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IMPALA RESTATES OPPOSITION TO UNIVERSAL'S EMI DEAL AS MAJOR FILES PAPERS WITH EUROPEAN COMMISSION
IMPALA first voiced its concerns about Universal's plans, as well as Sony/ATV's bid to buy the EMI publishing business, before even current EMI owner Citigroup announced its intent to sell to those bidders last November.
The indie trade body says the two deals, which will enable the two biggest music companies dwarf the biggest of the independents and even their last remaining major label rival Warner Music, will create a powerful duopoly, in which Universal and Sony - already business partners via the VEVO venture - will hold all the cards in both recorded music and music publishing.
Noting that Universal had now formally submitted its bid proposals to the European competition regulators, IMPALA's Executive Chair Helen Smith said yesterday: "The clock has finally started ticking in Europe. Ultimately we expect this to lead to an outright rejection of both the Universal/EMI and Sony/EMI mergers. Keeping the online market as open as possible is essential for competition and for responding to piracy, as well as other market problems. Turning music into a two-horse race would hamper the natural development of the market and increase prices. No level of divestments or behavioural undertakings would prevent that from happening".
As previously reported, Universal will argue that the music industry has moved on since the last time European competition regulators considered a major merger, and that therefore its latest acquisition should be approved, despite officials previously expressing concerns about even the firm's current size the last time it expanded through a big takeover, ie the purchase of the BMG music publishing catalogues in 2007. The company will also likely argue that in the all important digital domain prices are determined by the big download platforms, mainly iTunes, and possibly that while piracy remains rampant price rises will always be limited to an extent by the availability of free illegal content.
But the independents are likely to dispute all those arguments. They will counter that the music rights sector has not changed as dramatically as Universal suggests, and that in the digital domain Apple's market dominance will only decline as newer rivals and alternative digital platforms mature, making the download space more competitive, and increasing the power of mega-rights owners in any negotiations.
They might also point out that, while Apple may have set the original price point in the download space, the majors, led by Universal, were still able to pressure iTunes into introducing the variable pricing model they had always advocated, despite Apple's initial insistence on a one-price-for-all model.
It will be interesting to see how the Commission responds. It yesterday confirmed that it had now received Universal's proposals, and had set an interim deadline for phase one of its investigation of 23 Mar. Interested parties, including IMPALA and Warner Music, who have also announced their intent to lobby against the EMI deals, will now be asked to fill out a questionnaire about Universal's bid. Phase one could be extended to up to 35 days to allow that information to be gathered and considered.
In theory the Commission could rule on Universal's bid, one way or another, at the end of the first phase of its investigation, though nobody, on either side of the argument, expects that to happen. Certainly if the Commission is in any mood to clear the merger, then it will need to consider a plethora of related issues, and that is unlikely to be achieved in 35 days.
Regulators will also likely remember how their initial approval of the SonyBMG merger in 2004 was overturned by the European courts because they hadn't gone into enough detail in their initial investigation. Officials, therefore, will presumably be extra careful to ensure their ruling on this consolidation can't be undone at a later stage on procedural grounds.
Assuming, therefore, that this investigation does go into phase two, that will add anything between two and four months to the proceedings, and there could be another month or two in between the two phases to allow interested parties to prepare more evidence. So, unless officials are in a mood to shock everyone, it seems likely no decision will actually be made this side of summer.
Sony/ATV is expected to submit its bid proposals to regulators any day now, and that investigation will then have the same initial timelines. As also previously reported, some reckon the investigation into that deal may be quicker, though it is likely the impact of a duopoly in music publishing on the collecting society system will be considered, and any consideration of the future of the collecting society system is rarely done quickly.
In related news, the New York Post yesterday claimed that Universal had provided guarantees to Citigroup regarding its EMI bid, so that if the merger fails at the regulatory hurdle in either the US or Europe the bankers won't lose out. The arrangement means that if the deal falls through and Citigroup is forced to find a new bidder, and if the subsequent sale generates less than the $1.9 billion Universal offered for the EMI labels, then Universal will cover the difference.
Which would allow Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik to buy the EMI labels at the price he thought was fair (somewhat less than $1.9 billion), while also allowing Citigroup to recoup the bulk of the losses it made by backing Terra Firma's EMI acquisition in 2007, all at Universal's expense. Of course if Universal bosses have made such guarantees, that reaffirms just how confident they are that their merger plans will ultimately be approved. Time will tell, of course.
