“With your head on my shoulders we could wreck civilization!”

I haven’t followed the story surrounding The Pirate Bay closely, but I know enough to find no outrage at the recent conviction of the four founders. I don’t share what seems to be the typical libertarian revulsion at copyright laws. Although I agree they’re flawed as they’re written, there are legal ways for content producers to contract with customers that ignore the process. The system is broken but the free market created a work-around. So, I’m not ready to hoist a Live Free or Die banner on this issue.

That’s my short version. I like this longer, more detailed version from Eugenia’s Rants and Thoughts.

In my opinion, they are indeed guilty — they have been total assholes to lawyers who have sent them takedown notices over time. These dumbasses think that they are some kind of revolutionist heroes. Yes, a revolution is needed for copyright laws and the entertainment industry today, but these guys haven’t realized that in this day and age there is only one way to start a revolution: work through the existing system’s limitations and lobby extensively for new laws. Anything [sic] other approach will be shot down by the system and the corporations. This is not 1789 France. You can’t win with riffles, and picketing or rage anymore. You simply can’t ignore the laws. We live in a bureaucratic, corporation-led world, and so you will have to work through these constrains to change the world (e.g. via Creative Commons which is a clever approach that doesn’t cancel the current laws, so it can’t piss off the establishment to come after you). This Gandhi approach works: if you don’t buy the RIAA/MPAA-bound products, these empires will eventually fall, but it’s the only way to do it.

I’d change “corporation-led world” to a more general reference about special interests, but that’s mostly semantics based on politics. The basic idea is correct. If you don’t like the rules, refuse to participate or change them. Violating them instead is not a valid option.

Title reference here.

Exercising judgment is family-friendly.

Continuing on my last entry, in his essay, David Cross also writes about children’s movies:

I have not seen the movie so I can’t really comment to whether it’s an “evil” or “dangerous” “piece of shit “or not. The reason I haven’t seen the movie is because I am not eight years old. I am an adult and don’t see children’s movies.

Exactly my sentiments. If you’re an adult and like movies aimed at children, fine. If you’re an adult who has children and like movies aimed at children that contain more universal themes and appeal, fine. See what you want to see, skip what you don’t want to see. But don’t pander to me that family-friendly is more than a euphemism for children’s movie.

As the presidential election gets going today, it’s clear that we’re going to hear a mind-numbing count of references to family-friendly culture. Blech. I don’t have kids now, but I expect to at some point in the near-ish future. I’m sure I would take my hypothetical kids to family-friendly movies. But I’m not going to stop seeing movies that are family-unfriendly. Or television shows or books or music or video games or whatever else interests me. Rather than dumbing down my life and denying myself what I’m interested in, I’ll exercise a little responsibility to know what is and isn’t appropriate for children to view.

If that means playing Call of Duty 4 after the kids are in bed, so be it. But politicians need to stop pretending that I should deny myself Call of Duty 4 because it isn’t suitable for an eight-year-old. I, like most adults, am not irresponsible. I do not need the guiding hand of government to intervene for me to understand the issue or to make intelligent decisions.

Simple Arithmetic Without the Economics

Writing on the implications of the proposed Sirius-XM merger, Marc Fisher engages in a discussion of competition based on dubious assumptions. Consider:

Think about it: Can you name one example of a new consumer technology that was guaranteed to a single provider and still served customers well? (Don’t everyone say “cable TV” at once.)

Fair enough on the surface, but how is it economically any more sane to guarantee two and only two competitors in a new consumer technology, as the FCC did? How might the market have shaped up had the federal government not impeded the natural development of satellite radio? We’ll never know, of course, but that isn’t sufficient to say we’ve achieved the optimal market condition. Only the central planner is so presumptuous as to assume such nonsense.

