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The 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.

—Paul Rapp

Paul 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

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