Keeping Up With the Napsters

At Pho, a Thousand E-mails a Month Track the Great Digital Debate

Pho writers pick apart cant from all sides: when MP3.com celebrated easy-listening/classical pianist Ernesto Cortazar for gaining 2 million free downloads, Kay pointed out how few online sales he'd generated as a result. The Phosters are trying to brave an environment that breeds jargon as fast as start-ups: even skilled entertainment lawyers are unlikely to know instinctively whether a contract that includes a cost deduction for something called a "digibox" is justifiable. (Answer: maybe. InterTrust charges a bundle for its digital security service, but probably not as much as claimed.)

Internet developments mock the fundamental structure of the music industry: for example, is a freely downloaded song more akin to a radio broadcast or a record sale? Griffin's hope is that the online debate, combined with weekly Pho gatherings in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and the other branches that keep popping up, can promote a collegial resolution to these matters, rather than still more lawsuits. Doran compares the process to programmers' open-source collaborations.

At the moment, constructive talk seems to have broken down and Pho, which Rosen complains "has mostly turned into a ranting vehicle," is treading water waiting on actual judges. Kay wrote not long ago, "Jim, your well considered reasoning and eloquent rhetoric will ring hollow and be meaningless if MP3.com and Napster prevail in court." In fact, MP3.com lost a district-level ruling on its My.MP3 case April 28, causing the company's stock to plunge 40 percent. Then again, in the same week Limp Bizkit became the first major act to endorse Napster, accepting the company's tour sponsorship.

illustration: A. Skwish

Griffin figures that the majors, who plan to begin selling overpriced MP3 files this summer, will scurry back into their warrens after this "Digital Groundhog Day." But the battle of digital will be fought one way or another. Those in the music industry would do well to remember that however heated its rhetoric gets, Pho is the gentle version. John Parres, Internet specialist for Michael Ovitz's Artist Management Group and a main Pho honcho, hasn't quite lost the faith:

"Uber-conclusion: Open the vaults; legalize the rarities: the live recordings, bootlegs, words-and-music, promo remixes—digitally undelete the deleted catalogs—open E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G up to E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E so as to increase global music consumption and thereby revenues. Cast off the 7.1¢ (3/4 rate!) deals-with-the-devil and liberate the stored performances masquerading as CD mechanicals. Let them all spread and grow like the viral revenue-generating wildfires they yearn to be (are!)

"Say Amen! People we are almost at the promised land, can't you SEE it??"


Other articles from Take Back the Net (Special Section)

LEFT BEHIND by Ward Harkavy
The Radical Right Got Wired Fast. When Will Progressives Catch Up?

RIGHT THINKING by James Ridgeway
Want to Understand Conservatives? Read Them.

FROM THEIR VAULTS TO YOUR DESKTOP by Russ Kick
Finding Documents the Man Wants to Hide

VIRTUAL MARCHERS, REAL RESULTS by Meg Murphy
Fight Back Online

DOOMSDAY IN THE MP3 WARS by George Smith
Excavating Stoned Metal From the Internet

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