Akbar to Springsteen?

I read an interesting article involving a “guest” of a federal medical facility in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, who hijacked a plane and forced it to Cuba almost 30 years ago… He then discovered that he didn’t like Cuba and raised a ruckus there so the Cubans shipped him off to Miami in 1981 where he stood trial for air piracy and was sentenced to 50 years…

Muhammad Akbar, born Gerald Leland Marity, was an honourably discharged soldier who served two tours of duty in Vietnam (1966-67). He joined the Black Muslim movement upon returning to the U.S. but fell off the rails… he sought asylum at the Irani and Iraqi embassies in Mexico prior to his hijacking crime… they both turned him down…

Why is this in my blog? Akbar is suing (he does this a lot) the government and his caregivers for stifling his songwriting career. His claim?

“I’m a damn good Black Songwriter who happens to be a Muslim and an airplane hi-jacker (sic) serving a 50 year sentence,” he wrote. “I’ve decided to direct my Lyrics to Ms. Britney Spears, Pink, Bruce Springstein (sic) the best in the world of pop music. This has infuriated the staff here at the prison into breaking the law.

“So far,” he continues, “30 of my letters and songs have been delayed, tampered, and opened for the obstruction of justice by the defendants and not reached Ms. Spears, Pink, or Springstrein (sic) and I want it to stop immediately.”

“And I want these three entertainers notified as to what’s going on by the courts,” he demands in his petition. He says that when he complained to the warden’s office and others, “I was told that I was paranoid and having dilusions (sic).”

Akbar wants a judge to investigate his claims, and he also says he wants $50,000 for pain and suffering, although it appears from his filing that he initially valued his pain and suffering at $30,000, then upped the value and wrote a “5” over the “3.”

Enough said… sometimes the Muse is NOT with us…

Copyfight in Canada

Precedent, a magazine about the “new rules of law and style” for lawyers in Canada, had an article entitled “Copyfight” in its latest issue. There was a bill (C-61) that fell by the wayside because of the last federal election being called. Various lawyers discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of C-61 which was assailed by its critics for making most of the public into “copyright criminals”. As the premise of the article goes:

Not long ago, a copyright protest would have seemed like a piece of absurdist parody (“Actuaries of the world, unite!”). But the federal government has made it clear that it intends to rewrite Canada’s creaky copyright laws, and in a world awash with media, everyone has something at stake. Creators want to be paid for their creativity, while consumers want to enjoy, share, and re-purpose it. Copyright has never been as clear as property rights, and deciding what’s legal hasn’t always been easy. In fact, it’s turned into a very public, very bitter tug-of-war – an out-and-out copyfight.

One of my favourite writers/bloggers in the area of copyright/intellectual property matters in Canada is Michael Geist, a lawyer in Ottawa who is the “go to” guy for the media on these sorts of issues. I’ll leave the last words for him, but I have that good old-fashioned contradiction inside of me on this issue – I certainly make “fair use” of many songs out there (if I own the album, I don’t see why I can’t download the mp3 version), but if I ever do publish a song, I wonder how “fair” it will seem to me then… Oh that I would have such a problem!

“We ought to recognize that copyright is not the only incentive to creativity,” says Michael Geist, leaning over a table at a tiny, packed Second Cup on the University of Ottawa campus (“his second office,” noted a colleague).

Geist isn’t a free-everything activist (of which there are plenty on the Internet). But he has argued loud and long that overprotection can be as dangerous and innovation-stifling as underprotection.

Geist argues that users’ rights to use copyrighted works for fair purposes shouldn’t be restricted by contracts or digital locks. His vision recognizes that, like it or not, users are increasingly becoming creators in their own rights. With the advent of “Web 2.0,” the technological barriers to accessing, altering, and rebroadcasting copyrighted material have evaporated. And, adds Geist, “what used to be a relatively small community of geeks became us. It became the Canadian public.”

Songwriting Sheikh Suing Michael Jackson

It says something that the second son of the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa (left side of picture), basically became involved with Michael Jackson in 2005 because he wanted to have the self-described King of Pop sing/perform the songs he had written. Now the shiekh is suing Michael Jackson for £4.7m and he claims he set up the singer with a studio in his ranch so he could record the sheikh’s own songs. The full article is here.

Jackson is contesting the claim, insisting there was no valid agreement of repayment and arguing that the sheikh’s case is based on “mistake, misrepresentation and undue influence”. Bankim Thanki QC, representing the sheikh, told the court that his client set up a recording studio at the singer’s Neverland ranch and sent him compositions he had written himself.

