Tex and the City

A whole arena full of women in made-for-walkin’ boots (some flanked by biz-frat dudes with “I hope this gets me laid” thought bubbles) cheered for coded warm-up tunes like “Band on the Run” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” even before the Dixie Chicks‘ Saturday free-speech victory lap began. Straight outta Thunderdome, with high hair and flash’n’slash garb, they kicked things off with “Goodbye, Earl,” repurposed as Rock the Vote anthem, strutting with entitlement on the shifting hydraulic stage like the Nashville pros they are.

Of course, for Sodom’s Angels, this tainted “Top of the World” tour is also a precipice-blink into an uncertain future. The granddaughters of the Daughters of the American Revolution may never forgive Natalie Maines for “the incident.” But here in Gomorrah, we transplants tearily drained our $7 champagne to “Long Time Gone,” yelled “There’s Your Trouble” with fresh zeal, howled in league for “Truth No. 2” ‘s video clips of ERA marches and Malcolm X speeches, booed shots of “Ban the Beatles” rallies, caroused on “Sin Wagon”—not wishing for a cowboy to take us away, just for a landslide to bring him down. —Laura Sinagra

Down the Hatch

When most people propose technology that can destroy other people’s computers remotely, they’re called cyberterrorists. When Orrin Hatch calls for that technology, as he did June 17, he’s just doing his job as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a hearing on peer-to-peer systems, Hatch suggested that copyright owners should be freed from liability for damaging computers. If users exchange files online and ignore two warnings, “then I’m all for destroying their machines. . . . There’s no excuse for anyone violating copyright laws,” he said. By “copyright laws,” he appears to mean exclusively the ones that cover music and film; the entertainment business has been the fourth largest industry among Hatch’s campaign contributors over the past six years, and he has never proposed, say, destroying photocopy machines on which newspapers or books are copied. (The next day, Hatch offered a non-clarification clarification: “I do not favor extreme remedies—unless no moderate remedies can be found.”)

But hardware isn’t all the Recording Industry Association of America has been trying to destroy lately. On April 3, the RIAA filed high-profile, high-ticket lawsuits against four students who had built search engines that could be used for file-sharing at three universities; it subsequently settled the suits quickly and brutally. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Jesse Jordan agreed to pay the RIAA $12,000 —his entire savings—and Aaron Sherman got hit for $17,500. Daniel Peng at Princeton settled for $15,000, as did Joseph Nievelt of Michigan Tech.

The point of this exercise, of course, wasn’t for the RIAA to sue people for their life savings ($12,000 is chump change to them), or even to collect $97.8 billion—the total of the initial suit against Nievelt alone (at $150,000 per song) and yes, that’s a b. It was to pick on small fry, to make them fold quickly instead of taking it to the courts, regardless of the legal merit of the lawsuits. (Arguably, since at least a couple of the defendants’ programs were search engines rather than Napster-like networks, they were protected under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act against claims for “contributory infringement.”) Ultimately, it was to create a chilling effect for file traders—and for service providers and schools, and anybody who uses their networks for any reason. Eight days after the RIAA announced its lawsuits against the students, Columbia University sent out a message threatening to cut off network access for copyright violations and pointing users to instructions for disabling several peer-to-peer programs.

Technology remains three steps ahead of the recording industry anyway. Even as Apple‘s new iTunes Music Store was getting ecstatic press last month, savvy users discovered that iTunes 4.0, the program that makes it work, could be used to share music between users across the Internet. Apple promptly released an “upgraded” version, 4.0.1, which limited sharing capability to local networks; shortly thereafter, maverick programmer James Speth released iCommune 401(ok), which makes iTunes think the rest of the Internet is on its local network. But don’t expect the RIAA to pick on Apple; expect them to pick on you.

On June 4, Verizon lost a legal appeal and was forced to give the RIAA the names of four subscribers who appear to have downloaded copyrighted music files. (Earthlink, which had agreed to abide by the Verizon decision for a similar case, turned over another name.) It was the first test of the DMCA provision that allows any copyright holder to subpoena Internet service providers for users’ identities by filling out a one-page form, without bothering to get a judge’s signature—or any other kind of due-process protection. At a hearing on April 1, RIAA lawyer Donald Verrilli said, “We have no choice but to go after the users. . . . We are going to issue very substantial numbers of subpoenas.” According to Sarah Deutsch, VP and associate general counsel for Verizon, “Any website you surf, any private communication, is subject to an automated shortcut to obtain your identity. . . . The recording industry could potentially obtain access to every Internet service provider’s customer database. In fact, when we met with them, they asked if they could hook their databases directly into Verizon’s, so they could just push a button and extract their information instantly.” Verizon’s next appeal comes to trial in September. —Douglas Wolk