Archive for the ‘Media’ category

“Copyfraud” Steals From the Public Domain

12-13-07

Here’s something I didn’t know:

Copyfraud is everywhere. False copyright notices appear on modern reprints of Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s piano scores, greeting card versions of Monet’s Water Lilies, and even the U.S. Constitution. Archives claim blanket copyright in everything in their collections. Vendors of microfilmed versions of historical newspapers assert copyright ownership. These false copyright claims, which are often accompanied by threatened litigation for reproducing a work without the owner’s permission, result in users seeking licenses and paying fees to reproduce works that are free for everyone to use.

Copyright law itself creates strong incentives for copyfraud. The Copyright Act provides for no civil penalty for falsely claiming ownership of public domain materials. There is also no remedy under the Act for individuals who wrongly refrain from legal copying or who make payment for permission to copy something they are in fact entitled to use for free. While falsely claiming copyright is technically a criminal offense under the Act, prosecutions are extremely rare. These circumstances have produced fraud on an untold scale, with millions of works in the public domain deemed copyrighted, and countless dollars paid out every year in licensing fees to make copies that could be made for free. Copyfraud stifles valid forms of reproduction and undermines free speech.

This is from a paper by Assistant Professor Jason Mazzone of the Brooklyn Law School, which was linked by the popular site Boing Boing. The full paper can be downloaded from here.

In the paper, he cites a warning notice placed on an edition of the U.S. Constitution that many law students use: “No part of this may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means…without permission from the publisher.”  The Constitution! (more…)

Has the Writers’ Strike Been Settled Already?

11-26-07

After a relaxing holiday weekend, today is the day the Writers Guild of American and the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers are supposed to resume negotiations.

Nikke Finke, the showbiz industry blogger who has led coverage of this story since before the strike began — tripling her page views to 1 million per day, according to the NY Times — today claims “there appears to be a deal seemingly in place between both sides” according to “a very reliable source.”

“It’s already done, basically,” the insider describes. That’s because of the weeks worth of groundwork by the Hollywood agents working the writers guild leadership on one side, and the studio and network moguls on the other. I was told not to expect an agreement this week. But my source thought it was possible that the strike could be settled before Christmas.

Finke is nervous about this story, though. She adds a caution that “this is Hollywood — where defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory every time.”

Judith Regan Flips the Script and Enjoys a PR Turnaround

11-15-07

simpson-and-regan.jpg

Judith Regan, one of the most successful publishers and editors in the book business, saw her career come to an ignominious end late last year after a controversy erupted about her plan to publish a peculiar memoir by O.J. Simpson, If I Did It, as well as an erotically-charged novelization of Mickey Mantle’s life. During a December 2006 conference call with HarperCollins’ attorneys about the Mantle book, Regan allegedly uttered a epithet so offensive — reportedly anti-Semitic — that HarperCollins fired her the same day.

A few months later, writer Michael Wolff published in Vanity Fair a memoir/feature about Regan, in which he reported Regan was

telling people that something has changed at News Corp. It’s not the same company anymore. Murdoch himself has changed. His third wife, Wendi Deng Murdoch, is part of the problem. It’s her craving for respectability that has made Murdoch weak, according to Judith. She might even be … liberal. Peter Chernin is … a Democrat. Gary Ginsberg worked for Clinton. Murdoch is forsaking his tabloid heart in the quest for mainstream, yuppie respectability. The greatest, most audacious media company of the age had become like any other—pitiably concerned about what people think. News Corp. is selling out. Judith Regan isn’t.

There might be something to this. Murdoch, over the last few years, has certainly morphed from a dark, ruthless, diabolical figure into a more complex, thoughtful, and, as he aged, vulnerable media sage.

Judith, the tabloid monster, is, in some sense, the skin he’s shed.

So, by that point, Regan had managed to pretty much destroy her reputation from a PR standpoint. She was the publisher who wanted to pay O.J. millions. Who used anti-Semitic epithets. Who was too “tabloid” even for Rupert Murdoch.

Regan’s defamation lawsuit, regardless of its legal merits, is a brilliant PR tactic, designed to replace her toxic PR image with that of someone far more compelling in this election year: The woman who knows secrets about a leading presidential candidate.

Most of the indictment is a series of who-shot-John accounts of events leading up to her firing, in which the Regan claims Jane Friedman, HarperCollins’ CEO defamed her by spreading the story of the anti-Semitic slur, which Regan denies, and by making Regan the scapegoat for the OJ Simpson book fiasco despite her claims that Friedman, Murdoch and other company executives approved its publication.

But have you read the press coverage? Here’s how the New York Times played it:

Judith Regan, the former book publisher, says in a lawsuit filed today protesting her dismissal by the News Corporation, the media conglomerate, that a senior executive there encouraged her to lie to federal investigators about her past affair with Bernard B. Kerik after he had been nominated to become homeland security secretary in late 2004.

