More on the RIAA

Eric left a comment on my previous post that prompted a lengthy response. I’ve decided to post my response as a post on its own.

Beware what you wish for.

With new media distribution comes new media tangles. The mix-tape freedom that we enjoyed when we were teens is being threatened by new business models. This new lawsuit isn’t designed to protect DRM — it’s designed to protect revenue streams. Amazon is great, but the RIAA members make money from Amazon. They don’t want us burning CDs because that keeps us from spending money at Amazon.

The problem is that the music publishers are important. Radiohead’s pay-as-you-wish music strategy was successful because they were able to capitalize on a large, distributed network of fans — fans that were acquired in large part due to the efforts of the music companies that Radiohead has now forsaken.

I don’t cry for the publishers; they made plenty of money off Radiohead. But your local garage band — no matter how good they are — can’t match Radiohead’s success. The music companies provide artists with distribution and, even more important, promotion.

Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody — those are all distribution channels that feed into the RIAA revenue stream, and the RIAA will defend its revenue stream. The internet has changed the method of distribution, but it hasn’t (yet) eliminated the need for promotion.

I expect, over-time, the terms of publishing contracts with artists will change very little. I expect that artists will receive — on average — a greater percentage of revenue, but less revenue over all. As with book (and film) publishing, we’ll see more massive blockbuster hits accounting for a greater percentage of overall profits, while at the same time we’ll see more and more product being delivered to the consumer.

The question is how we monetize that product. If music follows the publishing industry, we’ll see big bands subsidizing the promotion of smaller bands, which may not be such a bad thing. Internet distribution will increase, as will internet promotion. But music companies will remain players so long as they can continue to help match an artist with his audience. The opening, as I see it, is for an association of musicians to band together and create an “artist-owned” promotional agency. With the costs of production declining, musicians would record and produce their own material, and then submit that material to the agency who would act as a marketing and promotional firm, as well as a clearinghouse for distribution. (Sounds like a money-maker to me! Who’s with me?)

But in the near term, I think a lot depend on political will. Copyright law needs amending, and it will certainly be amended during the next administration. But how will it be amended? Politicians being what they are, it will be amended in ways favorable to the RIAA. Regardless of who wins the election.

RIAA and Evil

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is now arguing that copying your CD onto your own computer is illegal. (No distribution required.) They’ve sued a young man for doing just that.

I doubt that they’ll succeed in their efforts. In fact, I’m a little surprised that they’d bring this suit in the first place, as a defeat would cost the RIAA far more than they’d gain in a win. The right to copy your CD is accepted practice, but it is not ~clearly~ legal. If the RIAA loses this suit, then that practice becomes further insulated from legal challenges. And I find it hard to imagine that the courts would hold that music on a CD is inherently different from broadcast music and video (the right to tape and time-shift broadcasts on VCRs and DVRs being clearly established).

However, it’s likely that the RIAA will use a slightly different tactic in this case than they have in the past. The RIAA has long held that copying and distributing music is a form of theft — theft because the RIAA members lose revenue on CDs that the parties involved would otherwise purchase. Copying music onto your own personal computer, however, is revenue neutral.

Or at least it was.

But now, with the advent of online music sales, copying a CD onto your own computer means that you don’t have to buy the song online. More lost revenue. Therefore copying =
theft.

So don’t just blame the RIAA and the record companies, blame Apple and iTunes. And the cell-phone companies too. If this trend continues, we’ll soon have to buy the song once to listen on our portable music player, again to listen in our car, again to play it on our home computer, and again to use it as ring-tone.

Global Not-So-Much-Different

“The fact is that the global temperature of 2007 is statistically the same as 2006 and every year since 2001.”

That quote says it all. I won’t rehash all of the more standard criticisms of Global Warming, but I will say a couple of things.

First, as Glenn Reynolds often says, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who keep telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” If they were serious about reducing carbon emissions, they wouldn’t hold conferences in Bali. They’d hold them at the Times Square Marriott like everyone else.

Second, as Michael Crichton points out, science isn’t science unless it’s falsifiable. Science is the process of proposing a hypothesis, making predictions, and then testing those predictions. If Global Warming is science then there should be predictions that can be tested. But it seems that Global Warming predicts anything and everything. That’s the hallmark of faith, not science. Tell me that it’s good science because it hasn’t been disproved, not because it can‘t be disproved.

Submission

The Democratic House and Senate have knuckled under. The omnibus spending bill that the President wanted has passed the Senate. The House is expected to ratify.

Spineless. Utterly impotent. Colossal, monumental failure. The Democratic takeover in Congress has been astonishingly weak. Time and time again Pelosi has failed to deliver on the promises she’s made as speaker. Time and time again she’s suffered embarrassing defeats. It’s really quite a spectacle to watch the majority party whine and capitulate repeatedly to the minority party.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “The four senators seeking the Democratic presidential nomination — Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Barack Obama of Illinois — missed the debate [on the spending bill].” So they want us out of Iraq, but they can’t be bothered to actually show up and debate the issue. Why? Because then they’d be on record.

For the record, I’m against a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and I do not agree with the leading Democratic voices on foreign policy. But at least I could respect an honest, principled difference of opinion. But the fact that they couldn’t stand their ground speaks volumes about their commitment to principles.

Split the Ticket?

Lieberman has endorsed McCain.

