noting moves by the Association Of Independent Music in the UK to encourage indie label owners here to write to their MPs about the deals, IMPALA also referenced a recent report by music business writer Emmanuel Legrand for the Eurosonic convention and an organisation called the European Music Office, which "promotes musical diversity and represents the interests of European music professionals at a European and worldwide level".
That report looks at the European airplay and download charts, and claims that - while indie-signed artists apparently account for 80% of releases - they make up only 6% of the reviewed Top 100 chart, and 10% of the Top 1000. Universal, EMI and Sony, meanwhile, account for 76% of the Top 200 chart, with the majors' American artists dominating.
While reps for both Universal and Sony will likely question the relevance of a report focused specifically on one set of chart data to the wider regulatory investigation into their takeover proposals, IMPALA presumably believe Legrand's analysis will be useful when combined with the other research and argument that they will present to competition regulators.
And that 76% stat is most likely to be of use to IMPALA, whose central message here is increasingly that, while in theory there will be three major labels once EMI is split up and sold, in reality Universal and Sony will be so much bigger than Warner, the music industry will arguably go straight from having four big players to just two. That's two majors with a 76% control of the charts Legrande considered.
To put this in the words of IMPALA Executive Chair Helen Smith: "Neither the USA nor Europe wants to see the music sector become a two-horse race, devoid of competition from any other companies".
MUTE AND SONIC ROUTER LAUNCH NEW LABELS, PLUS STONES THROW SUBS CLUB
Mute announced this week that it is to launch a new imprint called Liberation Technologies, which is named after Mute's early internet presence, and which will focus on electronic music. Mute head Daniel Miller said in a statement: "Electronic music is part of Mute's DNA and history, and this label is the latest expression of that".
The first release via the label will be a new EP by King Felix next month. Resident Advisor published an interview with the man in charge of the new label, Patrick O'Neill, which you can read here: www.residentadvisor.net/news.aspx?id=15695
Staying with electronic music, the Sonic Router blog has announced it is launching a spin-off label. The first release will be an EP by instrumental hip hop type Torus, a preview of which you can listen to here: soundcloud.com/sonicrouter/torus-torus-ep-preview
As well as all that, US indie label Stones Throw has announced a new digital subscription service, which gives users access to downloads of every new release on the label for $10 per month. More info on that here: www.stonesthrow.com/news/2012/01/stones-throw-digital-discography-music-subscription-dripfm
NAME PR EXPANDS
First up, Lisa Devaney joins Name as an Account Manager to head up the company's work with tech clients, having most recently run her own consultancy working in this space, and prior to that having worked with tech companies at PR agency Hill & Knowlton.
Secondly Hugo Mintz, who has been with Name PR for eighteen months, has been promoted to the role of Press Officer, and will lead the company's live music division, working with the likes of WeGotTickets and the Association Of Independent Festivals, as well as MusicTank.
Name PR MD Sam Shemtob told CMU: "We are thrilled that Lisa joins us, and with her experience we see great opportunity to grow the technology side of our business. She's got a valuable combination of tech PR experience and general agency insight that will help drive the company considerably forward in 2012".
FATDROP RESTRUCTURES PRICING
The suggestion that major labels will take on the Fatdrop system is possibly optimistic, with EMI and Sony already using their own bespoke promo platforms, but at least there's hope that one day PlayMPE, which Warner and Universal still use for digital promos, will die the death it so deserves. And a few less indie labels using Push Media Promotion wouldn't go amiss either.
More information here: blog.fatdrop.co.uk/new-pricing-structure
RIHANNA BACKS TV FASHION CONTEST
Aspiring young creatives will compete to make outfits for famous guest figures, the competition's ultimate honour being the chance to design a stage outfit for Rihanna to wear during her headlining set at this year's Wireless Festival.
The untitled show will be broadcast on Sky Living over ten weeks, with solo Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts confirmed to present.
Says Rihanna of the venture: "I am excited to follow in the journey of our contestants and see how their individuality influences their efforts during the course of the show".
So, anything goes. Although no 'Fuck You'-emblazoned brothel creepers though please, we're British.