ENGLISH COURT RULES PIRATE BAY LIABLE FOR AUTHORISING INFRINGEMENT
As previously reported, record label trade body the BPI took aim at The Pirate Bay last year after the landmark ruling in the Newzbin case, in which a British judge, for the first time, ordered an internet service provider to block access to its customers to a file-sharing website, after the operators of that site tried to circumvent an earlier court ruling against them by moving their service outside the jurisdiction of the UK courts.
Following the precedent set in the Newzbin case, the BPI asked various British ISPs to voluntarily block access to The Pirate Bay. When the net firms refused the trade body went legal, and stage one of that litigation asked the question "is The Pirate Bay liable for the infringement it enables, even if the Pirate Bay servers themselves do not host any unlicensed music files?"
And the answer, in the words of High Court judge Ricky Arnold, is: "Yes, it fucking is, man, it fucking is". Well, I am paraphrasing ever so slightly, but that's basically what he meant.
If you'd prefer Arnold's exact words, they went something like this: "In my judgment, the operators of [The Pirate Bay] do authorise its users' infringing acts of copying and communication to the public. They go far beyond merely enabling or assisting. Despite their ability to do so, and despite the judicial findings that have been made against them, the operators of [The Pirate Bay] take no steps to prevent infringement. On the contrary ... they actively encourage it and treat any attempts to prevent it (judicial or otherwise) with contempt. I [therefore] conclude that both users and the operators of [The Pirate Bay] infringe the copyrights of the claimants (and those they represent) in the UK".
Welcoming that ruling, BPI boss Geoff Taylor told reporters: "The High Court today ruled that The Pirate Bay is illegal. The site defrauds musicians and causes huge damage to the music industry and wider creative industries. We will now proceed with our application to have the site blocked to protect the UK's creative industries from further harm".
Of course it's no real surprise that The Pirate Bay has been labelled a copyright infringer by the UK courts, it having lost similar legal cases all across Europe (though it's true the English law concept of 'authorising infringement' is less well tested when it comes to certain file-sharing services), and therefore phase two of this litigation will be more interesting, ie whether the Newzbin principle will be extended forcing ISPs to finally block access to the rogue file-sharing site. A ruling on that matter is now expected in June.
The Pirate Bay, of course, carries on regardless. More committed users of the file-sharing site will almost certainly be able to circumvent any blockades put in place by the ISPs, while the Bay's previously reported move to listing magnet rather than BitTorrent files reduces the size of the site's database significantly, enabling users to download and host their own copies of The Pirate Bay website.
And if all those alternatives fail, the filesharing community is already talking up 'Tribler', an alternative BitTorrent client that circumvents existing blocks and takedowns by bypassing the need to use a website entirely. So, file-sharing can continue - though, the big rights owners might argue, the pursuit of accessing and sharing illegal free content gets ever more geeky, and that should achieve their objectives of reducing piracy amongst mainstream consumers.
DEPECHE MODE PREPARING NEW ALBUM
Gore was actually speaking to The Quietus about 'SSSS', the debut album from his new collaboration with Vince Clarke, VCMG. He said of the techno project: "It was a nice break for me to be able to go and do something completely different that doesn't involve poring over lyrics and having to think about vocal melodies. I think I went back to actually writing for [Depeche Mode] with much more vigour afterwards, because I had taken such a break. It gave me a real creative impetus".
He continued: "I went straight from finishing the VCMG record into writing for the band. I think even though I used a lot of the same kind of instrumentation, I immediately went into a completely different headspace. The stuff I've been doing for the band is completely different to VCMG. Apart from the fact that I came back to the actual songwriting with more energy, you have to remember as well that I'm also a guitar player. Working on the VCMG record, obviously I didn't look at a guitar for that whole period because it just wasn't right - so the moment I started getting back to writing songs for the band then I'm picking up the guitar, I'm going on the piano, working on chords, just working completely differently".
'SSSS' is due for release on 12 Mar, and Depeche Mode are due to head into the studio to work on that new album later the same month.
ONE DIRECTION WANT MORE SHEERAN FOR ALBUM TWO
Sheeran did contribute some songs to the recording sessions for the X-Factor boyband's first long player, and one of his tracks appears on the deluxe edition of that record I believe, but 1D-er Liam Payne reckons that if Ed was to work with him and his bandmates on more songs for album two then that could work out nicely.