[Sirius CEO Mel] Karmazin, who would be chief executive of the combined satellite provider and is leading the charge for a merger, counters that listeners would benefit by getting the best of both services without having to pay for two subscriptions. To bolster that claim, the companies propose a menu of pricing options: Subscribers could keep their current service at the same price they pay now; add the “best of” the other service for an extra $4 a month; or choose to get fewer channels at a lower price. But while the companies tout these choices as the a la carte offering that cable TV has never consented to, the fact remains that if you want more channels under a combined XM-Sirius operation, you will have to pay more.

I think that last argument is supposed to be a zinger. If you want more, you must pay more. Holy Batman, the injustice! It’s good to clear that up, since under the current dictate from the FCC, if I want more channels, I have to pay… more? Oh, wait.

The danger in offering packages with fewer channels is the same risk cable TV companies have warned against for years: If consumers can pick and choose channels, that undermines the whole business, because inevitably, the bulk of the audience will spend most of their time listening to a relative handful of channels. Less popular channels, now subsidized by a flat subscription fee, would wither away.

We must have competition, except when it interferes with anyone’s preference for what should be offered.

How long would more obscure, low-rated satellite programming such as Sirius’s Underground Garage rock or NPR Talk channels or XM’s Cinemagic movie music or choral classical outlets survive in a monopoly, a la carte system? And if the range of programming narrows, what is satellite offering that AM and FM do not?

And if a merged Sirius-XM stopped offering content compelling enough to “force” people to pay, wouldn’t the departure of subscribers to free radio be a fairly important incentive to offer more content? How does this competition thing work again?

Virtually anyone can start an Internet radio station these days [ed. note: if you can afford the exorbitant royalty fees for a format that generates little revenue.] and play an intriguing mix of music. But only XM and Sirius — and National Public Radio, perhaps — have the resources to produce a great range of creative, professionally produced programming: Bob Dylan’s explorations in music and storytelling on XM; original radio dramas; XM’s Artist Confidential series of sessions with big-name performers; and specialized programs for truckers, gays, Latinos, NASCAR fans, Broadway lovers, opera buffs, movie-music mavens, presidential campaign addicts and on and on.

That programming diversity is what justifies giving XM and Sirius a chunk of the government-licensed radio spectrum. …

No, the central planner’s belief that such programming diversity is the correct mix for customers, whether customers want it in sufficient quantity to justify its cost, is the excuse offered to perpetuate a two – and only two – competitor market. This, despite the evidence cited earlier in the essay that most subscribers to either service listen to a small subset of the offered channels.

… Reducing the two services to a satellite monopoly will inevitably bring about a diminution of choices, along with higher prices. …

This is a blanket statement unsupported by the case made in the essay. Prices only rise if the subscriber wants more content. I know I’m supposed to be outraged by that, but I’m not. And if the merged company dumps the niche programming he likes, he cancels his subscription. That’s a useful signal to the company. If it happens enough, imagine how the company might respond with some combination of more content and lower prices. But that only occurs if there are two – and only two – competitors. Because that’s the free market.

… At XM’s Washington headquarters, the number of producers and DJs would decline, meaning more formulaic programming — if XM even remained here. How long would Karmazin keep production facilities in both the District and New York, where Sirius is based?

An individual how lives in Butte and wants to hear both Howard Stern and her beloved Pittsburgh Pirates should care about the employment prospects of producers and DJs in the Washington, DC area, why? Based on what Sirius and XM have said, she could get both for less money than she would have to pay now, but only if the companies merge. How is she harmed?

Aside from the gain I’d likely receive as a Sirius investor and the definitive gain I’d receive if my Sirius subscription included Major League Baseball, this merger should occur because the government has no legitimate basis to be involved, much less deny a free market outcome based on some subjective criteria of consumer benefit.

Catching Up to What It Should’ve Offered at Launch.

“Complete My Album” is so obvious that it should’ve happened much earlier.

Apple introduced the “Complete My Album” feature Thursday on its iTunes Store. It now gives a full credit of 99 cents for every track the user previously purchased and applies it toward the purchase of the complete album.

