|19-08-09, 06:39 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - August 22nd, '09
"The record business committed many, many mistakes in the last 10 years, and I'm right in there. One of them was letting its product get degraded. It's one thing to let it get stolen, it's another to allow it to be degraded..." – Jimmy Iovine
"Let me state unequivocally, AT&T had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store. AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did it offer any view one way or the other." – Jim Cicconi, AT&T
"People see a naked woman and they smile. They see a penis and they freak out." – Zach Hyman
August 22nd, 2009
Teens Just Won't Pay for Music
Researchers say 61% of teens and young adults illegally download music, and they won't change their piracy habits.
Nearly two thirds of 14- to 24-year-olds illegally download music over peer-to-peer (p2p) networks, says UK Music.
According to research, which was carried out by the University of Hertfordshire on behalf of the music body, 75 percent of teens also admitted to sending digital music files by e-mail, Bluetooth, Skype, or MSN to friends and family, while 86 percent revealed that had copied CDs for friends.
UK Music also said that 68 percent of those surveyed said they listen to music on their computer and on average 14- to 24-year-olds have more than 8000 tracks on their PCs. Despite the recent popularity of music-streaming sites such as Spotify, 78 percent said they wouldn't pay for a music-streaming service.
"Have they got the message that there is a thing called copyright and there is a philosophy of copyright? Yup. They get it. They just don't care," said former Undertones member and CEO of UK Music Fergal Sharkey.
The research also highlighted that 85 percent of those surveyed think a music download service that allows unlimited tracks to be obtained for a fixed price is a good idea, with 57 percent claiming it would stop them illegally file-sharing. Just over half also said that artists should charge device manufacturers a fee to enable their tracks to be copied.
"If they're prepared to work with us if we give them an all-you-can-eat download service, well then, as an industry we may then well have to step up to the plate and try to provide them with that kind of service," Sharkey added.
China Jails Four for "Tomato Garden" Microsoft Piracy
A Chinese court has jailed four people for spreading their bootleg "Tomato Garden" version of Microsoft's Windows XP program, in what the Xinhua news agency called the nation's biggest software piracy case.
Hong Lei, the creator of the downloadable "Tomato Garden Windows XP" software, was jailed for three and a half years on Thursday by a court in Suzhou in eastern China, Xinhua reported, citing local media.
One of his accomplices received the same prison term and two received two years each.
Hong "created the Tomato Garden version of the Windows XP," which crippled the program's authentication and certification barriers, said Xinhua, allowing users unrestricted access to the popular Microsoft software.
Millions of Internet users then had free access to the software on a website, tomatolei.com, which made its earnings from advertisements on the site, it said.
Beijing has publicized court verdicts such as this to show anxious businesses and governments, especially Washington, it is serious about stamping out widespread piracy of copyrighted and patented products, especially films, music and software.
Not everyone has been persuaded.
"China's efforts to stop intellectual property theft have been weak and ineffective -- heavy on tough talk but light on implementation," U.S. Congressman Howard Berman of California, who has been visiting Beijing, said in a statement issued by his office.
"Hundreds of websites provide downloads and links to pirated movies, recordings and games."
The "Tomato Garden" website was set up in 2004.
In June last year, the Business Software Alliance -- a business coalition campaigning against commercial piracy -- complained to Chinese authorities, and Hong and his colleagues were arrested later in the year.
The report did not say whether they intended to appeal.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills)
Britain Mulls Turning 7 Million Into Download Criminals
A politician being touted as Britain’s next Prime Minister has been persuaded to take action to criminalize 7 million citizens following intensive industry lobbying over file-sharing. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson is in favor of introducing tough laws including Internet restrictions and fines of up to £50,000 ($83,000).
The debate on how Britain should tackle illicit file-sharing is heating up. The government has already set an utterly unrealistic target of reducing online piracy by 70% within a year. If that isn’t achieved, under the Digital Britain proposals communications regulator Ofcom would be given extra powers to take degenerative action against the functionality of a user’s Internet connection.
Now, thanks to intense lobbying from the music and movie industries, the government is considering giving Ofcom these powers more quickly.
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, the man being touted among his Labour party voters as the successor to Prime Minister Brown, is said this morning to have been “persuaded by the argument for tough laws to curb illegal file-sharing.”
But what could’ve prompted this renewed aggressive anti-piracy stance from Mandelson? According to a report today, the Business Secretary’s intervention comes after he and David Geffen – the billionaire producer who co-founded the DreamWorks studio with Steven Spielberg – had dinner with members of the Rothschild banking dynasty at the family’s holiday villa on the Greek island of Corfu.
The consultation document on Government’s latest plans – which could be included in the Queen’s Speech later this year – could mean the criminalizing up to 7 million British citizens including Internet restrictions and fines of up to £50,000.
UK Pirate Party leader Andrew Robinson is naturally against these draconian fines. “You’re branding a huge percentage of this population criminals for doing something that doesn’t have any proven implications,” he said this week. “It’s a ridiculous state of affairs. People who copy a movie are lumped in with people who steal cars.”
U.K. Govt Rebuffs File-Sharing Reports
The U.K. government has rebuffed reports that it is set to impose tougher penalties on illegal file-sharers than the measures already proposed.
Various media outlets reported that Lord Mandelson, secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), had ordered that the legislative measures be beefed up to include sanctions such as fines and cutting off of Internet access.
There are also reports that, during a holiday, Mandelson had an Aug. 7 meeting with Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen in Corfu. However, a spokesman for Mandelson told the Times that "there was no discussion" about the P2P proposals with Geffen, a critic of illegal file-sharing.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills tells Billboard.biz that the reports contained "speculation" and that the consultation process on legislation continues.
The BIS has published its Digital Britain implementation plan, which outlines the officials tasked with driving each aspect of the legislation. The measures are set to be included in the Nov. 18 Queen's Speech, which presents the government's bills to Parliament.
Following consultation, the final legislative proposals could differ from the Digital Britain report in June, which stated that media and telecoms regulator Ofcom should be given powers to use technical measures (such as bandwidth squeezing) against persistent copyright infringers, if there is not a significant (70%) reduction in file-sharing within 12 months.
However, there is no indication that the U.K. government is considering legislating to make it possible for courts to impose £50,000 ($81,500) fines on the worst offenders. As previously reported, separate from measures to tackle illegal file-sharing, the Digital Britain report did propose matching the online and physical IP infringement penalties, with a statutory maximum penalty of £50,000 [$81,500] for all IP offenses. The online penalty is currently £5,000 [$8,100].
Even the reported threat of tough sanctions against illegal file-sharers prompted one former government minister to hit out, though.
"Not only do the sanctions ultimately risk criminalizing a large proportion of U.K. citizens, but they also attach an unbearable burden on an emerging technology that has the power to transform society, with no guarantees at the end that our artists and our culture will get any richer," wrote Tom Watson, former digital engagement minister, in the Independent on Sunday.
Eircom to Block Internet Access to Pirate Bay as Other Firms Refuse
EIRCOM WILL block its internet customers accessing the Pirate Bay website from September 1st, but other internet service providers (ISPs) have refused a similar request from Irish record labels.
Pirate Bay (piratebay.org) is a notorious Swedish website which provides links to places where copyrighted material such as movies and music can be downloaded for free.
Under an out-of-court agreement with EMI Records, Sony Music, Universal Music and Warners in January, Eircom agreed to cut off customers found to be repeatedly downloading music illegally. The deal also required Eircom to cut off access to Pirate Bay if requested.
Yesterday, cable TV operator UPC, which has more than 120,000 broadband subscribers, announced it would not comply with a request to block access to Pirate Bay.
“Should the rights holders proceed with their threat of legal action if UPC fails to block access to Pirate Bay, UPC has every intention of vigorously defending its position in court,” it said in a statement.
The High Court had issued an order on July 24th requiring Eircom to block the site. In his written notice, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said Pirate Bay was “dedicated, on a weird ideological basis” to stealing copyrighted material.
He said the copyright in recorded music had been assigned to the record labels “by hard-working artists, some of whom indeed may be very wealthy, but some of whom may be trying to do their very best to making a living out of what they love”.
In the original High Court hearing in January, evidence was heard that an Eircom official told colleagues they should think of music piracy as “sharing” and “helping the health and good living of rich cocaine-sniffing rock stars by leaving them with less free money to spend on sex and drugs”.
Last night, BT Ireland confirmed that it also has refused a request from the music industry to block access to the site. A spokeswoman said the firm “believes there is no legal basis for such a request”.
Dick Doyle, of the Irish Recorded Music Association, an umbrella body for the industry, said Pirate Bay was being targeted as it was the largest abuser of copyright on the internet.
A copy of the letter sent to ISPs by Sheehy Donnelly solicitors, and seen by The Irish Times , says that courts in Denmark and the Netherlands have required blocking of the site.
The letter gives the ISPs one week to respond or face legal action.
Another Swedish company is in the process of buying Pirate Bay for about €5.8 million and says it plans to launch a legal version. An associated group, the Pirate Party, got 7.1 per cent of the vote in Sweden in the recent European elections.
Pirate Party Swashbuckles Into Finnish Politics
The Pirate Party, which first rose to prominence in Sweden during June's European elections, has now been officially launched in Finland, the group's leader said on Wednesday.
Finnish Pirate Party Chairman Pasi Palmulehto told AFP that the organisation, which like its Swedish counterpart calls for more relaxed laws on Internet downloading, has successfully gathered the required support to legally create a political group in the Nordic country.
"We are delighted to have been able to collect the necessary 5,000 signatures," Palmulehto told AFP, adding that it would now feature in the official party register of Finland's Ministry of Justice.
He said the party would call for "a reform of copyright laws, protecting privacy and freedom of speech as well as transparency in politics."
Palmulehto said the Finnish Pirate Party would look to stand in future local, national and European elections in Finland.
Copyright holder organisations in Finland were outraged at the news of the group's formation.
"We are absolutely against the idea that any political party can give their support to the idea of free use of protected content," said Arto Alaspaeae, the director of IFPI Finland (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry).
According to their website, the Finnish Pirate Party wants to decriminalise illicit filesharing, drastically cut the length of copyright protection and abolish software and pharmaceutical patents.
Sweden's Pirate Party stood on a similar platform in June's European elections, picking up 7.1 percent of the popular vote.
Following that success, copycat groups sprang up in Britain, the Czech Republic and Australia among other countries.
From Foe to Friend: Kazaa Founder Turns Music Piracy Crime Fighter
A few short years ago, Kevin Bermeister was the music industry's public enemy number one, pursued by lawyers and private investigators over his file sharing business Kazaa. Now Mr Bermeister, who paid out a reported $150 million in a 2005 legal settlement with the majors, has created a new weapon against music piracy that could make him the industry's new best friend.
Called Copyrouter, it is technology that detects when a user is trying to download a copyright-infringing version of a song from a peer-to-peer file sharing network, and replaces it with a legitimate – paid – version. The user is asked before the download if they agree to pay for the copyright-protected version through their next monthly ISP bill.
In an ongoing Australian trial, preliminary results revealed yesterday suggest around 30 per cent of the diverted transactions result in the user agreeing to pay. The idea is the technology could ultimately be rolled into an “all you can eat” or subscription model for music bundled with the bill from your internet service provider (ISP).
“When I started Kazaa in 2001, we went to the music industry and said 'We think we can move piracy to a paid model',” Mr Bermeister said yesterday. “That's how we started. We got in trouble because we got too close to the piracy, because the industry wanted to make a point, because of a variety of reasons.
“But in the end we remain very focused on what we believe is the driving factor behind consumers that use P2P and that's convenience... people drift towards the most convenient solution.”
Not just the free one?
“It's powered by free, but if it wasn't convenient it wouldn't matter, people wouldn't go to it even if it was free.”
He argues that ultimately consumers, rights-holders and ISPs will benefit from consumers paying for content, dismissing privacy concerns by pointing out that Copyrouter only looks for “absolute acts of infringement”.
The technology, developed by Cisco, works at local ISP level by identifying the unique bit sequence that exists in a particular file. If that file is an infringing copy of a song, its number is stored on a database, owned by Bermeister's company, called the Global File Registry.
Up to 300 infringing versions of copyrighted songs may be “mapped” to the one legitimate copy, so when a user attempts to download an infringing copy, they are automatically steered to the legitimate version.
Mr Bermeister, who runs his US company Brilliant Digital Entertainment from his home in Sydney, announced the preliminary results of a three-month Australian case study involving 8000 customers of three small ISPs at the Australasian Music Business Conference at Olympic Park yesterday.
“The labels are very excited and anxious to see something come to fruition,” Mr Bermeister said. “The ISPs are cautiously optimistic and I think deservedly so.”
A US trial of the system is expected to begin later this year.
Privacy advocates are sceptical about the anti-piracy service.
“This is a silly way of going about it – it presupposes that people don't know what they're doing is wrong and in most cases they do,” said Geordie Guy, spokesperson for Electronic Frontiers Australia. “An ISP ... has no right to be interfering with what people are doing online. This is just another one in a string of recent attempts by individuals formerly associated with businesses that were doing the wrong thing to get on the right side of the industry. We saw it with Napster too.”
Kazaa was relaunched in July for US consumers only as a paid file-sharing service.
Singapore: Three Strikes You Are Out
Chua Hian Hou
Commonly known as the 'three strikes' law, it is already in force in South Korea to deter users found downloading pirated materials, typically through their ISPs.
THE authorities are studying a new way to pull the plug on unauthorised downloads: terminating Internet access of hardcore pirates who refuse to quit despite repeat warnings.
If such a law is adopted, the pirate could get three warnings if caught downloading illegally. Do it again and the authorities will get the Internet service provider (ISP) to cut off Internet access.
Commonly known as the 'three strikes' law, it is already in force in South Korea to deter users found downloading pirated materials, typically through their ISPs.
Similar laws have been proposed in Britain, France and New Zealand, although there is no guarantee the controversial laws will be passed.
Questions have also been raised about its effectiveness, since there is nothing to stop a pirate whose Internet access has been cut from opening a new account with another ISP or through a family member at the same address.
Ending the War on Sharing
When record companies make a fuss about the danger of "piracy", they're not talking about violent attacks on shipping. What they complain about is the sharing of copies of music, an activity in which millions of people participate in a spirit of cooperation. The term "piracy" is used by record companies to demonize sharing and cooperation by equating them to kidnaping, murder and theft.
Copyright was set up after the printing press made copying a matter of mass production, typically done commercially. Copyright was acceptable in that technological context because it functioned as an industrial regulation, not restricting readers or (later) music listeners.
In the 1890s, record companies began selling mass-produced musical recordings. These records facilitated the enjoyment of music, and did nothing to interfere with listening to music. Copyright on these musical recordings was mostly uncontroversial as it only restricted record companies and not music listeners.
Today's digital technology enables everyone to make and share copies. Record companies now seek to use copyright law to deny us the use of this technical advance. The law which was acceptable when it restricted only publishers is now an injustice because it forbids cooperation among citizens.
To stop people from sharing goes against human nature, and the Orwellian propaganda that "sharing is theft" usually falls on deaf ears. It appears the only way to stop people from sharing is with a harsh War on Sharing. Thus the record companies, through their legal arms such as the RIAA, sue teenagers for hundreds of thousands of dollars for sharing. Meanwhile, corporate conspiracies to restrict public access to technology have developed systems of Digital Restrictions Management, designed to handcuff users and make copying impossible. Examples include iTunes as well as DVDs and Blueray disks. (See DefectiveByDesign.org for more information.) Although these conspiracies operate in restraint of trade, governments systematically fail to prosecute them.
Sharing continues despite these measures; the human impulse to cooperate is strong. Therefore, the record companies and other publishers demand ever nastier measures to castigate sharers. The US passed a law in October 2008 to seize computers used for forbidden sharing. The European Union is considering a directive to cut off Internet service for people who have been accused (not convicted) of sharing; see laquadrature.net if you want to help oppose it. New Zealand in 2008 already adopted such a law.
At a recent film conference I heard a proposal to require people to prove their identity to gain access to the Internet; such monitoring would also help crush dissent and democracy. China has announced such a policy for Internet cafes; will the EU be next? An MP in the UK proposed to imprison people for ten years for sharing. This has not been adopted — yet. Meanwhile, in Mexico, children are being invited to report their own parents, Soviet style, for unauthorized copying. It seems there is no limit to the cruelty that the copyright industry will propose for its War on Sharing.
The record companies' main argument for forbidding sharing is that it causes the "loss" of jobs. This claim turns out to be pure guesswork (1). But even if they were true, they would not justify the War on Sharing. Should we forbid people to clean their own homes to avoid "loss" of janitorial jobs? Forbid people to cook for themselves, or forbid sharing of recipes, to avoid the "loss" of restaurant jobs? Such arguments are absurd because the "cure" is more profoundly harmful than the "disease".
The record companies also claim that sharing music takes money away from musicians. This is the sort of half-truth that is worse than a lie — except the level of truth in it is much less than half.
Even if we accept their supposition you would have bought a copy of the same music — usually false, but occasionally true — it is only if the musicians are long-established superstars that they would get any money from your purchase. The record companies bully musicians at the start of their careers into exploitative contracts that bind them for 5 or 7 albums. It is almost unheard of for a record published under the scope of these contracts to sell enough copies that the musicians get a cent from sales. For more details, see this link. Long-established superstars aside, sharing only reduces the income that record companies use to sue music lovers.
As for the few musicians whose contracts do not exploit them, the long-established superstars, it is no special problem for society or music if they get a little less rich. There is no justification for the War on Sharing. We, the public, should put an end to it.
Some argue that the record companies will never succeed in stopping people from sharing, that it cannot be done (2). Given the asymmetric strengths of record company lobbyists and music lovers, I mistrust predictions of who will win in this war; in any case, underestimating the enemy is folly. We must assume that either side can win and the outcome depends on us.
Besides, even if the record companies never succeed in crushing human cooperation, they cause much misery just by trying, and intend to cause more. Rather than allow them to pursue the War on Sharing until they admit it is futile, we must stop them as soon as possible. We must legalize sharing.
Some say the networked society has no more use for record companies. I do not support that position. I will never pay for a music download until the day I can do that anonymously, so I want to be able to buy CDs anonymously in a record store. I do not wish for the elimination of record companies in general, but I will not give up my freedom to keep them going.
The purpose of copyright — on musical recordings, or anything else — is simple: to encourage writing and art. That's a desirable goal, but there are limits to what it can justify. Stopping people from sharing noncommercially is just too much. If we wish to promote music in the age of computer networks, we must choose methods that fit in with what we want to do with music, and that includes sharing.
Here are several suggestions for what we could do:
• Fans of certain kinds of music could organize fan clubs which would support the people who like that music.
• We could increase funds for existing government programs that subsidize musical performance.
• Artists can fund expensive works through subscription, with the funds to be returned if the work is not made.
• Many musicians get more money from merchandise than recordings. If they take the plunge into merchandise-based funding, they have no reason to restrict copying; quite the contrary.
• We could support musical artists with public funds distributed directly to them in proportion to the cube root of their popularity. Using the cube root means that if superstar A is 1000 times as popular as skilled artist B, A will get 10 times as much of the tax funds as B. This way of dividing the money is an efficient way to promote a broad diversity of music.
The law should ensure that record companies cannot confiscate these funds from the artists, since experience shows they will try. To speak of "compensating" the "rights holder" is a veiled way of proposing to give most of the money to the record companies in the name of the artists.
These funds could come from the general budget, or from a special tax on something vaguely correlated with listening to music, such as blank disks or Internet connectivity. Either way would do the job.
• Support artists with voluntary payments. This is already working fairly well for some artists, including Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and Jane Siberry (sheeba.ca), even using inconvenient systems that require the purchaser to have a credit card.
If any music lover could pay easily with digital cash, if each music player had a button you could push to send one euro to the artists that made the piece you listened to, wouldn't you push it occasionally, perhaps once a week? Only the poor and the very stingy would refuse.
You may have other good ideas. Let's support musicians, and let's legalize sharing.
"Twilight" Author Sued for Copyright Infringement
A woman who wrote an obscure vampire book as a teenager has sued "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer, accusing her of stealing ideas from the work for the fourth book in her vampire series, "Breaking Dawn."
Meyer's publisher responded that the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in federal court in California, is a meritless claim meant to further the career of the aspiring screenwriter making the complaint.
Jordan Scott's lawsuit accuses Meyer of copyright infringement and argues that, as Scott wrote her vampire novel "The Nocturne," she posted passages online, and that Meyer stole ideas from Scott's work for her own book.
"The Nocturne" and "Breaking Dawn," which was published in 2008, show similarities in language, plot lines, characters and other points, Scott's lawsuit stated. For instance, the lawsuit said both books contain a wedding passage and an after-wedding scene of sex on the beach.
Hachette Book Group, Meyer's publisher, said the "alleged similarities" are "wholly lacking in substance," and Meyer based "Breaking Dawn" on an earlier, unpublished sequel to "Twilight" that she wrote.
Hachette called the suit a "publicity stunt to further Ms. Scott's career," and said it expected the court would dismiss it.
Meyer's "Breaking Dawn" is the fourth book in the "Twilight" series, which has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide and become the basis of a Hollywood movie series.
The first film, "Twilight," earned more than $380 million at worldwide box offices and the second, "New Moon," hits theaters in November. The books and movies are about a girl named Bella Swan, who has a star-crossed love affair with dangerous but handsome vampire Edward Cullen.
Scott's book "The Nocturne," which she started writing at age 15 in 2003, had an initial printing of 5,000 books and is about to go into a second printing, according to her lawsuit.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)
Porn Studios Sue 10,000 Over Illegal Uploads
A group of up to 50 US and Japan-based adult movie studios have filed a mass copyright complaint against around 10,000 South Koreans accused of being heavy uploaders of porn.
According to a National Police Agency spokesman, the lawsuit against the individuals was filed at 10 police stations in the South Korean capital, Seoul, and the Gyeonggi province.
The studios also filed suit against 80 adult websites accused of aiding and abetting the distribution of the illegally uploaded movies, after they charged for access to the material.
The studios have also asked the police to investigate the infringements, which potentially carry a jail sentence in South Korea.
The lawsuit notes that the law firm representing the studios has also harvested around 100,000 IP addresses of those who downloaded the movies.
Ustream Sued By Boxing Promoter Over Pirated Broadcast
Live video streaming service Ustream is being sued by Square Ring, Inc, a boxing promotional company owned by professional boxer Roy Jones, Jr. The suit alleges that Ustream has committed “massive and blatant copyright infringement” by allowing 2,377 users to view a broadcast of the fight Roy Jones Jr. vs Omar Sheika free of charge. Furthermore, the suit says that Ustream has ignored repeated requests by Square Ring Inc. to gather more information about the infringement. From the suit:
Ustream has given us the following statement regarding the suit:
Leagues See Bloggers in the Bleachers as a Threat
Ken Belson and Tim Arango
Camera phones, hand-held video cameras and social networking sites like Twitter have turned sports fans with Web sites into instant reporters and broadcasters. But one of the nation’s leading college leagues is drawing a line in the turf.
The Southeastern Conference, home to some of the nation’s most prominent and lucrative university athletic programs, has issued rules in the past week prohibiting fans from distributing photographs or video of its games in real time for commercial use. Like a growing number of pro and college teams nationwide, the conference sees money to be made online from the exploits of its athletes.
The rules are aimed not at the casual fan who might post a few pictures of Saturday’s football game on a personal Web site, but rather those who copy television broadcasts, create their own highlight reels and post them on sites charging for access or advertising.
That is no small number. Prominent teams can each have hundreds of unofficial fan Web sites, some updated and visited around the clock. The University of Florida’s Gators, who compete in the Southeastern Conference and claimed last season’s national championship in football, have attracted scores of sites, like Gator Sports Nation and Alligator Army, which trade in all manner of news and rumor related to the program.
Leagues and teams at many levels have tried to restrict how their games are covered while also creating their own thriving media divisions. That has already pitted them against traditional news media outlets, like newspapers and radio stations, for readers and listeners and advertising dollars. Now, they are trying to curtail rabid fans who run Web sites devoted to the teams they love — or hate.
The Southeastern Conference did not identify specific Web sites that might have prompted its policy changes. But mainstream media organizations and their defenders have joined bloggers in rushing to fight the new rules.
Sandra Baron, the executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on First Amendment matters, said the rules were a “continuing effort to put a stranglehold on objective, third-party news organizations.”
Ethan Jaynes, writing on the Web site SECfootballblogger.com, said the SEC had been media friendly. But, he wrote, “now that Big Brother ESPN is in the picture everything has to be corporate and very ‘NFL’ish.”
The rules are part of an effort to protect a vast online video archive of games and file footage that the conference will market to fans this fall. The SEC Digital Network, as it will be known, is not unlike what Major League Baseball and other professional leagues have done with video from their games to create highlight reels, slide shows and other montages.
Conference officials said they were not trying to prevent fans from sending personal messages or brief descriptions of games to their Facebook pages or on Twitter, as some fans fear. Enforcing such a policy would be impractical and counterproductive because social media platforms help promote the conference’s teams, said Charles Bloom, a spokesman for the SEC. Last August, the conference signed 15-year television contracts with ESPN and CBS.
But “the line is drawn at game footage video,” Mr. Bloom said. “We want to protect our rights to have video between the conference and its members, and ban the commercial sale of photo images. Fans can post photos on their site or Facebook page, but they can’t be for sale.”
Mr. Bloom added that technology was becoming so sophisticated so quickly that the conference wanted to protect itself against new innovations in coming years.
The issue extends to the professional game. With the proliferation of new media forms, from Twitter to blogging to social networks, sports leagues and mainstream media outlets have been wrestling over access and ownership rights to images and transmissions of audio and video from stadiums.
The issue often becomes particularly contentious at the start of seasons, when leagues issue rules that journalists must follow if they want credentials to cover games.
“We’re dealing with this all the time,” said Lou Ferrara, the vice president and managing editor for sports, entertainment and interactive for The Associated Press. “It’s about access, and the ability to inform the public in an unbiased way.”
A few years ago, Major League Baseball sought to restrict the number of photographs that newspapers could use in slide shows on their Web sites. Pat Courtney, a spokesman for baseball, said the policy was not aimed at outlets reporting news, but at individuals who “take 600 pictures of last night’s game” and put them on their Web sites.
The custom of leagues allowing local television stations to air a two-minute highlight video clip has not extended to the digital age. Newspapers, which were not in the business of transmitting video before the advent of the Internet, have sought the same rights as TV stations.
“It’s hard to say we should have free access to this if ESPN and Yahoo Sports have stepped up and paid for it,” said Jeff Price, the former president for digital businesses at Sports Illustrated, who is now a sports industry consultant. (ESPN and Yahoo pay Major League Baseball for the right to transmit highlight clips over the Internet.)
The dispute has reached high school sports. In Wisconsin, for example, Gannett, the newspaper chain that owns The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisc., has been enmeshed for months in a legal battle with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
The controversy touches on a number of issues, including the live streaming of games, the definition of live blogging and the ownership of photographs taken during games.
“They are challenging our authority to run our tournaments,” said Todd Clark, a spokesman for the athletic association.
Debate over in-game blogging has been particularly contentious in Wisconsin. Last year, the athletic association sent $100 invoices — the fee it charges radio stations to cover games — to newspapers that it determined were publishing play-by-play blogs. The newspapers ignored the bills.
“It was absolutely ludicrous,” said Peter Fox, the executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. “You can’t do play-by-play in a blog. You can’t type that fast, for crying out loud.”