Payne told the Daily Star: "Ed is such a talented guy. We spoke to him about helping again for the next album, which we want to actually write with him this time. He gave us almost a whole album of songs to choose from last time; there were so many of his songs that we wanted to record".
Asked about the sound of that second record, Payne's 1D bandmate Louis Tomlinson continued: "We want to take the next album into a different zone - more guitars and grungier. We like the sound of a real guitar on tour, we beefed up the live show so now we want to take it onto the album".
Of course, while both Sheeran and the 1D boys will be at the BRITs tonight, the boy band will be otherwise fully occupied for the foreseeable by their bid to break America, which seems to be going pretty well by all accounts, the older end of the Bieber teen market seemingly perfectly primed for some more lacklustre pop tunes, but this time sung by boys who like talking about shagging and getting pissed. Of course they probably need to cash in quick on that crowd, before the teeny pop fans graduate on up to the next level, which is probably Chris 'Fuck You' Brown. Or maybe Odd Future.
CRUSHED BEAKS CONFIRM SPLIT SINGLE WITH TORCHES
Both acts will appear live at Power Lunches Café in Dalston on 10 Mar, which incidentally is the day of the split single's release.
BLACK SABBATH TOUR REBRANDED AS OZZY SOLO TRIP
Osbourne will be joined by Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler and longtime collaborator Zakk Wylde, amongst other "special guests", for what are optimistically being billed as the "first ever" Ozzy And Friends shows.
Meanwhile last Friday, Ward issued a new statement informing fans that he still hoped to join Sabbath in the studio and on tour, and was continuing to negotiate his contract. He wrote via Facebook: "I have not declined to participate in the Sabbath album and tour [as a statement by the band claimed]. At the earliest opportunity, I am prepared to go to the UK and record, and later tour with the band. Last week, we sent further communication to the attorney handling the negotiations to try to reach an agreement. At this time we are waiting to hear back. I remain hopeful for a 'signable' contract and a positive outcome".
If Ward and the band can come to an agreement, it's not clear if the drummer would now join in with the Ozzy And Friends shows or just the Download performance, though it would mean that the new album could go back to its original billing as the original line-up's first for 33 years.
EXAMPLE, FLORENCE AND JESSIE J FOR TEENAGE CANCER TRUST GIGS
Macca will get things going on 29 Mar, before an evening of stadium-sized dancedom courtesy of Brit rapper Example on 30 Mar. Pulp follow the next night, before Jessie J who, being no April fool, will take to the stage to 'Do It Like A Dude' in the name of charity on 1 Apr. Comedy is on 2 Apr with Flo wrapping things up on 3 Apr.
Says Roger Daltry of The Who, a longstanding patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust: "The line-up of artists donating their time and talent is incredible. I hope there's something for everyone".
With support acts to match each headliner due to be announced very soon, it's worth checking the Teenage Cancer Trust website for further info: www.teenagecancertrust.org/what-we-do/royal-albert-hall/2012/
CHRIS CORNELL ANNOUNCES SOLO SONGBOOK DATES
GET CAPE. WEAR CAPE. TOUR.
15 May: Bournemouth, Old Fire Station
PEAKING LIGHTS TO TOUR
Set to feature select highlights from the Domino-signed duo's 2011 album '936', if not new and unreleased material, the London and Leeds shows will see critics favourite Julia Holter in support.