The lawsuit asserts that the News Corporation executive wanted to protect the presidential aspirations of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Kerik’s mentor, who had appointed him New York City police commissioner and had recommended him for the federal post.

In the first six paragraphs of the AP version, O.J. Simpson isn’t even mentioned:

One-time book publishing powerhouse Judith Regan filed a $100 million defamation lawsuit Tuesday saying her former employers asked her to lie to federal investigators about Bernard Kerik, the former police commissioner who was once her lover, and tried to destroy her reputation.

Regan, who worked for HarperCollins Publishers LLC, said the smear campaign stems from her past intimate relationship with Kerik, who was police commissioner under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and from the political agenda of News Corp., the parent company of HarperCollins.

Regan, 54, says in court papers that News Corp.’s political agenda centers on Giuliani’s presidential ambitions. It was Giuliani, a Republican, who appointed Kerik police commissioner and recommended him to President Bush for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Kerik had to withdraw his nomination after it was revealed he had not reported the wages he paid to a nanny.

Regan says “it is now widely accepted” that one of Giuliani’s vulnerabilities is the 52-year-old Kerik. Because of Regan’s affair with Kerik, court papers say, a senior News Corp. executive told her he believed she had information about Kerik that could hurt Giuliani’s campaign and she should lie to federal investigators.

Court papers say another executive told Regan, a HarperCollins editor for 12 years, to withhold documents that were clearly relevant to the government’s investigation of Kerik.

giuliani-kerik.jpgThe Kerik-Giuliani claims are right up front in the suit to make sure you don’t miss them. The substance of the claim is that Regan told an unnamed News Corp. executive about her affair with Kerik in 2001, at which point a “covert smear campaign” was initiated against her.

In 2001.

She was fired in 2006. In between 2001 and 2006, Regan had her own TV show on the News Corporation’s Fox News Network, and was granted the opportunity to move her imprint, ReganBooks, to Los Angeles in order to expand into synergistic arrangement with other media. She also had her contract with HarperCollins renewed and compensation increased in 2005.

Regan’s suit, however, would have us believe that the News Corporation signed that contract in 2005 fully expecting to fire her before the contract ran out, having worked on a scheme to do so since 2001. (more…)

Red, Purple and Blue TV

11-14-07

Conservatives and liberals don’t just differ on political candidates. They prefer different TV shows, movies and videogames, according to a new survey by the Zogby Institute. USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center commissioned the study, and its director, Marty Kaplan, blogged about it at Huffington Post, concluding

(W)hen it comes to entertainment, conservatives are way more PC than liberals.

People on the right — and that characterization of them comes from their answers to 24 questions designed to reveal their political values — don’t like to consume entertainment that doesn’t reflect their worldview, and they feel that way about a lot of it. But people at the other end of the political spectrum are voracious in their entertainment consumption. They enjoy watching, reading and listening to plenty of stuff that runs counter to, even offends, their political values. Over 80 percent of liberals say they’re entertained by material that’s in bad taste, but over 40 percent of conservatives say they’re never entertained by it.

Conservatives don’t just love Fox News; they also prefer the Fox network, home of 24, but also smart-ass shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Generally, conservatives prefer action/adventure shows, business and sports programs. Liberals don’t like any of those genres much, but they enjoy comedies, drama, documentaries and arts programming — all of which turn off conservatives. Liberals and moderates both prefer NBC (so how come it’s usually third or fourth in the ratings?)

The liberal audience is 57 percent female, the conservative audience 57 percent male.

Moderates — “purples” — like Fox News, too; 27 percent of them watch it daily. They like police procedurals, game shows, other daytime programming and children’s shows. The survey checked out musical tastes, too. Moderates dig the rock ‘n roll, conservatives prefer classical, followed by country and rock, and liberals “enjoy almost every musical genre.”

Wired News reviewed the study for information on videogames. Conservatives “are not big fans of videogames, but when they do play, Madden NFL and Mario are their favorites.” Moderates, similarly, prefer Mario, Donkey Kong, and Madden. Liberals “tend to play more videogames than the other groups, with Mario and The Sims being particular favorites.”

So, Mario is one big winner in this survey.  The other across-the-board favorite?  Football. (more…)

Will the Writers’ Strike Make Hollywood More Like Silicon Valley?

11-13-07

Legendary tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen explains that the Silicon Valley way of creating businesses might be what its polar opposite, the entertainment industry, might turn into as a result of the WGA strike; and of the underlying issue behind the strike, the convergence of scripted movie and TV entertainment with the Internet.

The whole, very long piece is worth reading, but here’s the nut of it:

What would a new entertainment media company, producing original content, look like in the age of the Internet?