The SEC, the Big Ten and other collegiate conferences said they had not gone to court to shut down any media outlets that used their content without a license. But given how fast new technology has emerged, the number of media outlets wanting to broadcast professional and collegiate sports is likely to grow, along with efforts to police them.
Label Hunts Hackers Who Stole Lewis/Timberlake Song
Record label SyCo and music trade body IFPI have called in the police to help them hunt down computer hackers who leaked a track by Leona Lewis and Justin Timberlake on the Internet.
The song, "Don't Let Me Down," is being considered as the first single release from the X Factor winner's next album, according to the Sun newspaper.
"IFPI is working with SyCo and law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Europe to trace the individuals who stole the Leona Lewis/Justin Timberlake track," said Jeremy Banks, head of IFPI's Internet Anti-Piracy Unit.
"The police investigation is ongoing," he said in a statement. "Such pre-release leaks, however they are sourced, are highly damaging to our members who invest considerable budgets in marketing and promoting music ahead of release."
The music industry has seen revenues slump in recent years amid rampant internet piracy in some regions, and the rise in legal digital downloads has failed to make up for losses in physical music purchases.
SyCo is music promoter and television talent show judge Simon Cowell's division of Sony Music Entertainment, which signs up acts who appear on The X Factor show in Britain.
Lewis won The X Factor in 2006, and her debut album "Spirit" topped charts around the world. Her second album is slated for release in November.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison)
Swedish Vodka Firm Sues UK Radio Station
Peter Vinthagen Simpson
The owners of Swedish vodka brand Absolut are pursuing legal proceedings against the UK-based Absolute Radio - formerly Virgin Radio - for alleged trademark infringement.
Drinks company Vin & Sprit confirmed that they consider the newly adopted name for the radio station - once owned by UK entrepreneur Richard Branson - to be inappropriate.
"I can confirm that it is correct that we have objections to them using the name Absolute," Paula Eriksson at The Absolut Company in Stockholm told The Local on Wednesday.
When asked whether the general public would have difficulty differentiating between a radio station and a vodka brand, Eriksson replied:
"Absolut is a brand that is known worldwide outside of its spirits category. We consider that there is a risk of confusion."
Absolute Radio, which changed its named after having been bought by the Times of India Group, however said in a statement that it would fight the legal proceedings and a spokesperson argued that its listeners could distinguish between a vodka brand and a radio station.
Jo Sharman, a British resident of Sweden who has been called on to issue a witness statement in the case concurs.
"I wrote a jokey email to Absolute Radio asking them if they had something to do with the vodka. The radio station, and then Absolut Vodka, later contacted me to clarify what I meant," Sharman told The Local on Wednesday.
"I honestly think this is all really silly. It was a joke. There is a big difference between a radio station and a vodka," Sharman said.
Paula Eriksson was however in no doubt that Vin & Sprit, a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard, was correct in acting to protect its brand and underlined that there was also a moral issue at stake.
"We have a company policy of not targeting our products at those aged under 18. The radio station has a much wider audience. This is something that we do not consider appropriate."
Yahoo Wins U.S. Court Ruling Over Webcasting Fees
A federal appeals court in New York ruled that a Yahoo Inc Internet radio service is not required to pay fees to copyright holders of songs it plays, a defeat for Sony Corp's BMG Music.
In a case closely watched by the recording industry, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2007 jury verdict that Launchcast, a webcasting service run by Yahoo's Launch Media Inc unit, did not give listeners enough control to be an "interactive service" that would require the fees.
The three-judge panel said the service is required only to pay licensing fees set by SoundExchange, a nonprofit that collects royalties on sound recordings. It was the first federal appeals court to decide the issue.
Friday's ruling is a setback for record producers that have struggled with slumping sales as customers increasingly obtain music online or through other means.
"It's an immediate loss for the recording industry," said Rey Sanchez, chairman of the department of music, media and industry at the University of Miami and a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
"If the service had been deemed interactive, Yahoo would have to negotiate fees with every record label to use their songs. Instead, it only has to pay licensing fees."
He added that the dispute "signals a shift in the culture of how people access music, and how to monetize that access."
A Sony representative declined to comment. A lawyer for the recording companies did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Yahoo spokeswoman Kim Rubey said the Sunnyvale, California-based company is pleased with the ruling and looks forward to providing "the best online music experiences" to customers.
Other recording companies involved in the case included Capitol Records Inc, Motown Records Co and Virgin Records America Inc, among others, court papers show.
Not Enough Control
Launchcast lets users create individualized "radio stations" that play songs in a particular genre, or which are similar to their favorite artists or songs.
Sony, whose labels also include Arista, Bad Boy, and Zomba, sued Launch Media in a 2001 for copyright infringement, saying it failed to obtain licenses to play its songs.
The law at issue defines an interactive service as a service "that enables a member of the public to receive a transmission of a program specially created for the recipient, or on request, a transmission of a particular sound recording ... which is selected by or on behalf of the recipient."
In his 42-page opinion for the appeals court, Judge Richard Wesley said the U.S. Congress enacted the law because previous laws did not do enough to protect sound recording copyright holders from falling record sales.
Yet he found that Launchcast "does not provide sufficient control" to convince listeners to choose to listen to music on the Internet, instead of buying music.
"The user has control over the genre of songs to be played for 5,000 songs," the judge wrote, "but this degree of control is no different from a traditional radio listener expressing a preference for a country music station over a classic rock station."
Sanchez, the professor, explained: "The record labels argued that the ability of listeners to skip songs they don't like made the service interactive. The court disagreed."
The appeals court also criticized trial judge Richard Owen for giving potentially misleading jury instructions in the case, but said it did not need to address the issue.
In late afternoon trading, Sony shares were up 20 cents at $26.70 on the New York Stock Exchange, and Yahoo shares were up 3 cents at $14.80 on the Nasdaq.
The case is Arista Records LLC et al v. Launch Media Inc, U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 07-2576.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Gary Hill)
isoHunt Doubles Indexed Torrents Instantly
isoHunt has been one of the leading BitTorrent search engines since 2004. Despite the fact the site’s founder Gary Fung is involved in legal battles with the MPAA as well as the CRIA, the site keeps on expanding and adding more torrents to its index.
The isoHunt team recently updated its indexing code and performed a thorough re-crawl of most of the BitTorrent sites that they index, with an impressive result.
In just a few days the number of torrent files indexed by isoHunt doubled from 1.65 million to 3.49 million. These torrents link to 86.61 million files and total a massive 2766.18 Terabyte.
Gary was kind enough to share the index graph of the last 12 months with FreakBits, which clearly shows the jump towards the end.
Download a Copy of The Pirate Bay Before It’s Gone
In just a few days The Pirate Bay will be passed onto its new owners, marking the end of an era but not the end of BitTorrent. The nostalgic torrenters among us might want to download a copy of the site for archival purposes. It never hurts to have a backup of important data in place, especially when it’s free.
In common with music and movies, it’s not that hard to copy a website. It might take some serious server power to serve torrents to millions of people every day, but all the torrent files and site code don’t take up that much space.
In fact, every TorrentFreak reader can easily store a backup of The Pirate Bay on his or her hard drive. Everyone can download it straight from The Pirate Bay, conveniently packed into a massive torrent amounting to 21.3 Gigabytes of data.
The anonymous uploader who compiled this huge torrent told TorrentFreak that he wanted to have a backup of the site in case all torrents mysteriously disappear after the site is sold. “I suppose I want us to have assurances. If the TPB deal disappoints us, we can just put it up again,” he said.
The backup includes a mockup site and all of the 873,671 torrent files hosted on The Pirate Bay’s servers. As the uploader also notes, not all of the 2 million torrents tracked by The Pirate Bay are hosted on the site itself.
With this backup everyone can have their own Pirate Bay up and running in a few minutes. “The basic website supplied in the torrent is a working site, where you can browse the index. You just need a lot of hardware to run a database of this size at a decent speed. And thanks to openbittorrent.com, you don’t even need a tracker,” the uploader told us.
Those interested in grabbing a copy of the site have to be warned: patience is required. It might take a few days before the download completes with the seeder’s limited upload capacity, but good things come to those that wait.
Pirate Bay and BREIN Clash at Hacker Conference
Tim Kuik, head of Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN, had a brief encounter with Pirate Bay founder Gottfrid Svartholm (Anakata) on Friday. The two met at Hacking at Random, an outdoor hacker conference that currently takes place in The Netherlands, where Kuik took part in one of the panel discussions.
Two months ago BREIN decided to take the Pirate Bay founders to court, hoping to get the BitTorrent tracker shut down in The Netherlands. BREIN won the civil case two weeks ago, and Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Peter Sunde were ordered to block Dutch visitors within 10 days or face thousands of euros each day in penalties.
For now the verdict has been put on hold by BREIN, allowing the three defendants to appeal. Nevertheless, because of the legal issues between the two parties, an encounter between the head of BREIN, Tim Kuik and Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm that took place at Hacking at Random (HAR) this Friday was a rather interesting one.
Tim Kuik participated in a panel discussion on copyright laws and the future of media distribution at HAR, and halfway through he was standing face to face with Gottfrid Svartholm, one of the founders of The Pirate Bay. Svartholm, who had been following the discussion in the audience, took the opportunity to confront Kuik with some of the allegations he made.
Svartholm started by asking if BREIN actually has any evidence that The Pirate Bay is making ‘a lot’ of money from distributing copyrighted works, as they claim. “Can you please tell me where that profit is, because i’d like some of it,” he asked, which resulted in applause and cheers from the audience.
“You tell me, you’re here, somebody paid for your trip,” Kuik quickly replied in an attempt to turn things around, implying that Svartholm must have used Pirate Bay revenue to make his way over to The Netherlands.
Svartholm, who currently works as a software programmer in Asia where he earns his living, then replied, “I paid for this trip by developing computer software for my customers,” which was again followed by applause from the audience.
Kuik found his argument crushed so reverted back to the earlier question about profits. “Everybody knows, including yourself, that you’re selling advertising space on your website, and people pay you for that,” he said.
Kuik went on to say that a Swedish investigative journalist found that The Pirate Bay made hundreds of thousands of kroner every year. To some this may sound like an impressive figure, but 300,000 kroner ($40,000) may not even be enough to cover the hardware and bandwidth costs, so it doesn’t prove that there’s any profit.
From Kuik’s responses it seems that BREIN has no evidence at all that The Pirate Bay is as profitable as they claim it is, so Svartholm went on to ask Kuik about the defamation lawsuit that the former Pirate Bay founders started against him and his organization.
The head of BREIN is being sued by TPB in Sweden for defamation, after Kuik claimed that the Pirate Bay founders were responsible for an alleged DDoS attack on BREIN’s website. In Sweden, Kuik is now facing up to two years in prison, and Svartholm wanted to know if he plans to show up.
In his reply, Kuik denied that he ever attributed the DDoS attacks to the people behind the Pirate Bay, but he said that it was a coincidence that their website was hit right after the case against TPB was announced to the press. Svartholm of course questioned Kuik’s denial, but he never saw his original question answered.
In the end, Kuik never answered any of the questions posed by Svartholm, but the face to face standoff between two people at the extreme ends of the copyright debate was an interesting one nonetheless. After the panel discussion, Tim Kuik and Gottfrid Svartholm set their differences aside for a brief moment, as they posed for the cameras.
The video of the HAR panel discussion is available in OGG and on Vimeo (Gottfrid at 30:20).
Redbox Sues Warner Home Video Over DVD Rentals
Redbox, the DVD rental kiosk company, has filed suit against Warner Home Video, its third claim against a major film studio looking to hold new releases out of Redbox vending machines while consumers have a chance to buy the movie.
The issue has divided Hollywood studios, with some hoping to piggyback on Redbox's growing popularity and others trying to preserve more lucrative retail sales by imposing a delay.
Warner Home Video, a unit of Time Warner's Warner Bros. film studio, demanded 28 days before Redbox's $1-a-night rentals become available. General Electric Co.'s Universal wants 45 days and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox is looking for 30.
Redbox, a subsidiary of Bellevue, Wash.-based Coinstar, has dragged all three into court, arguing any delay would hurt consumers by pushing up DVD prices and limiting selection. Redbox said it filed the suit against Warner Home Video on Tuesday.
"Redbox remains committed to providing our customers the new release DVDs they want, where they want and at the low price they want," Redbox President Mitch Lowe said in a statement.
A phone message left with a Warner spokeswoman was not immediately returned Wednesday.
Oakbook Terrace-based Redbox has kept its kiosks stocked with new titles by purchasing them at retail stores for full price, a strategy that could cut into its profits.
A U.S. District Court judge in Delaware gave Redbox a partial victory this week in its case against Universal. The court dismissed claims of improper copyright use and interference in Redbox contracts but let antitrust claims stand, leaving the door open to a trial.
Other studios have avoided a fight with Redbox, deciding to take advantage of the company's low-cost appeal, which has caught on during the recession. Redbox has 17,900 kiosks in the U.S. and plans to add 8,500 by the end of the year.
Sony's movie division and Lions Gate Entertainment have both signed agreements this year to supply Redbox without any delay.
Peer Media: MediaDefender and Media Sentry Rebranded
After kicking out founders Randy Saaf and Octavio Herrera earlier this year, MediaDefender’s parent company ARTISTDirect acquired one of RIAA’s former partners, the anti-piracy tracking company MediaSentry. Now the spoofers and the spies have been combined and are trading under a new name – Peer Media.
At the beginning of April 2009, ARTISTdirect, the owner of infamous anti-piracy spoofing company MediaDefender, announced that it had acquired SafeNet’s anti-piracy tracking company, MediaSentry. The acquisition cost them $936,000, comprised of $136,000 in cash and an $800,000 one year note.
Now, following an announcement by ARTISTdirect CEO Dimitri Villard, it seems that the sullied names of both MediaDefender and Media Sentry will be consigned to the archives as the company rebrands the pair under a new name: Peer Media Technologies.
Despite the hacking chaos that all but destroyed Media Defender’s business, coupled with the controversy when Media Sentry’s investigative tactics were deemed illegal in several US states (and was promptly dropped by the RIAA), ARTISTdirect is still touting the pair as a force to be reckoned with – albeit with a new coat of paint and a new name.
“The combination of MediaDefender, the leader in Internet Piracy Prevention (IPP) with Media Sentry, the leader in business and marketing intelligence derived from P2P channels, creates a true powerhouse in the field of intellectual property protection,” says a notice on Peer Media’s shiny new website.
CEO Dimitri Villard also announced that he had hired ex Macrovision and Blackwave director Terri Denver as head of worldwide sales at Peer Media.
According to ARTISTdirect, the rebranding and consolidation of MediaDefender and Media Sentry under the Peer Media banner will benefit the customer base “by offering higher quality products than either company did previously.”
Services being offered by Peer Media include spoofing and decoys on file-sharing networks, sending cease and desist notices to ISPs to forward to their customers and sending the same to file-hosting sites carrying copyright content. Other services include monitoring networks for leaked movies and music, and assessing demand for media by monitoring what file-sharers do on the Internet.
FCC Enforcing Imaginary Laws in P2P Ruling, Says Comcast
Comcast comes out swinging in court against the spanking it got from the FCC for BitTorrent throttling. We unpack the ISP's legal challenge.
Almost a year ago, Comcast pledged that it would sue the Federal Communications Commission over its Order sanctioning the cable ISP for peer-to-peer throttling. Now, the company has filed its case with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Although Comcast's legal arguments are complex, the crux is simple: there were and still are no statutes or credible regulations that support the Commission's authority to act on this matter, the company says.
"For the FCC to conclude that an entity has acted in violation of federal law and to take enforcement action for such a violation, there must have been 'law' to violate," Comcast's Opening Brief to the court contends. "Here, no such law existed."
Undoubtedly, many parties will soon file with the court in opposition to and agreement with Comcast's legal claims. But Comcast had to file first. Here's a summary of what they say the FCC did wrong in punishing the company.
Doing so 24/7
First, let's recap: After months of proceedings, hearings, and investigations, the FCC concluded on August 1, 2008 that Comcast was discriminating against certain P2P applications using deep packet inspection techniques. These methods thwarted the ability of users to share video and other files via BitTorrent. "Comcast was delaying subscribers' downloads and blocking their uploads," declared then FCC Chair Kevin Martin. "It was doing so 24/7, regardless of the amount of congestion on the network or how small the file might be. Even worse, Comcast was hiding that fact by making effected users think there was a problem with their Internet connection or the application."
Comcast had an anti-competitive motive for this behavior, the Commission argued, as P2P apps offer consumers a video sharing alternative to cable television. The agency told the company to stop its current practices, disclose what it was actually doing, come up with a new, non-discriminatory system by the end of the year, and let consumers know how the new system will work. The company quickly complied with these orders, and announced the deployment of a new "protocol agnostic" network management system in mid-September.
But months earlier, Comcast Vice President David Cohen had warned the FCC that, in the ISP's opinion, there was no statutory basis for the actions the agency eventually took. What the company has sent to the DC Circuit Court is an extended version of that letter: no law backs the FCC ruling about Comcast.
"If the Commission truly believed that any statutory provision was directly enforceable against Comcast’s conduct, it would not have premised the Order entirely on ancillary authority," Comcast writes. "Ancillary authority"—what the hell does that mean?
As this legal debate heats up again, you can expect to see the following narcoleptic-coma-inducing question repeatedly asked and debated. Does Title I of the Communications Act gives the FCC "ancillary authority" or "ancillary jurisdiction" over network management issues?
People get thrown by the word "ancillary" here. It essentially means an additional, supplementary, or implied power. Title I outlines the FCC's job. It's there "for the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio," Title I says. And section 230(b) of Title I adds that it is the policy of the United States "to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet" and "to promote the continued development of the Internet."
This Title I authority played a large part when the FCC invoked its famous Internet Policy Statement, which plays a big role in the Comcast drama. That's the 2005 declaration that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice and are entitled to competition among network providers. In its Comcast Order, the Commission explained that it created the statement in recognition of "its responsibility for overseeing and enforcing the 'national Internet policy' Congress had established in section 230(b) of the Communications Act." The agency was now committed to integrating the Policy Statement into its ongoing policy-making work, it declared.
Show us the rules
So the obsessive-compulsive question for legal beagles is whether Title I gives the FCC the legal cajones to stomp ISPs if they block your efforts to download the movie trailer for District 9 via BitTorrent, Vuze, or some other P2P app. The consumer groups that petitioned the FCC to do something about Comcast's behavior say that Title I granted the FCC all the authority it needed to act in this situation. Free market groups like the Progress and Freedom Foundation contend this ancillary authority business is way too vague to be used in something as crucial as regulating network management. PFF calls it a "standardless discretion" contrary to "the foundational principle that agencies only have that authority conferred by Congress, which ensures accountability."
Defenders of the FCC push back, saying that even the Supreme Court recognized ancillary authority in the Brand X decision, a crucial ISP access case, and that Title I has been used repeatedly. Critics say yeah, sure, but only under certain strict circumstances. We leave it to you to follow the rabbit hole down as far as you'd like on this question. The bottom line is that Comcast, as you've probably already guessed, argues that Title I doesn't give the FCC diddley when it comes to overseeing ISPs.
"Section 230(b) does no more than set forth 'the policy of the United States,'" Comcast notes. "It does not even remotely establish mandatory standards of conduct" for regulating network management. That means, Comcast charges, that the FCC pretty much cracked down on the company's behavior based on a Policy Statement that was not created by Congress, and which, well, was basically just a policy statement.
Where is this going?
Comcast's filing even denies that it did anything wrong in the first place, network management-wise. "To prevent P2P usage from degrading all of its customers' Internet experiences," the company says for the umpteenth time, "Comcast managed, in limited circumstances and in a limited manner, those P2P protocols that had an objectively demonstrated history of generating excessive burdens on its network. Specifically, it temporarily delayed certain P2P uploads (but not downloads), on a content-agnostic basis."
But it's unclear what the cable giant and its supporters think they will accomplish by this aggressive effort to overthrow the FCC's decision. As veteran telecom attorneys like Andrew Lipman have noted, if the courts do shut down the FCC's order on Comcast, "expect Congress to move very quickly" on some kind of net neutrality legislation. The usual suspects on Capitol Hill have already got yet another bill in the hopper, and this time they're in control of all the key committees in the House and Senate. One wonders whether, in the not too distant future, the big ISPs will look nostalgically back on the happy days when the FCC's Internet Policy Statement was all they had to obey.
U.S. Wants to Define Broadband, Opens Wireless Inquiry
U.S. telecommunications regulators on Thursday sought public comment on how to define "broadband," a step that could impact how the industry delivers Internet services to consumers.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a fact-finding notice on its website (www.fcc.gov) seeking the public's input as it drafts a national broadband plan that is slated to be submitted to Congress in mid-February.
The FCC also said it plans to issue another public notice on its website to study the competitive nature of the U.S. wireless industry and how to "encourage further innovation and investment."
The notice to examine the wireless industry comes amid another inquiry by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seeking information about why Apple Inc rejected Google Inc's voice application for the popular iPhone.
AT&T Inc is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the United States. Responses to letters sent last month to the three companies from the FCC are due by late Friday.
The state of the wireless industry as well as fees on subscribers monthly bills will be discussed at an FCC meeting next Thursday, the first with all five commissioners in a new administration.
The inquiry into the wireless industry indicates that the new administration wants to take a fresh look into whether customers can get better services at more affordable prices.
The notice to define broadband also sets the stage for how regulators should proceed in trying to determine several issues such as speed, accessibility, affordability and increasing subscribership.
Among the questions posed is how often that definition should be updated.
"A static definition will fail to address changing needs and habits," the FCC notice said.
The United States lags behind many European and Asian countries in terms of broadband speed.
A 2008 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the United States ranked 19th with an advertised rate of 9.6 mbps. The top three countries were Japan with 92.8 mbps, Korea with 80.8 mbps and France with 51 mbps.
The current U.S. base standard speed for any applicant that wants to participate in Obama's $7.2 billion economic stimulus program for expanding the U.S. broadband infrastructure is at least 768 kbps.
The speed issue, including the difference between advertised and actual rates, is among many concerns that are being addressed during a series of FCC workshops being held this month and next.
"In most cases the 'advertised' throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed," Carlos Kirjner, the FCC chairman's senior adviser on broadband, said on the agency's new broadband blog.
Officials are seeking data and ideas on how to improve affordable high-speed Internet services for low-income families, education, health and medicine, homeland security, the environment and transportation.
An April 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband at home, up 15 percent from a year earlier.
The increase corresponded with a higher average monthly cost of $39 per month in April 2009, compared with $34.50 per month in May 2008.
(Reporting by John Poirier; editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
Hacker Mitnick May Sue AT&T Over Data Breach
After having his AT&T wireless account breached and his personal information posted on the Web, famed hacker Kevin Mitnick thought the least the cellular service provider could do was compensate him for his troubles.
Instead, the company informed Mitnick it plans to cancel his contract and not pay damages for the breach, he said. (His service was still working Thursday afternoon.) Now he may sue.
"AT&T wants me off their network because they can't secure my account, and after being a loyal customer for almost a decade I find that reprehensible," he told CNET News on Thursday. "It apparently is more cost effective to drop me than to secure their customer's information."
"My attorney is going to review my contract to see what, if any, restrictions are in my service agreement," he said. "I may file a lawsuit for invasion of privacy for the failure to adequately protect my information."
The irony is that he speculates that whoever is responsible for getting into his account used social engineering to do so. Mitnick spent five years in jail for breaking into computer networks, mostly using social engineering to get information out of insiders that enabled him to access their networks.
He describes such social engineering techniques in fictional stories in his book "The Art of Deception," including examples involving PacBell in which workers at retail stores reveal customer account details over the phone to someone they think works for the company.
"These guys probably read my book and decided to steal my information using social engineering because it is so easy," he said. "I told AT&T about this and they just ignored it."
"The bigger issue is that this ineffective security affects all AT&T customers," he said. "They need to start shoring up their defenses."
Mitnick learned in June that someone had posted his address, land and mobile phone numbers, PIN, e-mail address, instant messenger handles, and the last four digits of his Social Security number on the Web in March.
When he failed to get a response from AT&T after he complained, he called a lawyer who asked AT&T to pay an undisclosed amount for damages to his reputation and property rights, he said.
"We investigated Mr. Mitnick's claims and determined they were without any foundation," said AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Bridges. "We refused Mr. Mitnick's demands for money, but did offer to let him out of his contractual obligations so that he could find a carrier that he would be comfortable with."
Asked if Mitnick could keep AT&T as his provider, Bridges said she could not comment beyond that statement.
Mitnick's high-profile status makes him a celebrity among some hackers and a popular target for others. He's had his Web site hacked numerous times over the years, including twice in the past several months. He's even had trouble with Facebook after the social networking site disabled his account, believing him to be an impostor.
Most recently, Mitnick's site was among a group of security sites that were hacked and publicized on the eve of the Black Hat conference last month. As a result of the hacking, Mitnick was asked by his Web hosting provider, HostedHere.net, to find another place to host his site.
This isn't the first time Mitnick's AT&T account information apparently has been breached.
CNET News learned almost a year ago that someone had gotten access to Mitnick's mobile account while he was on a trip to Bogota, Colombia, but at the request of Mitnick at that time, agreed not to publish the information while the case was being investigated.
On his way to Colombia, during a stopover in Los Angeles, Mitnick received warning that his AT&T account would be breached with a social-engineering attack, he said in an instant message exchange in September 2008. He called AT&T with the details and asked it to take extra precautions to protect his account and require someone trying to change the account to provide the password verbally and not just the Social Security number, he said. Despite that effort, when he landed hours later, his password had been reset and the account was no longer in his control.
"I learn that these hackers (they called to warn me first) called an ATT Corporate store in Idaho (I have the rep's name) and she changed my e-mail address to what the hackers requested. So they just did a pw reset," he wrote in the IM exchange.
Asked about it in a follow up conversation months later, Mitnick said the matter had been resolved and declined to comment further.
That Colombia trip was noteworthy for Mitnick for other reasons. On his return, Mitnick was detained for four hours and his computer equipment inspected after he landed in the Atlanta airport for unknown reasons.
China to Appeal WTO Ruling on Book, Movie Imports
China will appeal a World Trade Organization ruling that ordered it to ease restrictions on imports of movies, music and books in a case brought by Washington, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said Monday.
"We are actively preparing the documents to appeal," spokesman Yao Jian said at a news conference. Yao gave no details of the grounds for appeal but the government last week denied that it obstructed imports.
The appeal will be filed within two months in line with WTO rules, Yao said.
A WTO panel concluded Wednesday that Beijing is violating its free-trade commitments by forcing imported media products to be routed through Chinese state-owned companies.
The WTO said Beijing should allow foreign companies to import and distribute master copies of books, magazines and newspapers and to receive the same conditions and charges as Chinese companies for distributing reading materials.
The Commerce Ministry last week expressed regret at the ruling and said China's import channels for media products "are completely unimpeded."
"Chinese cultural products have a big deficit in global trade and their competitiveness is low," Yao said. "So we took measures that fit the Chinese economy and historical cultural tradition."
The case is sensitive for Beijing because the communist government sees its control over content of movies, music, books and other media as a tool to protect its political power. The government is trying to build up China's state-owned film studios and other media to promote the ruling party's views at home and abroad.
The dispute is one of a series between the United States and China, the world's largest and third-largest economies, over access to each other's markets for goods ranging from tires to poultry. The United States is the world's biggest exporter of movies, pop music and other cultural goods and sees increased sales as a way to narrow its multibillion-dollar trade deficit with China.
Foreign movies, music and other cultural products are popular in China's fast-growing media market. Suppliers face intense competition from China's thriving black market in unlicensed copies and some complain that Beijing is boosting demand for pirated products by limiting access to legitimate goods.