Tour as follows:
3 Jun: Dublin, Forbidden Fruit
FESTIVAL LINE-UP UPDATE
DIMENSIONS FESTIVAL, Fort Punta Christo, Pula, Croatia, 6-9 Sep: Organisers expand an electronic-flavoured Dimensions bill with news that Little Dragon, Jimmy Edgar, Machinedrum and Kode 9 are to join Gold Panda, Floating Points, Joy Orbison and Marcel Dettmann at this intimate Adriatic happening. www.dimensionsfestival.com
EYE O THE DUG FESTIVAL, various venues, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, 14-15 Apr: KT Tunstall, Hot Chip, King Creosote & Jon Hopkins and Django Django are amongst the initial bookings for Fence Records' inaugural Eye O The Dug fest, which will also host Errors, Dutch Uncles, Francois & The Atlas Mountains, James Yorkston, and a further raft of as yet unnamed additions. www.facebook.com/eyeothedug
LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY, various venues, Liverpool, 17-19 May: Fresh line-up extras including Mystery Jets, Michael Kiwanuka, Alkaline Trio, Niki And The Dove, Bleached and Jonquil, join the previously announced likes of Professor Green, Charli XCX, White Denim and Death In Vegas on LSC's illustrious line-up as it stands so far. www.liverpoolsoundcity.co.uk
MELT! FESTIVAL, Ferropolis, Germany, 13-15 Jul: Justice, Plan B, M83, Gossip and Two Door Cinema Club figure highly amidst Melt!'s crucial first line-up supplement, which also features Modelselektor, Switch, The War On Drugs, and even a post-hiatus Bloc Party. www.meltfestival.de/en
SONISPHERE, Knebworth, 6-8 Jun: The line-up for the UK leg of the Sonisphere has been announced. Kiss will headline the Friday night, Faith No More the Sunday, while the big Saturday night bash will be closed by Queen with Adam Lambert. Bolstering the Saturday evening line-up are Evanescence, Tim Minchin, and The Darkness. It sounds horrible. www.sonisphere.co.uk
WAKESTOCK, Abersoch, North Wales, 6-8 Jul: Katy B, Azealia Banks, Flux Pavillion, Doctor P and Youngman form the latest batch of acts added to Wakestock's 2012 roster, which thus far also boasts the presence of Rizzle Kicks, DJ Fresh, Burns, and co-headliners Calvin Harris, Ed Sheeran and Dizzee Rascal. www.wakestock.co.uk
LIVE NATION'S OLYMPICS STAGES TO BE CALLED BT LONDON LIVE, BLUR TO HEADLINE CLOSING SHOW, HYDE PARK STAGE'S FUTURE ASSURED
These will mainly offer free access to large screens covering key Olympic events plus other assorted low-key entertainment and sporty shenanigans, though there will also be two big concerts at the start and end of the games. The closing show on the 12 Aug will be headlined by Blur with The Specials and New Order also set to play a night dubbed 'Best Of British'. Tickets at £55 go on sale on Friday. The line-up for the opening show on 27 Jul is still to be announced.
Confirmation about Live Nation's Olympic stages follows a decision made by Westminster Council last week about the live firm's ongoing summer presence in Hyde Park, where it traditionally stages a season of concerts and festivals. There had been fears the company's operations there could be severely hindered after complaints about noise levels by local residents, but an agreement was reached that will see the number of shows overall reduced, capacity curtailed, new safety and clean up provisions introduced and measures taken to monitor low-level bass sound. However, proposals to cut overall sound levels - which Live Nation said would make staging concerts in the park unfeasible - were rejected.
Welcoming last week's council decision, Live Nation's COO John Probyn told reporters: "Live Nation is delighted with the outcome of the meeting. This is good news for the thousands of Londoners and visitors from overseas enjoying all concerts we have in place and also the London 2012 events in Hyde Park this summer. We have listened to the concerns of the residents and will continue to do so while working closely with Westminster council and The Royal Parks".
KOBALT APPOINTS GM FOR NEW ARTIST SERVICES DIVISION
Confirming the new hire, overall Kobalt boss man Willard Ahdritz told CMU: "The future is now, and in response to our clients' needs we are investing on many levels including the hiring of top experienced and dynamic executives such as Pete Dodge and Paul Hitchman. We are committed to empowering artists and labels with the same high level of transparency, creative, technology, accuracy and efficiency for their recording rights as Kobalt has successfully provided to songwriters and other owners of copyrights".
Dodge himself said: "I am looking forward to joining the Kobalt team and working with the management team at AWAL. Artists, labels and managers want fair, transparent and effective routes to market, as well as global reach and expertise in dealing with the representation of their rights. These are the principles on which Kobalt has built its business and I'm excited to help the team expand the Kobalt approach into artist and labels services".
UKF OWNER LAUNCHES BASS CENTRIC MUSIC PUBLISHER
Confirming the new division, AEI Media Director Karl Nielson told CMU: "The music market now has a specialist bass music publishing house with scale, muscle and a passion for the genre. This is a serious publishing entity with true independence - something we protect fiercely - and the ability to compete at the highest level".