For instance, most albums on iTunes cost $9.99 so a customer who already bought three tracks can download the rest of the album for $7.02.

Previously, users who bought singles and later opted to buy the album had to pay the full price of the album and ended up with duplicates of those songs.

The album price reduction is good for only 180 days after the initial purchase of individual tracks.

Indeed, I’ve thought this to myself many times when purchasing singles. The advantage of iTunes is being able to sample individual songs before buying a full album. If I buy a song and then I like the album, I want to not pay for the same digital download again. The primary goal of technology should be to make life easier/better for customers. When doing this, the company can succeed, as well. Bravo to Apple for catching on in another area.

Stranglehold on 20th Century Business Models

Some of the criticism directed at Steve Jobs’ call for an end to DRM is a bit strange and simple.

Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the move would eliminate technology hurdles that now prevent fans from playing songs bought at Apple’s iTunes Music Store on devices other than the company’s iPod.

“We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen,” Bainwol said in a prepared statement.

I have no doubt that an eight-year-old with a blank CD could break Apple’s DRM by putting that blank CD in her PC, burning her iTunes songs to the cd, and ripping the resulting disc to mp3 format. I suspect Mr. Jobs is closer to the wise solution with his third of three alternatives. Not that, as my example proves, making FairPlay more available won’t change how easy it is to bypass it. Individuals only need a willingness to invest a bit of time and effort, along with a few blank discs. DRM is already dead, no matter how long music companies attach its corpse to most legally downloaded songs.

Instead of fear, which has been the record industries modus operandi surrounding digital music since the inception of the mp3 format, it should imagine a future based in reality. People will sidestep DRM and illegally trade music. Preventing that shouldn’t punish everyone, though. Don’t treat customers like criminals waiting to undermine the business. For example:

Britain’s EMI Music is experimenting with releasing music in the DRM-free MP3 format. In the past few months, the company has released tracks by Norah Jones, Lily Allen and the band Relient K.

“The feedback from fans (has) been very enthusiastic,” EMI spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer said.

Leigh believes older music could be made available without copying restrictions.

“I think the labels will release selected back-catalog stuff, to see what happens,” he said.

Low risk, potentially high return. That’s a company that’s trying.

Now, Mr. Jobs, about those restrictions that prevent me from buying music on iTunes from other countries…

Cleaning out the aggregator

My server died last Tuesday, locking me out of my site. My hosting company finally resurrected it late Wednesday, but by then my vacation interfered. Rare access to the Internets, as well as general mental decompression, stood in the way of regular posting. So I disappeared for almost a week. In no particular order, here are a few items filling my news inbox while I was away.


From Reason’s Hit and Run, I think I might be the only person in America who answers Yes and No instead of some other combo.

…, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer fielded two questions on marijuana. One: Would he legalize medical marijuana? Two: Had he ever smoked marijuana? The answers: No and yes. The terror of Wall Street has picked up and run with the old Clintonite maxim: Do as I say, not as I did.

Spitzer should’ve been discredited as a candidate for any number of actions he’s taken, but this is just further proof that the people of New York need to see more than (D) when they get in the voting booth. I suppose it should be comforting to know that Virginia isn’t the only state with hack politicians.


Is anyone shocked by this:

The federal government will need to either cut spending or raise taxes down the road to pay for extending President Bush’s recent tax cuts, the Treasury Department said in a report released [last Monday], dismissing the idea popular with many Republicans that such sacrifices can be avoided.

My question should be rhetorical, but there are many people in this town who will probably be genuinely shocked. Okay, actually, the shocked people will be voters. Those who are not shocked, but are bitter that the Treasury Department could be so treasonous as to impugn the American economy this way, will complain among themselves that their secret is revealed.


Maybe I can start a network and force Comcast to air it:

After more than a year of inaction, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin yesterday addressed a dispute that has kept Washington Nationals games off the region’s biggest cable network.