Lawyer and Author Adds His Objections to Settling the Google Book Lawsuit
Miguel Helft and Motoko Rich
A growing chorus of authors, academics and other book industry figures is objecting to the settlement of a class-action suit that would allow Google to profit from digital versions of millions of books it has scanned from libraries.
When the settlement was announced last October, Google and the groups representing authors and publishers who had originally sued the company hailed the agreement as a public good. Readers and researchers would have access to millions of out-of-print and rarely seen books online, libraries nationwide would gain access to new volumes in electronic form and authors and publishers would have new ways to profit from digital copies of their works.
More recently, those questioning the agreement, which is subject to a court review, have raised concerns about whether it is fair to authors, whether it protects the privacy of people whose reading habits might be tracked and whether Google is being improperly given what amounts to exclusive rights to commercialize millions of out-of-print books. The Justice Department has begun an antitrust investigation.
In the latest objection, Scott E. Gant, an author and partner at Boies Schiller & Flexner, a prominent Washington law firm, plans to file a sweeping opposition to the settlement on Wednesday urging the court to reject it.
“This is a predominantly commercial transaction and one that should be undertaken through the normal commercial process, which is negotiation and informed consent,” Mr. Gant said in an interview. Google and its partners are “trying to ram this through so that millions of copyright holders will have no idea that this is happening.”
Unlike most previous objections to the project, which focused on policy issues and recommended modifications to the settlement, Mr. Gant argues that the agreement, which gives Google commercial rights to millions of books without having to negotiate for them individually, amounts to an abuse of the class-action process. He also contends that it does not sufficiently compensate authors and does not adequately notify and represent all the authors affected.
Legal experts, who had not seen the filing but heard a description of it, said it could be the most direct attack on the agreement so far.
“It may be the most fundamental challenge to the settlement yet,” said James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School, a critic of the agreement whose blog tracks filings and commentary related to it.
The court has set a Sept. 4 deadline for briefs on the settlement and has scheduled a hearing for early October.
Objections to the settlement have been raised by groups including the National Writers Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, representatives of the faculty of the University of California and the literary arm of the William Morris Endeavor entertainment agency.
The settlement has plenty of backers. Google and its former adversaries, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, who originally sued Google in 2005 in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, continue to promote its benefits, and say it does not create a monopoly. Some outside groups, including the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and the National Federation of the Blind, have supported it.
The parties to the settlement, who had not seen Mr. Gant’s filing, dismissed his stand, saying that the agreement was an appropriate use of the class-action rules, that the Authors Guild fairly represented all authors and that those whose books might become part of Google’s database had been appropriately notified.
“It is not surprising that for something this big and interesting, there will be multiple viewpoints, including some critics,” said Daphne Keller, managing product counsel at Google.
“The rights holder has 100 percent control and choice,” said Richard Sarnoff, former chairman of the Association of American Publishers and co-chairman of the American unit of Bertelsmann, the parent company of Random House. “If any author doesn’t want Google to be marketing or displaying their work, within 48 hours any of these works get pulled by Google.”
But Mr. Gant, who wrote “We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age” and is filing the action on his own behalf, not his firm’s, insisted that class actions were never intended to establish the kind of licensing agreement that Google obtained.
Legal scholars say that class actions have been used to reshape institutions and industries, as this settlement appears to do. “It is an interesting challenge, but how the court will respond is uncertain,” said Deborah R. Hensler, a professor at the Stanford University Law School.
While not opposing the settlement outright, William Morris advised its clients to opt out of it, on the grounds that it set non-negotiable royalty terms for works that are out-of-print but still in copyright. The Authors Guild has disputed that, saying authors have the right to renegotiate the terms at any time.
“I opted out of the settlement just on ornery grounds,” said Christopher Buckley, author of “Thank You for Smoking” and “Losing Mum and Pup,” a memoir. He said he was suspicious of the claims by Google and the Authors Guild that the settlement would help breathe new life into out-of-print works. “I think books either stay in print or don’t pretty much on their own,” he said.
He said he was skeptical that the agreement was increasing the public good. “Whenever I hear capitalism proclaiming noble motives,” he said, “something makes me check my wallet.”
Stamford's Cengage to Rent Books to Students
College students fed up with spending hundreds of dollars to buy textbooks they only use once are getting some new rental options.
And textbook publishers, undercut by sales and rentals of used versions that push them to the sidelines, are hoping they have figured out some new strategies to make money.
Stamford-based Cengage Learning on Thursday announced plans to rent titles directly to students for 40 percent to 70 percent off the suggested retail price.
Also Thursday, McGraw-Hill Higher Education announced a partnership with Web site Chegg.com -- one of numerous Web sites that have popped up selling and renting secondhand books. Under the arrangement, McGraw-Hill will provide new textbooks to Chegg, offering the company a bigger inventory of books to lend out, and McGraw-Hill will get a share of the rental revenue.
Textbook costs can add several hundred dollars per year to college costs for students and raise howls of protest at the start of each semester. But publishers maintain textbooks are expensive to produce, and the only chance they have to recoup their investment is revenue from the initial sale.
Cengage called its announcement the first example of a higher education publisher renting titles directly to students. McGraw-Hill billed its partnership as the first of its kind with a textbook rental company.
Both arrangements offer the major publishers something novel: the potential to collect money on each printed copy over multiple years.
Cengage said several hundred titles will be available starting in December, with more to follow next July. McGraw-Hill said the pilot program with Chegg would cover 25 titles.
Students renting a Cengage title would get immediate access to an electronic version of the first chapter, and then be shipped the book, the company said. At the end of the rental term, students can return the books or purchase them.
The announcements come as the industry tries to adjust to modern technologies that have upended what students and teachers expect from supplementary classroom materials and also the traditional models for selling and delivering them.
Among other experiments, a group that manages several hundred college bookstores is running a trial rental program. Meanwhile, Amazon.com Inc. is aiming the new, bigger version of its Kindle electronic reading device at the college market, with six universities running Kindle pilots this fall.
Reader's Digest Plans Prearranged Bankruptcy
Reader's Digest Association Inc, whose namesake magazine has been a staple of dentists' offices for generations, said on Monday it planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for its U.S. businesses as part of a prearranged plan with lenders to cut debt by 75 percent.
The media company, known worldwide for its family magazine filled with general-interest and inspirational stories, has been trying to cut costs since it was bought in 2007 by an investor group led by Ripplewood Holdings LLC.
The bankruptcy would take the form of a so-called prearranged filing, which comes after a company has already reached deals with lenders to reduce debt. The deal, if approved by a bankruptcy court, would allow Reader's Digest to slash its debt load to $550 million, from the current $2.2 billion.
The arrangement would also allow the company to reduce its annual interest payments on remaining debt to less than $80 million from about $145 million, said President and Chief Executive Officer Mary Berner in an interview.
"Our deal has already been negotiated and hammered out with a majority of our creditors," said Berner. he arrangement "doesn't affect our employees, it doesn't affect the vast majority of vendors, it doesn't mean we'll do mass layoffs, it doesn't mean we're going to be selling off assets. It's business as usual."
The company expects to file its petition in bankruptcy court within 15 days, said Chief Financial Officer Thomas Williams.
The Chapter 11 filing will apply only to the company's U.S. businesses. Operations in Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia-New Zealand will not be affected.
Reader's Digest, based in Pleasantville, New York, has said it is the largest selling magazine in the world. It has offices on 45 countries and sells books, magazines, recorded music collections and home videos. Among other offerings, it also publishes food magazine Every Day with Rachael Ray.
Reader's Digest has become the latest media company to be hurt by an economic slowdown that has hampered companies' abilities to repay debt.
Print media organizations have struggled to pay down debt over the past year as the U.S. economic recession has cut ad spending and readers have flocked to Internet sites for free news. Newspaper publisher Tribune Co is among companies that have filed for bankruptcy.
"I don't think this (announcement) is unexpected," said Stephanie Wickouski, co-vice chair of the corporate restructuring group for law firm Drinker Biddle. "All print media is under tremendous stress right now. The telecom revolution and the appeal of Internet news has put anything in print under tremendous stress."
Under the plan, the company will work with lenders to swap a portion of its $1.6 billion in senior secured debt for equity, and transfer company ownership to the lender group.
The agreement, which is subject to court approval, also includes a commitment from some members of the senior lender group to provide $150 million in debtor-in-possession financing, which would help fund operations during the reorganization.
JPMorgan Chase will lead a team of lenders offering DIP financing, said Williams. Other lenders include GE Capital and Eaton Vance, among others.
(Reporting by Chelsea Emery, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Tim Dobbyn and Matthew Lewis)
A Dark Journey Into A Killer's 'Personal Effects'
Have you ever wished you could e-mail or telephone a character from a book you're reading? A new "multiplatform transmedia experience" by authors J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman offers readers the opportunity to do just that.
Hutchings and Weisman's new interactive novel, Personal Effects: Dark Art, follows art therapist Zach Taylor as he struggles to evaluate a blind psychic serial killer. The novel unfolds in traditional chapter form, as well as via a series of "personal effects" that belong to the characters — including business cards, photos and legal documents, which are included in a pouch attached to the book's cover.
"The intent of this is to make the reader more than just a passive ingester of the entertainment, but to become an active participant in the story," Hutchins tells NPR's David Greene. "The idea was to fundamentally blur those lines between fiction and reality."
Further blurring those lines? Additional phone numbers and Web sites — including a blog created by the main character's girlfriend — that allow readers to gather more clues about the story.
Hutchins is credited with writing the novel, while Weisman was responsible for assembling all the extra content.
Weisman likens the experience of exploring the book and its additional offerings to finding a stranger's wallet on the street: "You want to return it to the person who lost it, but you feel kind of dirty just looking through it, because there's nothing more voyeuristic than looking through someone's pockets or their wallet," he explains.
A pouch on the cover includes additional documents, including a copy of Grace's New York state identification card.
Martin Grace's New York state ID card
A pouch on the cover includes additional documents, including a copy of Grace's New York state identification card.
"All of the sudden these characters aren't remote. These characters are much more real now because they are in your world. You're holding the contents of their wallet in your hand. You can call them on the phone; you can e-mail them and get responses," says Weisman. "It makes the story much more immediate."
Because the protagonist is an art therapist, he's not as interested in solving crime as he is in helping his patient. The sleuthing, says Hutchins, is left up to the readers, who are encouraged to gather clues from the book's additional sources.
"The reading of the book is a vicarious experience. And then there's a subtle transition into a first person-experience, where you're now going to take on the detective role yourself and solve things that Zachary Taylor didn't solve," he says.
MySpace Buys iLike Music Sharing Service
Confirming rumors circulating around the Web earlier this week, MySpace said Wednesday that it will acquire iLike, a popular music application for social networks that lets users share playlists and make song recommendations.
Owen Van Natta, the recently appointed chief executive of MySpace, described the purchase as part of a larger effort to restructure and refocus the company.
“ILike is an important part of a lot of different social networking experiences and we’re excited to extend that experience to other areas of entertainment that MySpace has assets in,” Mr. Van Natta said in a conference call with reporters.
Mr. Van Natta declined to discuss financial terms of the deal, although there has been speculation that the price tag was around $20 million. But he did say that iLike, which is based in Seattle, will remain autonomous. Current executives Ali and Hadi Partovi, will retain their current roles as chief executive and president, respectively.
“We want to make sure we don’t disrupt any of the good things iLike is doing,” said Mr. Van Natta. However, he said that over time, the goal is to “find ways which we can leverage that talent more broadly across MySpace is one of the objectives that we will pursue.”
Since iLike was founded two years ago, the service has swelled to more than 50 million users, many of which are on Facebook, a direct competitor to MySpace. It wasn’t clear how the acquisition would affect iLike’s relationship with Facebook, if at all. Mr. Van Natta said that the collaboration would result in “making iLike an even richer experience within those environments.”
In addition, Mr. Van Natta said iLike has the potential to extend its reach beyond music into other areas of entertainment, such as film.
The acquisition comes just as iLike was poised to introduce its own music store, although Mr. Van Natta also said that was not a motivating factor.
MySpace, a unit of the News Corporation, recognized that activity online was becoming more distributed, he said. “The thrust behind this marriage really has to do with the distributed Web and how we can serve our users in a more distributed way.”
iLike's Download Store Debuts
Social-networking service iLike opened a music download store on Friday, and has begun selling MP3s from all the major music labels.
On Wednesday, CNET News reported that iLike would soon open a store and offer song downloads from at least three of the major labels. The site actually is selling music from all four big record companies: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and EMI.
The prices are comparable with those found at iTunes and Amazon. Songs range in price from 89 cents to $1.29.
Companies competing in the ad-supported music space have struggled to generate cash as advertisers are reluctant to pay them premium rates. Users aren't necessarily looking at a computer screen when listening to music and this makes it hard to market to them. Imeem, which streams music free of charge to users and supports itself through ad sales, is another service that has recently started testing a download store.
In Wednesday's story about the new store, I wrote that iLike would challenge iTunes, which is the overwhelming power in sales of music downloads, and anybody selling downloads should count Apple as a competitor. Ali Partovi, iLike's CEO disagreed and said the company will continue to offer links to iTunes for users who want to continue buying music from Apple.
"We have always linked to iTunes and will continue to do so," Partovi said. "We're not challenging iTunes, but complementing it with a faster, more immediate option that's better tuned for the impulse-buy: by allowing you to purchase in-page without leaving the Web site you were on.
"Our goal is to provide an immediate, in-page music buying experience for music fans," he continued. "Today the service is available to users in the U.S. but we also intend to roll it out across our applications and platforms over time."
iTunes Reps 1 in Every 4 Songs Sold in U.S.
Faced with heat from iTunes and other digital downloads, the nearly-three-decade-old music CD is slowly melting away.
iTunes-purchased songs now account for 25 percent of the overall music market--both physical and digital--in the U.S., says an NPD Group report released Tuesday. However, CDs are still the most popular format for music lovers, winning a 65 percent slice of the market for the first half of 2009.
Digital music downloads have jumped in recent years, said NPD, hitting 35 percent of the overall market for the first half of this year, compared with 30 percent last year and 20 percent in 2007.
For the first half of 2009, iTunes itself snagged a 69 percent share of the overall digital music arena, trailed far behind by Amazon.com with 8 percent.
"The growth of legal digital music downloads, and Apple's success in holding that market, has increased iTunes's overall strength in the retail music category," said Russ Crupnick, entertainment industry analyst for NPD Group.
The CD, though, marches on. Among CD retailers, Wal-Mart leads with a 20 percent chunk of the physical music market, said NPD. Best Buy took a 16 percent share, followed by Target and Amazon at 10 percent each.
Still, the days of the CD seem numbered.
"Many people are surprised that the CD is still the dominant music delivery format, given the attention to digital music and the shrinking retail footprint for physical products," said Crupnick. "But with digital music sales growing at 15 to 20 percent, and CDs falling by an equal proportion, digital music sales will nearly equal CD sales by the end of 2010."
Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre Hope To Retool Digital Sound
Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine, Rap icon Dr. Dre and computer maker Hewlett-Packard are teaming up in an effort to improve the sound quality of digital music. As part of their partnership, HP will release premium-priced laptops, headsets, and software featuring the "Beats By Dr. Dre" brand sometime this fall, and Iovine says that he and Dre are part of a plan to reconstruct the entire "digital music ecosystem" from the sound file to the computer to the headphones.
"We have to fix the entire chain," Iovine told CNET News. "Our position is to go to all the sources and try to improve sound and educate people. We can't put anything weak in the line. Whoever puts out things that sound bad shouldn't be as cool as something that sounds great."
Iovine said the intent is not necessarily to compete with Apple and iTunes, but rather the partnership would love to join forces with Apple and other consumer electronics companies to improve the sound quality of digital music across the board. For the music industry, promoting high-quality audio is a means to have greater say in how digital music is packaged and sold. While that is a huge plus, Iovine said that he and Dre's efforts are not based on a grand attempt to save the music business.
"I just want our product to sound better," Iovine told CNet. "The record business committed many, many mistakes in the last 10 years, and I'm right in there. One of them was letting its product get degraded. It's one thing to let it get stolen, it's another to allow it to be degraded because then you really don't have a chance... video games and TV quality are getting better and the quality of our work is getting lower. If that happens, then music will become disposable. That's something we can fix."
Studies by the NPD Group show that there are people willing to pay a premium for equipment and software that produce higher quality digital music, noted NPD analyst Russ Crupnick. However, the research also indicates that the majority of consumers are satisfied with their Apple earbuds and iTunes songs, which are now available at 256 kbps. But for audiophiles, Dre and Iovine have already begun offering better products. They enlisted artists such as Pharrell, Will.i.am and Gwen Stefani for coming up with the right sound and design of the Beats By Dr. Dre headphones, built by Monster Cable, which were rolled out last January and have received critical acclaim.
Black Eyed Peas, Jason Mraz Smash Chart Records
The Black Eyed Peas and Jason Mraz will shatter two records for longevity on the Billboard Hot 100 when the singles chart is released Thursday.
With an eighth consecutive week at No. 1 for "I Gotta Feeling," the Black Eyed Peas will have held the top slot for an unprecedented 20 straight weeks, having previously led the list for the preceding 12 frames with "Boom Boom Pow," the lead single from its album "The E.N.D."
Also entering the record books is singer-songwriter Mraz's "I'm Yours," which notches an extraordinary 70th week on the Hot 100. The track debuted on the May 3, 2008, chart and peaked at No. 6 nearly a year ago, on September 20, 2008. The song has resided within the top 40 of the list in all but the first 12 weeks of its chart life, dropping six rungs to No. 29 on the latest tally.
The Black Eyed Peas' 20-week string atop the Hot 100 surpasses Usher's run of 19 consecutive weeks achieved in 2004 with "Yeah!" and "Burn."
On establishing the mark for longest successive stay at No. 1 in the Hot 100's 51-year history, Peas member will.i.am commented, "With this kind of success your ego wants to take all the credit, but your heart reminds your soul that it was your heart that had you slaving and creating in the studio making the music; breaking through comfort zones and tradition. In the fight between heart and ego, my heart always wins."
Fellow Pea Fergie added, "It's an amazing feeling to know that these songs have connected with so many people who have kept them alive for so long."
For Mraz, his never-say-die single overtakes the weeks-on-the-chart mark held for nearly 11 years by LeAnn Rimes' signature hit "How Do I Live." That ubiquitous track spent 69 weeks on the Hot 100, ending with the October 10, 1998, chart.
Multiformat airplay is one of the reasons for the staying power of "I'm Yours." It's the only track to reach No. 1 on each of the following four radio-based charts: Mainstream Top 40/Pop Songs, Adult Contemporary, Adult Top 40, and Triple A. It has also appeared on Latin Pop, Smooth Jazz, and debuts this week at Rhythmic.
Concerning the song's multi-genre appeal and long shelf life, Mraz said, "I think it's because it borrows from every one of those formats. Or perhaps the song is genre-less. The first two and a half minutes have so little production you could almost classify it as spoken-word. Yet it's rhythmic and melodic at the same time."
Aiding its continued presence on the Hot 100 is the fact that "I'm Yours" ranks as the third-best-selling digital song (4.4 million downloads) since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking download sales in 2003.
Only recently did Mraz begin to realize that "I'm Yours" was nearing unprecedented chart territory. "I found out about six weeks ago that the song was on its way to breaking this record. I was moved. ... I'm still blown away -- humbled by the success of my happy little hippie song."
(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)
Turning Music Into Dollars at Sony/ATV
MARTY BANDIER, 68, chief executive of the music publishing giant Sony/ATV, is leaning back, hands locked across his midsection, as he takes stock of Mike Posner, a 21-year-old college student sitting in front of him in a black T-shirt and black jeans. Mr. Bandier is deciding whether the time has come to cut a deal with him.
Sony already has a recording contract with Mr. Posner, and Mr. Bandier is weighing whether he should lock up publishing rights as well, which would allow the company to collect fees every time Mr. Posner’s songs are played on the radio, in movies or in commercials, or are downloaded as a ring tone on phones.
Mr. Posner yanks a computer from his backpack, plugs it into Mr. Bandier’s stereo system and hits “play.” A deep, pounding bass shakes the floor and the windows vibrate. Mr. Posner sings along and waves his hands in the air while Mr. Bandier bounces up and down in his chair.
“I’ve been singing for a year and a half,” Mr. Posner says when the music ends. “And I recorded that song in my mother’s basement.” Mr. Bandier, beaming, signs Mr. Posner that very day.
Constantly courting and corralling talent, Mr. Bandier — tan, stout, carefully coiffed, and, it must be said, a gray-haired senior in a notoriously youth-oriented trade — is a music industry veteran at center stage in one of the business’s few bright spots these days: music publishing.
It’s no secret that the music industry has been in a tailspin for the better part of a decade. After peaking in 1999, music sales have dropped steadily, thanks in large part to consumers freely downloading and sharing songs and albums.
So it’s come to pass that after decades of playing second fiddle to the much bigger and brighter stars in the industry’s recording business, music publishing is on a roll. It is, as its executives like to say, a business of pennies and nickels, but that small change generates $3 billion in annual revenue, throws off enviably predictable streams of cash and has caught the eye of private equity firms and large institutional investors who are snapping up catalogs of stars like Frank Sinatra and Madonna.
Trying to decide whether an album will be a huge hit or a major miss is expensive and risky for record companies. Music publishing, on the other hand, is reliable, tethered to the constellation of tunes that envelop us — on radio and television, and in movies, malls, elevators and greeting cards.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing is a joint venture created in 1995 between the Sony Corporation and trusts formed by the late pop giant Michael Jackson. But it also has deals with the likes of Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift and Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora.
But the jewel in Mr. Bandier’s crown is Sony/ATV’s ownership of the rights to more than 250 Beatles songs. Next month, the digitally remastered Beatles albums will be released the same day as the introduction of “The Beatles: Rock Band,” an interactive video game that will allow players to relive some of the group’s greatest performances.
“The fourth quarter will belong to the Beatles,” Mr. Bandier predicts.
Less clear, however, is what will happen to the Sony/ATV venture itself. While Sony executives and lawyers for Mr. Jackson’s estate say they see no changes afoot, the structure of the partnership would be altered if the estate put its stake on the block.
Sony would have first-refusal rights if that happens, and company executives say they would be interested in increasing their holdings. In the interim, the playing field is still Mr. Bandier’s, which his supporters say they find comforting.
“I didn’t think guys like him existed in the industry anymore. The reality is, it used to be about the songs, and the time we’re living in now, it’s more about a quick hit,” says Wyclef Jean, the hip-hop producer and musician. “For Marty, it’s more about the music. He’ll come to your show, see the vibe that you’re on. He actually studies every artist to see the range of what they can do.”
Doing business the way Mr. Bandier does requires a fat bankroll. And some in the music industry wonder whether Mr. Bandier — who has a reputation for paying top dollar for talent — still has room to roam, given financial woes now facing the Sony Corporation.
Sitting in his Manhattan office, Mr. Bandier waves his hands in the air, dismissing that thought, as well as naysayers who complain that he has turned Sony/ATV into a stable of proven talent that avoids taking risks on lesser-known musicians and singers.
He acknowledges that it’s easier to sign proven acts than unknowns because, after all, “at the end of the day, music publishers shouldn’t be in the business of risk.” But he’s always willing to roll the dice, he says.
“The most difficult part of the business today is deciding whether I should commit the dollars to signing an unknown or wait until the artist has a hit,” he offers. “Then there are guys like Mike Posner. I would bet on him for the future and today.”
A COMPUTER video featuring a lithe blonde silently dancing, smiling and shaking her shiny, luxurious locks in homage to a hair product awaits John Campanelli’s touch. It’s his job to find a song that will bond viewers to this nascent commercial.
First he tries “I’m Coming Out,” which was a chart-topping hit for Diana Ross. Everyone in the room nods in approval. Then he subs into the video another Diana Ross song, “Upside Down.” Another good fit. “Diana Ross works really well in hair commercials,” Mr. Campanelli says.
Perched on a nearby couch, Mr. Bandier suggests “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani and Akon, who is one of Sony/ATV’s writers. The song comes on the screen and it’s clear that Mr. Bandier likes it but doesn’t love it. On to the next song.
Finding the right tune can mean money in the bank, but the fees that publishing companies charge for music threaded into movies and TV shows vary widely. A local nightly news program may pay $1,000 to $4,000 for some horn-and-drum opening music and use it whenever it wants. The same goes for background, mood-setting music on a daytime soap opera. But using a song just once in a major motion picture can cost $25,000 to $1 million. Companies like J. Crew even pay fees for music played on their Web sites.
Several years ago, the Gap brand did a deal that gave it the rights to use music from “West Side Story” in three 30-second commercials featuring dancers on a rooftop, said Freddie Gershon, an entertainment lawyer and a music industry veteran. For the use of the music for 90 days, Gap paid “substantially over a million dollars,” he said. Gap declined to comment.
When Mr. Bandier arrived at Sony/ATV in 2007, the company was more passive about the publishing business than some of its rivals, says Rob Wiesenthal, chief financial officer of the Sony Corporation of America. It was Mr. Wiesenthal and Sony’s C.E.O., Howard Stringer, who hired Mr. Bandier from EMI Publishing, which Mr. Bandier had built into a giant music publisher.
Pointing to a gray, four-inch-thick binder on a coffee table in his office, Mr. Wiesenthal says that this is how Sony/ATV used to market its songs — by sending the binder, which listed every song it controls, to advertising agencies.
After that, publishing executives pretty much sat around and waited for the phone to ring. Mr. Wiesenthal credits Mr. Bandier with taking a much more aggressive approach in bringing Sony/ATV’s songs to a bigger, broader audience by dealing directly with television and film producers and ad agencies.
Consider “American Idol.” When Mr. Bandier arrived at Sony/ATV, he said nobody oversaw how songs were pitched to the show’s producers for contestants to perform. A huge missed opportunity, he reckoned.
“Every time you have a song played on the show you can get sync and performance fees. That’s a nice chunk of change,” Mr. Bandier says. “Plus, there are opportunities for more fees from cast albums, if they perform one of your songs, or if they sing the song on tour. Those pennies really add up.”
Sony/ATV also had its sacred cow, the Beatles’ catalog. Mr. Bandier says that when he arrived, the policy was that the Beatles’ songs were off-limits to reality shows. (Sony/ATV holds the rights to the Beatles’ music and lyrics. Apple Corps Ltd. — controlled by the remaining Beatles and widows — owns the names and likenesses and has approval rights for the master recordings, while EMI Records controls the master recordings themselves. Longstanding disputes have kept the Beatles’ music from being downloadable online.)
Determined to have the Beatles heard on the “American Idol” stage, Mr. Bandier called the show’s producers with an offer shortly after taking the helm at Sony/ATV: Rather than licensing out one or two songs to the show, would they be interested in devoting an entire show to just Beatles’ songs?
They were. In early 2008, the show featured not one but two consecutive weeks of contestants belting out songs from the Beatles catalog.
“It’s the Beatles man, come on,” says Randy Jackson, one of the “American Idol” judges. “For the show, it was huge.”
Still, for all of Mr. Bandier’s moves, Sony/ATV’s publishing business isn’t big enough to move the revenue needle very far for the Sony Corporation, which had $79 billion in revenue and $1.5 billion in operating cash flow in the fiscal year ended in March. The publishing business pulls in around $500 million in revenue and $100 million to $130 million in operating cash flow, according to individuals with direct knowledge of the accounts who requested anonymity because Sony doesn’t publicly disclose the figures.