Jackson recorded one of the sheikh’s songs the day after the pop star’s criminal trial ended over child molestation charges in California, Thanki said. The song, which was to have been released as a charity single to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, will be played in court during the trial. “It shows the quality of Sheikh Abdulla’s songwriting skills and that of Mr Jackson’s voice,” Thanki told the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney.

I can’t wait to hear this song (can’t find it anywhere)… and also, not to judge Shiekh Abdulla too harshly, ‘cos if I had that kind of money, I’d be “buying” my songs into posterity… May the Muse be with us all… even shiekhs…

Criticism of SAC’s Music File Sharing Compensation Proposal

Saw this article in today’s National Post that criticizes SAC’s recent proposal for compensation for music sharing monetization, deemed by the author to mean a “song tax”:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Debunking the song tax

National Post Published: Monday, February 25, 2008

You probably read about the proposal put forward last week by the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) for a $5 monthly tax to be applied to all “internet subscriptions” and distributed to songwriters as compensation for illegal music sharing. As a sensible human being, your reaction was either rage, laughter or some combination of the two. But let us put on a sober face for a moment and enumerate everything we can think of that is wrong with this pitch:

-It would penalize those who engage in no legally dubious filesharing to begin with. Some internet users don’t care for music and may not have media files of any kind on their computer. Others have only music they obtained legitimately — whether purchased from a recognized online vendor like iTunes, downloaded from an artist who offered it free or copied from older media for personal use. Those legitimate online vendors, by the way, would immediately lose the Canadian market, crippling the hopes of musicians who believe that internet sales are a better path to viability for the recording industry.

-Some users may not download much Canadian music, or indeed any, yet the Songwriters Association proposes to reward only “Canadian music creators” with revenue from Canadian internet users. The anticipated income would be in the neighbourhood of a billion dollars annually; this is curious, considering that in 1999, before record sales began to slump, the total value of all recorded music (from any country) sold in Canada was only $1.3-billion.

-The proposal uses statistical figures from biased sources (citing a Canadian Recording Industry Association “news article” in estimating overall nationwide filesharing) and spectacularly tortures figures from independent ones.

-There is no suggestion that the decline in legitimate sales of recorded music over the past 10 years, whose severity is itself controversial, has been caused by anything but illegal filesharing. The possibility that the music industry might be the victim of suicidal marketing choices, or that popular music might simply be in a fallow period, is never considered.

-Higher prices for internet access in Canada would worsen the “digital divide” between rich and poor. Canadians already pay large amounts for bandwidth — according to the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the UN, access costs twice as much per bit here as in the U.S. and easily 10 times as much as in Japan and Korea.

-A special tax on internet access for songwriters would inevitably be followed by demands for similar taxes in the interests of motion picture producers, authors and visual artists. The songwriters’ demand for the seizure of $60 a year can only be considered modest if one denies the obvious — that as groups with equally legitimate claims came forward, it would soon become $120, or $200, or $500.

-One of those groups might well be non-songwriting performers on music recordings, who enjoy certain moral and royalty rights under some regimes. What, after all, is so sacred about the traditional legal balance of royalty rights that weighs so strongly in the favour of the songwriter at the expense of other contributors? Who contributed more to the first hit version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine — was it Marvin Gaye, or the writers (Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)? You can reasonably argue either side. But then you have to consider the unheralded sidemen who played those thrilling strings, or the backup singers, or the studio engineer who stuck a microphone in front of Mr. Gaye’s mouth. The apportionment of credit entrenched in 20th-century music law is quite arbitrary, and has led to abusive practices at times, such as when powerful producers or managers bullied artists into giving them false songwriting credits.

-Remarkably, the proponents of the internet tax for songwriters seem not to have considered the possibility of widespread tax avoidance. They want $5-a-month tax on “internet subscriptions,” but what defines an “internet subscription”? If four people in my household have access to a wireless network, but there is only one bill, do we owe $5, or $20? How can internet cafes and public libraries bill their customers? What about users who let passersby piggyback wirelessly on their laptops as a matter of courtesy? Couldn’t any large group join together to buy one wide-band “subscription” from an ISP to beat the tax?

-How is the money to be distributed? SAC hallucinates an ultra-powerful, bias-free “collective” that “would track internet and wireless file sharing activity on a census basis. Virtually all sharing on the internet and wireless devices would be tracked,” they promise, and “Creators and rights-holders will be paid with a level of speed and accuracy never before possible.” Will this happen before or after pigs fly? And are you comfortable letting Eddie Schwartz and Randy Bachman monitor all the filesharing activity on your PC, or would you immediately click on the encryption option that peer-to-peer sharing applications already offer as a matter of course?