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which carries most of the team’s games, asked the FCC in June 2005 to order Comcast Corp. to begin carrying the games immediately, but the agency took no action.

MASN now has the right to seek a resolution to its complaint through the FCC process or take the path of arbitration.

Shouldn’t customers decide whether or not MASN is important to them? Of course, lack of competition due to regulatory monopolies prohibits customers from having a sufficient voice, say to cancel and switch to a cable provider that carries MASN, but I’m certain the answer is not to push the regulatory hand deeper into the industry.


Tomorrow MTV turns 25. Being old enough to remember the early days of MTV, and young enough to enjoy them, the present-day celebration is good for reliving fond memories. But this explanation of why MTV evolved (devolved?) into what it is broke the spell:

“I think we started as an idea with very little content; it was more like a radio station with songs and cheesy, hair-metal videos,” says Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks’ music/film/Logo group. “But we quickly realized the novelty of music videos wore off and was not repeatable with thousands of viewings. So we evolved into being more about TV production — yet still sloppy, live and organic.”

Forget that my musical tastes are stuck more in early MTV than current MTV, which means I don’t watch most new videos. The video has not gotten old. Look at iTunes and its music video sales. There is a market, meaning the novelty didn’t die. MTV killed it with its repetition of the same tiny number of videos.

Early on this was necessary due to the newness of the form. But by the late ’80s, that didn’t hold. MTV abandoned it. Today, when I watch music television, I watch the extra music video channels like VH1 Classic. Even when I’m watching country music videos, I’ll flip to the all video channels rather than the regular channels. When original programming appears on any regular music channel, I almost always pick up the remote. I understand that I’m not MTV’s target audience, but I didn’t age out of that audience. MTV decided my viewership didn’t matter. But that makes sense, because my money is not green, it’s plastic.

Digital Lefts Management in France

Two things interest me in this story explaining Apple’s possible response to French legislation requiring that songs purchased online be playable on any mp3 player. Personally, I think the choice is simple: Apple should close shop in France. When citizens in France are still walking around with the latest iPod every time Apple releases a new product, the government will have its answer on which the French consumer values more. Capitulation to the French central planners would only encourage other central planners in Europe. I suspect Apple pulling out of France would lead to the same nonsense surrounding region-encoded DVD players, preventing online purchases of non-compliant players. Permit central planners to invade on the small things and they’ll control the big things, too. So Apple should leave France.

More intriguing is this:

Members of the activist group Free Software Foundation have staged protests this summer outside of Apple stores across the country, with members dressed in colorful toxic waste suits and carrying signs that rate digital rights management software such as Apple’s as “Defective by Design,” the name of the group’s campaign.

Henri Poole, a Free Software Foundation board member, said that such software restrictions infringe on consumer rights and are designed to protect “antiquated business models.”

“We purchase [songs] and we think we have the same rights we had two years ago, but those rights are being eroded and the [digital rights management] rules can even be changed after you’ve purchased,” he said.

I agree that excessive DRM is indeed “defective by design.” However, as I’ve said before, I’ve come to accept that with the iPod and iTunes. I knew going into the deal exactly what Apple expects, what it will license to me. As such, I won’t argue that my rights are being eroded. Perhaps they are, but if I value something else more (convenience, functionality), that’s my choice. I don’t need a central planner to tell me how I’m supposed to enjoy my iPod. I want it to have Sirius functionality, but I’m not going to ask Congress to require it.

Of course, economically, I’m still discussing the French, so I leave open the possibility that French consumers believe it’s better to have nothing than something if that something is “exploitative”. If so, c’est la vie. I’m not the boss of them.

I’m stealing the term “definitional elasticity”

As long as it increases tax-receipts revenue, any logic is acceptable. Increasingly, states apply irrational justifications to tax iTunes and other music download services.