But Sony executives say music publishing has greater import to the business than just the bottom line. After all, Sony is, one of the few media companies that house publishing, recording, film and video gaming (with its PlayStation platform) under one roof.
Last year, for instance, a Sony/ATV-signed band, We Are Scientists, had a song from an album featured in a commercial for Sony’s electronic gadgets.
“We heard they were doing this ad and we said, ‘Have you heard this song?’ ” Mr. Wiesenthal recalls. “That’s synergy.”
RABID music fans take note: Marty Bandier, even after all of the years behind him, can still be star-struck. Witness how he shows off a video he took of Paul McCartney in concert in July at Citi Field in New York. As in most hand-held videos, the image is shaky, the music blurry and the sound quality elusive.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bandier is awed. He stares at the screen, laughing and pointing to it. “Wow! Look at those fireworks. Can you believe it?” he yelps, glancing over his shoulder to see whether his audience appreciates Mr. McCartney. “Isn’t he great?”
It is that “kid in the musical candy store” quality that endears Mr. Bandier to his writers and artists but has also played a big role in his success.
“I was recently with him and he was talking about being in the studio with the producer for Lady Gaga, who is with Sony/ATV publishing,” says Del Bryant, president and C.E.O. of Broadcast Music Inc., a royalty collection agency. “He was so excited to be in the studio and hearing what she and her producer were doing, and he was planning on going to one of her shows that night. He was acting like a 20-year-old fan.”
Mr. Bandier’s musical roots were planted in Queens, where his mother forced him to take piano lessons — a task he hated because it interfered with his football and baseball games.
His parents owned a business delivering residential heating oil, and he was a good student, skipping, he says, the fifth and eighth grades. He met his first wife, Denise LeFrak, the daughter of the housing developer Samuel J. LeFrak, at Syracuse University and later attended Brooklyn Law School.
His first brush with the music publishing business occurred in the early 1970s, when a partner at the law firm where he was working walked into his office and looked at his longish hair. A client of the firm was interested in buying a publishing company, and the partners wanted someone who looked as if he would fit in on the music scene.
Later, when he was in-house counsel to his father-in-law’s company, the LeFrak Organization, Mr. Bandier, Mr. LeFrak and Charles Koppelman started their own small recording and publishing company. It produced songs for Barbra Streisand, Ms. Ross and Dolly Parton and collected royalties when their songs were performed.
WHEN Mr. Bandier divorced Ms. LeFrak in the early 1980s, he and Mr. Koppelman formed their own music publishing company. The two began acquiring small catalogs and had the inside track to acquire ATV, which held the rights to the Beatles’ music, in the mid-1980s — until Michael Jackson’s lawyers swooped in and nabbed the company with a $47.5 million bid.
Bruised from losing out on the ATV catalog, Mr. Bandier and Mr. Koppelman and a third partner, Stephen Swid, did a deal that put their company, then called SBK Entertainment World, on the map. They acquired CBS’s music publishing business for $125 million.
“That was a dazzling acquisition because it changed the way everyone in the financial community viewed the value of owning musical copyrights,” says Mr. Gershon, the entertainment lawyer.
The three dazzled the music publishing industry a few years later by nearly tripling their money when they sold their company to Thorn-EMI of Britain for around $337 million.
“I never wanted to sell,” Mr. Bandier recalls, wistfully, as he ticks off some of the songs that he and his partners once controlled. “You can’t duplicate ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the ‘Rocky’ theme.”
Once he joined EMI, however, Mr. Bandier carved out a new identity for himself as a solo act and began building his own empire in music publishing.
He excelled at “collecting autographs,” or signing big names onto publishing deals, says David Johnson, the C.E.O. of a competing publishing firm, Warner/Chappell Music. “He’s charming, he’s smart and he tends not to stop until he collects the autograph,” Mr. Johnson says.
Among Mr. Bandier’s biggest coups at EMI was acquiring the Jobete catalog of Motown hits from Berry Gordy. “Everyone looked at that catalog, and my recollection was that Mr. Gordy was kind of a reluctant seller,” Mr. Johnson says. “I would suspect there was a long courtship of Berry Gordy by Mr. Bandier. But that was a huge prize.”
More importantly, after nabbing the catalog, Mr. Bandier squeezed more profits from it by aggressively tracking down publishing fees, industry analysts say.
“Marty figured out how to generate more publisher performance royalties for each play on radio than what was previously earned by the original publisher,” said Barry Massarsky, a music industry consultant who has done work for Sony/ATV and its competitors.
In late 2005, Mr. Bandier asked EMI to sell him its publishing unit. The company declined and Mr. Bandier resigned in the fall of 2006. A few months later, he took over as head of Sony/ATV after striking a deal that gave him a piece of the company’s profits.
In his first few months at Sony/ATV, Mr. Bandier reconfirmed his big-spender reputation with two big acquisitions made at the top of the market.
First, in a widely bid auction, he paid $370 million to acquire Famous Music, which was Paramount Pictures’ publishing group and owned music from “The Godfather” and classic songs like “Moon River” and “Silver Bells.” Its current writers and artists include Shakira and Akon.
In a deal valued at around $40 million, Mr. Bandier also acquired the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who wrote and produced “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” for Elvis Presley and “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown” for the Coasters.
The acquisitions came just as the broader economy began tanking. And Sony’s sales declines in its much bigger gaming and electronics divisions have prompted the speculation in the industry that Mr. Bandier’s wings have been clipped and that he’s no longer free to make splashy acquisitions.
Perish the thought, Mr. Bandier says.
“I don’t think the checkbook is closed here,” he says. “If a great catalog would become available, I believe Sony would step up. I would trek to Japan myself if that’s what it took to get the deal done.”
The Corporate Lab as Ringmaster
THE Internet has changed many things, of course, but one of its more far-reaching effects has been to transform the economics of innovation.
The nation’s big corporate research and development laboratories — at I.B.M., General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and a handful of other companies — have their roots and rationale in the industrial era, when communication was costly, information traveled slowly and social networks were fostered at conferences and lunchrooms instead of over the Web.
Crowdsourcing and other new, more open models of innovation are really byproducts of the low-cost communication and new networks of collaboration made possible by the Internet.
So, in the Internet era, what is the continuing role and comparative advantage of the corporate R.& D. lab?
Its role will be smaller and its advantage diminished, suggests Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the Center for Digital Business at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. The idea-production process, according to Mr. Schrage, will continue to shift away from the centralized model epitomized by large corporate labs, going from “proprietary innovation to populist innovation.”
Much of traditional corporate R.& D. spending, he said, has been subsidized by profits that are increasingly under Internet-era pressures. “The economic case for a lot of in-house R.& D. no longer makes sense,” Mr. Schrage said.
The best bet for corporate R.& D. labs, he said, is to adopt a “federated” model that leverages all the innovative work by outsiders in universities, start-ups, business partners and government labs. The corporate lab’s role, then, is to be more of a coordinator and integrator of innovation, from both outside and inside the company walls.
Though hardly alone, Hewlett-Packard has aggressively adopted that approach in the last two years, after Prith Banerjee became the senior vice president for research. Under Mr. Banerjee, former dean of engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, H.P. Labs has not only narrowed its focus, placing larger bets on fewer projects, but has also systematically sought outside ideas.
H.P. now runs a yearly online contest, soliciting grant proposals from universities worldwide. The company lists eight fields in which it is seeking advanced research, and scientists suggest research projects in those fields.
The H.P. grants are typically about $75,000 a year, and many of the collaborative projects are intended to last three years. In June, the company announced the 61 winners from 46 universities and 12 countries, including 31 projects receiving a second year of funding. “We are tapping the collective intelligence, selectively, of leading academics around the world,” Mr. Banerjee said.
Alan E. Willner, an electrical engineer at the University of Southern California, is one of those academics. He is an expert in photonics, using light photons instead of electrons to transmit information. The goal of the project with H.P. is to cut power consumption and increase data-transmission speeds between computers in data centers, and eventually even inside of chips.
The H.P. project, he said, supports a research student, provides insights from H.P. scientists and has helped double the productivity of his research team, whose members have co-authored 21 conference and journal papers related to the project in the last year.
Another name on all those papers is Raymond G. Beausoleil, an H.P. research fellow. The U.S.C. team, Mr. Beausoleil said, has helped fill a gap in photonics expertise in the company’s research program and accelerated its progress. He noted that H.P. Labs has long worked with university professors, but that the outreach tended to be informal and ad hoc. “Before,” he said, “there wasn’t necessarily a mandate to collaborate.”
Opening up is a good approach to some problems. But tight-knit teams inside corporate labs, experts say, can outshine the open model when working on multidisciplinary challenges in projects soon heading to market.
G.E. built up a biosciences unit, starting in 2004, to help push its diagnostic imaging technology to new commercial frontiers. Last year, G.E. and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center developed a prototype scanner that sharply cuts the time needed to digitize images on pathology slides.
Now, the G.E. researchers are working on the software and data analysis tools to look into such images for a deeper understanding of diseases. G.E. is collaborating with Eli Lilly and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. But the core is a 15-person team at G.E. Research that includes computer scientists, molecular biologists, chemists and statisticians.
“It really helps to have the close and constant communications loops within the team, because engineers have to learn a lot of biology and biologists have to learn a lot of engineering,” said Fiona Ginty, a bioinformatics scientist who leads the project.
Probably more than any other company, I.B.M. has successfully reinvented its R.& D. labs over the years, analysts say. Jolted by its early-1990s tailspin, I.B.M. opened its labs to the outside world and to customers. Since the mid-’90s, it has sharply shifted its research focus toward its growth engines of software and services.
I.B.M. is a major underwriter of open research in universities, but also collects more patents for its own use than any other company, year after year.
The open innovation model, says John E. Kelly, senior vice president and director of research, has many advantages. But he points to several innovations that became products after originating in I.B.M. labs.
“You can’t leave discovery completely to others and to chance,” he said.
How the Brain Hard-Wires Us to Love Google, Twitter, and Texting. And Why that's Dangerous.
Seeking. You can't stop doing it. Sometimes it feels as if the basic drives for food, sex, and sleep have been overridden by a new need for endless nuggets of electronic information. We are so insatiably curious that we gather data even if it gets us in trouble. Google searches are becoming a cause of mistrials as jurors, after hearing testimony, ignore judges' instructions and go look up facts for themselves. We search for information we don't even care about. Nina Shen Rastogi confessed in Double X, "My boyfriend has threatened to break up with me if I keep whipping out my iPhone to look up random facts about celebrities when we're out to dinner." We reach the point that we wonder about our sanity. Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times said she became so obsessed with Twitter posts about the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest that she spent days "refreshing my search like a drugged monkey."
We actually resemble nothing so much as those legendary lab rats that endlessly pressed a lever to give themselves a little electrical jolt to the brain. While we tap, tap away at our search engines, it appears we are stimulating the same system in our brains that scientists accidentally discovered more than 50 years ago when probing rat skulls.
In 1954, psychologist James Olds and his team were working in a laboratory at McGill University, studying how rats learned. They would stick an electrode in a rat's brain and, whenever the rat went to a particular corner of its cage, would give it a small shock and note the reaction. One day they unknowingly inserted the probe in the wrong place, and when Olds tested the rat, it kept returning over and over to the corner where it received the shock. He eventually discovered that if the probe was put in the brain's lateral hypothalamus and the rats were allowed to press a lever and stimulate their own electrodes, they would press until they collapsed.
Olds, and everyone else, assumed he'd found the brain's pleasure center (some scientists still think so). Later experiments done on humans confirmed that people will neglect almost everything—their personal hygiene, their family commitments—in order to keep getting that buzz.
But to Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, this supposed pleasure center didn't look very much like it was producing pleasure. Those self-stimulating rats, and later those humans, did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were "excessively excited, even crazed." The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn't experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, "where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy" (and Panksepp wasn't referring to Bing).
It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, "Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems." It is the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. It's why, as animal scientist Temple Grandin writes in Animals Make Us Human, experiments show that animals in captivity would prefer to have to search for their food than to have it delivered to them.
For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.
The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are particularly effective at stirring it.
Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling? Thank dopamine. Our internal sense of time is believed to be controlled by the dopamine system. People with hyperactivity disorder have a shortage of dopamine in their brains, which a recent study suggests may be at the root of the problem. For them even small stretches of time seem to drag. An article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic last year, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. Like the lab rats, we keep hitting "enter" to get our next fix.
University of Michigan professor of psychology Kent Berridge has spent more than two decades figuring out how the brain experiences pleasure. Like Panksepp, he, too, has come to the conclusion that what James Olds' rats were stimulating was not their reward center. In a series of experiments, he and other researchers have been able to tease apart that the mammalian brain has separate systems for what Berridge calls wanting and liking.
Wanting is Berridge's equivalent for Panksepp's seeking system. It is the liking system that Berridge believes is the brain's reward center. When we experience pleasure, it is our own opioid system, rather than our dopamine system, that is being stimulated. This is why the opiate drugs induce a kind of blissful stupor so different from the animating effect of cocaine and amphetamines. Wanting and liking are complementary. The former catalyzes us to action; the latter brings us to a satisfied pause. Seeking needs to be turned off, if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we get the object of our desire (be it a Twinkie or a sexual partner), we engage in consummatory acts that Panksepp says reduce arousal in the brain and temporarily, at least, inhibit our urge to seek.
But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. "The brain seems to be more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire," Berridge has said. This makes evolutionary sense. Creatures that lack motivation, that find it easy to slip into oblivious rapture, are likely to lead short (if happy) lives. So nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore. Stanford University neuroscientist Brian Knutson has been putting people in MRI scanners and looking inside their brains as they play an investing game. He has consistently found that the pictures inside our skulls show that the possibility of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one.
Just how powerful (and separate) wanting is from liking is illustrated in animal experiments. Berridge writes that studies have shown that rats whose dopamine neurons have been destroyed retain the ability to walk, chew, and swallow but will starve to death even if food is right under their noses because they have lost the will to go get it. Conversely, Berridge discovered that rats with a mutation that floods their brains with dopamine learned more quickly than normal rats how to negotiate a runway to reach the food. But once they got it, they didn't find the food more pleasurable than the nonenhanced rats. (No, the rats didn't provide a Zagat rating; scientists measure rats' facial reactions to food.)
That study has implications for drug addiction and other compulsive behaviors. Berridge has proposed that in some addictions the brain becomes sensitized to the wanting cycle of a particular reward. So addicts become obsessively driven to seek the reward, even as the reward itself becomes progressively less rewarding once obtained. "The dopamine system does not have satiety built into it," Berridge explains. "And under certain conditions it can lead us to irrational wants, excessive wants we'd be better off without." So we find ourselves letting one Google search lead to another, while often feeling the information is not vital and knowing we should stop. "As long as you sit there, the consumption renews the appetite," he explains.
Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we're restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a "CrackBerry."
The system is also activated by particular types of cues that a reward is coming. In order to have the maximum effect, the cues should be small, discrete, specific—like the bell Pavlov rang for his dogs. Panksepp says a way to drive animals into a frenzy is to give them only tiny bits of food: This simultaneously stimulating and unsatisfying tease sends the seeking system into hyperactivity. Berridge says the "ding" announcing a new e-mail or the vibration that signals the arrival of a text message serves as a reward cue for us. And when we respond, we get a little piece of news (Twitter, anyone?), making us want more. These information nuggets may be as uniquely potent for humans as a Froot Loop to a rat. When you give a rat a minuscule dose of sugar, it engenders "a panting appetite," Berridge says—a powerful and not necessarily pleasant state.
If humans are seeking machines, we've now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly. This perhaps should make us cautious. In Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin writes of driving two indoor cats crazy by flicking a laser pointer around the room. They wouldn't stop stalking and pouncing on this ungraspable dot of light—their dopamine system pumping. She writes that no wild cat would indulge in such useless behavior: "A cat wants to catch the mouse, not chase it in circles forever." She says "mindless chasing" makes an animal less likely to meet its real needs "because it short-circuits intelligent stalking behavior." As we chase after flickering bits of information, it's a salutary warning.
If It Rolls In Philly, It Better Not Be On The Phone
This fall, Philadelphia's skateboarders, bicyclists and inline skaters will have to either pocket their cell phones or use hands-free devices, making the city the first in the nation to extend the measure to include non-motorists. While that might be a grind for some of the city's wheeled residents, others are cheering the move.
Walking along the crowded sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia, you can't miss these daredevils weaving in and out of traffic, maneuvering aggressively through construction zones and dodging pedestrians while talking on hand-held cell phones.
In a downtown alley, skateboarders whiz by, twirling and flipping their boards in mid-air. Skater John McCafferty says hand-held or hands-free cell phones really don't make a difference.
"So, if I, like, have a Double Gulp from 7-Eleven in my hand, and I'm talking on the Bluetooth, that's OK?" he asks. "All right, that's cool."
Several bicyclists seeking relief from the sweltering heat in Philadelphia's LOVE Park gather around a tree, wiping their brows and drinking Gatorade. Among them is resident Shara Dae, who says she talks on her cell phone while skateboarding, biking or driving her car or motorcycle. But Dae says she has the experience to do it safely.
"It will just be another annoyance. There's just something else now, and now you're going to dictate to me how I should ride my bike and what I should be doing on my bike," she complains.
But driver Margaret Ciampitti calls bicyclists who talk or text on hand-held cell phones roadway hazards. "I'm driving my car, and this kid was on a bicycle — he's texting. He veers off into my car — I give him the horn, he gives me a hand gesture! How dare he do that to me? He's the one texting and not paying attention," she says. "You know, I'm happy that they are doing this ban before someone gets killed."
Philadelphia has more than 200 miles of bike lanes, but the designated lanes didn't protect cyclist Michael Stersey from a near-fatal collision with a car.
"Somebody was on their cell phone and not paying attention and was driving too fast," he says. "I got blindsided because he tried to pass another car." Despite the bruises, Stersey says he still talks on his cell phone while on his bike.
Resident Michael Connors strongly supports the cell-phone ban. "This town has not stepped up to do anything bold in years — decades — and it's about time we did."
As of Nov. 1, those caught violating the new law will have to dig deep into their wallets: A first offense will cost $150. Repeat offenders will have to dig even deeper.
The Spirit of ’69, Circa 1972
THAT legendary summer of ’69 I was 17. What a moment in history to be a baby boomer: the Stonewall riots, the moon walk, the Manson murders, Woodstock. A youth movement unlike any before. By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong — although I do want to make it clear, I cannot vouch for that.
I wasn’t there.
I wasn’t at the Stonewall riots, either, and while I can’t be sure, it’s possible that in the summer of ’69 I didn’t know what a homosexual was. (If I did, it was from health class.)
The Manson murders? If it wasn’t on the sports pages, unlikely I was paying attention.
The sexual revolution? I was still a year away from heavy petting.
The drug culture? Did not smoke a joint that summer nor did I know anyone who had.
The Vietnam War? Did not have an opinion that summer.
I did see the moon walk, though it was not a psychedelic experience for me. I watched it at home with my mom.
That summer 40 years ago, the 1960s may have been exploding all around me, but I was not yet ready for the ’60s and would not get to the ’60s until the early ’70s. This made things very different for me than for boomers who were just a few years older and felt the full force of the ’60s in the ’60s.
Geography was not my problem; I did not grow up in rural Alaska. I grew up in Quincy, Mass., a suburb so close to Boston, I could ride my bike to Fenway Park, where I worked nights selling hot dogs that summer. (Days, I dug ditches for the Quincy sewer department.)
This was partly about class. Quincy was a blue-collar shipyard town, and the ’60s arrived there about five years after they did in liberal, upscale areas like Newton and Brookline, Mass.
I graduated from North Quincy High in 1970, and socially, the big deal was going to Wollaston Beach on Saturday night and drinking a case of beer. In 1970, our class officers had short hair and posed for the yearbook in neckties. That year, a group of thug athletes beat up one of the few boys at our school with long hair.
In just two years’ time, when my brother graduated, in 1972, dope was all over the high school and all the class officers had long hair.
If you were a boomer born in 1946 and graduated college in ’68, you were ripe for Vietnam.
If you were a boomer born in 1951, as I was, by the time you graduated college in 1974, the war was all but over. In 1969 a draft lottery was put in effect, and there was talk — just talk, it turned out — of abolishing college deferments. Had I been drafted out of high school in 1970, I’m fairly certain I would have gone. Not out of any conviction. I was too unformed, lived too insular a life to think I had an alternative like going to Canada or finding a doctor to lie for me. I would have regarded Vietnam as an experience that built character. It would never have occurred to me that I was the kind of person who could die there.
Of course, they didn’t get rid of college deferments, and even if they had, it turned out I wouldn’t have had to go — my lottery number was 320 out of 365.
Circumstance. Luck. Timing. We don’t like to think those things can hold sway, but writing a column about my generation, I’ve come to think what a big difference even a year can make in how a life takes shape.
The boomers at Harvard in the spring of 1969 faced choices that we boomers who arrived as freshman in September 1970 never had to face.
In April ’69, hundreds of Harvard students were arrested after occupying University Hall to protest the war and R.O.T.C. on campus. In the spring of 1970, after the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State deaths, students shut down hundreds of universities nationwide.
That fall of 1970, a group of freshmen called a meeting that attracted much of our class, to discuss a plan for political action. The idea was to carry on from the classes before ours.
I don’t remember how I had come to it, but by that meeting, I was against the war. Probably, as much as anything, it was just getting out of Quincy and seeing some of the world — four of us spent that summer before college traveling cross-country in my friend’s Rambler. This I remember: At the end of that summer of ’70 I was back in Quincy for my precollege physical with our family doctor. And this man who had come to our house with his black bag when I was sick and made me well, was now lecturing me about not wasting time at Harvard protesting, while I quietly seethed.
That fall of 1970, we wanted to do something, we had to do something, but the class of ’74 couldn’t think of anything to do. The call to action fizzled.
During my college years, I marched in a few antiwar protests, but nothing that felt like we were changing anything.
On a personal level, that first semester of my freshman year, I did catch up with the ’60s on several fronts, mostly at small smoky parties or in the privacy of a dorm room. When a girl who showed me what came after heavy petting dumped me, I played Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” so many times a guy on the floor below complained.
Not only did I meet actual gay people but I also learned that one of those guys in the North Quincy High 1970 class officer photo with a tie and short hair, who had also come to Harvard — yes, he was.
I wore my hair long and embraced the idealism and activism of the summer of ’69, though in a safer, more mainstream form. I became a big brother to a boy who lived at Columbia Point, the worst housing project in Boston, and volunteered in the first and only political campaign of my life — going door to door for George McGovern.
Well into the 1970s, my classmates continued to talk like it was the summer of ’69. During tryouts for the college paper, The Crimson, we’d paste our articles in a big scrapbook, and the editors would critique them. God forbid you wrote “Vietcong” in an article (the American name for the armed resistance in South Vietnam) instead of “National Liberation Front” (the North Vietnamese name) — you’d lose points for being an imperialist lackey.
Midway through college, the economy turned bad for the class of ’74. Unemployment was 7.2 percent; inflation 8.8 percent. Jobs in academia dried up. Jobs in general dried up. Suddenly, a large portion of our class, including many anti-imperialists, decided to go to law, medical and business schools.
I was part of a minority looking for work, and felt lucky after my junior year, in the summer of ’73, to land an internship at The Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y.
Rochester, I was quite sure, was middle America — Kodak, Xerox, Bausch & Lomb. As much as my heart was in the ’60s, I needed to make a good impression, and got a haircut so I’d blend in.
When I showed up for work that first day, I was embarrassed. Looking around I could see I had the shortest hair in the newsroom; the ’60s had reached Rochester long before I did.
I was also the worst of the five interns starting out. They had all learned their craft at journalism schools; Harvard didn’t offer anything as mundane as journalism, and the articles I was writing in Rochester didn’t tap into my knowledge of the National Liberation Front.
I started with obits, got the hang of it, and by the end of the summer, after a week spent writing articles about the county fair — the championship lemon meringue pie, the six new piglets in the 4-H tent — I had learned to write a feature story. The Monroe County fair, of all places, was where I fell in love with reporting and writing.
Before I returned to Cambridge for my senior year, one of the veteran reporters invited me to his home for dinner. Sitting in his living room, over hors d’oeuvres, he and I and his wife, a bank vice president, shared a joint, had a good laugh about my Rochester haircut, and then we all sat down for a nice dinner.
Out of Exile, Back in Soulsville
AS the peacock-blue Cadillac with the gold trim and fur lining spun on a giant turntable in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music here, Al Bell, the final owner of the late, great record label, chuckled. Decades before 50 Cent with his customized Rolls-Royce and Akon with his tricked-out Lamborghini, there was Isaac Hayes with this pimped-out ride, an over-the-top gift from Stax to its over-the-top star, who wore slave chains like emancipatory bling across his bare, buff chest.
“The reason I chuckle is because I think of what has been born out of the rap and the hip-hop world, and then I look at what we were doing back then, and, you know, we were really ahead of our time,” Mr. Bell said.
His chuckle is rueful, though. When Mr. Bell, 69, stands by that revolving Cadillac, he sees the arc of his life come full circle, unexpectedly. The original Stax Records is long gone, Mr. Hayes and many other Stax artists, from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, have died, and, until recently, Memphis showed little interest in reclaiming or building on its soul-music heritage. Six years ago, though, the Stax Museum opened. And earlier this summer Mr. Bell was invited back to Memphis with a bittersweet mandate: to resuscitate the city’s once great music industry as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation.
As a result, after years of exile, Mr. Bell now has the opportunity both to promote a more enlightened Memphis and to redeem his own legacy, which was tarnished when Stax was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in 1975 and when he himself was tried for — and acquitted of — bank fraud.
What happened at Stax in the turbulent years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis was complicated, as was Mr. Bell’s role in it. But in retrospect Deanie Parker, interim chief executive of the Soulsville Foundation, which runs the museum, boils it down pungently to this: “In its own way, Stax Records was fighting the same fight as Dr. King, and Stax Records was assassinated too.”
In its heyday Stax, a rhythm and blues label founded by a white brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Stewart Axton, represented the model of an integrated workplace in a deeply segregated city. Under Mr. Bell it became one of the nation’s largest black-owned companies. Its failure devastated not only those whom it sustained financially and artistically but also those who saw it as an inspiration. Many African-American leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, viewed Mr. Bell’s prosecution as persecution; his trial included testimony that a local banking official had bragged, using a racial slur, about “running those” blacks “and especially the chief” black “out of town,” Mr. Bell’s defense lawyer, James F. Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor, recollected recently.
Despite his acquittal Mr. Bell left Memphis with his career in tatters.
“I didn’t feel broken — I’m a fighter — but I did experience the low lows,” said Mr. Bell, who is imposingly tall (6 foot 4 ¾ in his precise accounting) and dapper, with pinstripe suits, monogrammed cuffs and silk pocket squares that match his ties.
To many, then, it seems a fitting, if not poignant, postscript that Memphis is welcoming Mr. Bell back with outstretched arms. “The way that Al Bell was treated in that city at the end of the history of Stax Records was despicable,” said Rob Bowman, the author of “Soulsville U.S.A,” the definitive history of the record label. “I think it’s wonderful that he has been chosen for this position. Al did so much for Memphis. In taking Stax from a mom-and-pop operation to an R&B powerhouse, he really put Memphis on the map.”
Born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Ark., Mr. Bell is a mix of velvety charm and prickly pride, with the rhetorical cadences of a preacher and the unwavering self-confidence of a politician. His bumpy career path intersected with crucial figures and moments in 20th-century African-American — and entertainment — history.
