The RIAA – They Can’t Be Serious


Noticed that the top e-mailed story from the entire Washington Post site the other today was regular radio columnist Marc Fisher’s latest Report from the RIAA front, containing this loaded handgun of a paragraph:

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

Huh? Ripping your CD (or vinyl, for that matter) into your PC is a crime? No wonder the music-blogosphere is burning up, and Jerry Del Colliano is hyperventilating. They can’t be serious! After all, the in the “Betamax case” (brought in 1976, ultimately settled in 1984) the Supreme Court famously said that home taping for “personal use” was OK — and thus the VCR and TiVo industry was born.

Ironically, in its initial response to the lawsuit, Sony in fact argued that the precedent of home-taping had been introduced by the cassette recorder, which was of course used for recording AUDIO only. So now the RIAA is seriously going to clamp down on the 21st-century version of this practice?

No, I don’t think they’re serious about it all. I think the clues to what’s really going on here lie in this analysis of the Betamax case by the Frontier Foundation:

It’s thanks to the Betamax ruling that the makers of VCRs and every other technology capable of infringing and non-infringing uses (e.g., personal computers, CD burners, the TiVo DVR, Apple’s iPod, and Web browsers) can continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits from copyright owners.

The whole article is pretty good — it really does suggest that RIAA sees another opening here to lay claim to more legal territory, and try to chip away a little more at the accursed Betamax ruling. It’s not you at home they’re after — it’s winning the hearts and minds of the Court. Doubt that anything so politically charged will happen in 2008, however…..

The Globe, By George!


Cruising around the DC radio dial after a few days away to discover another shakeup on the radio dial…WARW, the longtime “classic rock” station has become The Globe, a station blending “world class rock” with an environmental message. The format flip happened on Friday (2/2) at noon, same day, of course, as the U.N. Report on Climate Change was released. Since then, the station has played a slightly tweaked version (read: more stuff from the 90’s) of its classic-rock format, and ditched the deejays in favor of left-leaning eco-and-call-to-action messages (soundbites of Al Gore, bromides to save energy, and even an anti-focus group rant!). The deeejays are supposed to be back within a few days, as well as presumably a better-developed website – right now, all you get on their site is the option to listen to their stream, IM or E-mail “the studio,” and a read of The Globe’s 12-Point Mission Statement [Number 10: WE WON’T INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE – The Globe will have commercials (got bills of our own to pay) but we will try to keep them to a minimum and present them in a way that respects our listeners and our advertisers.”]. There’s even talk that the station will bring back the call letters WHFS, recalling the glory years of the once-legendary “alternative” station in the DC – Baltimore area. (Corporate parent CBS radio still owns those call letters.)

The RoeDeo Reaction? Fascinating, but preposterous. Very nice of them to tell us that flourescents save 70% more energy that incandescents, that we all can make a difference, and that they are now “partially operating on alternative fuels.” (Where? Are they lighting candles in the control room?). And the playlist is at least veering more towards the sound of excellent non-commercial stations like WXPN in Philly or WTMD in Towson (Baltimore), MD. But this is a station, as noted above, that’s owned by CBS. It’s all thoroughly unconvincing, and to my mind, creepily artificial. Maybe it’ll be better once the live air staffers return, and the sound becomes less canned and calculated. We’ll see.

The DC market has suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting for us radio junkies, however…I’ve mentioned Dave Hughes’ DCRTV blog (stands for DC Radio and Television) before, and if you like this sort of stuff it makes for pretty entertaining reading. Sample:

OK, maybe The Globe is not real “adult alternative” like what’s heard in other markets and on some non-comm stations. Maybe it’s a bit “harder” and a bit more “commercial.” And, OK, yeah, maybe the “green” sloganeering will grow tiring. Still, it’s a great mix of powerful music that can (and should) only get better. CBS and Michael Hughes have planted the seed for a powerful force in Washington area radio. It’s energizing and thought provoking. Not moldy oldie and turgid, like some some area rockers have become.

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher had a lengthy take-out in the Sunday Arts section on George 104, the new oldies-plus format adopted by the formerly-classical WGMS:

George is a 44-year-old white guy who lives in the suburbs and likes Foreigner, Journey, Billy Idol, and David Bowie. When George was in high school, he loathed disco and the soft soul sounds of the ’70s”…..

Fisher’s blog on washingtonpost.com also has more background on the the Globe, including some more reactions about eco-awareness become a trend in the radio biz, including this observation from my friend Steve Yasko at WTMD:

“Public radio is the authentic green radio network and not the corporate hacks at CBS.”

As I said, radio in DC has suddenly gotten a whole lot more interesting….