  • Starting from the end of the process: you know distribution is now nearly free. Put it up on the Internet and let people stream or download it.
  • Marketing is also free, due to virality. Let people email your content to their friends; let people embed your content in their blogs and on their social networking pages; let your content be searchable via Google; let your content be easily surfaced using social crawlers like Digg. All free.
  • Production is very cheap. Handheld high-definition video cameras cost nearly nothing. You can do almost every aspect of production and post-production on any Mac. Hell, you can even score an entire movie for free — there are hundreds of thousands of bands on the Internet who would love to have their music embedded in a new entertainment property as promotion for the bands’ concerts and merchandise.
  • The creators of the content are the owners of the company. The writers, actors, directors — they are the owners. They have a direct, equity-based economic stake in the company’s success. They get paid like owners, and they act like owners.
  • Financing is straightforward: venture capital, just like a high-tech startup. We live in a world in which financing a high-quality startup is simply not difficult — not for a high-quality technology startup, and increasingly not for a high-quality media startup. Modern financiers love being co-owners of a new company with the talent that will make the company successful — and that’s how it will happen here.

This is not a difficult thing to envision. And in fact, it’s already happening. Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die, in which I am a minority investor, is one early existence proof of this model. And there are a ton of other such new companies either already underway, or currently being incubated, or currently being negotiated.

(more…)

Is There Still a Music Business?

11-12-07

Warner Music Group was trading at $27 per share a year ago. Since then, it’s been all slide, until Friday, when it closed at $8.08, after having scraped $7.25. Fox News’ Roger Friedman said Friday the stock had “collapsed,” a colorful description that got picked up all over the Internet.

What’s wrong with Warner Music Group? It’s not downloading. It’s lack of music, no artists, no signings, no development of new artists, as well as wildly overpaid executives and bad business deals.

For example, a $30 million investment in Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment has turned up nothing of value. And another multimillion dollar investment, in a private luxury concert business this summer in the Hamptons, was a bust.

At the same time, WMG has been hit by defections. Madonna has left for Live Nation after 25 years with WMG. The company could no longer afford her. The Eagles, whose entire career was spent with the old Warner Music, now have their own label with Wal-Mart. They sold 711,000 copies of their new album this year.

Warner also passed on the “Hairspray” soundtrack, which turned out to be a hit for New Line Cinema. And those are just the big public embarrassments. The smaller ones, the ones we don’t know about, are probably even more alarming.

For pop music fans of a certain age, the struggles of the company that once housed Warner Bros. Record and Reprise, the affiliated labels are another reminder of how much water has flowed under that proverbial bridge. Warner/Reprise used to be bursting with genre-defining musicians, from Frank Sinatra to Jimi Hendrix, from Peter, Paul and Mary to the Ramones. (more…)

Following Up the Writers’ Strike: The Back Channel

11-07-07

On the last day before the Writers Guild of America went on strike, two of the most powerful entertainment executives offered a deal through a back channel. If the WGA stopped demanding DVD residuals, the producers would improve the residual formula applied to Internet downloads of movies and TV shows, according to Nikke Finke’s closely-watched blog, Deadline Hollywood Daily. The WGA instructed its negotiators to take the DVD issue off the table, and waited for the producers’ negotiators to take the promised answering step.

It never happened. And the writers now feel the executives, News Corp. CEO Peter Chernin and CBS President Les Moonves, “deliberately duped” them, Finke reports.

As a spitting mad WGA leader put it to me today: “All I can say is, if someone calls me and says, “You do X, and I do Y” and that someone doesn’t do it, then I’ve been lied to and I’ve been played. It’s a complete betrayal. I just don’t know what the studios’ game is.”

Finke’s post tick-tocks the final day of negotiations until

Finally, a little before 9 PM Pacific time just before the strike was to start at 12:01 AM Eastern time, “the producers came back to us with an answer to our DVD. It was all very calculated,” a WGA leader told me. “They said, ‘We are not going to make any concessions on the Internet. We stand by our former position that you will get the DVD formula on digital downloads. And we would like to ask if you guys would suspend the strike starting at midnight in the East. Are the pickets starting?’ [The producers confirmed to me they didn’t move off their electronic sell-through position to answer the WGA’s taking DVDs off the tables Sunday. “There wasn’t enough time!” one of their insiders claimed to me.]

“We told them what we’d said right at the beginning of the day’s discussion — that we had to see progress for the strike not to start. They said, ‘Well, that’s it, we’re walking out. Goodbye and good luck.’ Our guys shouldn’t have been shocked but they were shocked. They weren’t ready for the game that was being played. We had made every effort, thinking that if the other side sees you’re serious… and we were shaken that the promise to us had been broken.”

Finke says the two sides are now farther apart than ever, with mutual mistrust so high it might take months for the bargaining to resume.

Finke’s site is the one to monitor for the most up-to-date coverage from the reporter reputed to have the best sources.