The product of a black high school and college in Little Rock, Mr. Bell marched with Dr. King, worked as a black-radio D.J. in Washington at the peak of the civil rights movement, ran the two major black record companies — he served briefly as president of Motown Records too — and eventually started his own independent label, Bellmark, with hit songs as varied as “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (Prince) and “Whoomp! (There It Is)” (Tag Team).
Now, at an age when others choose to retire, Mr. Bell is trying to reinvent himself. In Memphis his mission at the private, nonprofit foundation is nothing less than to help make Memphis the independent-music capital of the country, first by nurturing local artists and music businesses. In a personal venture, he recently started an Internet radio network, albellpresents.com, with an e-commerce link, and its first station features soul music with Mr. Bell hosting in his suave baritone.
Returning to the role of disc jockey, like returning to Memphis, is “precious,” he said. His “jock” career began in high school, when he was president of the audio-visual club. This put him at the helm of the sock hops, for which he borrowed records from girls, whom he quizzed thoroughly about their interest in, say, the Coasters or Nat King Cole. “This gave me so much insight until finally I got me a microphone,” he said. Soon he was a gospel music D.J. on a Little Rock station.
After high school, in 1959, Mr. Bell went to work under Dr. King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He spent a year in Georgia until “breaking rank” with the nonviolent-resistance ethos at a march in Savannah, Ga. When a hostile bystander spit on him, Mr. Bell pulled a switchblade from his pocket and plunged into the crowd. Fellow marchers restrained him, “fortunately,” Mr. Bell said, but Dr. King was not pleased.
Earlier, Mr. Bell said, he had brushed aside Dr. King’s concern about his switchblade by joking to him, “Well, Doc, Jesus had Peter with him, and Peter carried a sword.” But Mr. Bell said that after the march Dr. King, calling him Alvertis, rebuked him for his increasing advocacy of self-defense against the police and their dogs. “So I said, ‘O.K., Doc.’ And I left the next day, with love.”
Back in Little Rock, Mr. Bell, while attending college, resumed his radio career, eventually graduating in 1961 to WLOK in Memphis, where he used this sign-on: “This is your 6 feet 4 bundle of joy, 212 pounds of Mrs. Bell’s baby boy, soft as medicated cotton, rich as double-X cream, the women’s pet, the men’s threat, the baby boy Al” — and then he rang a bell — “Bell.”
At the time, in a converted movie theater in a black neighborhood, Mr. Stewart and Ms. Axton, who died in 2004, were getting Stax off the ground. Mr. Bell promoted their artists, not only in Memphis but also, more significantly, in Washington, when he moved to WUST in 1963. Two years later it seemed a natural fit for Stax to hire Mr. Bell as its first in-house promotions man.
A 25-year-old workaholic who posted a giant thermometer in the lobby to track sales, Mr. Bell injected considerable energy into the small company. “You could say that Stax didn’t really begin until he got there,” said William Bell, 70, whose “You Don’t Miss Your Water” was an early Stax release. “Jim Stewart was a behind-the-scenes guy. Al Bell was a wheeler-dealer.”
In Mr. Bowman’s book, Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs, the house band that shaped the Stax sound, calls Mr. Bell “our Otis for promotion.” Otis Redding, a year younger than Mr. Bell, was the life force of the studio. “‘Everybody looked up to him,” Mr. Bell said. Asked if he too looked up to him, Mr. Bell said, “I looked at him.”
In his drive to promote the gritty Memphis sound outside the South Mr. Bell took a Who’s Who of Stax talent to the Apollo Theater in Harlem for 10 days in 1967. It was during those shows that Redding became a kinetic performer instead of a stationary crooner, according to Mr. Bell. As Redding, the headliner, watched from the wings, Johnnie Taylor would energize the crowd by shouting, “I want everybody here to give me the clap,” and Sam and Dave would “set the stage on fire.”
“Finally,” Mr. Bell said, laughing, “Otis came out, grabbed the microphone and went hustling from one end of the stage to the other.”
On Dec. 10, 1967, when Mr. Bell was attending a radio industry convention in Las Vegas, a loudspeaker announced that Redding, 26, had died in a small plane crash near Madison, Wis. “I lost it,” Mr. Bell said. That night he drank himself into a stupor while playing craps. He learned the next morning that he had made $85,000. “But Otis was still gone,” he said.
Four months later, on April 4, 1968, Mr. Bell was presiding over, in retrospect, a bizarrely timed recording session of “Send Peace and Harmony Home,” a song that he, with others, had written for Dr. King. He was staying nearby at the black-owned Lorraine Motel, the only place in town where Stax’s racially mixed artists were free to socialize and where classics like “In the Midnight Hour” were written.
According to Mr. Bell, Homer Banks, a singer and songwriter, burst into the studio, calling out, “They just shot Dr. King, and he’s dead.” The tape was rolling, and the vocalist, Shirley Walton, started singing wrenchingly and crying. “My God,” Mr. Bell said, shuddering.
Racial tensions escalated in Memphis. Stax remained safe while other white-owned businesses were burned. But inside the company, Mr. Bell said, there developed “a new color consciousness.” Around that time Mr. Bell was given a stake in Stax, and he soon signed his favorite group, the Staple Singers. But there were business problems. After Warner Brothers bought Atlantic Records, which had been Stax’s distributor, Stax learned that it no longer owned its chief asset, its back catalog.
In an effort to create a new catalog from scratch, Mr. Bell called on Stax’s entire roster to produce. “He was our ‘Yes, we can’ man,” said Ms. Parker, who was director of publicity. In May 1969 alone Stax released 27 albums and 30 singles. “Craziness!” Mr. Bell said.
The most successful album was “Hot Buttered Soul,” which Hayes, who was primarily a songwriter, had to be coaxed into recording. He had been lured into the studio to make his first album, which was not very successful, after Mr. Bell loosened him up with Asti Spumante at a party one night. This time Mr. Bell urged him to do whatever he wanted, which resulted in unconventionally long songs like an 18-minute 42-second version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and a 9-minute Bell-Hayes collaboration called “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” (a word that Mr. Bell said he coined to describe those who abuse big words).
To the surprise of many “Hot Buttered Soul” was a hit. It was followed by the soundtrack for the movie “Shaft” and ever-increasing success for Mr. Hayes and for Stax. The company was continually expanding yet also losing its original intimacy, and some of its original musicians, as new personnel and heightened security ruffled feathers.
In the summer of 1971 Mr. Bell’s younger brother Louis was murdered in Arkansas. Right before the funeral, Mr. Bell said, he sat on the hood of a junked school bus in his father’s yard and a song came to him:
I know a place
Ain’t nobody crying
Ain’t nobody worried
Ain’t no smilin’ faces
Lyin’ to the races.
Afterward Mr. Bell brought the song to a recording session with the Staple Singers, who “took it to the next level,” he said, and “I’ll Take You There,” with its island groove, became one of their biggest hits. Mr. Bell likes to say that he did not write the song but that it was “written through me.” Still, he claimed sole songwriting credit, irking Mavis Staples, who believed the song to be collaborative, according to Mr. Bowman.
Mr. Bell increasingly saw Stax, which branched into spoken-word albums with Mr. Jackson, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, as a platform for black advancement. Looking back at “Wattstax,” the 1972 concert — later a film — at the Los Angeles Coliseum that was referred to as the black Woodstock, Mr. Bell still takes pride: “Here’s this black guy from Memphis, Tenn., pulling together 112,000 black people in Hollywood.”
But the unraveling of Stax began not long afterward. Mr. Stewart wanted to leave, with cash for his half of the company. Mr. Bell made a distribution deal with Clive Davis, who ran CBS Records, which allowed him to buy out Mr. Stewart. But CBS soon dismissed Mr. Davis and relations between the two companies disintegrated, ultimately causing severe cash flow problems for Stax.
“The time came for the big fish to eat the little fish,” Mr. Bell said.
Stax filed an antitrust suit against CBS, and its bank, Union Planters, also accused CBS of economically strangling Stax. But Union Planters, which was facing its own financial troubles, was squeezing Stax too, and it brought pressure to bear with racist rhetoric, as came out at Mr. Bell’s trial.
At the same time Stax found itself under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Employees started going without paychecks, and artists were jumping ship. Mr. Bell came under attack in the Stax family, although Ms. Parker said that many later regretted that they had not been “the wind at Al’s back instead of the wind in his face.”
Mr. Stewart, the company founder, who tried to salvage Stax with his own money, never held Mr. Bell responsible for Stax’s downfall, Mr. Bowman said. “Al Bell went to Herculean efforts to try to save Stax,” he said. “Jim Stewart found the racism involved in the end to be despicable.”
On Dec. 19, 1975, after three small creditors, prompted by Union Planters, brought an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Stax, the company’s receiver, accompanied by armed guards, arrived at Stax. Mr. Bell said the receiver addressed him with a slur, saying, “You got 15 minutes to get out of the building.” He got out.
Not long afterward Mr. Bell was indicted for conspiring with a former Union Planters official to defraud the bank. The banker had confessed to making fictitious loans and to forging Mr. Bell’s signature as a guarantor on those loans.
“It was a bitter story,” Mr. Bell’s lawyer, Mr. Neal, said. “The bank engineered the government into charging him criminally. I never thought he was guilty, and neither did the jury.”
Mr. Bell moved his family into the unfinished basement of his father’s house in Little Rock. “I went from a man that owned a company whose masters were valued by Price Waterhouse at $67 million to a man that could scrape together 15 cents from time to time,” he said.
After the bankruptcy Union Planters deeded the studio to the Southside Church of God in Christ for $10, and the church eventually tore it down. Occasionally, Mr. Bell said, he visited the vacant lot. “I’d see beer bottles and paper bags and all that,” Mr. Bell said. “It was a like a dumping ground, yet all this creativity was still vested in that soil. I would cry.”
But Mr. Bell, and Stax’s music, with its singles rereleased in very successful box sets in the ’90s, both outlasted Union Planters. Mr. Bell gradually made his way back into the entertainment business, greatly assisted by Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown. “He mainstreamed me back into the industry,” Mr. Bell said.
And the Stax Museum’s opening kick-started the process of bringing Mr. Bell back to Memphis and Memphis back to him. “He has a reputation, he is a brand name, and we need him,” said Dean Deyo, president of the Memphis Music Foundation. Sometimes, Mr. Bell said, he has to pinch himself.
Weinsteins Struggle to Regain Their Touch
IN the wee hours of Friday morning, Quentin Tarantino stood in a West Village bar that had opened for him and his entourage — cast members of his new movie, “Inglourious Basterds,” and his longtime producers, Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Swinging a blue cocktail in one hand, he held forth about the time that Harvey told him he’d like to invest in a restaurant.
The goal, Harvey explained to Mr. Tarantino at the time, wasn’t to schmooze, or to get the best table. New York City had just banned cigarettes from restaurants and Harvey, then an avid smoker, didn’t approve.
“He said, ‘I want to light up in my own restaurant and blow smoke in the fire marshal’s face,’ ” Mr. Tarantino recalled.
Vintage Harvey chutzpah. The story killed, and when the laughing died down, Bob smiled, waited a beat and added another punch line.
“A million dollars,” he sighed, “for a cigarette.”
Ah, the flush years. They must seem kind of distant now. Because four years after Disney bought the Weinsteins out of Miramax, the company that first ushered indie films into the multiplex, the brothers are under serious stress.
A full accounting of their agita begins, naturally, with a batch of underperforming movies. Since opening its doors in 2005, the Weinstein Company has released about 70 films, and more than one quarter of them failed to break the $1 million box-office mark in the United States. Thirteen of these took in less than $100,000.
To complicate matters, the company’s beloved reality television show, “Project Runway,” was until recently sidelined by litigation. Harvey decided last year to move the show from Bravo to Lifetime, prompting NBC, which owns Bravo, to sue, contending that it had the right to match Lifetime’s bid and keep the program. In April, the Weinstein Company settled for an undisclosed sum, and those backstabbing fashionistas will return to the air, at long last, on Thursday night.
Yes, the brothers have had triumphs as well. Bob, who handles the lowbrow genre stuff, scored with the supernatural thriller “1408” and “Scary Movie 4.” (These brought in $72 million and $91 million, respectively.) Harvey showed a bit of the maestro’s touch with “Hoodwinked,” and with “The Reader,” which has taken in $101 million around the world, despite some tepid reviews, and won Kate Winslet an Oscar.
But the Weinsteins’ flop-to-jackpot ratio has been high enough to prompt the brothers to hire Miller Buckfire & Company, financial advisers who help troubled clients restructure. Last week, the firm finished its review and is urging Team Weinstein to release and promote only 10 movies a year, unload unpromising titles from its film library and avoid empire-building.
To shore up their finances, the brothers received a bridge loan a few months ago estimated at $75 million from Ziff Brothers Investments, according to two people familiar with the loan who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.
“We are a private company and aren’t going to comment on unsubstantiated claims from unnamed sources,” Harvey says of the bridge loan. He points over and over to what he describes as a robust pipeline of film, theater and television projects, not to mention a library of 250 films. Sit tight, he advises, and don’t bet against us.
But some backers of the Weinstein Company say they’re getting anxious. They were corralled in 2005 by Goldman Sachs, which helped raise $1 billion for the company. At the time, filmmaking had acquired a certain cachet in private equity circles, and here was a chance to bankroll what were arguably two of the greatest movie producers in modern cinematic history.
Starting in the late ’80s, the Weinsteins produced “Pulp Fiction,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “The English Patient,” “My Left Foot,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Piano” and hundreds of other movies, garnering 249 Academy Award nominations and three Oscars for best picture. In one 11-year stretch, they racked up 13 best-picture nominations.
SO what happened? In part, the Weinstein Company is coping with the same problems facing every other studio, most notably the grim slowdown of the DVD market. But plenty of the Weinsteins’ wounds are also self-inflicted. Instead of using their lush, Goldman-fueled pile of start-up money to focus on filmmaking, the brothers ventured into such new realms as fashion (buying part of Halston, the once-storied label), online social networking (through A Small World, known informally as MySpace for Millionaires) and a piece of Ovation, the cable network.
These were all Harvey’s ideas — his attempt, he says, at a Barry Diller-style conglomerate. The problem wasn’t just that the companies failed to generate vast profits. It’s that they took Harvey’s eye off the film ball, which is why he kept whiffing.
“What happened was, I got more fascinated by these other businesses and I figured, ‘Making movies, I can do that in my sleep,’ ” he says in an interview in his office in downtown Manhattan. “I kind of delegated the process of production and acquisitions. Yes, I had a say in it, but was I 100 percent concentrating? Absolutely not. I thought I could build the company and delegate authority, and that’s where it went wrong.”
Bob, meanwhile, has disavowed his goal of becoming the next king of African-American urban comedies, an unlikely ambition for a Jewish guy from Queens. But a few years ago, he took note of Tyler Perry’s success, and it looked like easy money. Bob produced “Long Shots,” with Ice Cube, and “Soul Men” with Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson.
“Did like $15 million gross,” Bob says of “Soul Men,” “and it was a relatively expensive, $20 million movie. And for an African-American movie, there’s no foreign business. So those were two bad missteps, definitely.”
For months, the brothers have ignored media requests for comments, leaving lots of “Are the Weinsteins goners?” articles and blog posts with boilerplate denials offered up by their representatives. The two broke their silence to deliver this very simple message: We’re back to what we know. Bob is planning three new “Scream” films, the most profitable franchise in the Weinsteins’ history. Harvey has sworn off interest in the nonmovie parts of his business, sounding a bit like a married man lamenting a fling.
“I’m going to just do this and nothing else,” he says.
At minimum, the brothers are focused on the director who gave them “Pulp Fiction,” Mr. Tarantino. “I’ve got their undivided attention, I can honestly say that,” Mr. Tarantino said in a phone interview. “They want ‘Inglourious Basterds’ to be a hit even more than I want it to be a hit. Even in the grand scheme of things, it’s more important to them than me.”
Born promoters, the brothers have timed their mea culpas for maximum impact. “Inglourious Basterds” is one of several must-wins on a slate of roughly 10 Weinstein films on their way in coming months. The others are “Nine,” a film version of the Broadway musical, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Penélope Cruz. There’s also “Halloween II” and an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalypse bummer, “The Road,” starring Viggo Mortensen. For some of these films, “Inglourious” among them, the brothers had to bring in partners to split production and promotion expenses, which means they’ll split profits, too.
Will these guys be around to shepherd all these movies into theaters? The question has the sort of final-reel drama that the Weinsteins, in other circumstances, might savor. What’s certain is if there aren’t a few blockbusters in the near future, these guys are going to have to find new jobs.
Of course, rivals and reporters have issued dire predictions like that throughout the Weinsteins’ career. But there’s a difference. This time, it’s a Weinstein making the prediction.
“The ship’s riding on the slate,” Harvey says, sounding remarkably buoyant, all things considered. “If by February, when we release ‘Hoodwinked 2’ ” — he playfully thumps a hand on the table, dramatizing the sound of failure — “I’ll be driving you, or making cheap hamburgers, or selling trailers, or refrigerators, or something. If the slate works, we’re right back to plan.”
THE Weinsteins — Harvey is 57 year old, Bob is 54 — will not discuss how much money they have left in the bank, but just calling up and asking for an interview, you could get the impression they’re running low. A few years ago, you’d barely have the receiver off your ear before public relations specialists would call to vigorously frisk you about your intentions. Your request for a sit-down would initially be denied, but if you persisted, you would eventually be summoned to Harvey’s office, where he would praise your work and offer you some goodie — a book deal, for instance — if you wrote about something else.
Not now. The Weinstein Company doesn’t keep the same phalanx of P.R. pros on retainer, lost perhaps in a downsizing that included an 11 percent staff cut last year. Once you get into Harvey’s office, the most you can expect by way of enticing offers these days is a well-brewed cup of coffee.
That said, the brothers were downright generous with me when it came to screening their coming movies. In fact, they shared as much of their slate as was ready — six movies in all, as well as ads, DVDs and rough cuts of unfinished products.
The goal, they said, was to demonstrate the strength of these films. For Harvey, it also seemed as if the screenings were supposed to bolster his case if — or, perhaps in his mind, when — he had to complain about this article. We showed him everything and he still said we’re doomed, was the subtext. If there is such a thing as prevenge, this is it.
“You see this?” Harvey asks, pounding a finger against a sheet of paper. It’s a Nielsen NRG tracking poll, a gauge of public interest in coming movies. He points to figures besides “Inglourious Basterds.” Here’s the G-rated version of what he says next: “This is called ‘smash hit’!”
Behold the charming Harvey, a plumpish, easily excited man with ink-dark eyes, two days’ worth of facial stubble and a trace of a New York accent. He is self-deprecating, chatty and usually in a rush. He has about him that magnetic field of charisma that you recognize as soon as you pass through his orbit.
Happily, we won’t meet the irate Harvey, but those who have encountered him describe a combustible, thin-skinned creature who belongs in the Extreme Mammals exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. In Hollywood, he is known for outbursts that elevate profanity and rage to a kind of performance art. He says that age, his daughters from a first marriage, and his second wife, the 33-year-old British clothing designer Georgina Chapman, have mellowed him. But even after decades at the epicenter of the film business, he and his brother seem to consider themselves gatecrashers at a party where everyone wonders how they got past the bouncer. They tend to believe that many people are rooting for their demise — reporters in particular.
“We should send all journalists to Kamchatka, this place where nothing grows,” he jokes at one point, invoking a Siberian backwater. He laughs and adds, “That’s where they’re going to send me.”
We’re at a Friday-afternoon marketing meeting in the Weinstein Company’s offices in TriBeCa, on the third floor of a red-brick office building over a restaurant. Harvey sits at the head of a large table, sporting a black suit and white shirt, a uniform he wears every other day, when he isn’t in a dark blue suit with a white shirt. It’s a foolproof wardrobe strategy for a guy with little fashion sense, Harvey explains, the recommendation of his wife.
There are four employees at the table, with an additional three videoconferenced in from the Los Angeles office. Some of these people are relatively new to their jobs, because much of the senior staff has departed in the past year, including the head of acquisitions and the head of production. Former employees describe morale at the office as low. You half-expect people at this meeting to blink H-E-L-P in Morse code.
They don’t. They seem totally engaged and convincingly chipper, though one way to ensure that nothing revelatory happens at any event is to invite a reporter to eavesdrop on it. Harvey, though, seems eager to prove that the Weinstein Company is busily planning life after “Inglourious Basterds,” and perhaps he’d like to demonstrate how focused on movies he is once again.
Much of the conversation is given over to the release of “Nowhere Boy,” a biographical film about the teenage years of John Lennon.
“It’s our old-school wheelhouse a little bit,” says Francois Martin, a senior vice president.
“Like old Miramax,” Harvey says.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to say it.”
There’s brainstorming about “Shanghai,” a romantic spy drama set in China during World War II to be released in the United States in the late fall. There’s talk of Golden Globes and Oscar campaigns for Brad Pitt for “Inglourious Basterds” and Mr. Mortenson for “The Road.” Later, there is a screening of TV spots shot for “Project Runway” featuring Nicole Kidman.
The meeting ends with a talk about “Inglourious.” It’s a tricky film to market because it’s a one-of-a-kind hybrid of war, comedy, sadistic violence and fantasy. Yes, fantasy. It gives away little of the plot to note that Mr. Tarantino deviates rather wildly from the historical facts of World War II and that at some point the movie becomes a broadly comic and spectacularly violent exercise in wish fulfillment. Also, the Allies beat, scalp and chiffonade the foreheads of so many German soldiers that at moments, against your will, you feel sorry for the Nazis.
Harvey and his underlings know they need to prepare their audience, somehow, for the way “Inglourious” rewrites history. (“Somebody ought to talk and say ‘fantasy, fantasy, fantasy,’ ” Harvey tells the group.) There’s also some evidence in the tracking polls that teenage girls aren’t interested. So the company has created ads for that niche.
Harvey watches one of those ads for the first time, featuring a female star of the film. As soon as the spot is over, he weighs in.
“Almost,” he says. “The women aren’t empowered enough; you don’t see them doing anything. It starts out like something for females, but you want to see Mélanie Laurent do something.”
He’s right, or it sure seems as if he’s right. Harvey has an impresario’s gut about what will draw a crowd. When the topic of a photograph for this article came up, he had a concept in a flash: he and his brother, standing outside the office of Goldman Sachs, hats out, as if they’re asking for money.
As a sight gag it works because Goldman is unlikely to lend the Weinsteins any more money.
IN 2005, Joe Ravitch, a member of Goldman’s media group, cobbled together a group of investors for the Weinsteins’ new venture. At the time, the brothers were coming off of a contentious 12 years running Miramax as a subsidiary of Disney, a bumpy corporate relationship that yielded dozens of exceptional movies.
From the start of their improbable career, the Weinsteins have never taken orders very well, and they tend to keep their own counsel. They began in Buffalo, where Harvey went to college and was a concert promoter, and the pair segued into the movie business through a concert film of the band Genesis. He and his brother saw a niche in obscure foreign movies, like “Crossover Dreams” with Rubén Blades, which were ghettoized into small art house theaters in the mid-’70s.
They chose “Miramax” by conjoining the names of their parents, Miriam and Max, a diamond cutter who toiled in Manhattan for years. Harvey and Bob found truffles like “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” for Miramax, and they parlayed tiny movies into modest, mainstream hits. It helped that they were both genuine fans of cinema, a trait rarer than you’d think in the business. It also helped that they were willing to bluster, bully, threaten and sweet-talk with an intensity that few in Hollywood could match.
They were masterful guerrilla marketers, too. They brought a huge audience to “The Crying Game” with their keep-the-secret campaign, and they fine-tuned the art of winning Oscars, with the now-common practice of sending free copies of the movies to Academy members.
By the time they released “Pulp Fiction,” in 1994, every studio wanted to make Miramax-style films. But as part of Disney, the brothers clashed a few too many times with Michael Eisner, then Disney’s chairman. The release of Michael Moore’s anti-war film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a moneymaker that was too controversial for the company behind Mickey Mouse, was the snapping point. Disney bought out the brothers, and they left to start their own company.
With hedge funds circling Hollywood four years ago, Mr. Ravitch’s pitch to investors, and his own bosses at Goldman, was a straightforward bet on two overachieving filmmakers.
But the problems started right away. A pay-TV deal with the premium cable channel Starz — which would have paid the brothers for the exclusive rights to show their films — fell apart, eliminating what would have been a steady source of revenue. Then Harvey began his buying spree: a “significant” investment in the social networking Web site ASmallWorld in May 2006, a piece of Ovation a few months later, a chunk of Halston in March 2007.
At the time, Harvey’s idea was to outfit the celebrities in television and movie properties with dresses that Halston would sell.
All of these moves required board approval, but some investors read the news of these acquisitions and were flabbergasted. In Goldman’s 142-page initial offering, there were lots of boilerplate warnings, like “The Company expects to be highly leveraged, and the Company’s indebtedness could adversely affect its financial situation.” But nothing like: “Wild man atop flow chart will lose interest in movies and attempt cross-platform mogul status.” About as close as it gets is a promise to “opportunistically seek to form strategic relationships” and “consider ownership stakes in its partners.” It also predicts more than $160 million in profit by the end of 2009.
Backers were equally unprepared for the Weinsteins’ combative style, particularly when it came to dealing with each other.
“They fight incessantly,” said one investor, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to poison his relationship with the Weinsteins. “They’d make more money selling tickets to the board meetings.”
Harvey says the brothers do tend to mix it up, and have done so “in the board room, in the family room, at mom’s house.” That said, he describes the notion that they had big fights in the board room as “ridiculous.”
Blame, this investor says, falls to Goldman Sachs as much as the Weinsteins. The imprimatur of the bank carried a lot of weight, and there was an assumption that Mr. Ravitch and others had done their homework. But there was at least one glaring oversight in their homework: nobody asked Michael Eisner what it’s like to work with the Weinsteins, according to two people who have discussed the subject with him.
Mr. Ravitch left Goldman Sachs this year and is now creating an investment fund in connection with the Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor. He didn’t return calls. Goldman officials would not discuss the Weinstein Company but sent a statement praising the brothers: “Their strong track record was one of the key factors that attracted a great deal of capital, including from Goldman Sachs, into their independent film company.”
The first eight months of this year have been particularly dreadful for the Weinsteins. They have released only four films, in a limited number of theaters, and they have so far brought in a total of $1.3 million domestically. In their Miramax days, the brothers often earned many times that figure on a Friday night.
The problem is that in the years since the founding of the Weinstein Company, virtually everything about the movie business has become tougher. Margins at theaters have slimmed, so films are shuffled in and out faster. Nothing has replaced the revenue once offered by DVDs. And when the brothers finally signed a pay-TV deal, in July last year with Showtime, the network had decided that what drew and kept subscribers wasn’t movies, but original programming.
Traditionally, a cable network simply paid a studio for movies, providing a steady flow of revenue for the studio to finance more movies. But Showtime, according to a person with knowledge of the seven-year deal, required the Weinsteins to put up millions as a buffer against potential losses if the brothers are unable to deliver. Harvey flatly denies fronting any money to Showtime, providing one of those moments in reporting about this company when all signs point to X and he says “Absolutely not X.” He sees the arrangement as a “game changer,” one of the pillars of the Weinstein Company’s financial rebound and the perfect compliment to his regained discipline.
“In the end, I realized that I’m not a good C.E.O., I’m not a good manager,” he says. In addition to being too spread out, he was also in businesses he knew nothing about. “I had no idea what any of these companies were,” he says. “I just thought they were fascinating ideas, these were fascinating people and I think eventually these companies will all thrive. But I saw the result of everything not working.”
IF the Weinsteins have a game changer, it probably isn’t Showtime. It’s Bob Weinstein. Without him, the game for the company might already be over.
