Industry Roundup

RIAA lawsuits continue: Each month the recording industry launches a few hundred more lawsuits against suspected file-swappers, with such tedious regularity that we could simply re-run the previous month's news with a new figure inserted. This time around, the Recording Industry Association of America announced May 24 that it had filed suit against 493 more people believed to have illegally shared music over the Internet. Known only by their screen names and IP addresses, the unnamed defendants are subscribers with Internet service providers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas. Unlike recent suits, none of the current crop involves college students or university networks. To date approximately 3000 people have been sued by the music industry; 486 have settled, paying damages that averaged $3000 each.

Daschle aide joins RIAA: On Wednesday, May 26, the RIAA announced that it had hired Michele Ballantyne as new senior vice president for federal government and industry relations. Prior to accepting the new position, Ballantyne was senior counsel for legislative strategy in the office of Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). Ballantyne is also a veteran of the Clinton administration. Her appointment is in keeping with the RIAA's strategy of developing ever-cozier relationships with national lawmakers. The trade group's new CEO, Mitch Bainwol, who assumed his role last September 1, was a prominent Republican lobbyist and former chief of staff for Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN).

Indies vs the Evil Empire: Kufala Recordings, Inc. is challenging a claim by Clear Channel Entertainment that it has a patent making it illegal for any band to record its own live shows and sell those recordings on the day of the show at the venue, unless the band pays Clear Channel an undisclosed fee for doing so. Perceptive readers might ask, as John Atkinson did upon reading the May 27 press release, how it is possible to patent such an activity, given the plentiful existence of prior art? The short answer is that a vast number of seemingly obvious procedures are increasingly earning patents, at the insistence of corporations eager to control their markets and initiated by attorneys who have no problem with distorting ordinary concepts beyond recognition. Amazon.com, for example, prevailed in protracted litigation over an online competitor that used a similar "one-click shopping" technique.

Los Angeles–-based Kufala hopes to provide a "major loophole" against Clear Channel's "outrageous assertion that it can and will go after artists and make them pay," according to the press release from Kufala. The label specializes in independent artists without major label contracts, and delivers studio mastered, multitrack mixes of live performances to fans within two weeks of any show.

The delayed delivery is said to guarantee a better product and avoids violating Clear Channel's "patent." Fans can order the discs before, during, or after a concert. "Unlike the Clear Channel model . . . fans know they will be getting a great recording and that the artist has approved the master," said Kufala president Brady Lahr. "They also know that the band actually owns the recording and will be paid for sure." Lahr described Clear Channel's tactics as a "monopoly of the market and restraint of trade." Kufala was barred from recording at one Clear Channel venue, despite requests by the band, its label, and a non–Clear Channel radio station to use Kufala's services. "Clear Channel is laying claim to be able to control an artist's ability to record and sell their music at their own shows," said Kufala's Jason Pinsky. "Next it will claim it has a patent on allowing artists to sing in their own showers!" Kufala recordings are available in CD form at about 250 independent record stores nationwide as well as via many Internet music services.

Also opposing Clear Channel's monopoly is Dallas-based DiscLive, Inc. On May 28 the company announced the successful completion of a three-week American and Canadian tour with the Pixies, during which it sold live-concert recordings to up to 50% of attendees. Of the total 16,000 CDs originally available, only a few hundred remain, the announcement mentioned. DiscLive has launched its West Coast office in Los Angeles, to be headed by Stephen Prendergast, formerly of BMG International and co-founder of Squint Entertainment. DiscLive co-founder Dave Blanchard will share administrative duties with Prendergast.

"DiscLive is the pioneer in the quickly growing market of live discs available immediately after the concert, having sold more live discs at concert venues than its competitors combined, and completing tours from Vermont to California and now also in Canada," the announcement stated. Not mentioned: an almost-certain courtroom showdown with Clear Channel.

EMI, UMG post losses: On May 27, EMI Group PLC reported a net loss for the fiscal year ended March 31, as well as a drop in revenue, attributed to—what else?—piracy and slow progress in the digital download market. EMI's loss for the year was $128.1 million (£71.6 million), a huge drop from the $419 million (£234.2 million) net profit a year earlier, a controversial figure sullied by claims that EMI had inflated sales records. On the same date, the company named Manolo Diaz president and CEO of EMI Music Spain. Diaz will take his post in September, reporting to Jean-Francois Cecillon, chairman and CEO of EMI Music Continental Europe. For the same fiscal year, Universal Music Group (UMG) posted an operating loss of $19.6 million, an improvement compared to the previous year's loss of $34.28 million.

Sennheiser auction: In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sennheiser MD 21 microphone, the manufacturer is hosting an online auction of 100 of them. The microphones are a limited edition, in a light-gray hammertone finish, and bearing the signature of designer Professor Dr.-Ing. Fritz Sennheiser. The auction has three phases; the first ended May 18, the second ends June 1, and the third runs from June 4 to June 14. Minimum bid is $183.69 (€150). "Proceeds will go to England's Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts to support its work on an international level in training young sound engineers and artists," according to a company announcement.

Having fun with music: On Saturday, May 22, a rock concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC resulted in more than 200 fans receiving on-site treatment for heat exhaustion. Approximately 50 others required hospitalization, including some who suffered "broken or dislocated bones" in mosh pits. Featured acts included The Cure, The Offspring, Papa Roach, Jay-Z, and The Violent Femmes. In mid-May, residents of London's Tower Hamlets district lodged complaints with city officials over excessive noise from the Millenium Dome in Greenwich, on the other side of the Thames, where Paul McCartney was rehearsing for an upcoming European stadium tour. Resident Eric Pemberton, 67, told Billboard, "I rang up the environmental health officers at the council and they told me 'It's Paul McCartney.' I said 'So what? He doesn't pay my taxes, and if it was me that was doing this, I would have been prosecuted.'"

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