We know what choice we would make.

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

The Rights of Creators

Bill Freeman, writer and chair of the Creators’ Copyright Coalition published the following article in today’s National Post. As an unpublished songwriter, I can appreciate that I would, one day hopefully, be in a position to reap the benefits of a successful song – something that I’ve created… As an ISP customer and media “downloader”, I’m not so sure how much I support the proposed SAC levy (see below for link), but it does seem to be the most feasible “tariff” system to ensure, in music as media anyway, that songwriters are compensated… It does not need to be $5.00/mo. however… $1 or even 50 cents would be a good place to start… You tell me…

New bill next week to bring copyright law into Internet age

Financial Post
: Yet again, the Canadian government will begin the difficult task of revising our copyright law when new legislation is tabled in Parliament next week. The effort is bound to be controversial. There are strong and influential interests on every side. Some user groups will argue for the free distribution of all content that appears on the Internet. Corporate interests, on the other hand, will argue for strong controls and restrictions on the distribution of all copyright material.

Creators occupy the middle ground somewhere between these two extremes. We want to protect our work, but we also want it widely distributed. Creators depend on their copyrights to grant us the right to earn money from our works, but we also need access to other creators’ works. Perhaps more than anyone, we understand that a balance between the interests of users and copyright owners is essential.

Canadians should take an interest in the new copyright legislation. Our information society is increasingly driven by the economic sector reliant on copyright. In 2001, some 131,000 creators in Canada spent the majority of their time working at their art. This does not include the thousands who depend on creators for work in the film, television, publishing, visual arts and music industries, and it does not include those in the computer software industry whose work is also protected by copyright.

Every professional creator in this country is an independent entrepreneur. Most of us work alone and find it difficult to promote and protect our work. Our environment seems to change every day. The Internet is providing new opportunities to deliver our creations to our audience, but inadequate legislation is making it difficult to protect our work in this new technological world.

Musicians are the canary in the mine, showing what can happen when copyright legislation gives inadequate protection. Today virtually anyone can download music on to a home computer without paying a fee, and almost every recording artist and songwriter has lost substantial income from pirating. This is only the beginning. Soon technology will allow the downloading of feature films the day they are released. Whole libraries of books are already available online. To creators, this provides a new and innovative way of marketing our works, but the content has to have adequate protection or it will be “ripped off ” just like music.

Creators are exploring the Internet as a marketing tool. Again, the musicians are pointing the way. The Songwriters Association of Canada has proposed a system to share music on peer-to-peer networks for a modest fee [read more about the proposal here]. Canadian book publishers are developing electronic publishing programs, and filmmakers are discussing similar projects. For creators, the Internet holds out the promise that they will have more control over their work and hopefully gain more income from it.
Producers and publishers also need copyright protection if they are going to operate in the world of the Internet. It costs money to edit, design, print and market a new book. Feature films today cost millions of dollars. The companies that put up that sort of money expect a return or they will not take the risk.

All of this is making us feel uneasy. The government promises that the new legislation will bring Canadian copyright law into the Internet age, but what will be in the legislation? Here are some major issues worth watching. Moral Rights Unlike the United States, Canada follows the European tradition that grants creators of copyright moral rights in their works, giving them greater control over how their work may be changed or used and how they will be credited for the use of their works. Will moral rights be reaffirmed and strengthened? Pirating How to reduce infringement while allowing a strong public domain? Creators need the right to charge a fee for their work, offer it under collective licenses, distribute it under licenses such as the Creative Commons or give it away. Internet Service Providers Creators support “notice and takedown,” a system already in effect in Europe and the United States. The legislation should give copyright holders the right, within reasonable limits, to require ISPs to take down illegally distributed material . Fair Dealing Creators support the fairdealing provision for the purpose of private study and research, but not of commerce. Educational exemption The Ministers of Education want to exempt all material that can be accessed freely on the Internet if it is not marked “copyright,” and its reproduction clearly prohibited. This is not necessary. Material on the Internet can be handled easily by collective licensing. Educators should not be trying to balance their budgets with an exemption that gives them such extensive free use of copyright works. Licensing Canadian creators and producers have formed licensing agencies like Access Copyright and SOCAN that facilitate the use of content. Such collective licensing agencies, which enable customers to access material and provide income for creators and producers, should be strengthened. Technical Protection Measures Producers and publishers say they need to stop the circumvention of TPMs and prevent the removal of digital rights management information from works. Computer programmers say that being able to circumvent TPMs is fundamental to programming and must not be made illegal.
The sides are shaping up in the copyright debate. Already the blogs are spilling over with impassioned statements supporting or opposing various views. As creators, we hope that the public understands that creators’ works need protection if they are to have the chance to earn a decent living.