He never strayed from the movie business, and he seems incapable of anything but total focus. You got a hint at his attention to detail at a recent test screening of “Youth in Revolt,” a teenage comedy in the vein of “Juno.” The director, Miguel Arteta, said that for weeks he and Bob had lengthy back-and-forths over seemingly minor decisions, like this one: Does the last scene of the film need a voice-over?
Bob said yes. Mr. Arteta said no. Bob’s version screened on this particular night in an East Village theater in New York, and afterward, a focus group of 20 audience members were peppered with questions. Among them: How many of you liked the voice-over in the last scene?
Every hand but one went up.
Unbeknownst to the attendees, Mr. Arteta sat two rows away, and after that vote, he turned to Bob, who sat at the rear of the theater, offering him a grateful, smiling shrug that said, “You were right.”
“He’s not somebody who just hands you the money and says, ‘You better do good,’ ” Mr. Arteta says. “It makes you feel less lonely as a director. You feel like you have a partner.”
Bob is less extroverted than his brother, but in private he’s every bit as funny, expansive and sharp. Until it’s time to go on the record. At that point, his jocularity vanishes and he starts to sound like a politician at a press conference he’s attending against his will. None of the public parts of filmmaking come naturally to him, and he lacks the layers of smoothness that Harvey puts between himself and his temper. At the “Youth in Revolt” screening, the movie started with the soundtrack but no picture and Bob shot out of his chair, cursing and waving his hands until the projector stopped and the movie was rewound.
At moments during a half-hour interview, it seems as if he’s actively trying to keep his cool. Asked to name his greatest regret about the Weinstein Company, he pauses for just over 20 seconds, staring at the table, as though waiting out the impulse to explode or strangle someone with his bare hands.
“I think,” he says at last, slowly and in a modulated whisper, “we were a little too ambitious about trying to create the same model we had at Miramax. We didn’t have to start out that fast.”
The Weinsteins have a complicated relationship, one that is a little mysterious to people around them. They manage to seem inseparable and wholly separate at the same time. They work in different offices, a block apart, but speak constantly to each other on the phone. They extol each other’s accomplishments and talents, but as with many brothers, they are also competitors. When I vowed to Harvey that I would crush Bob in a Ping-Pong match — there’s a table in Bob’s office — Harvey cackled and promised to publish an ad hailing the defeat if his brother lost.
Ultimately, Bob begged off, saying that his elbow was in too much pain to play.
It’s one of the few contests that either Weinstein has ever ducked. For most of their careers, the they have regarded movie promotion as a form of warfare. They see themselves as leaders in a series of sustained, tactical strikes against a surrounding enemy. In the Miramax days, they reached their audience with clever, cost-efficient marketing and sheer force of will. Miramax employees were famous for working long hours, over weekends, through vacations.
But without Harvey on a bullhorn, the Weinstein Company was no longer an irresistible force. Which Harvey realized, at last, soon after the release of “Miss Potter,” a Renée Zellweger movie in 2006 about the life of the children’s author Beatrix Potter. It was exactly the sort of quiet, literate film that the brothers turned into gold at Miramax, and Harvey thought that it would gross $40 million, at least, and almost surely win an Oscar nomination for Ms. Zellweger.
But MGM was in charge of distribution of Weinstein Company movies at the time and Harvey was minding other stores. Before he knew it, the film had grossed only $3 million and was gone from theaters.
It seems like a preventable error to him now: “Sometimes with a movie like ‘Miss Potter,’ the theaters are saying ‘Take it off the screen!’ and you have to say: ‘No, no, no! One more week, two more weeks!’ Whatever you have to do to hold on, you have to hold on.”
The distractions of his other companies led to some memorable film fiascos, like “Fanboys.” The movie had a catchy premise: “Star Wars” fanatics drive across the country, break into the home of George Lucas and steal a copy of an coming “Star Wars” movie. But Harvey didn’t love the finished product and he didn’t fight with his usual combination of charm, guile and cajolery to persuade the director to change it. It was released the movie in a small number of theaters and with little promotion. It earned less than $700,000.
To Dana Brunetti, who produced “Fanboys,” the whole episode was a blown opportunity.
“I don’t think the Weinsteins understood that they had this stalwart audience of ‘Star Wars’ fans in their back pocket,” he says. “They just wanted the movie to be whatever had been hot the previous weekend. It was ‘Superbad’ one weekend, something else the next.”
WHICH brings us to some worst-case scenarios for the Weinsteins. What if the problem isn’t just that Harvey neglected his bailiwick? What if it’s deeper than that?
At the start of their careers, the brothers found ways to package the sort of skillfully made, modestly financed films that Hollywood ignored. Inevitably, Hollywood started paying attention, and conventional studios like Fox Searchlight now churn out movies like “Juno.” Yet the surprising part isn’t that old, bloated Hollywood adopted the methods of the Weinsteins. It’s that the Weinsteins adopted the methods of old, bloated Hollywood, rather than finding a new way to again outfox the majors. “Fanboys” aside, Harvey has been gravitating to more star-driven vehicles with larger budgets.
The genius of a movie like “Pulp Fiction” is that it grossed more than $200 million worldwide and cost just $9 million to make. (Yes, the movie had stars, but Mr. Tarantino had so much juice, they worked for a pittance.) “Inglourious,” on the other hand, cost nearly $70 million. The cheap, inventive marketing campaign is impossible for a movie of that scale. But the pricey, carpet-bomb approach to promotion has never been the Weinsteins’ forte.
WHEN the director Kevin Smith released “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” last year, he says, it was impossible to get Harvey to spend enough to promote the movie, which cost about $24 million to make. And Harvey seemed truly scattered at the time, Mr. Smith says. At the premiere, he introduced Mr. Smith to the actress Sarah Chalke, which was awkward because the woman was actually Traci Lords, a co-star of the movie.
“The old Harvey would never would have made those kinds of mistakes,” he says. “He just wasn’t as present, he wasn’t minding the farm, so to speak.”
Despite some good reviews, “Zack and Miri” earned just $34 million, which Mr. Smith found disappointing. Harvey says the problem wasn’t a lack of promotion; he says the company spent more than $30 million marketing the movie, a budget that is several times Mr. Smith’s best guess. Harvey also says the movie will ultimately earn a $10 million profit, factoring in all the ancillary revenue like DVD sales.
Mr. Smith sounds more wistful than angry. He remembers the Miramax days as a golden age, and he lauds the Weinsteins as the only producers he’s met who care about the quality and originality of their work. The weird glee that attends every murmur about the Weinsteins’ financial woes baffles him.
Which is a refrain you hear time and again from directors who’ve worked with Harvey and Bob: when these guys are engaged, nobody is a fiercer advocate for your movie. And if they were to fold, film culture would be poorer for it.
“They had impeccable taste when they were hungry,” Mr. Smith says. “The problem is that they’re not really hungry anymore. They’re starving and desperate.”
‘Inglourious’ Actor Tastes the Glory
AT the Cannes Film Festival in May, when the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz stepped up to the podium to accept his best-actor prize for playing an SS colonel in “Inglourious Basterds,” he cut through the usual bluster of the ceremony with a direct and touching declaration. His voice choked with emotion, Mr. Waltz addressed his director, Quentin Tarantino. “You gave me my vocation back,” he said.
From Mr. Tarantino’s point of view it was a fair trade. “He gave us our movie back,” Mr. Tarantino said, speaking by telephone from Australia recently.
At his Cannes news conference earlier, Mr. Tarantino insisted that he would not have made “Inglourious Basterds” (opening Friday) had he not found the right actor to play the pivotal part of Hans Landa. He elaborated on the phone, “I knew Landa was one of the best characters I’ve ever written and probably one of the best characters I will ever write.” He auditioned numerous actors for the role (which calls for fluency in German, English and French), but while most of them were perfectly competent, “they didn’t get my poetry,” he said. “I literally had to consider I might have written an unplayable part.”
This may sound like the bravado of a garrulous auteur who’s not known for understatement. But there is a good case to be made for Colonel Landa as the ultimate Tarantino creation. More than a quotable motormouth, this is one surprisingly multifaceted cartoon villain: a genial sadist, an oppressively polite interrogator, a hyper-articulate polyglot whose verbal dexterity is his scariest weapon. Brad Pitt, as the leader of an American Nazi-killing brigade, is the head “basterd” and the marquee name, but it’s Mr. Waltz, as many critics noted at Cannes, who owns the film.
Mr. Tarantino’s track record for reviving stalled acting careers is unmatched among contemporary directors. Most of his casting choices have been a matter of putting familiar faces in a new light: John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” Pam Grier in “Jackie Brown.” But at 52, Mr. Waltz, who auditioned mere hours after Mr. Tarantino told his producers he was ready to pull the plug on the project, is a true discovery, an actor who had long been overlooked within the German-speaking world and was a total unknown outside.
As far as Mr. Waltz is concerned, middle age is not a bad time for a career breakthrough. “It helps to have done time,” he said over dinner at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan recently, referring to his long, busy, but not especially fulfilling career as a journeyman character actor, mostly in German television. He is taking in stride his newly raised profile and the talk of a possible Oscar nomination that started at Cannes and is likely to intensify in the coming months. “It hasn’t burdened me at all,” he said.
Mr. Waltz admitted to being initially bewildered by Mr. Tarantino’s script, a five-chapter behemoth filled with lengthy, sinuous conversations that snake their way through an intricate series of bluffs, reversals and mind games. “I was completely thrown by it, having been conditioned to these formulaic three-act structures,” he said. “And in front of me I had this thing that blows that all to smithereens.” After a pause, he added: “I love that word: smithereens.” (No less than Colonel Landa, Mr. Waltz seems to relish wordplay and the musicality of words.)
He soon figured out the key to the Tarantino worldview. “I was asking myself: How does this man get through so many layers of reality?” Mr. Waltz said. And so he came up with a helpful analogy (in the form of a Landa-esque pun, no less): “It’s like a light quantum, how he jumps from one reality to the next, so I termed it the Quentin leap. It’s Quentin physics.”
In person Mr. Waltz is wryly funny and notably devoid of actorly pretensions. It doesn’t take long for him to reveal a deep skepticism about the profession that comes from his years as an industry foot soldier (and that may serve him well as he enters the big leagues). Asked when he knew he wanted to act, he had a ready rejoinder: “Still don’t.”
“The basic reason why anyone wants to become an actor is arrested development,” he continued. “Which is great when you’re 18. Becoming an actor is like becoming a father. It’s not hard to become one. Making a life of it is the challenge.”
The Vienna-born Mr. Waltz belongs to the fourth generation of a theater family (his parents were set designers, his grandparents actors), and his early training was “very traditional Viennese”: he studied singing and opera at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Austria. In the late ’70s he moved to New York for a spell and was exposed to the teachings of Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. (He credits Adler’s technique of script interpretation as the basis for his analytical approach.)
Back in Europe he found steady theater work in Zurich and in Germany — in Cologne and Hamburg — before moving to London in the late ’80s with his wife at the time, a New Yorker, and their children. (He now lives mainly in Berlin.) In need of a regular paycheck he focused on television work. “You have to make a living, support a family,” he said. “But in a way you’re still striving for excellence, and your frustration only increases.”
He appeared in several features by respected directors, like the Pole Krzysztof Zanussi and the German Oskar Roehler. But much of the work was routine and unrewarding. “Villain was sort of the flavor of the past few years,” he said. “Before that there were a lot of comedies.” He added matter-of-factly, “There are a few films I’m not ashamed of.”
At Cannes some questioned the tastefulness of “Inglourious Basterds,” a violent revenge fantasy that, as Mr. Tarantino excitedly put it at his news conference, uses the power of cinema (and the flammable properties of celluloid) to “bring down the Third Reich.”
Mr. Waltz said, “I think he’s doing exactly what an artist should do, which is offer an alternative perspective on our world.”
A proudly bonkers parallel history, “Inglourious Basterds” opens with the fairy-tale invocation “Once upon a time ... in Nazi-occupied France.”
But Mr. Waltz said, “ ‘Once upon a time’ doesn’t mean don’t take it seriously, if you’ve ever read ‘The Uses of Enchantment,’ ” the classic study of children’s stories by the Austrian psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim. “The point is not to transport the world of the Nazis to the realm of the untrue,” he added, “but to the realm of our unconscious wishes and fears.”
Mr. Waltz had nothing but praise for Mr. Tarantino’s way with actors. “I’ve tried to analyze why actors are often better in Quentin’s films than in other films, and I think it’s because he doesn’t expose them to the necessity of bad acting,” he said. “He doesn’t specify the intended effect or ask you to show motivations. And he makes it easy for you to be on the character’s side.”
Mr. Tarantino said that with the exception of Uma Thurman, the star of “Pulp Fiction” and his two “Kill Bill” movies, he had never before worked so closely with an actor. Mr. Waltz was an unknown quantity to most of the other actors, and Mr. Tarantino exploited the element of surprise, rehearsing with him in private and even instructing him to play down the part during group read-throughs.
Mr. Tarantino said some European journalists have asked him to “protect Christoph”: “One of them told me, ‘Don’t let him be the bad guy in the “Die Hard” movies.’ ”
If he wants it, Mr. Waltz could probably go on to a lucrative career playing Euro-villains in Hollywood thrillers. But as he put it, “I’m open to working anywhere, but not on anything.” He now has an American agent and is currently deciding among three scripts. “That’s the great thing about all of this: having choices,” he said.
At the same time he realizes that he’s been spoiled by his experience on “Basterds,” the rare combination of a generous director and a juicy role. “That’s Quentin physics for you,” Mr. Waltz said. “It’ll be hard to return to regular solid-body physics.”
A-List Stars Flailing at the Box Office This Summer
The spring and summer box office has murdered megawatt stars like Will Ferrell, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks and Adam Sandler.
Can Brad Pitt escape?
A-list movie stars have long been measured by their ability to fill theaters on opening weekend. But never have so many failed to deliver, resulting in some rare soul-searching by motion picture studios about why the old formula isn’t working — and a great deal of agita from stars (and agents) about the potential vaporization of their $20 million paychecks.
“The cratering of films with big stars is astounding,” said Peter Guber, the former chairman of Sony Pictures who is now a producer and industry elder statesman. “These supertalented people are failing to aggregate a large audience, and everybody is looking for answers.”
Mr. Guber added, “Even Johnny Depp” — starring in the drama “Public Enemies” — “didn’t exactly deliver a phenomenal result.”
Mr. Ferrell bombed in “Land of the Lost,” a $100 million comedy that sold only $49 million in tickets in North America. Ms. Roberts missed with “Duplicity,” a $60 million thriller that sold $40.5 million. “Angels & Demons” (Mr. Hanks) was soft. Ditto for “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” (Mr. Washington and Mr. Travolta).
“Imagine That,” starring Mr. Murphy, was such a disaster that Paramount Pictures had to take a write-down. Mr. Sandler? His “Funny People” limped out of the gate and then collapsed.
The gradual trend away from big-star vehicles in the summer has been under way for years.
At the start of the decade, summer still belonged to names: Cruise (“Mission Impossible II”), Crowe (“Gladiator”) and Clooney (“The Perfect Storm”) were the top three in 2000. But the three biggest films of this summer season, a crucial period between May 1 and Labor Day that typically accounts for 40 percent of annual ticket sales, have been “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Up” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
The biggest names attached to those films: Shia LaBoeuf, Ed Asner and Daniel Radcliffe.
The fading ability of Hollywood stars to command box office attention, and why it’s happening, has been a perennial topic in Hollywood. And economists and academics have long argued that marquee names are not worth their expense.
“Stars and success as a corollary is largely a myth,” said S. Abraham Ravid, an economics professor at Rutgers University who has conducted several studies on movie business practices.
But some of the same chewed-over reasoning for lessening star power has become even truer with time: people are harder to move off the sofa; a plethora of entertainment options competes for time and attention; the Web and paparazzi culture have made it difficult for stars to stand apart as rare and unique.
“Stars will always be important, but the industry is definitely seeing a transformation in their ability to open movies,” said Marc Shmuger, the chairman of Universal Pictures.
How is Hollywood reacting to the power brownout? Studios, struggling to cut costs following a 25 percent drop in DVD sales, aren’t giving up on top tier stars — their presence can make a huge difference overseas and factor heavily into the sale of movies to television channels — but they are trying to pay them less or looking for cheaper alternatives.
These battles are normally fought in strict privacy — no star wants it known that their paycheck is in retrograde and their agent wants it known even less — but studios are starting to become bolder.
Earlier this month, a salary spat between Mr. Washington and 20th Century Fox broke into public view. Variety reported — and two executives with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed — that Fox wanted to pay the actor $16 million to appear in “Unstoppable,” a thriller about a runaway train. Mr. Washington, who normally makes $20 million a picture, said no. Several days later the studio and star came to an agreement, but it involved Mr. Washington giving up millions of dollars in upfront payment.
There are also some specific explanations about the recent crop of failures. Several of these stars are aging while others have allowed their fans to move on by working infrequently (Ms. Roberts). Others may be suffering by refusing to do certain types of publicity (Mr. Sandler, Mr. Murphy) or wearing their routine too thin (Mr. Ferrell).
This weekend, Mr. Pitt has an opportunity to stop the bleeding. His “Inglourious Basterds,” an R-rated Nazi drama directed by Quentin Tarantino, arrived in theaters Friday. Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company built the marketing campaign for the film almost entirely around Mr. Pitt.
And the actor may pull it off — kind of.
Mr. Weinstein contends that Mr. Pitt’s drawing power is not remotely in question. “Brad Pitt is a super-superstar at the apex of his popularity and he’s a large part of why people want to see this movie,” he said.
Indeed, services that track consumer interest in movies predict that “Inglourious Basterds” will sell an estimated $25 million to $30 million in tickets over its three-day opening. While anything could still happen, that result would be solid for this kind of movie (hugely violent, independently made) and on par with Mr. Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, which blossomed into hits.
But that figure would fall in the middle of Mr. Pitt’s own opening-weekend track record when adjusted for inflation, on par with “The Mexican” from 2001. Enough to firmly keep Mr. Pitt’s wattage from dimming, but probably not enough to end the hand-wringing in Hollywood over star power, veteran producers say.
Talent agents argue that stars are not to blame, faulting script concepts that don’t translate onto the screen, poor release dates, awkward marketing campaigns or ill-advised efforts by popular actors to stretch in new directions.
But many people think a new phenomenon has popped up in recent months to undercut stars. The surge in social networking services like Twitter and Facebook, not to mention text messaging, has made it much harder for studios to trick consumers into thinking the movie is worth their time.
As recently as last summer, a savvy marketing campaign and a star could guarantee an opening weekend for a picture that wasn’t very good.
Now, word-of-mouth is immediate.
“You look around the theater and can see the glow not on people’s faces from watching the movie, but on their chins — from the BlackBerries and iPhones,” said Mr. Guber. “They are immediately telling their friends whether it’s worth their time. And the answer to that more often than not seems to be no.”
Don Hewitt, Creator of ‘60 Minutes,’ Dies at 86
Don Hewitt, who changed the course of broadcast news by creating the television magazine “60 Minutes,” fusing journalism and show business as never before, and who then presided over the much-copied program for nearly four decades, died Wednesday at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 86 and also had a home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
The cause was cancer, his wife, Marilyn Berger, said. Mr. Hewitt said in an interview on March 18 that doctors had detected a cancerous tumor on his pancreas, and that he was being admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for treatment.
During a career at CBS News that lasted more than half a century, Mr. Hewitt served as a living bridge — from the birth of television journalism in the long shadow of radio, through its golden-age as an unrivaled fixture in dens and family rooms, to its middle-age present, under siege from the Internet. As a director and producer, Mr. Hewitt helped shape the early broadcasts of pioneers like Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards and Walter Cronkite, and presided over CBS’s coverage of such watershed moments as the presidential debate between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960; the assassination of Mr. Kennedy in 1963; and the NASA space missions of the late 1960’s
But it was as creator and executive producer of “60 Minutes” that he had his biggest impact — imagining, in effect, what an electronic version of “Life” magazine would be like, and then bringing that confection to the screen with a mix of hard-hitting investigative pieces and celebrity profiles. As tour guides, Mr. Hewitt recruited a cast of reporters that included Mike Wallace and Dan Rather, and later Lesley Stahl, who were soon as recognizable as the politicians they confronted and the entertainers they interviewed. Whatever their line-up in a particular television season, they were presented to their Sunday night audience as equals.
Within a few years, “60 Minutes” had achieved something that had heretofore been the province of comedies like those featuring Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball, as opposed to news programs: it became a ratings juggernaut, taking up residence among the top 10 shows on prime-time television for more than two decades, and earning the network “maybe $2 billion,” Mr. Hewitt once estimated. At its peak, in the 1979-1980 television season, it was seen in an estimated 28 million homes each Sunday, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Separately, Mr. Hewitt also claimed credit for creating, at least in part, such innovations as putting headsets on newsmakers at events like political conventions so they might be interviewed by remote; displaying type, such as a subject’s name, on screen, an idea he said he got from the sliding letters on the wall-mounted menu of a diner in Chicago in 1952, and even the word “anchorman,” which referred, he said, not to the anchor of a ship but the final runner on a four-person relay team — the person who, in effect, would carry the news home, and receive the most attention in the process.
In more than 35 years at the helm of “60 Minutes,” which he led from its founding in 1968 to his departure, under pressure, at age 82 in 2004, Mr. Hewitt made stars (and millionaires) not only of Mr. Rather, Mr. Wallace, and Ms. Stahl, but also of Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft and Andy Rooney. While theirs were the faces that, collectively, opened the program for decades each Sunday night at 7 (or a bit later in football season), the program viewers ultimately saw was largely forged by Mr. Hewitt’s off-camera guiding hand. Having been fired in the mid-1960’s as executive producer of Mr. Cronkite’s “CBS Evening News” — Fred Friendly, who was president of CBS News at the time, faulted Mr. Hewitt for his emphasis on “lots of dazzle, lots of pace” — Mr. Hewitt used his brief time in exile within the news division headquarters on West 57th Street to conceive a program that he likened to a broadcast version of Life magazine.
As in a general-interest magazine, Mr. Hewitt reasoned, “60 Minutes” — named for the hour of prime time the network would give him each week — would toggle between hard news and soft. “We could look into Marilyn Monroe’s closet, so long as we looked into Robert Oppenheimer’s laboratory, too,” he wrote in his 2001 memoir, “Tell Me a Story.” “We could make the news entertaining, without compromising our integrity.”
Behind the scenes, where he could be a stern, hyperkinetic taskmaster, Mr. Hewitt embossed the program with the fundamental elements that would become its calling cards: a relentless emphasis on compelling narrative; interviews in which the questions (and questioners) were often more interesting than the subjects themselves; occasional gotcha moments that snared wrongdoers like Watergate co-conspirators or cigarette manufacturers; and, in respites as welcome as an elementary-school recess, revealing conversations with figures like Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Robin Williams and Bruce Springsteen.
Among the competitors it soon spawned were “20/20,” “Prime Time Live” and, to some extent, “Nightline” on ABC, as well as “Dateline,” which once commandeered four hours of NBC’s prime-time schedule. For several years, it also had a sister broadcast on CBS, known as “60 Minutes II” and “60 Minutes Wednesday.”
“ ‘60 Minutes’ was the model and the framework of everything that followed,” said Victor Neufeld, who was a senior producer of “20/20” at its inception in the late 1970s and was the program’s executive producer for 16 years ending in 2002. “ ‘20/20’ was a different version of ‘60 Minutes.’ It was the same concept of taking information and telling compelling stories, nonfiction stories with strong characters, in a prime-time environment.”
Mr. Neufeld added: “The concept of a mini-documentary was original, and it was Don Hewitt’s.”
But by demonstrating that news could deliver big audiences at a fraction of the cost of a scripted comedy or drama, Mr. Hewitt and “60 Minutes” also ushered in an era in television in which reality would become routinely wrapped in the gilt of excess and sensationalism. Early in the new century, an offshoot of “Dateline” called “To Catch a Predator” would seek to entrap pedophiles on camera in ways reminiscent of one of Mr. Wallace’s earliest pieces. In it, a “60 Minutes” producer working with the Better Government Association of Chicago had turned a Chicago storefront into a dummy health clinic, with the intent of catching a representative for a blood lab in the act of seeking a kickback. At the climactic moment, Mr. Wallace appeared from behind a one-way mirror.
Soon, the sense of balance, in terms of the mix of stories, for which Mr. Hewitt had strived in the early years of “60 Minutes” was thrown to the wayside by a slew of early-evening entertainment news shows, which focused exclusively on gossip and stories from movie and TV sets that were often spoon-fed. The boom in so-called reality television — whether “Wife Swap” on ABC or “Jon & Kate” on TLC — could also be traced, at least in part, to a run-amok reimagining of Mr. Hewitt’s sense that real life, with a little prodding, could yield riveting stories at a relatively bargain-basement price.
As his “60 Minutes” career was drawing to a close, Mr. Hewitt appeared to acknowledge what he had wrought. “We started a trend and we ruined television,” he said in 2003, on an episode of the PBS program “American Masters” which focused on “60 Minutes,” “because we made it profitable to do this kind of thing.”
In what he later regarded as one of the darkest periods of his career, Mr. Hewitt capitulated in 1995 to CBS’s demand that he kill a “60 Minutes” piece based on interviews with a so-called “insider” from the Brown & Williamson tobacco company. The insider, a former Brown & Williamson scientist named Jeffrey Wigand, had provided “60 Minutes” with evidence that the company had systematically disregarded evidence on the dangers of smoking.
The network, which was in the process of being sold to Westinghouse, worried that the broadcast could expose CBS to billions of dollars in potential liability, because it could be perceived as abetting Mr. Wigand in breaking a confidentiality agreement he had signed. Among those sharply and publicly critical of Mr. Hewitt’s acquiescence were Mr. Wallace, the correspondent on the segment, and Lowell Bergman, the segment producer. Mr. Bergman’s defiance was memorialized by Al Pacino, who played him in the film “The Insider,” based on a Vanity Fair article about the episode.
In his 2001 memoir, Mr. Hewitt said his hands had been tied by the network’s lawyers. He recalled telling Mr. Wallace, “Look, the only way to get this story on the air is to go out and hire a bunch of guerillas and take the transmitter at gunpoint.”
“Failing that,” he wrote, “what could we do about it? We could quit, of course. But I had spent too much of my life making ‘60 Minutes’ what it was.”
Eventually, after the Wall Street Journal beat “60 Minutes” to a version of the same story through an article based on Mr. Wigand’s testimony in a court case, “60 Minutes” belatedly broadcast its report on the matter.
As a boy growing up 20 miles north of New York City in New Rochelle, N.Y., in the 1920’s, Donald Shepard Hewitt demonstrated early on that he had a sense of the dramatic. The son of a former classified advertising manager for the Boston American who later ran a company that sold circulars door-to-door, the young Mr. Hewitt found himself pulled toward two seemingly opposite poles as he logged endless hours in the local movie house.
“Through it all, I never knew which character I really wanted to be,” he wrote in “Tell Me A Story,” “Hildy Johnson, the reporter in ‘The Front Page,’ or Julian Marsh, the Broadway producer in ‘42nd Street.’ I would have settled for either one, with a slight nod toward Hildy Johnson. Because along with the movies, I had another passion: to be a reporter.”
A year after enrolling in New York University on a track scholarship, Mr. Hewitt dropped out. His first job was as a copyboy at The New York Herald Tribune, for $15 a week. In 1943, he enrolled at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., in lieu of joining the Army. Eventually, he parlayed that experience into an assignment covering the merchant marine for Stars and Stripes, which led him to London.
