I refuse to support Eliot Spit zer’s run for governor. I hate
the idea. Why? Because he’s such an outrageously cool Attorney
General, that’s why. Coming off the heels of his radio-payola
investigation and his roughing-up of some big-music retailers
for failing to pull infected Sony CDs off of their shelves,
Spitzer last week served subpoenas on each of the major record
labels, seeking information about how they set their prices
for songs to digital distributors. In other words, he’s looking
into how songs get from the labels to online digital stores
like iTunes, Rhapsody, and the rest.
Nobody knows exactly what Spitzer’s up to, and many think
he’s looking for evidence of collusion among the labels to
keep the wholesale prices high, like he did a couple of years
ago with the labels and CD prices. A problem he’s going to
run into is that when there’s only a handful of big players,
explicit agreements aren’t necessary; collusion just happens,
so it’s hard to pin fault on anybody.
But maybe he’s got something else in mind. After all, the
60 cents or so that seems to be the standard wholesale price
for digital songs doesn’t exactly smell like market-abusing
pricing, and in fact most labels are rattling the cages to
get more money for their songs, or at least to allow
for variable pricing among songs.
Maybe Spitzer is sniffing around the edges of Apple, which
controls a whopping 85 percent of the digital-download market.
By leveraging its iconic iPod (the only MP3 player that matters),
its seamless iTunes program and online music store, its proprietary
digital-music format, and its ineffable patina of hipness,
Apple owns the exploding digital music world so completely
that somebody’s eventually gonna raise the antitrust flag.
And perhaps it will be Spitzer. But then again, maybe not.
Even accepting that Apple has done something predatory and
illegal, people in general really like Apple, Steve Jobs,
and their iPods. Spitzer hounding Apple wouldn’t be perceived
with the same general glee that accompanies Spitzer going
after music industry honchos or Wall Street fat cats. In fact,
the public reaction to an Apple antitrust probe could very
well be extremely negative, and Spitzer’s got to know that.
And Spitzer’s running for governor. Unfortunately.
In other news, a federal magistrate in Buffalo has refused
to dismiss criminal charges against Steve Kurtz, the artist/college
professor who’s facing serious jail time after police found
harmless biological scientific materials in his house, almost
two years ago. The police were in his house because his wife
had just died and Kurtz called them. The police saw the materials
and decided that Kurtz might be a terrorist.
Even after they were provided with the fact that Kurtz was
a member of the internationally acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble,
and that the test tubes and biological agents were part of
the CAE’s high-concept art installations, the Feds have pressed
on with their criminal case. Apparently, Kurtz had acquired
some of his materials using his academic credentials, but
used the materials for artistic, rather than academic, purposes.
Somehow this almost imperceptible white lie has been translated
by federal prosecutors into wire and mail fraud charges, for
which Kurtz faces some serious jail time.
So now, almost two years after police refused to allow Kurtz
to be near his dead wife’s body, after they ransacked his
house and then charged him with absurdly trumped-up and transparently
political charges, Kurtz is facing more appeals, hearings,
and probably a trial. The trial will no doubt shed considerable
light on the federales’ pathetic and inexcusable behavior,
which resembles that of the KGB more than the FBI. But it’s
going to cost Kurtz well over $250,000 in attorneys’ fees
to get there.
If you want to help or find out more, visit www.caedefensefund.org.
Finally, there’s something interesting going on at the French
Parliament, which a few weeks ago passed an amendment that
legalized private, noncommercial file-sharing on the Internet.
Apparently nobody expects this to actually become the law
of the land, but it does indicate that there is a widespread
sentiment in France that (a) file-sharing isn’t so bad; (b)
maybe there are other ways to compensate artists, like through
surcharges on hardware, software and Internet access; and
(c) having large media conglomerates suing kids en masse
for what has become, for better or for worse, socially acceptable
behavior is maybe something a little bit oogly.
Wouldn’t it be swell if our Congress also looked at the issue
with a clean mind, rather than holding hearings at which industry
voices dominate and reviewing proposed laws drafted, submitted,
and extravagantly paid for by K Street lobbying firms?