SAC’s Proposal for Online Music Called ‘Pipe Dream’

From Monday’s Globe and Mail
January 7, 2008 at 3:59 AM EST

A proposal to add a $5 monthly fee to every wireless and Internet account that would allow music consumers access to all recorded music available online has been called a “pipe dream” by the president of the Canadian Record Industry Association, Reuters and Billboard has reported.

The Songwriters Association of Canada claims the plan, which has been presented to CRIA and the Canadian Independent Record Production Association, as well as publishers’ groups, would raise $1-billion a year that would be distributed to artists, labels and publishers. The proposal does not detail how revenue would be collected.

CRIA president Graham Henderson said he has discussed the plan with acting SAC president Eddie Schwartz, Reuters reported, but his organization is reluctant to become involved. “We don’t want to pursue what amounts to a pipe dream that is presented as a quick fix,” he said. “We’ll lose focus on the real issues that will help us resolve the industry’s problems.”

Talk about a pipe dream! Oh well, while “songwriters” are left out of the distribution list (guess songwriters are caught under “publishers”), I’ve got dreams of a money river flowing into my home if I can just get the one hit single published! NOT!

May the Muse (if not the Millions) be with you…

SOCAN Tariff 22.A (Copyright Board of Canada)

This new Tariff was petitioned by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), successfully, before the Copyright Board of Canada. The Board recently released its decision on October 18, 2007. The decision dealing with Online Music Services can be found here in PDF format and is rather long, but here’s the gist:

  • Online music retailers will now be subject to the new tariff on downloaded music files.
    The new tariff allows SOCAN to collect 3.1 per cent on the sale of each song downloaded from online commercial music sites like Apple’s iTunes Music Store or the Canadian service Puretracks.

Personally, I use Zunior

Now, if I could only get published and sell a song, then maybe these downloads would translate into some cash in my pocket… Dare to dream…

Throwing Some Rice at the Lloyd Webber

Source Article

There’s a little ego involved in songwriting and splits/credits… The fights go on all the time and the bigger you are, the nastier it can get (well, I guess more’s at stake then too…). As related in the Independent UK:

…Sir Tim Rice and Lord Lloyd Webber, are another case in point. While promoting a new production of their musical Joseph, Lloyd Webber inferred that his long-term collaborator prefers to see his name take prominence on the songsheet. “Tim Rice has written great lyrics for the new song,” he said. “It’s wonderful to hear a new Lloyd Webber/Rice song after all this time – or Rice/Lloyd Webber as he’d prefer.”
Sir Tim, however, is quick to reject the claim. “I have never insisted, no,” he says. “The order on the credit has varied over the years from one to another. And, as far as Joseph is concerned, it’s an ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber Production’. I couldn’t give a stuff.”

May the Muse be with us, we long-suffering, humble song-crafters, and away with “successful” egoists… okay, so I’m (a little bit) jealous…

Songwriting Course

Well my Home Recording class was canceled (previous post) so I decided to try my luck at the local TDSB’s course in songwriting offered in my neighbourhood and I signed up for it. Here’s the details:

Are you interested in learning more about songwriting? Are you an emerging artist trying to find your voice? Would you like to co-write with fellow songwriters? This course will cover the main aspects of songwriting including: Song Form; Lyric-writing, Melody; Collaboration. Music business basics, including information on copyright protection, will also be taught. You will learn useful analytical and creative tools to enhance your Songwriting skills. You will also add several new and improved songs to your own song catalogues! In-class performances and collaboration will be encouraged. Some out-of-class preparation will be required. (material costs: $5)

Blunt Denies Songwriting Rift

Tuesday, September 18 2007, 11:44 BST
By Alex Fletcher

James Blunt has denied that new song ‘Annie’ is directed at his ex-songwriting partner Amanda Ghost.

Ghost, who helped pen the number one single ‘You’re Beautiful’ with the popstar, has responded to the allegations the track is an attack on her by insisting she is a success in her own right. She is quoted as saying: “I’d hardly have said my dreams were ‘crumbling’. James has had one number one hit, but I’ve since gone on to have two more.”

The lyrics to Blunt’s new track from his All The Lost Souls album include the line: “Annie, you had your dream on the bright lights/ You’re just not going very far / Your dreams are crumbling.” However, a spokesperson for the singer denied the song was a veiled attack on Ghost commenting: “‘Annie’ has nothing to do with Miss Ghost. James makes it a rule never to disclose the inspiration for his music.”