By 1945, he was back in New York working for the Herald Tribune when he was hired to become night editor of the Associated Press bureau in Memphis. His new wife, Mary Weaver, a native Tennessean, began to pine for New York, though, and they soon moved back. His new job at as the night editor at Acme Telepictures, a photo agency, led to a fortuitous job offer: a friend told Mr. Hewitt that CBS, known primarily for its radio work, was looking for someone with picture experience to join its new effort to produce television programming.
“Whata-vision?” Mr. Hewitt recalled asking.
At the time, in 1948, the CBS studio was based over Grand Central Terminal. “So I went down to Grand Central Terminal, and damned if they didn’t have it, up on the top floor — little pictures in a box,” Mr. Hewitt wrote in “Tell Me a Story” “They also had cameras and lights and makeup artists and stage managers and microphone booms just like in the movies, and I was hooked.”
Mr. Hewitt eventually separated from Ms. Weaver. A second marriage, to Frankie Childers also ended in divorce. In 1979, he married Marilyn Berger, who had been a correspondent for The Washington Post and NBC News, and who later wrote obituaries for The New York Times.
She survives him, as do two sons, Jeffrey and Steven, from his first marriage; two daughters, Lisa Cassara and Jilian Hewitt, from his second marriage; and three grandchildren..
Though Mr. Hewitt remained under contract as a consultant to CBS after his departure from “60 Minutes,” he returned to prime-time in 2007 as an executive producer for an hour-long program broadcast on a rival network, NBC. He did so in a capacity that would have made Julian Marsh proud. Mr. Hewitt conceived of a special that would broadcast the Radio City Christmas Spectacular largely intact, so that the viewer at home could watch the show as if in-person.
Asked at the time how he had enjoyed the experience — in which he directed two cohosts, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira; posed with the Rockettes, and commandeered nine high-definition cameras that Murrow and Edwards would have hardly recognized — Mr. Hewitt said it had been the thrill of a very rich lifetime.
“I consider myself a guy who married ‘show biz’ and ‘news biz,’ “ he said.
Walter Goodman, who died in 2002, contributed reporting.
IBM Uses DNA to Make Next-Gen Microchips
International Business Machines Corp is looking to the building blocks of our bodies -- DNA -- to be the structure of next-generation microchips.
As chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs.
Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Microchips are used in computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.
"This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," IBM research manager Spike Narayan said in an interview with Reuters.
"Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes," he said.
The research was a joint undertaking by scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology.
Right now, the tinier the chip, the more expensive the equipment. Narayan said that if the DNA origami process scales to production-level, manufacturers could trade hundreds of millions of dollars in complex tools for less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements.
"The savings across many fronts could add up significantly," he said.
But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.
Yahoo Recommends Firefox Users To Switch To The “New, Safer IE8″
Not sure when this started occurring exactly, but Yahoo is apparently now letting Firefox users know that they’d be better off switching to the “new, safer Internet Explorer 8″. Apart from this tweet sent out yesterday, we haven’t noticed anyone noticing, so we suspect it’s fresh and a direct result of the recent Yahoo and Microsoft love-fest.
How ironic. About a year ago, following a failed acquisition attempt by Microsoft, Yahoo ran a very different recommendation from their front page, advising Internet Explorer users to switch to the “NEW safer, faster Firefox 3″ instead.
Apparently, Yahoo recommends browsers based on what their latest business alliances are. (update: or as Michael puts it, Apparently The Safest Browser Is Whoever Is Paying Yahoo The Most)
Maybe they should just develop and market their own browser and rid the confusion?
Seeking Web Security, Exploit Operators Prefer Firefox
Opera comes second
Criminals running websites that push drive-by exploits overwhelmingly prefer the Firefox browser, according to a researcher who spent the past three months surveilling their browsing habits.
Mozilla's Firefox was used by 46 per cent of the exploit kit operators who were tracked in the study, according to Paul Royal, principal researcher at Purewire, a company that protects customers against malicious websites. One third of the Firefox users browsed using a 3.0 version, while 13 per cent had upgraded to the most recent 3.5 version.
Interestingly, Opera, which by some measures (http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp) has only a 2 per cent market share, ranked second among the kit operators, with 26 per cent.
"I think that's probably because operators have a familiarity with the web threat landscape," Royal told The Register, suggesting that many black-hat hackers take a security-through-obscurity approach to making sure they themselves don't get hit. "It makes them wary of using mainstream browsers."
Royal gathered the statistics by casing 15 websites that push LuckySploit and UniquePack, two widely used do-it-yourself kits for infecting visitors with potent exploit cocktails that target dozens of vulnerabilities in programs such as Adobe's ubiquitous Flash and Reader applications, IE, and Apple's QuickTime. Just as legitimate sites log the search engines and other online properties that refer each visitor, rogue sites also check the referrer field of each visiting browser to measure which web-based scams are working and which ones aren't.
Besides learning that Firefox and Opera were the top browser choices among exploit kit operators, Royal also found that most operators browse - and presumably live - in a country other than the one where their illicit website is hosted. Of the 15 sites tracked, only two were hosted in the same country where their operator resided. In both cases, the country was Latvia, where law enforcement is widely viewed as being lax.
But even in other eastern European countries where it's hard to enforce cyber security laws, the operators took steps to put space between them and their websites.
"Attackers are distancing themselves from their illicit activities geographically by at least one country," Royal said.
The US and Russia were the two most common countries for operators, with three in each. The US was also the top location of the illegal websites. Royal counted three of them, although the operators of each were located in different countries. Latvia, the Netherlands, and China tied for second place with two each.
Sites Ask Users to Spend to Save
Some people will stop at nothing to snap up a bargain — even if it means paying too much.
That is the paradoxical principle behind Swoopo, a Web site that offers a seductive and controversial proposition to online shoppers.
The site, which started in Germany and was recently introduced in the United States, sells appliances, electronics and other products in auctions that typically top out at a small fraction of the retail price.
This month, a new 40-inch Samsung TV, which normally sells for $1,500, sold for $67.92, and a white LG refrigerator with a price tag of $1,498 went for a cool $77.90.
But there is a catch, of course: Swoopo users are charged 60 cents every time they bid, and those charges add up quickly.
The complicated machinations behind Swoopo and its online imitators are drawing attention from critics who say they prey on human foibles, like the tendency of people to overlook the small increments of money they spend to pursue alluring discounts.
These critics also say that players face long odds in Swoopo’s auctions, where they must compete against people in the United States, Britain and Germany. And they say that Swoopo is making a nice profit on each item when all the bidding fees are tallied.
Competing bidders spent a cumulative $2,337 in their losing effort to buy the $1,498 refrigerator, for example.
Swoopo says it must spend much of that revenue to advertise the auctions and attract customers to the site, which it says had 2.5 million visitors in July, double the number it had a year earlier, and a total of 2.5 million registered users.
“In aggregate, consumers trying to obtain these products are overpaying,” said Glen Whitney, a mathematician and a former quantitative analyst at the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who was asked to evaluate Swoopo. “Unless you have an edge over other people who are bidding, and you can get them to subsidize your purchase, you shouldn’t do it. It’s a chump’s game.”
Executives at Entertainment Shopping, the German company that runs Swoopo, counter that the auctions are fun and challenging while offering the possibility of a killer deal.
“We are combining elements of online auctions, skill games and traditional e-commerce,” said Gunnar Piening, the company’s chief executive. “We are trying to bring back fun and excitement into shopping, which hasn’t been there in a long time.”
Swoopo recently acknowledged that one aspect of the game is not much fun: spending money to bid on products that someone else wins. Last month the site began allowing American users to apply that money toward buying the product at full price. Swoopo’s retail prices are marginally above those offered by sites like Amazon.
Mr. Piening says that auctions have lost much of their luster online. EBay’s marketplace, once a mainstay of e-commerce, has been shrinking for years amid complaints of fraud and the proliferation of automated bidding software that allows people to win auctions at the last possible moment.
Swoopo avoids fraud by selling all of the products itself, often shipping them directly from suppliers. Bidding starts at zero, and players can bid up the auction price only in small set increments, like 1, 2 or 6 cents. Swoopo also offers its own automated bidding tool on the site, called Bid Butler. There is no possibility that users can “snipe” an auction at the last moment, because a few seconds are added to the clock with every new bid.
That, incidentally, creates the impression of Swoopo auctions that are about to end but last for hours more, a feature of the site that critics say is subtly misleading.
Nevertheless, Swoopo’s spin on the Internet auction appears to be suddenly in vogue. This spring, August Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, invested $10 million in Entertainment Shopping, to help it expand worldwide.
In addition to a growing number of small Swoopo imitators with names like GoBid and Rockybid, another start-up, Project Fair Bid, has raised $4.5 million from three American venture capital firms and plans to unveil its site next March.
People who use these sites say they can be addictive, frustrating and potentially rewarding with the right combination of patience, timing and perhaps luck.
Last month, Carolyn Parslow, who manages a flea market in Trumbull, Ohio, won a new refrigerator on Swoopo for $9.66 — plus the $61.80 she spent on bids. But she sounds a note of caution, saying that she has lost far more auctions than she has won, and that there does not appear to be a way to gain a persistent edge over rival bidders.
“It’s not easy. As soon as you think you have it figured out, you lose,” Ms. Parslow said. “You pull your hair out more than you jump up and down with excitement.”
Nick Marchevsky, a 27-year-old unemployed piping draftsman from Sewell, N.J., is more successful than most Swoopo users: he says he has won 27 items in the last few months, including digital cameras, TVs and Mac computers. But his strategy, he says, is simple, bullheaded persistence. He spends up to two hours in each auction and makes sure he outspends other bidders.
That also means he has, on occasion, spent more money in a winning effort than the item itself would have cost.
Mr. Marchevsky argues that winning on Swoopo requires dexterity and patience — players must know when an auction is likely to end, so they can allocate their time and money. And they should never casually bid if they are not serious about prevailing.
“You have to have some skill at it, or you are not going to go anywhere,” Mr. Marchevsky said. “I wouldn’t call it gambling at all.”
In that regard, the company behind Swoopo is not taking chances, retaining a well-known gambling lawyer, Anthony Cabot of the Las Vegas law firm of Lewis and Roca, as an adviser. “Lotteries are games of chance, and an auction does not have what you would call any systematic chance, a random event that determines the winner,” Mr. Cabot said in an interview.
I. Nelson Rose, a consultant to the gambling industry and professor at Whittier Law School, said federal regulators would probably evaluate Swoopo and its ilk not as games of skill or luck, but as auction sites. In that respect, he said, the law on the topic is somewhat of a gray area.
“It turns out the idea of paying for bids does not seem to be specifically allowed by states, as it is in most of Europe,” Professor Rose said. “But it doesn’t seem to be explicitly prohibited either.”
Belarus Develops School Uniform that Makes Tin Foil Hats Obsolete
It's not often that my native country of Belarus scores points for cutting-edge science and innovation, but this announcement (only available in Russian) makes up for the gap. In short, a Belarusian textile company has developed a special school uniform that protects kids from... electromagnetic radiation emanating from their cellphones! The uniform features a dedicated pocket that can store the phone and make it safe for those who wear it.
Now, despite all the supposed absurdity of this approach, I wouldn't necessarily bet on this being a failure. Chances are some bureaucrats will actually like the idea (the news was actually delivered by a Ministry of Trade official). It seems to me that this would work if every single schoolchild wears the same uniform. Otherwise, what's the point of having this magic pocket, if your deskmate stores his gadgets in his pants pockets, exposing you to radiation anyway?
Their fashion sense notwithstanding, at least the Belarusians are not banning cellphones in schools. That's how Tajikistan, for example, decided to handle the cellphone problem (check out the original Reuters story:"Offenders, including those who carry phones without using them, will be fined")...So I take it that the introduction latest uniforms (undoubtedly inspired by the urban legends around tin foil hats) reveasl Belarusian government's ambivalence about technology: they know it's good, but they still need to be paternalistic about it :-) http://neteffect.foreignpolicy.com/p...tes_ob solete
iPhone 3GS Bestselling Phone in Japan
Apple's third iPhone generation has ousted Japan's own phone manufacturers for the top sales spot in the country, according to market data from Gfk Japan. The 32GB iPhone 3GS was the most popular phone in Japan during July and outsold even more advanced touchscreen phones from the local market, such as the runner-up Sharp SH-06. Of the top ten, the 16GB iPhone 3GS was the only other non-Japanese phone to make the list, occupying ninth place ahead of the Sharp SH001 camera phone.
The spike isn't fully explained, though the Japanese iPhone 3GS launch occurred roughly a week after the first wave and may have used a significant amount of July to satiate at least initial demand. What's attracting users to the phone is just as unknown but likely involves features that bring its hardware up to par, like video capture and voice control.
Making the top of the chart is a potential watershed for American phones in the country as a whole. While the iPhone 3G also saw strong sales in the country when it launched over a year ago on SoftBank and hurt rival carriers like KDDI and NTT DoCoMo, it struggled to unseat locally-made handsets. The Japanese market is known to be too insular and often excludes foreign phones in favor of domestics that are complicated but support many Japan-specific features like 1Seg digital TV broadcasts or FeliCa wireless payments.
Telecom Operators Hurt Selling iPhones
Heavy subsidies shelled out by telecom operators around the world to lure consumers to buy an Apple iPhone have done nothing to increase profits, and have even dented them in some cases, a research report showed on Monday.
"According to the research we have conducted on the operators, not one of these have increased their market share, revenue, or their earnings as a result of introducing the iPhone," Strand Consult says in the report.
"On the contrary, some operators have sent out profit warnings because of the iPhone," the Copenhagen-based wireless consultancy said in report scheduled to be published this week.
Cupertino, California-based Apple released its first iPhone in mid-2007, and it quickly became a consumer phenomenon thanks to its unique design and ease of use.
In its June quarter Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones. This compares to 268 million phones sold globally by all handset manufacturers.
But not everyone has profited.
"We have not found one operator which has created shareholder value with iPhone," Strand said. "When looking at the numbers we can't see the iPhone effect -- a lot of competitors are actually doing better."
AT&T Inc, iPhone's exclusive carrier in the United States, said in June its costs to sell the new version of the iPhone would be similar to those for the original 3G iPhone, which pressured its profits last year.
SingTel, Southeast Asia's largest phone firm, has reported falling profits due to iPhone launches, saying the iPhone alone hurt operating profit margin by 3-4 percentage points.
TeliaSonera, the top operator in the Nordics, has launched the iPhone with large marketing campaigns in all Nordic countries, but it has not helped it to boost market share or lift revenues per subscriber (ARPU) according to Strand's report.
TeliaSonera's ARPU in Denmark has declined from 212 Danish crowns to 168 crowns over last two years, twice the pace of ARPU fall of Sonofon whose ARPU in first quarter was 205 crowns. Its market share is unchanged from two years ago.
In Sweden TeliaSonera has lost one percentage point of market share in two years, and its the lowest ARPU carrier among top firms, with ARPU falling to 179 Swedish crowns in the first quarter.
Operators have heavily subsidized iPhones, hoping to reap benefits later, but as Apple moves away from exclusive deals operators are seeing their window of opportunity close, Strand says.
"Operators are definitely looking for alternatives to the iPhone that return more value back to the operator," said Frank Meehan, chief executive of INQ Mobile, a phone making arm of Hutchison.
Strand's report says other handset makers are starting to catch Apple, whose latest model is very similar to original 2007 iPhone, and noted several small operators have started to successfully court iPhone customers of other operators. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Rupert Winchester)
Why AT&T Killed Google Voice
Earlier this month, Apple rejected an application for the iPhone called Google Voice. The uproar set off a chain of events—Google's CEO Eric Schmidt resigning from Apple's board, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigating wireless open access and handset exclusivity—that may finally end the 135-year-old Alexander Graham Bell era. It's about time.
With Google Voice, you have one Google phone number that callers use to reach you, and you pick up whichever phone—office, home or cellular—rings. You can screen calls, listen in before answering, record calls, read transcripts of your voicemails, and do free conference calls. Domestic calls and texting are free, and international calls to Europe are two cents a minute. In other words, a unified voice system, something a real phone company should have offered years ago.
Apple has an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S., stirring up rumors that AT&T was the one behind Apple rejecting Google Voice. How could AT&T not object? AT&T clings to the old business of charging for voice calls in minutes. It takes not much more than 10 kilobits per second of data to handle voice. In a world of megabit per-second connections, that's nothing—hence Google's proposal to offer voice calls for no cost and heap on features galore.
What this episode really uncovers is that AT&T is dying. AT&T is dragging down the rest of us by overcharging us for voice calls and stifling innovation in a mobile data market critical to the U.S. economy.
For the latest quarter, AT&T reported local voice revenue down 12%, long distance down 15%. With customers unplugging home phones and using flat-rate Internet services for long-distance calls (again, voice is just data), AT&T's wireline operating income is down 36%. Even in the wireless segment, which grew 10% overall, per-customer voice revenue is down 7%.
Wireless data service is AT&T's only bright spot, up a whopping 26% per customer. How so? As any parent of teenagers knows, text messages are 20 cents each, or $5,000 per megabyte. After the first month and a $320 bill, we all pony up $10 a month for unlimited texting plans. Same for Internet access. With my iPhone, I pay $30 a month for unlimited data service (actually, one gigabyte per month). Is it worth that? The à la carte price for other not-so-smart phones is $5 per megabyte (one-thousandth of a gigabyte) per month. So we buy monthly plans. Margins in AT&T's Wireless segment are an embarrassingly high 25%.
The trick in any communications and media business is to own a pipe between you and your customers so you can charge what you like. Cellphone companies don't have wired pipes, but by owning spectrum they do have a pipe and pricing power.
Aren't there phone competitors to knock down the price? Hardly. Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and others all joined AT&T in bidding huge amounts for wireless spectrum in FCC auctions, some $70-plus billion since the mid-1990s. That all gets passed along to you and me in the form of higher fees and friendly oligopolies that don't much compete on price. Google Voice is the new competition.
By the way, Apple also has a pipe—call it a virtual pipe—to customers. Its iTunes music service (now up to one-quarter of all music sales, according to NPD Market Research) works exclusively with iPods and iPhones. The new Palm Pre, another exclusive deal, this time by Verizon Wireless, tricked iTunes into thinking it was an iPod. Apple quickly changed its software to lock the Pre out, and one would expect Apple locking out any Google phone from using iTunes.
It wouldn't be so bad if we were just overpaying for our mobile plans. Americans are used to that—see mail, milk and medicine. But it's inexcusable that new, feature-rich and productive applications like Google Voice are being held back, just to prop up AT&T while we wait for it to transition away from its legacy of voice communications. How many productive apps beyond Google Voice are waiting in the wings?
So now the FCC and its new Chairman Julius Genachowski are getting involved. Usually this means a set of convoluted rules to make up for past errors in allocating scarce resources that—in the name of "fairness"—end up creating a new mess.
Some might say it is time to rethink our national communications policy. But even that's obsolete. I'd start with a simple idea. There is no such thing as voice or text or music or TV shows or video. They are all just data. We need a national data policy, and here are four suggestions:
• End phone exclusivity. Any device should work on any network. Data flows freely.
• Transition away from "owning" airwaves. As we've seen with license-free bandwidth via Wi-Fi networking, we can share the airwaves without interfering with each other. Let new carriers emerge based on quality of service rather than spectrum owned. Cellphone coverage from huge cell towers will naturally migrate seamlessly into offices and even homes via Wi-Fi networking. No more dropped calls in the bathroom.
• End municipal exclusivity deals for cable companies. TV channels are like voice pipes, part of an era that is about to pass. A little competition for cable will help the transition to paying for shows instead of overpaying for little-watched networks. Competition brings de facto network neutrality and open access (if you don't like one service blocking apps, use another), thus one less set of artificial rules to be gamed.
• Encourage faster and faster data connections to our homes and phones. It should more than double every two years. To homes, five megabits today should be 10 megabits in 2011, 25 megabits in 2013 and 100 megabits in 2017. These data-connection speeds are technically doable today, with obsolete voice and video policy holding it back.
Technology doesn't wait around, so it's all going to happen anyway, but it will take longer under today's rules. A weak economy is not the time to stifle change.
Data is toxic to old communications and media pipes. Instead, data gains value as it hops around in the packets that make up the Internet structure. New services like Twitter don't need to file with the FCC.
And new features for apps like Google Voice are only limited by the imagination. Mother-in-law location alerts? Video messaging? Whatever. The FCC better not treat AT&T and Verizon like Citigroup, GM and the Post Office. Cellphone operators aren't too big to fail. Rather, the telecom sector is too important to be allowed to hold back the rest of us.
AT&T Says Had No Role In iPhone Google App Rejection
AT&T Inc, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, on Friday said it played no role in a decision by Apple Inc to reject Google Inc's voice application on the popular handset.
"Let me state unequivocally, AT&T had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs.
"AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did it offer any view one way or the other," Cicconi said in a statement, accompanying a response to a regulatory inquiry into the rejection of Google's voice application by Apple.
Regulators at the Federal Communications Commission on July 31 sent letters to the three companies seeking additional information over the matter. Responses were due Friday.
(Reporting by John Poirier and Sinead Carew; Editing by Gary Hill)
Primal Snippets, on Vinyl
A few months ago a peculiar item called “Favorite Recorded Scream” began to trickle into New York City record stores. Pressed on 12-inch vinyl in an edition of 500, it has little on its red cover except a list of 74 songs, each linked to a Manhattan record shop.
But anyone curious enough to buy it would find that the record is exactly what it says it is: an audio catalog of scream snippets — each a few seconds long — chosen by employees at various record stores in Manhattan. It begins with the Pixies’ “Vamos” and includes samples of recordings by the Stooges, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, De La Soul, Slayer, Bjork and dozens of others. Spliced together on Side 1 into a continuous, bumpy howl, the whole thing lasts only 3 minutes 32 seconds. Its creator is LeRoy Stevens, a 25-year-old artist who made the album both in homage to his creative hero, Ed Ruscha — whose 1963 book “Twentysix Gasoline Stations” is simply photographs of gas stations from California to Oklahoma — and as a more practical travelogue. Last fall Mr. Stevens moved to New York from Chicago, and to get his geographical bearings he plotted a map of every record shop in Manhattan and vowed to bring to each a questionnaire asking for every clerk’s favorite scream and why.
“For six months this is pretty much all I did,” Mr. Stevens said recently at a coffee shop in Midtown Manhattan. “Every day I’d say, ‘O.K., I’m going to go to these six places,’ and I’d go off by bike or walking. It was tough. A lot of stores would say, ‘We like your project, but please come back another time.’ Some places I had to visit four or five times.”
The project also let Mr. Stevens, who has an easy, boyish giggle and wears a barrette in his long hair, explore a fascination with the scream as a musical element that is as ineffable as it is expressive. It first struck him while listening to “A Change Is Going to Come” by the 1960s soul singer Baby Huey, a version of the Sam Cooke song, which climaxes in a series of ecstatic but painful screeches. “It’s that point where it’s no longer about a word,” Mr. Stevens said. “It’s just an emotional release.”
Experienced as a piece of music, “Favorite Recorded Scream” offers a riveting if unsettling tour through decades of popular music. Buddy Holly’s carefree whoop in “Oh Boy!” goes right into James Brown’s sensual falsetto in “The Payback,” and the Swedish metal band Meshuggah is not far behind with the guttural cry of “I.” Throughout, favorites like the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” repeat at somewhat regular intervals, as if cleansing the scream-palate with a spritz of familiarity. The clerks’ ballots (collected on Mr. Stevens’s Web site, leroystevens.info) contextualize the range of expression in the music, from the Slits’ free-spirited “Shoplifting” to the “horrific first-person existential crisis” of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop.”
On Side 2, the 74 screams are separated from one another by 10 seconds of silence, forming an index not unlike the “breaks” compilations used by hip-hop D.J.’s. The record is for sale for about $15 at various stores in Manhattan; some also sell it by mail order through their Web sites, like Other Music (othermusic.com) and Turntable Lab (turntablelab.com).
Mr. Stevens, who works at a bakery and at the Guggenheim Museum (“building walls,” he said), didn’t get copyright clearance to use any of the samples, but he said that for the most part he was not worried. “I read somewhere that you have seven seconds that you can sample,” he said, adding that every sample except one is seven seconds or less. But the fragment from Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” is eight seconds, he said, “and Pink Floyd seems like a band that might sue you.” Entertainment lawyers said there was no law protecting unauthorized commercial use of samples of any length.
As a conceptual coup and a document of the disappearing culture of record stores — several of the 42 shops that participated have since closed — the album has struck a chord with the collector cognoscenti in New York and beyond. Downtown 304, on Hudson Street in the South Village, offered the album through its distribution affiliate, and orders came in from as far as Italy and China. “It’s an underground hit on a global scale — or however much records can be a hit these days,” said Joe D’Espinosa, a co-owner of the store. Downtown 304 ordered 200 copies, but Mr. Stevens could only supply 100: that was the most he could carry.
Although “Favorite Recorded Scream” would seem to fit in the growing field of sound art, Mr. Stevens instead traces his inspiration in “using the city as a sort of playground” to mid-20th century trickster movements like Fluxus and the Situationists. “Equal emphasis is placed on the process as well as the final product,” he said. In that sense the record stores themselves helped create the work and are also now functioning as its gallery.
They are a world in which Mr. Stevens says he now feels very much at home.
“I just moved here, and didn’t really know anybody, and instantly I sort of had the in at every record store,” he said. “I walk in, and they’re like, ‘Hey, it’s LeRoy the scream guy.’ ”
H.P. Tries to Keep the Ink Flowing
You’ve heard about the fears of a jobless economic recovery. For Hewlett-Packard, there is an even darker threat looming as the world works its way out of a recession: an inkless recovery.
In the last year, H.P.’s sales of printers and related supplies like ink have tumbled. The major cause for the decline remains the weak global economy. Businesses have spent less on printing products, and with unemployment high, fewer workers are around to hit the ink-burning Print button on their computer screens.
Analysts contend that the recession has created a culture of reluctant printer users. Companies have urged workers to keep a close eye on printing costs. So they are using less paper and choosing costly color ink as a last resort. Such policies push people toward digital documents they read on mobile devices as well as their computer screens.
“People have learned some of these lessons more rapidly as a result of the economic conditions than they have in the past,” said Steve Reynolds, an analyst with Lyra Research, which follows the printing and imaging industries. “My thought is that some of these habits will become permanent.”
In addition, online videos, Web-based TV and social networking sites — where consumers are spending more time — do not lend themselves to stirring the inky rivers. “A Twitter stream is not printable,” Mr. Reynolds said.
H.P.’s printing group has long been one of the company’s star performers. It accounts for nearly a quarter of overall revenue. Printer ink remains one of the most expensive liquids on the planet — more valuable than expensive perfumes — providing H.P. with far higher profit margins than PCs and other types of computing hardware provide.
On Tuesday, H.P. showed how its printer business remained vulnerable to the recession when it reported third-quarter financial results. H.P.’s printing and imaging revenue fell 20 percent, to $5.7 billion, as sales of supplies tumbled 13 percent and sales of printers fell 23 percent.
These latest results add to several months of sharper than expected declines from H.P.’s printing group, and the company has been scrambling to raise prices and adjust its inventory levels to offset the slump.
“What has been the most striking issue for investors has been the fact that printer supplies have really fallen off,” said A. M. Sacconaghi, an analyst for the investment research firm Sanford C. Bernstein. “There was always this belief that people keep printing like they keep eating even during recessions.”
H.P.’s overall business has recovered as sales in China and the United States have added some stability to the technology sector, Mark V. Hurd, H.P.’s chief executive, said in an interview.