In Kentucky and Washington, state law does allow the taxation of computer software. Washington law defines software as “a set of coded instructions designed to cause a computer…to perform a task,” which tax officials have interpreted to include music, movies and e-books.

“We use that same rationale on other types of files, such as music files or video files,” said Gary Davis, the state’s tax information and education manager. “We view them as similar because they cause some action by a piece of hardware to play them.”

Davis recited aloud the definition of computer software from Washington’s tax law and said he believed that data files, like an executable program, cause a computer to “perform a task.” He said, “I think it’s our policy that that’s exactly what a music file does in order to hear it.”

That definitional elasticity has alarmed online retailers, which say states are interpreting tax laws in ways never envisioned by elected officials or the general public. They would rather see the issue decided openly in state legislatures than behind closed doors by tax agencies.

On what basis could any rational human being interpret an mp3 file to be software that causes a computer to perform a task? The only software that causes a computer to perform a task has an .exe extension. That stands for “executable”. It’s a bizarre notion, I understand, but it’s universal. An mp3 file has an .mp3 extension. Click that without an mp3 player on a computer and the computer will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. An mp3 is data used by a program as a set of instructions to create sound waves through computer speakers. Next, I suppose Mr. Davis will determine that a ball rolling down a hill is being propelled by perpetual motion instead of gravity.

Perhaps the music download tax question is valid. I’m all for as little taxation as possible, but I understand that politicians aren’t reasonable people. At least understand that updating legislation is the way to deal with new situations. Loose reinventing of the same language only cheapens the constitutional basis. Instead, understand that the words mean what the words say.

I’m corrupting my own mind

This isn’t shocking, but the FCC is back in the nanny business:

The Federal Communications Commission plans to levy fines against broadcasters or their affiliates for violating decency standards in about a half-dozen cases, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

One incident involves Nicole Richie saying “shit” on Fox’s broadcast of the 2003 Billboard Music Awards. The first obvious response is to state that it was the Billboard Music Awards. Nobody was watching. For those few who were, I’m going to guess that they’ve heard the word “shit” before. They’ve probably even uttered it once or twice. Our society still exists. Somehow.

Another case involves the unsurprising conclusion that Janet Jackson’s not-really-revealed breast during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show violated decency standards. I have nothing else to add about the specific incident beyond what I’ve already written. Instead, I’ll point out that human creativity provides me with uncensored radio, in spite of the decency cops at the FCC (and Congress). They may be violating one Amendment, but they haven’t figured out how to violate all of them. Yet.

Until then… Suckers.

Gently used iPod for sale

I’m not mad at Apple for announcing the new video iPod yesterday. I’d read the rumors before I purchased mine, but I was impatient. I’m also realistic to understand that I only want the video iPod to have the latest toy. I’m not going to download the latest episodes of Lost to watch on a 2.5″ screen when I have a 50″ screen in my living room. I’ll get over my “poor” decision.

What I don’t like about the iPod universe is iTunes. The software is perfectly usable and is stable, a feature I haven’t found in other music software I’ve used. And it’s free. The music store even has a broad selection of music. I can find random b-sides and live songs that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The service could be great, but this article from Australia explains why it’s anti-consumer. Consider:

Unfortunately for Australian consumers, the shows are available only through Apple’s iTunes online store in the US, for which you need a credit card registered to a US address.

The iTunes store is not yet available in Australia, and Apple is not saying when – or even if – it might open here.

I don’t live in Australia, but I do like British music. The U.K. iTunes store has singles from bands that I want but can’t buy because I don’t have a credit card with a British address. I know this is probably not Apple’s fault, with blame resting on the recording industry and its 1980’s view of music copyright and consumer use, but I don’t care. I want British music. With the Internets making the marketplace global, there is no reason why they should impose this limitation. Do I need to stress that I want to give them money? This strategy is one more reason I feel zero sympathy for the recording industry when it cries poverty. Any third-grader could tell them this is stupid business.