Week in Rapp
Item 1: So Madonna has signed a big-dough deal with the concert
promoter Live Nation, that supposedly encompasses all of her
showbiz biz. Some newspaper in Chicago reported this under
the headline “New Madonna Deal About More than Music.” Which
raises the question: When has any Madonna deal ever been about
music? When has Madonna herself ever been about music, even
when whatever it was she was having other people make for
her in recording studios was treated, occasionally, as music?
Item 2: The media’s treatment of the disaster in San Diego
has been predictably dismal. Monday night, CNN’s Anderson
Cooper came the closest to actually covering the disaster,
although he spent as much time shilling his global-warming
special as he did describing the accelerating, out-of-control
matrix of fires. (“Many believe these fires are the result
of global climate changes. Starting tomorrow we’ll be looking
at that . . . ”) CNN’s Nancy Grace spent her hour raving about
some infant skeleton found in a shoebox in somebody’s attic.
Also on CNN, neocon doofus Glenn Beck was trying to explain
what he meant when he said that a lot of people who hate America
were losing their homes from the fires. CNN still believes
that it should compete with Fox by having this utter moron
on the air. Disgusting. Meantime, while the Santa Ana winds
were wiping out entire neighborhoods just north of San Diego,
MSNBC was showing yet another installment of its To Catch
a Predator series—you know, where they entrap perverts to
show up in a suburban house with an online promise of a tryst
with a teenager? This show has long stopped being a cautionary
tale for parents of teenagers. It’s a lascivious game show
with no winners.
As my brother lives in the line of the fires north of San
Diego, I was particularly keen to know what was going on.
I found the local NPR outlet, KPBS, doing a fabulous job,
staying live and reporting 24/7 over a stream on the Web.
Incredibly, KPBS’s transmitter was burned up, knocking it
off the air, until a classic-rock station lent KPBS its frequency.
Not only was the broadcasting incredibly thorough, but the
station posted an interactive Google map that was packed with
up-to-date information about fire lines, closed roads, and
evacuation centers. Also, the station had an up-to-the-second
mini-blog, courtesy of the blogging site Twitter, where announcements
were posted. It worked great. Occasionally, amid the growing
disaster, a glimmer of hilarity would come through, like the
reporter who was complaining that a lot of the downtown Starbucks
were closed (there was some question as to whether the stores
had temporarily relocated to serve free coffee at the evacuation
centers), and the dude who called up asking the anchors for
a surf report. He was told to wear a face mask while surfing,
as the dense smoke was blowing straight out to sea.
Item 3: Three out of four major labels announced their latest
gambit to beat up Apple and, oh yeah, to combat piracy, too.
It’s not final yet, not even close, but it’s gonna be called
TotalMusic. The deal is you’ll be able to buy a special digital
music player (most definitely not the iPod; one of the pretenders)
that will allow you to download an unlimited number of songs.
Forever. The mark-up on the music player will be about $90,
based on a $5 per month subscription over an estimated average
device life of 18 months. The labels will likely partner with
a telephone company for the download logistics.
This too will fail, if it ever, in fact, gets off the ground
(anybody remember the Strategic Digital Music Initiative?).
First, the labels will restrict the music with so much DRM
that no sane person will be interested in owning it. I doubt
that music will be downloadable off the device, so forget
about backing up, burning discs, or any multi-platform use
of your music. In other words, it won’t really be your music.
Second, it’ll be marketed badly, and will never grab the iPod’s
cache, even if it’s a bargain. Apple not only sells the cool
devices, it does so in a cool way, like by making Feist’s
“1234” a bona-fide hit by using it in an advertisement. The
TotalMusic thing, if it comes to pass, will be forced on us
with bad commercials and phony “grassroots” viral Internet
campaigns. And all those media-literacy classes our kids have
taken will pay off, with interest. We’ll all just walk away.
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’s Vox Pop. Contact info can
be found at www.paul rapp.com.