H.P., based in Palo Alto, Calif., reported net income of $1.6 billion, or 67 cents a share, for the quarter ended July 31, a 19 percent decline from the $2 billion in net income, or 80 cents a share, reported in the period last year. Excluding charges, H.P. earned 91 cents a share, beating a forecast of 90 cents a share from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
H.P.’s revenue declined 2 percent, to $27.5 billion, from $28 billion a year ago.
H.P.’s other businesses struggled during the quarter as well, with PC sales tumbling 18 percent and computer server and storage sales falling 23 percent. The company’s main bright spot was its services division, which recorded a 93 percent increase in revenue to $8.5 billion on the back of the Electronic Data Systems acquisition.
The company’s shares declined 2 percent in extended trading after the announcement.
Although H.P. has been carefully watching printing habits change for years, Mr. Hurd said H.P. was not in danger.
He said people examining H.P.’s printing results needed to take into account currency fluctuations that had hurt the company, as well as costs tied to inventory adjustments. For example, such costs, Mr. Hurd said, would account for most of the 13 percent slide in printer supplies revenue last quarter. The sales of ink by companies like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Tesco were flat to slightly down, he said.
“People are printing just as much as they did last year,” Mr. Hurd said. Rather than curtailing their printing behavior, businesses and people have simply opted not to buy spare ink cartridges at the same rate as they did during better financial times, according to Mr. Hurd.
Still, H.P’s printing supply revenue had grown at close to 10 percent in the three previous years, and has now fallen. And it is that sharp shift that has investors worried whether longer-term changes in behavior are at work, Mr. Sacconaghi said.
H.P. has spent years trying to carve out new printing businesses, while also tacitly acknowledging changes in consumer behavior, by seeking ways to make more Web content like Twitter streams and MySpace pages printable.
The company sells large machines like its Indigo digital presses for handling commercial printing jobs, ranging from printing magazines to billboards to labels on consumer products.
Digital presses produce only about 12 percent of the more than 50 trillion printed objects made each year, according to H.P. Each point of market share H.P. can gain in this large-scale printing segment could translate into vast increases in revenue.
H.P. has been encouraging businesses to use digital presses as money-making tools, since they are more flexible than cheaper, traditional analog presses.
For example, H.P. has pushed the idea that retailers like Wal-Mart could use in-store digital presses to quickly make placards offering price cuts on certain products or to tweak the placards for each store’s demographics, making Spanish signs in certain regions for instance.
For consumers, H.P has developed software that can manipulate Web content into a more printable format. The company’s researchers have found that girls ages 14 to 24 who tend not to print much will in fact turn things like collections of photos and comments from MySpace into a foldable cube that can be shared with their friends.
CBS to Run Video Ad in Magazine this Fall
Broadcast network CBS will be advertising its fall TV season with a video-chip ad embedded in an issue of Entertainment Weekly.
The September 18 issue of the Time Inc.-owned magazine will feature the first video ad to appear in print, George Schweitzer, CBS marketing president, said Wednesday at a press conference at the company's headquarters here.
The ad will be launched in partnership with PepsiCo to promote Pepsi Max soda and the TV network's Monday prime-time lineup. Not everyone will be seeing it: the ad will appear in a magazine insert sent to subscribers in the New York and Los Angeles areas--an edition without the video chip will be sent to subscribers elsewhere and show up on newsstands.
The technology for the battery-powered ads was manufactured by a Los Angeles-based company called Americhip, and each ad can handle about 40 minutes of video.
Here are some more details about the Americhip technology: the screen, which is 2.7 millimeters thick, has a 320x240 resolution. The battery lasts for about 65 to 70 minutes, and can be recharged, believe it or not, with a mini USB cord--there's a jack on the back of it. The screen, which uses thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD) technology, is enforced by protective polycarbonate. It's a product that has been in development at Americhip for about two years, spokesman Tim Clegg told CNET News via e-mail.
"It's leadership in innovation, which we really stress at CBS in every part of our company," Schweitzer said of the ads, which were developed with the collaboration of the Ignition Factory, a division of the Omnicom Group's OMD media agency.
PepsiCo has been experimenting with edgy, experimental ads for some time now, distributing millions of 3D glasses for its SoBe LifeWater Super Bowl ad earlier this year. It more recently launched a new Mountain Dew flavor by inviting prominent Twitter users to a party at a trendy Brooklyn venue.
Pepsi Max is the company's new diet soda geared toward men, advertised earlier this summer with bold print ads that declared, "Save the calories for bacon."
"The evolution of marketing television in the fall--it used to be as simple as this," Schweitzer said, holding up a vintage copy of TV Guide. "It was axiomatic in those days. If you took an ad in TV Guide, people watched your program. Not anymore."
Disclosure: CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.
Shocker: Windows 7 to Sell in UK for Half the US Price!
We've been doing some investigating, friends -- making phone calls, demanding answers. And it was worth it. We can confirm something very few people get to confirm: British shoppers aren't going to be totally shafted over software pricing for once. Full versions of Windows 7 Home Premium are going to cost us half as much as they cost Americans.
In the UK, full versions of Windows 7 Home Premium -- not an upgrade edition -- are going to cost around £65. That's less than the price the Yanks have to pay just for an upgrade version -- $120 (£72) -- and half what they'll have to cough up for a full version -- $200 (£122).
Amazon.co.uk is already selling the full version of Home Premium for £65, and Play.com is selling it for a little more at £75, but with free delivery. Incidentally, this is the version that includes Internet Explorer 8 -- the Windows 7 E editions have now been scrapped (see our previous coverage for info).
An Amazon.co.uk spokesperson told us to treat this pricing as "indefinite". We asked Microsoft for comment on the pricing disparity, but it's yet to get back to us. Our best guess is that it's honouring its pricing for Windows 7 E, which was cheaper because an upgrade wasn't possible.
Anyway: good news, everyone! For once, we can sit back and watch Americans shafting Americans, instead of us. Over pricing, that is. Is this the end of rip-off Britain, or a glorious one-off? Sadly, we suspect the latter, but let us know what you think in the comments.
We've already tested the final RTM version of Windows 7 in detail. Check it out here.
How The Pirate Bay Will Be Legalized
A week before the Pirate Bay acquisition is set to take place the board of Global Gaming Factory (GGF) has presented plans for the site to its shareholders. If the deal goes through, GGF plans to install a torrent management system for the rights holders, which will allow them to remove infringing files or ‘authorize’ them.
In June GGF shocked many by announcing that it would acquire The Pirate Bay and turn it into a legal file-sharing site. According to the Swedish company everything is still on schedule, including the required funding. The only hurdle that has to be taken now is to get approval from the company’s shareholders.
Today, GGF shared its plans with the shareholders, who get to decide next week if the deal will go through or not. In a letter addressed to them, the company confirms that the new Pirate Bay will become a pay site while revealing some additional details on how GGF plans to legalize it.
To please the entertainment industry GGF will install a system that will allow the copyright holders to either authorize the ‘illegal’ torrent or have it removed from the site. If the copyright holder opts to choose the first option they will be compensated every time the file is downloaded. In addition, the board says that it will pay penalties if it has to.
“The holder will be able to leave the file and obtain compensation or ask for removal of the file. GGF will also pay any penalties that may arise,” the GGF board announced. There are no licensing agreements in place with the entertainment industry yet, but GGF hopes to partner with most of the major movie studios and record labels within a year.
One of the pitfalls of this new reactive system is of course that copyright holders might start to remove content en masse instead of authorizing it, so that there is nothing available for the (paying) users to download and share. Without content the users will walk away and The Pirate Bay will slowly die.
However, GGF’s board believes that this is not going to happen, and they base this on talks with entertainment industry representatives.
“The risk that rights holders will remove all content on The Pirate Bay at the date of acquisition is estimated as inexistent by GGF. GGF’s assessment after talks with the entertainment industry is that the majority of the content will remain on The Pirate Bay,” they say.
If the shareholders give the green light to the new plans, the Pirate Bay will be acquired on August 27. Whether or not any of the existing users will start to pay for the site is yet to be seen, but we estimate, based on talks with several Pirate Bay users, that the majority will wave goodbye and move on to the next torrent site.
Survey: Average Gamer is 35, Fat and Depressed
CDC study finds playing leads to ‘lower extraversion’ in adult gamers
A new study says the average age of video-game players in the United States is 35, and oh, by the way: They're overweight and tend to be depressed.
Investigators from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Andrews University analyzed survey data from 552 adults in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The subjects ranged in age from 19 to 90, according to the study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The hypothesis was that video-game players have a higher body mass index — the measure of a person's weight in relation to their height — and "a greater number of poor mental health days" versus nonplayers, said Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC's National Center for Health Marketing. The hypothesis was correct, he said.
The findings, he said in the article, "differentiated adult video-game players from nonplayers. Video-game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video-game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns."
The Seattle-Tacoma area was chosen for the study, researchers said, both because of its size as the 13th largest media market in the United States and because its Internet usage level is "the highest in the nation." The study was done in 2006; the results analyzed in 2008.
While the study helps "illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing," it is not conclusive, its researchers say, but rather serves to "reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video-game playing and highlights avenues for future research."
Female video-game players reported greater incidents of depression and "lower health status" than women who do not play video games, researchers said, while male players reported a higher BMI and more Internet use time than nonplayers.
The findings "appear consistent with earlier research on adolescents that linked video game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status and mental health concerns," Weaver and other co-authors say in the article.
One interpretation of the findings, researchers said, is that among women, video-game playing "may be a form of 'digital self-medication.' Evidence shows that women are effective at mood management through their media content choices, so some women may immerse themselves in cognitively engaging digital environments as a means of self-distraction; in short, they can literally 'take their minds off' their worries while playing a video game."
An implication of that, researchers said, is that "habitual use of video games as a coping response may provided a genesis for obsessive-compulsive video-game playing, if not video-game addiction."
Among men who play video games, compared to those who don't, "male video-game players spend more time using the Internet and rely more on Internet-community social support," researchers said. "They also tend to report higher BMI and lower extraversion.
"These findings illustrate that, among men, the association among sedentary behaviors, physical inactivity, and overweight status observed in children and young adults may extend into adulthood."
Both male and female video game players spend more time than nonplayers seeking friendship and support on the Internet, the study found, "a finding consistent with prior research pointing to the willingness of adult video-game enthusiasts to sacrifice real-world social activities to play video games."
The data, Weaver said, points to the need for "further research among adults to clarify how to use digital opportunities more effectively to promote health and prevent disease."
In a commentary in the same issue of the magazine, Dr. Brian A. Primack of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine agrees, and asks: "How do we simultaneously help the public steer away from imitation playlike activities, harness the potentially positive aspects of video games and keep in perspective the overall place of video games in our society?"
For children and adults, he writes, games that require physical exertion, such as "Hide and seek" and "Freeze tag" are "still probably what we need most."
Woman Charged with Harassment Over Suggestive Post
A Missouri woman is accused of cyberbullying for allegedly posting photos and personal information of a teenage girl on the "Casual Encounters" section of Craigslist after an Internet argument.
Prosecutors said 40-year-old Elizabeth A. Thrasher posted the 17-year-old's picture, e-mail address and cell phone number on the Web site in a posting that suggested the girl was seeking a sexual encounter.
St. Charles County Lt. Craig McGuire said Tuesday that the victim is the daughter of Thrasher's ex-husband's girlfriend. The girl, who has not been named, received lewd messages and photographs from men she didn't know and contacted police.
Thrasher, of St. Peters, is the first person charged with felony harassment in St. Charles County under a law passed in Missouri after the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who was the victim of an Internet hoax in a nearby community that drew international attention.
Thrasher was freed on $10,000 bond, but the judge barred her from having a computer or Internet access at home. No one answered the door at her house in a neighborhood about 25 miles northwest of St. Louis. Neighbors said she and her two children had just moved in recently.
Her attorney, Michael Kielty, said what Thrasher was accused of was no different from someone posting a number on a bathroom wall, telling people to "call Jane Doe for a good time."
"It may be in poor taste. It may be inappropriate, but it's not criminal behavior," Kielty said. He said the state law was poorly written and Thrasher was devastated by the charges.
Authorities said Thrasher and the 17-year-old's mother had been arguing, and there was some back-and-forth bickering on MySpace among all three. "Who started what is up for debate," said St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas.
McGuire said Thrasher then created the posting on Craigslist - whose "Casual Encounters" section warns that the pages may include adult content - that included the teen's picture, employer, e-mail address and cell phone number. She received calls, e-mails, text messages and pornographic photos to her cell phone, police said.
If convicted of felony harassment, Thrasher could face up to four years in state prison, or up to a year in county jail, and a $5,000 fine, Banas said.
Under the harassment law that took effect last August, a cyberbullying offense can be charged as a felony if a victim is 17 or younger and the suspect 21 or older. Misdemeanor cases have been filed since then.
The law was spurred by the Megan Meier case, in which an adult neighbor, her daughter and a friend were linked to a MySpace page concocted to appear to be that of a teenage boy. "Josh" initially flirted with Megan but then made hurtful comments shortly before she hanged herself.
No state charges were filed, Banas has said, because the state lacked an applicable law at the time. A jury in California, where MySpace has its servers, found the neighbor, Lori Drew, guilty of three federal misdemeanors, but a judge overturned the verdicts and said he would acquit her. His decision has not been finalized.
Given the awareness of cyberbullying that Megan's story had raised, Banas had thought St. Charles County was "the most unlikely place" for another case to arise.
Megan's mother, Tina Meier, who campaigns against cyberbullying, said Missouri's updated law should be "used to the fullest extent."
"This is not a joke," Meier said. "There have been too many people who have taken their own lives, too many people and their families getting hurt by this."
Associated Press Writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Ed Donahue in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.
Judge Rules That Model Has The Right To Learn 'Skank' Blogger's Identity
Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen is entitled to learn the identity of the person who slammed her on the blog Skanks In NYC, a judge in New York ruled Monday.
Judge Joan Madden agreed with Cohen that the blog, which referred to Cohen as a "skank," potentially defamed her.
"The thrust of the blog is that petitioner is a sexually promiscuous woman," Madden wrote, rejecting the blogger's argument that the comments were mere opinion and hyperbole.
The entire blog consisted of five entries, all made Aug. 21 2008, and was devoted to trashing Cohen. "I would have to say that the first place award for 'Skankiest in NYC' would have to go to Liskula Gentile Cohen," stated one post, which goes on to call her a "psychotic, lying, whoring ... skank."
In March, the person behind the blog took it down following settlement negotiations.
Cohen filed papers in January asking the court to order Google, which hosted the blog, to identify the author. At the time, Madden ordered Google to notify the blogger so that he or she could retain counsel and object to being unmasked.
A lawyer for the blogger subsequently appeared in the case and asked Madden to reject the request to identify the author. The attorney argued that the blog was not defamatory because it expressed opinions, not facts. Only factual assertions can be libelous.
But Madden found that use of the terms "skank," "skanky," "ho" and "whoring" possibly defamed Cohen because they appeared in captions near photos of the model in provocative poses. "Under these circumstances," Madden wrote, the words combined with the suggestive photos "carry a negative implication of sexual promiscuity."
Madden also rejected the blogger's contention that the words were vague insults. "In the context of this specific blog, such words cannot be reasonably viewed as comparable in meaning and usage to the word 'jerk' or any other loose and vague insult," Madden held. Cohen, Madden wrote, "has sufficiently established the merits of her proposed cause of action for defamation" and is therefore entitled to learn the blogger's identity.
In general, people have a First Amendment right to speak anonymously, but there are exceptions for libel. Sam Bayard, assistant director of the digital rights group Citizen Media Law Project, said that this particular blog might have crossed the line from protected speech to libel. "I think it's really close," he said. But, he added, the comments combined with the photos might be enough to constitute defamation. "It's probably the right call at this stage of the lawsuit."
A spokeperson for the blogger's lawyers said they are still analyzing their options.
New York MTA Threatens Blogger, Asserts Copyright Over Schedule
The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority's lawyers are going after a local blogger, and attempting to block an iPhone application showing Metro-North railroad schedules. The blog StationStops writes about Metro-North Commuter Railroad service north of New York City, and often criticizes its operations. Its creator, Chris Schoenfeld, also created an iPhone application to give Metro-North riders schedule information. Now the MTA is insisting he pay them to license the data, and at one point even accused the site of pretending to be an official MTA site.
Schoenfeld's iPhone application lists schedules for Metro-North trains. The MTA provides its schedules to Google Transit, but doesn't release the data publicly, as Boston's MBTA recently did and WMATA has done though more restrictively. Therefore, Schoenfeld entered the schedule data manually from the published schedules to create his application.
Earlier this month, MTA marketers and then lawyers contacted him to demand he sign a license agreement or take down his iPhone app. At one point, the lawyers also claimed that his site appeared to be an official MTA site. Perhaps realizing the enormous fallout that would come from headlines like "MTA tries to silence blogger critical of its operations," they quickly backed off that particular claim. However, they continued to demand a share of his revenue, retroactive payment for prior sales, and a $5,000 license fee on top.
Some of the MTA's arguments resemble similar ones from Metro. The MTA told the Stamford Advocate that without a license, the iPhone application might provide inaccurate information. General Manager John Catoe used a similar talking point in a lunchtime chat last year. Ironically, the MTA's proposed agreement refuses to provide reliable data updates. They don't want Schoenfeld's application out there because it might give incorrect information, but if he pays them, then incorrect information isn't a concern?
What's really going on is that MTA (and WMATA) officials view technology differently than many users and developers today. In television, one company controls the distribution (cable or broadcast). They pay content providers for content. Those providers pay companies that make shows, who pay actors. The mobile phone market works similarly. You pay a carrier for service. They negotiate deals with specific phone makers to put phones on their network.
This system works fine for what it is, but it's very limiting. If you are a brilliant TV writer with an idea that none of the networks pick up, you're mostly out of luck. If you're a phone manufacturer with a great new phone, you have to still convince at least one US carrier to sell your phone. You can't just sell the phone to consumers, as you can in Europe. Apple had enormous trouble getting a carrier partner for the iPhone, and had to agree to offer it exclusively on AT&T. Other carriers refused to sell the phone entirely. Any innovation requires negotiation with numerous gatekeepers.
The World Wide Web doesn't work this way. Greater Greater Washington needs no permission from anyone to exist. You don't need anyone's permission to read it. I couldn't make a Greater Greater Washington TV and get it on cable, though I could distribute it via YouTube. Whereas the TV world and the mobile phone world work through deals negotiated by various companies' teams of lawyers, the Web works through a culture of permission already granted either expressly or implied. Enough Flickr photographers have listed their pictures under Creative Commons that I can illustrate most posts without having to ask people ahead of time. Without that, I'd need to plan articles a day or more ahead. I can link to other sites without negotiating with them (an issue that, once upon a time, some companies wanted to restrict).
Metro still mainly operates in the deal world. They negotiated a contract with NextBus, and the service launched. Soon you will be able to make phone calls from Metro stations because WMATA worked out a deal with the carriers. Sometimes Metro pays (as with NextBus), sometimes the other company pays (as with the mobile network). If a new carrier wants to operate on the underground antenna system, they have to work out a deal with the existing carriers. Metro needed a trip planner, so they paid some company to make one and put it on wmata.com. Why would they need another? That's analogous to the Publisher of the Internet deciding that DC already had one neighborhood blog for Shaw, so there can't be more. Back when getting online meant going onto AOL or Prodigy, that's basically how it worked. Those companies saw the Internet as just TV with a mouse.
The MTA is blundering about and getting all this bad press because they look at the world in terms of deals, and figure that this thing going on pertaining to them ought to fit into that world. Unfortunately for them, data itself isn't copyrightable, and as various experts tell the Stamford Advocate, most likely the MTA has no legal basis to stop the application. Unfortunately for Schoenfeld, and us, that doesn't stop the legal department from throwing its weight around, asking Apple to take the app down (as, unfortunately for iPhone users, Apple has tried to make itself another gatekeeper).
The freer Web model has spurred enormously greater innovation than the deal model. It also required some companies to accept that others might earn money as part of their efforts. You can buy something on Amazon.com using the Firefox browser and not give Mozilla a cut, or your Internet service provider. Early on, the AOL-type online services expected to get that cut, and cable companies are still trying to find a way. You can sell a piece of Windows software and not pay Microsoft. We have far more choice of content, software, and devices on computers than we do in cable set-top boxes or mobile phones.
Public transit agencies should be embracing this model. They aren't competing with each other or with their riders. They're taxpayer- and rider-funded organizations designed to provide services to the public. They can get a lot more public benefit by encouraging innovation instead of constantly worrying how to capture their cut of anything anyone does involving transit. Some agencies, like San Francisco's BART, get this. Unfortunately, many don't, to the detriment of public transit and the public everywhere.
Here's proof nude York is the naked city
Justin Rocket Silverman
A strip club isn't the only place in town you can see a pole dance -- amazed passengers on an L train watched in awe as a naked young woman competed with straphangers for space on a pole.
The performance by actress Jocelyn Saldana, 19, lasted just 30 seconds, and some of the passengers probably thought they were hallucinating or dreaming.
Most were blasé. But one woman started screaming and an elderly man next to her got the shakes.
That free show in mid-June -- as well as similar ones from Times Square to Chinatown -- were the creation of photographer Zach Hyman, 22, whose portraits are never under-exposed.
The photographer and his volunteer models don't spend much time on location. The model quickly disrobes and Hyman gives himself only 30 seconds to fire off 10 shots with his Hasselblad 500 film camera.
Alex Reisner, a 20-year-old Columbia student, had a very appreciative audience when she disrobed in Chinatown.
When Hyman snapped her jumping in the air in the middle of the street, the crowd burst into applause.
"There was so much adrenaline," she said. "I was bouncing around for the rest of the day. I told him I want to pose nude every weekend."
Hyman noted that "photographing females in public is easier than males.
"People see a naked woman and they smile," he said. "They see a penis and they freak out."
Hyman is opening a show tonight at Chair and Maiden Gallery in the West Village featuring 14 of his favorite shots of Nude Yorkers.
His photo shoots involve precautions that not many of his colleagues have to worry about.
Like taking along a lookout to spot cops, keeping bail money on hand, and making sure his lawyer is on speed dial.
"In Times Square, there are cops everywhere," Hyman said. "It seemed that always right before or after the shoot, a cop car would roll by. Thankfully, we never needed bail money. But I have a clean record, so I'm open to the experience of getting arrested."
Hyman says his series was inspired by classic nude paintings at the Met. Like those nudes, he insists his images are not pornographic.
"We all have these parts -- it's one of the unifying aspects of being human," he says.
Back to the Garden, Without the Shock, or All That Mud
Tie-dye and peace symbols were everywhere at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on Saturday, and many of the people wearing them were pointing at a grassy hillside and saying, “When I was here in 1969. ...”
Forty years after the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was held on the site of what was Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, Bethel Woods was the obvious anniversary stop for the Heroes of Woodstock tour, featuring groups — Jefferson Starship, Ten Years After, Canned Heat — whose members performed at the festival on Aug. 15 to 17, 1969. Sam Yasgur, Max’s son, said from the stage that his father would have been overjoyed that there was still “fun and music” on the land.
Things were different, to say the least. There was no gate crashing, no mud, no shortage of food, no warnings of bad LSD. The sold-out crowd of 15,000 was less than 5 percent of Woodstock’s estimated attendance.
There were restrictions: Most of the original festival’s natural amphitheater was off limits. (The stage was elsewhere, under a shed roof with reserved seats and lawn seating beyond.) Marijuana fumes were still in the air, but not so thick.
The Heroes of Woodstock is a summer package tour headlined by Jefferson Starship, which is led by its only Jefferson Airplane member, Paul Kantner. The Bethel Woods lineup also included Country Joe McDonald, performing solo between sets, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, which was once Janis Joplin’s group (although Joplin brought her Kozmic Blues Band to Woodstock, not Big Brother). The 40th-anniversary concert included two other Woodstock alumni: the Levon Helm Band — Mr. Helm played drums and sang with the Band at Woodstock — and Mountain.
Leslie West, Mountain’s guitarist and singer, made it an occasion. He got married onstage, proceeding with his bride, Jenni Maurer, under a canopy of upraised electric guitars.
Nostalgia reigned, perhaps more in the audience than onstage, where performers didn’t say much about the 1969 festival. But the Heroes of Woodstock also ran into reality. Psychedelic-era innovators have turned into their own tribute bands. Inevitably this was an oldies concert — not the startling experiments of young musicians out to change the world, but a re-creation. “We used to have acid flashbacks,” said Peter Albin from Big Brother. “Now we have acid reflux.”
The concert began with a 15-year-old guitarist, Conrad Oberg, emulating Jimi Hendrix’s screaming, swooping version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” minus any shock value. When Mr. McDonald led his “Fish Cheer” with “Gimme an F!,” it was no surprise that the four letters did not spell f-i-s-h.
What the anniversary show remembered from the 1960s was still unresolved: a jumble of protest and hedonism, audacity and reconfigured roots, joys and fears. Performances like Country Joe’s “Death Sound Blues” (backed by Canned Heat) and Jefferson Starship’s “Wooden Ships” conjured the apocalyptic anxieties that filled the ’60s alongside the hippie bliss. Mr. McDonald also sang Vietnam protest songs and read the names of local soldiers killed in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Time has eroded band lineups, particularly lead singers. Mr. Kantner was one of three in Jefferson Airplane, and the two more spectacular ones (Grace Slick and Marty Balin) are not in his Starship, which plays its Airplane songs more bombastically than the 1960s band. Of the other bands on Saturday only Mountain used its original (and still forceful) lead singer, Mr. West, rasping and yowling and making his guitar sear through a flamboyant set that, strangely, did not include “For Yasgur’s Farm.” Mr. Helm, who survived throat cancer, usually sings with his band, but Larry Campbell, Mr. Helm’s musical director, announced that he was on “vocal rest” for this show; he applied his muscle to drumming. Alvin Lee, the guitarist and singer who led Ten Years After, has been replaced by Joe Gooch, who matches Mr. Lee’s speed but not his ferocity.
Band boundaries have blurred. Jefferson Starship now includes David Freiberg, formerly of the ’60s San Francisco band Quicksilver Messenger Service. Mid-set Mr. Freiberg, the guitarist Gary Duncan (also from Quicksilver) and Tom Constanten, who was a Grateful Dead keyboardist at Woodstock, were featured in songs associated with the Dead. The Starship’s finale, with guests, was the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” arranged à la Joe Cocker at Woodstock and fronted by two belters, Cathy Richardson (who takes Grace Slick’s parts in Jefferson Starship) and Sophia Ramos (the leather-lunged Joplin imitator for Big Brother).
Throughout the eight-hour concert, the music kept touching down in the blues. Much of it could have been called “Guitar Heroes of Woodstock,” with extended jams from Mountain, Ten Years After and Canned Heat. Canned Heat included three 1960s members: Fito de la Parra on drums, Larry Taylor on guitar or bass and Harvey Mandel on lead guitar, who played in vintage psychedelic style: sustained, distorted, wayward lines. Canned Heat also backed another Woodstock performer: Jocko Marcellino from Sha Na Na, singing blues.
The Levon Helm Band’s closing set included Band songs that were sung by Amy Helm (his daughter), Mr. Campbell, Teresa Williams and Brian Mitchell. But much of its set was an American travelogue, dipping into blues, R&B and country, mentioning places in Tennessee, Texas and Louisiana. Mr. Helm lives and regularly performs in Woodstock, N.Y., where the festival wasn’t held. As with the Band, his own group’s songs harked back to well before the 1960s, suggesting that for the land, and for America, 40 years is not so long.
Until next week,
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