STYLES/FLACK OVER AGAIN AS ONE DIRECTION HEAD STATESIDE
So we possibly ought to report the ying story to that yang report, ie latest tabloid revelations that now Styles has told his older woman it's time to cool things down, while he heads to the US as part of his group One Direction's ambitions to break America.
Since reports it was seventeen year old 1D boy Styles left weeping when his 32 year old supposed girlfriend, 'Xtra-Factor' host Flack, headed off on a two week holiday without him, the odd couple were meant to be properly back together, with the pop boy taking the telly woman back to Cheshire to meet his mother.
But now, with One Direction heading off for a two month stint in the US (albeit with a quick return for some BRITs shenanigans), apparently Styles has told Flack he's not ready for a long distance relationship so they should bring their brief dalliance to an end.
Says one of those sources to the Mirror: "He's going off to America in a couple of days and he wants to be able to commit fully to making the band a success in the States. They'll be back for the Brits, but all in all they'll be away for two months. It's a long time to be apart especially with so much going on. Harry's young. He's just not ready for a long-distance relationship. He really likes Caroline and he doesn't want to hurt her. But he doesn't want to be tied down".
Flack, apparently, is upset, but the split was basically amicable. So that's lovely. If that could be the end of this relationship for good that would be great, I'm sort of ever regretting bring it up in the CMU Daily - but you know how we like closure on a story once it's been raised. Which reminds me, whatever happened to Mariah Yeater's Bieber baby claims - must do some final digging on that one.
Talking of closure on 1D stories, Harry Styles recently responded to those previously reported rumours that a full frontal photo of the pop teen had emerged online, complete with conveniently obscured face. Despite fans identifying various reasons why the naked pic must be the 1D singer, a spokesman for the band quickly denied it was the pop star.
Styles himself reconfirmed that fact recently, though added that if it pleased his fans to believe the well-endowed guy in the photo was him, well, that's fine. Styles told NOW: "Fair play to the guy whoever he is. I don't mind people thinking it's me! But it's not, that's official".
So there you go, consider those matters closed.
CMU BEEF OF THE WEEK #95: MEGAUPLOAD SPECIAL
So, anyway, as support for legislation in the US aiming to create new powers to block copyright infringing websites waned in Congress after a week of protest online, the US showed it could shut down such a website anyway. Although it should be noted that in this case MegaUpload had many of its servers based in America and its executives are accused of more serious crimes than just copyright infringement, both helping justify such a dramatic swoop.
The jewel in the crown was the arrest of MegaUpload founder Kim 'Dotcom' Schmitz, upon whom police swooped at his New Zealand mansion. Aside from the scale and suddenness of the action, it's Schmitz who elevates this above your usual tedious copyright case. Whenever he's spoken in the past, the German entrepreneur and convicted criminal has seemed larger than life, but as more details about his glamorous lifestyle, paid for by the millions of dollars he's earned from the Mega empire, were revealed, it became apparent quite how much this is true. For one thing, he's 6'7" and weighs 21.5 stone. For another, he has a penchant for private jets, bubble baths and celebrities, not to mention the interesting array of number plates on his fleet of cars.
His size was the reason his lawyers argued he should be allowed out on bail pending his extradition to the US - he isn't, they argued, the kind of guy who can sneak through customs - but the judge refused anyway, fearing Schmitz would use criminal connections to smuggle himself back to Germany, where extradition would be more difficult. Two of his associates were bailed though, with a third due to have a decision made today.
With all this going on, MegaUpload dropped a lawsuit against Universal over the previously reported YouTube takedown of the file-transfer company's all-star promotional song and video, and it was revealed that Schmitz was also preparing for the release of his debut album, which is being worked on by LA-based production company Beets & Produce as we speak.
Perhaps most interesting of all, however, was the affect the swoop on MegaUpload had on other file-sharing websites, some of which limited their services in various ways following the arrests. Filesonic and Fileserver seemingly went furthest, blocking users from doing anything other than uploading and downloading content form their own accounts. How long this will last and what effect it will have long term is not yet clear - although the RIAA is confident that it will boost legit services, Torrentfreak reports that unlicensed sites which have not scaled back their operations are enjoying the boom in users.