So far, it's been a busy, not to mention fruitful, year for America's entertainment lawyers, a group that is probably alone in its enjoyment of the current climate of squabbling -- and litigation -- over music-ownership issues (cocaine dealers the world over are probably already scrambling to fill orders in time for Christmas). In the past year, the music industry has seen so much legal wrangling that some people who formerly had problems following an episode of The Practice (or Night Court, for that matter) might now have some working knowledge of how laws are made, sometimes broken and sometimes amended. (Oh, wait -- wasn't that covered in the Schoolhouse Rock series?)
Napster -- a word formerly known only to computer-savvy music geeks and parents of small children -- has become a household name because of its wee conflict with the Recording Industry Association of America. The fate of the Web site will probably be determined this fall by a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Most likely, the file-sharing service will be forced to cease its current primary operation and will continue in a limited and legitimate (ie., RIAA-approved) capacity, presumably as a promotional and distributive conduit for labels with whom the site makes deals, exclusive or otherwise. MP3.com, a similar service that is still reeling from a whopper of a judgment (somewhere in the vicinity of $150 mil) awarded to the Universal Music Group last month, has been forced to give in and play nice with the major labels, though some suspect the site will inevitably curl up in a digital ball and die.
Meanwhile, some artists seem to be begging their own labels' legal teams to come after them with open wallets and raised fists; most recently, Offspring tried to follow the lead of Smashing Pumpkins by offering its new disc, Conspiracy of One, for free download through its Web site (offpsring.com), to which Sony promptly replied: "Nice try for a white guy" (and threatened to file an injunction and restraining order against the band). The 'Spring has reconsidered the tactic. (The Pumpkins, incidentally, weren't the first major recording artists to invite a breach-of-contract suit; The The's Matt Johnson took the liberty of releasing his new CD, NakedSelf, for free through his own Web site, mattjohnson.com, without obtaining a permission slip from his label, Naked, months before Billy and crew did the same.)
On the more conservative end, next week the anti-freebie coalition Artists Against Piracy will launch an aggressive print and TV campaign to raise awareness about copyright issues (no doubt thrilling the Negativland soundbite scavengers) and gain support for what is certain to be another season of suits -- of the legal, not leisure, variety. AAP's roster is proof that artists both good (Aimee Mann, DMX, Shelby Lynne) and truly sucky (Ronnie Milsap, Brian Adams) are rallying for the cause -- that is, getting paid for their work rather than sending it out into a world of endless copying possibilities.
While these celebrity-backed campaigns and high-profile cases have grabbed most of the music-centric legal limelight, a bill that's currently working its way through the ranks in ol' D.C. is actually most deserving of notice: H.R. 5107, the Work for Hire and Copyright Corrections Act of 2000, is this close to closing a loophole in a law passed last November, in which some unfortunate wording essentially spelled disaster for recording artists; as it stood, the law diminished their rights to reclaim authorship of their work in the future, essentially making it the property of whatever record company had "hired" their services. While this sort of technicality may not be the kind of cause that will inspire the kids to riot in the streets (so much for those Rage Against the Machine "Battle of Congress" T-shirts), the pending change is good news for anyone who's ever signed on the dotted line -- or who still dreams of doing so.
Locally, Jeff Bartley, president of jammingconcerts.com, has learned a thing or two about lawyers since he opened for business at the beginning of the year. Considering the nature of Stanley's business -- a multimedia Web site that cybercasts live audio and video performances of artists who appear at the Gothic Theatre -- a bright attorney is what keeps the BMI/ASCAP/ RIAA wolves at bay. "We've got a really good one," he says, laughing.
Since Bartley and his partners Steven Brown and Steve Tautz began cybercasting from the Gothic with a New Year's Show on January 1 headlined by Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Jammingconcerts.com has become a sort of dynamic library of local live performances. Though the 200-plus shows archived on the site provide a general sampling of the regional and national artists who have taken the stage at the Englewood venue this year (DJ Logic and ¡Cubanismo! are among the bigger names who have shows preserved there), the bulk of the site is, for now, devoted to local acts -- arranged alphabetically even -- from the A-Town Click to Zeut. And though it may seem that the trio is inviting copyright headaches by broadcasting songs that they don't own, a little technicality of technology has quieted potential ownership debates. Performances on jammingconcerts.com are streamed (thanks to the wonder of broadband), not uploaded, like MP3 files, which means the majority of users cannot download them. According to Bartley, artists who appear on the site have signed a comprehensive release form that outlines the terms of jammingconcerts.com's use of their material. So far, he says, nine out of ten performers sign.
"What they're getting out of it is sheer exposure," he says, adding that he's open to sharing dividends with artists on a case-by-case basis, once there are, in fact, some dividends to share. (Jammingconcerts.com currently offers all of its services for free, though that will change once the site obtains some key sponsors.)
Video Webcasting of live shows is not a new phenomenon: House of Blues, for example, maintains a library of artists who have performed at its halls around the country on its site (hob.com). According to Bartley, however, jammingconcerts.com differs from most other sites in that its content is recorded -- and cybercast -- completely live, without the aid of digital editing equipment. The site, then, has more in common with the Digital Club Network, a New-York-based company that streams shows from more than fifty venues around the country (including the Bluebird Theater, the Ogden Theatre and the Colorado Music Hall in Colorado Springs).
"We are never going to replace the venue experience," he says. "But what we're trying to give is this feeling of authenticity. Sites like House of Blues do all kinds of post-production and fix it up and make it look pretty, like TV. In our cybercasts, if a guitar string breaks while some guy's playing it, that's part of the show. We do not change a thing."
Bartley hopes to expand into more theaters locally and even nationally. In the meantime, he's content with the 2,000 users who've been logging on each month, all without the help of any substantial marketing (not surprisingly, the peak usage time is between midnight and 4 a.m.; don't you people have jobs?). It's easy to see the appeal of these cybercasts: Though the video quality of some of the shows varies (and you can't order a beer through the site), the audio is uniformly clean. It's possible, then, to catch up on shows you may have missed or to sample local bands without ever leaving your home. Or returning smelling like an ashtray that a cat puked in.
Good news for those who like a little punk with their pizza: The Raven has begun hosting infrequent local shows at Famous Pizza at 1528 East Colfax Avenue-- a longtime bastion of yummy New York-style pie and now loud music. According to the Raven's Mike Jerk, the Famous shows (which debuted on Monday with a two-three punch from The Honor System, The Curse of Lono and Man Alive) are meant to fill a venue void for smaller bands who aren't quite ready for rooms around town. The next Raven-sponsored show at the restaurant is October 24, starring The Impossibles. And though you may be a grownup, you simply can't deny that you still like a pizza party.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Since Backwash wrote about a recent change in the company roster over at nobody in particular presents -- specifically, the elimination of Russ Austin as the promotional company's full-time local booking agent -- a number of people have called or written in support of Austin, a well-liked and hardworking fellow whom many characterize as a rare champion of local bands. Yet the folks at NIPP pointed out an oversight in the column (which ran on September 21) that deserves clarification: While Backwash may have implied that Peter Ore (the nobody national booking agent who has taken over local bookings in Austin's absence) dealt exclusively with national acts in the past, he has in fact always been involved with local gigs. Ore also pointed out that although Austin's supporters have suggested the company dislikes heavy-metal music, NIPP has placed some of the biggest hard-rock shows this year, including the mammoth Tattoo the Earth tour that landed at the Ogden this summer.
Is thy slate clean?