Posts Tagged ‘News’

Major Music Labels To Offer Unlimited Downloads?

April 1, 2008

CD MusicThe Times Online is reporting that Warner Music – one of the “big four” record labels – is in talks with British ISPs to offer unlimited access to all songs in its library:

Warner Music seeks to offer ‘all you can eat’ digital music

Sounds great, right?

Well, if this goes through, the price will be a small fee charged on top of your normal monthly broadband – from the sounds of the similar negotiations taking place in the US recently, this could be around $5 (£2.50) extra per month. Still sound good?

And the top-up charge isn’t the half of it. But before we get onto that, I suppose the big question is: how likely is this to actually happen, and what will it mean for music fans – and artists for that matter?

To answer the first part of that question: pretty likely, especially if indications from the article are anything to go by. British ISPs are reportedly keen on the idea, and one Danish telco has already signed up:

“Separately, three of the major labels – Sony BMG, Warner, and EMI – announced today that they had concluded a deal with a Danish telecommunications company which will open their digital catalogues to broadband and mobile customers as part of their monthly contract.”

Other blogs reported last week that the same plan has been proposed to US ISPs. Techcrunch was uniformly negative; calling this the new extortion scheme of the music industry – or, to put it even more bluntly – “pay us not to sue you“:

“Why will ISPs agree to this? Mainly to avoid liability. The core of the plan is a covenant not to sue anyone who pays the fee. Griffin touched on this in the article, saying ISPs will want to “discharge their risk” around file sharing that occurs over their networks.

The rollout plan will hit colleges and universities first, who will simply add the fee to tuition bills so they won’t have to worry about getting dragged into lawsuits. Then Griffin will approach consumer ISPs. If an ISP joins, their users will not have the option of not paying, even if they don’t download music from the Internet. So, basically, the tax is only voluntary if you define avoiding it as not going to college, or using the Internet.”

So, not only do we have to pay to not be sued, but if you read further in the Times article above the full details of the scheme become clear – and then three of the most widely reviled letters in music journalism pop up almost out of nowhere: DRM. Great: just as we thought we were winning the war against Digital Rights Management, it’s back in the frame.

Well of course, when music execs said DRM was a bad idea, they really meant that it wasn’t making them any money on the current, broken “per track” model of music buying. Now that a next big idea for selling music comes along, it’s right back at the forefront of their thinking.

It’s self-evident that crippling downloads with DRM is a monumentally bad move for consumers – mainly because you don’t own what you’re paying for (albeit via the ISP). But this scheme is also bad news for artists: it surely gives the label even more power than the old system, because they’re getting a flat fee not linked to any artist “sales”. Do you seriously think more of this top-up cash will get back to artists than before? Right…

By the way, I assure you this is not some elaborate April Fool’s joke – though I kind of wish it was.


UK 08 Quake Survivors REPREZENT!

February 27, 2008

Oh yes! Last night at 12:55 am the largest earthquake for 25 years hit the UK. Measuring around 5.3 on the Richter Scale, the epicentre was hardly 20 miles from our house:

EMSC Local picture

I’ve never experienced a quake before, so it was rather unnerving. It only lasted for 10 seconds or so, but the whole house seemed to shake violently. Nothing actually fell off or was damaged, but it felt pretty severe from where I was sitting. Apparently people felt it as far away as London, and even Newcastle to the north!

God bless the Internet, though: at 1 am, when the BBC news site was just showing a line saying “Reports of tremors in the West Midlands”, was already live and on the scene with about 20 different stories detailing exactly what was going on. Web 2.0 ftw!

Four Years For ‘Planning’ Terror

January 10, 2008

I don’t usually blog about political/legal issues, but this story disturbed me:

Man jailed over terrorism charges (Times Online)

From the article:

“A dentist who tried to fly to Pakistan with military equipment and £9,000 cash in his luggage has been jailed for four and a half years for preparing to engage in terrorism.

Sohail Qureshi, 29, pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to charges of preparing to commit terrorist activity and possessing items of use to terrorists, including a night vision scope and medical supplies.”