Confirming their involvement in the new venture, Verse Music President Michael Stack added: "Verse Music Group is thrilled to commit to a partnership with AEI Media, a company that is the leading exponent in its field. This venture is focused on creating licensing opportunities on a global basis for the remarkable talent that Karl and the AEI Media team continue to discover and nurture. Collectively we provide a solid base for songwriters and artists to enjoy even greater success as the global, cultural influence of dubstep and the bass genre in general grows".
HADOPI'S STRIKE THREE NOTICES SENT TO COURT, WHILE LABOUR MP CALLS FOR UK GOVERNMENT TO GET CRACKING ON ITS PIRACY CLAMPDOWN
Those penalties aren't likely to be as severe as originally thought - ie a 1500 euro fine and a one month net connection suspension - though the third strikes could occur at a politically sensitive time, with those still calling for France's arguably draconian anti-file-sharing laws to be reformed or revoked likely to step up their campaigning during the upcoming French Presidential elections, while also capitalising on rising opposition to other copyright measures in Europe, mainly the ACTA agreement.
Team Hadopi, though, will presumably try to fight back by citing various stats that suggest file-sharing has slumped in France since the introduction of the three-strikes system and the sending out of warning letters to over 800,000 suspected file-sharers. Which may or may not ensure Hadopi can survive any upcoming shifts in France's political community.
Back in the UK, of course, the three-strikes system in theory set up by the 2010 Digital Economy Act is yet to get off the ground. And that was something Labour's culture lady Harriet Harman was keen to talk about yesterday when she gave a speech about all things music at the University Of Hertfordshire.
Her rather long and somewhat predictable ramble called on both the music and tech industries to collaborate to capitalise on the potential of digital music and to overcome the challenges of online piracy, while she called on government to get its arse into gear and implement the copyright provisions of the DEA her government made law shortly before losing power in the 2010 General Election.
The three-strikes element of the DEA needed a clear timetable, she said, while the government should also be giving consideration to the issue of web-blocking, which was fudged somewhat in the Digital Economy Act in order to ensure its speedy passage through parliament. Basically, while she welcomed some of the findings in the government's Hargreaves Review of copyright law which potentially expands user rights, she concluded that the government wasn't doing enough to likewise help the traditional rights owners.
Harman: "The government should recognise - like they do in the US - that there is a public policy imperative to protect rights owners. Currently rights holders feel that they are on their own, that the law is not enforced and the Intellectual Property Office is not on their side. So government must act - gear up enforcement and tackle the fragmentation of the enforcement agencies".
MICROSOFT THINKING ABOUT LAUNCHING YET ANOTHER NEW MUSIC SERVICE
This service would seemingly be different to Microsoft's Zune platform, which initially supported the IT firm's now discontinued Zune players, but which is now also available to Xbox users. The Zune platform itself replaced an earlier digital music play by Microsoft.
Negotiations are seemingly at an early stage though, C-Net says, there are plans to launch something this year.
A$AP ROCKY: HIP HOP NEEDS TO STAMP OUT HOMOPHOBIA
He told Spinner: "I don't give a fuck about your business. Man, if you're gay we can be friends. If you're straight, we can be friends. I'm not gay, I don't plan on being gay, I don't condone it and I'm not sayin I'm against it. I really don't give a fuck and I don't think anyone should care about what another man's preference is... unless he's interested, if you know what I'm sayin".
Ah, the old 'It's fine as long as they don't do it near me' argument. A theme continued when Rocky moves on to the subject of openly gray rappers (or the lack of them): "I'm not saying that hip hop needs gay rappers or anything, but they need to stop being so close-minded because that will just cause the genre to fail. Look at pop. Pop doesn't discriminate against people. Look at Lady Gaga, y'know what I mean? Who the fuck makes the rules for hip hop? Who the fuck dictates who's cool and who's not? Fuck you".
I'm not exactly sure what he does mean about Lady Gaga, but it's progress.
CHRIS BROWN ATTACKED BY SEAGULLS
The gulls reportedly assailed the rapper - who last week received a henpecking of a different sort from his own disappointed mother - after he and his entourage fed them some chips.
Perhaps they were health-conscious seagulls, and would have preferred something fat-free. Perhaps Chris Brown appears just as heinous from a bird's eye view as from the salient perspective of HelloGiggles writer Sasha Pasulka. Who can say.
As you'll note from these photos posted on The Daily Mail site, Brown's baggy shorts also fell down as he attempted to fend off the ravening fowl. That's not strictly relevant to the story but, in the interest of thorough reportage, a vital detail nonetheless.