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There Can Be Only One

 

Egghead business think-tank Jupiter Research sent one of their MBAs to look at music promotion today, and the guy affirmed what I’ve been suspecting for a while: MySpace is the only thing that matters. For those of you who don’t have teenage kids and/or reside under a rock somewhere, MySpace.com is the wildly popular social-networking site where anybody can put up a site for free. Last I heard it was getting more hits than Google. Kids have sites, bands have sites, they intermingle, and webs and groups and circles are created and grow.

I’ve been telling every band I work with to focus on MySpace for a while now. One indie musician described working the MySpace angle to being at the South by Southwest festival 24/7 every single day—and it is. And it’s not limited to kids; a modern classical composer recently put up a site and reported that he’d had 60,000 hits on his page in one month. Suffice it to say most modern classical composers don’t get that many real-world looks in their entire lives.

Many bands give away at least one song on their page; all of them (as far as I’ve seen) have a music player on their page where surfers can at least listen to some of their material. I encourage bands to give away or song or two—what’s better, 10,000 free copies of your song on iPods around the world, or selling a measly 100 copies for 99 cents?

Getting back to the Jupiter Research guy. He looked at online activity for the Black Eyed Peas on four music-related sites: MySpace, Yahoo! Music, AOL Music or MTV.com. The BEP’s MySpace page had hundreds of thousands of “friends” of the band, and millions of hits and song plays. In contrast, mainstream music-media sites registered similar activity only in the hundreds.

Any questions?

There’s been talk about MySpace’s demise. Part of it is the inevitable backlash that will follow unqualified success; part is the fear that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which just bought MySpace from its originators, will screw it up. Inertia is a pretty heavy thing. And there’s not really room for more than one of these sites. How many eBays do you need? How many Amazons? How many iTunes stores? How many MySpaces?

In some unrelated news, torture architect and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez met privately last week with representatives of the major Internet-service companies (AOL, Google, Microsoft, Comcast, and Verizon) and told them he wanted them to retain all of their user data for at least two years, to help the government in the “war on terror.” The subtext for this type of meeting is “do it, or we’ll pass a law that requires you to do it.” Sort of like how we got parental-guidance stickers on CDs. It’s called governance by intimidation.

Internet companies generally only keep user data (temporary Internet addresses, e-mail, instant messages, and Internet phone logs) only for as long as necessary to deal with billing and customer service issues. Then the info is dumped.

Gonzalez, of course, wants the data retained so he can look at it, data-mine it, and track whatever whoever he deems to be dangerous has been doing online. As you probably know, we’re recently found out the Feds have quietly been doing exactly this sort of thing with your telephone company’s records for while. And this kind of snooping is of highly questionable legality, just like warrantless wiretaps. And torture.

What makes this all the more perturbing is the administration’s flip-flop on this. Until about a month ago, officials had dismissed the idea of requiring Internet companies to keep user records as legally problematic. Then a month ago, Gonzalez started talking about the need to keep records as a tool for fighting online child porn and stalking. Now, all of a sudden, it’s important to fight all them nasty evildoers out there. In your town. On your street. In your house!

Of course, the whole child-porn thing was a Trojan horse. Without minimizing the problem of child porn or its effects, notions of civil liberties, burdens of proof, and repaying one’s debt to society tend to go flying out the window when kids’ well-being is at issue. So you kick the door open with child porn, and while everybody is standing there thinking about it, rush the door with a trumped-up terrorism rap.

All of this is happening because we’re letting it happen. Polls continue to show that, since 9/11, the majority of people in this country have assumed a “that’s OK, I wasn’t using my civil liberties anyway” attitude toward government snooping, and I suppose that’s only natural. And the government knows this all too well, and is willing to keep chipping away at basic freedoms we’ve long taken for granted because nobody has been able to stop it. Which leaves us with this Ben Franklin quote: “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

—Paul Rapp

 

Paul C. Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC-FM’s Vox Pop program. Contact info can be found at www.paulrapp.com.



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