This certainly increases the possibility of a McCain Lieberman independent ticket. As I’ve often said, I can’t imagine McCain winning the GOP nomination. Like Lieberman, he’s burned too many bridges for his party to ever truly forgive him.

A number of people have floated the McCain/Lieberman Independent ticket. I think it’s plausible, but I’m not sure McCain would go for it. With their position on the Iraq War, a McCain/Lieberman ticket would only pull votes away from the Republican candidate, which would only help the Dem. nominee. It’s hard to imagine McCain working to put either Hillary or Obama in the White House. McCain might conceivably want the VP nomination, and could bully the party into giving him that spot on the ticket, but is that what he really wants?

Generally speaking, the left is more likely to split the ticket than the right. Nader’s run in 2000 gave Dubya the election, and his run in 2004 certainly hurt Kerry. As a result, the far-left progressives hold a lot of power over the Democratic party. The moderate candidates, like Hillary, have to tread carefully lest they alienate the hard-line progressives. If they do, they could face an independent campaign that would devastate the Democratic ticket.

Gore/Nader.

Nader is too invested in his maverick giant-killer role and will happily run again. I find it mystifying, as it seems to elevate self-righteousness over results, but Nader’s done it twice and will–I’m sure–do it again. But Nader’s effect in 2004 was much reduced, and would likely be further reduced in 2008 unless he partnered with Gore.

An independent “Green” campaign would force the Democratic candidate to move far to the left, and would cost the campaign a lot of moderate voters. But more importantly, I think a Gore/Nader ticket could pull as much as 5% of the popular vote, which would certainly cost the Dems the election–again. The big question, of course, is what does Gore want for not running?

Is he happy as the Nobel-Climate guy? Is he done with Politics as such? Does he want to be an ambassador? Rep to the UN? I don’t think so. Gore isn’t a Nader. Gore isn’t content to sit outside and throw stones. I think Gore wants the White House, and the question is how to get it. An independent campaign puts a Republican into the white house and Gore could then run again in 2012. If his image holds up, he could be a front-runner again.

Or Gore could hold out the threat of an independent campaign to force the Dems to give him the VP nomination. That gives the Dem. ticket a better chance at keeping the green progressives in line, and (if the Dems win) it sets Gore up as a 4-term VP, and the walk-away winner of the nomination in 2016.

Some people have argued that Gore is too old — he’s 59 — and that he won’t want to wait until 2016 for his bid. I’m not so sure. Gore seems pretty hale and hearty, and 67 isn’t that old for a Presidential candidate. Of course, if he doesn’t want to wait, he could run this year and set himself up for 2012.

Mitt Romney’s Crisis of Conviction

So Mitt Romney gave his “Faith in America” religion speech. It was a good speech as speeches go. It was serious and fine and he said all the things he thought he needed to say. There were a few disappointments though. I was really hoping we’d get to see his special underwear, but alas, he promised not to air his religious laundry in public.

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

His message, essentially, is: Don’t ask him about his religion, and he won’t bore us with the details. That’s all fine and dandy. He can believe that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, that Jesus appeared to a bunch of Native Americans, and that Israelites crossed the Atlantic in 600 BCE. They’re all absurd beliefs, but no more absurd than the articles of faith in any other religion. And faith is faith is faith — I don’t want to debate the merits of faith vs. reason in this post.

However

Romney’s speech is a lie.

He says,

There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

and later,

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin. … I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.

(emphasis added)

Some have commented that there’s a natural tension between those two sentiments, but that’s being disingenuous. Those two statements are in direct conflict. We do not live in a caliphate. The laws of man and the laws of God diverge, and they do so with great regularity. In cases where those differences are significant and subject to national debate, where will Romney stand?

Will Romney recognize current US law and uphold a woman’s right to abortion? Or will he work to undermine current law in service of his church and his conscience?

Will Romney work to clarify current law and ensure that, “no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States?” Or will he work to ensure that those who share his private moral convictions concerning the nature of marriage are granted privileges that others–whose lifestyle and beliefs differ from his–are denied?

Romney wants us to believe that he is a man of strong religious conviction and that he will subordinate that conviction to the sovereign authority of law. But that’s a lie. A servant cannot serve two masters. Either he is a man of great religious conviction who will be guided and informed buy that conviction, or he is not.

If he is a man of conviction, then he should show the courage of his convictions and promise to let his conscience be his guide.

If he is not, then he should not be trusted.

The sad fact is that Mitt Romney believes that he can subordinate his convictions while in office. If we are to believe his current rhetoric, he must have substantially subordinated his beliefs while governor of Massachusetts.

That speaks to a shallow sort of conviction. There may be much to gain form pandering to potential voters, but there is little personal virtue in such plastic principles. Romney seems to have replaced his moral compass with a weather vane. And a man who blows with the wind will find himself lost and broken in a storm.

A candidate’s personal beliefs–his inner convictions about what is good and right and true–are of supreme importance in a presidential election. We are a nation divided on policy and politics. We are a nation at war. We can ill afford a candidate who will be guided only by polls and political expedience. The idea that a candidate’s beliefs are fungible and irrelevant is pernicious. But far worse is the candidate who promises to subordinate his beliefs to the whims of whatever special interest brings him the most votes.

Mitt Romney is a man of faith, but it is not his adherence to his Mormon faith that should doom his candidacy. It is his elevation of expedience over conviction.