Sohail Qureshi


Qureshi had also been in contact with the so-called ‘lyrical terrorist‘, Samina Malik, who worked at Heathrow and was charged last month for ‘possessing terrorist material’. Qureshi’s is the first case to be charged under new laws which prohibit planning terrorism.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it more than a little alarming that a sentence can be this severe when — bottom line — Qureshi hadn’t actually done anything. Okay, he’s confessed that he wanted to kill people; he left messages on extremist Islamic websites; he’d been trained by Al Qaeda; and he even took some equipment and cash with him.

None of this is the mark of a model citizen, and Qureshi was — rightly — under increased surveillance. But, let’s be clear about this, the man has been sentenced to four and a half years effectively on the basis of what we think he’s going to do. Call me a liberal if you like, but this doesn’t sit too well with me.

Now, I’ve seen messages from people who say things like ‘actions don’t occur in isolation – if we hadn’t stopped him, he would’ve definitely killed people’. Maybe so, but we can’t be sure of that, can we? I think this is treading on dangerous ground, because the ‘evidence’ is effectively defined by prediction and interpretation of someone’s motives. Just look at the wording in the BBC News article: “He pleaded guilty to possessing articles for terrorist purposes and articles likely to be useful to a terrorist.” Likely to be useful?

While it’s true that actions aren’t isolated from thought, if we’re charging people based on what they’re planning to do where do we stop?

I’ll leave you with the judge’s statement from the BBC News article:

“[These are] grave charges… You were ready for terrorist operations overseas but there is no specific indication of what they are or where they might be.”

Online Privacy Is A Matter Of Trust

November 27, 2007

ESRCLast week, the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council reported on research it funded into ‘self-disclosure’ of personal information online:

Internet Users Give Up Privacy In Exchange For Trust

The research […] revealed that internet users will reveal more personal information online if they believe they can trust the organisation that requests the information. ‘Even people who have previously demonstrated a high level of caution regarding online privacy will accept losses to their privacy if they trust the recipient of their personal information’ says Dr Adam Joinson, who led the study.

Self-disclosure is currently a big issue, not only on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, but also personal banking sites and in internet shopping.

Dr Joinson found that when a website is designed to ‘look trustworthy’, users will be more likely to divulge personal data. But more important than website design is the reputation of the company behind the website. This is closely tied to whether or not the user trusts the company, and therefore whether they will give over personal details.

I recently registered for free with New York Times online, and I was put off because of the level of personal information requested — why do you need to know our household income just so I can read a news article? Although NY Times is a large and (potentially) trustworthy organization, this level of detail seemed like prying to me, and I chose ‘prefer not to say’, which — incidentally — is at the bottom of the drop-down menu — another subject touched on in this report.

This is a particularly timely report, given that it comes days after the unprecedented loss of CDs containing the personal data (names, addresses, dates of birth, and bank details) of 25 million people. If we can’t trust the government with our personal information, should we really be happily entering it into Facebook — or maybe you trust corporations like Facebook more than the government…

Afghanistan: Telling the Soldiers’ Side of the Story

November 8, 2007

If you didn’t catch Panorama on BBC1 on Monday night, you should head over to the website now and watch the latest programme. It’s an hour of the most gripping, harrowing, brutally honest television you’re likely to see this year. This extract explains further:

Reporter Ben Anderson followed a unit of British soldiers on a six-month tour to the front line in Afghanistan. It ended with one soldier dead and 12 seriously wounded…

Suddenly bullets came from the hedgerow where another group of Taleban were shooting from an angle that made the wall useless for cover. As the bullets came straight at us I told myself that the Taleban aren’t very good shots – and even if they were, their guns are old and inaccurate.

This film shows the depressing reality of the ongoing “war on terror”: endless skirmishes for tiny scraps of land, which are lost and must be retaken a few days or weeks later. Then there’s the rebuilding programme: every time the Queen’s Company calls in an airstrike to flush out the Taleban, they have to go through a protracted negotiation process with the local community to rebuild destroyed villages, and pay compensation to those who have lost family members.

Even worse, one senior British official is reported as saying that a significant UK presence in the country will be necessary for at least 30 years to ensure that the Taleban don’t regain control. Sobering stuff.

I really can’t recommend this film highly enough: if anything conveys the sheer monotonous horror of war, this does. Check out this clip on youtube for a taster.