|THURSDAY 24 JANUARY 2019||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The music industry's ongoing legal battle with its top piracy gripe of the moment has suffered a setback after a US judge said his court didn't have jurisdiction over the operator of two stream-ripping sites based in Russia. As a result, the man behind FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com has successfully had the lawsuit filed against him by the Recording Industry Association Of America dismissed... [READ MORE]|
Record industry's latest stream-ripping lawsuit dismissed in US court
Tofig Kurbanov called for the RIAA's lawsuit to be dismissed on jurisdiction grounds last October. He argued that his two sites - which allow users to turn streams into permanent MP3 downloads - were entirely managed from Russia and that less than 6% of his users are from the US. Therefore, he reckoned, any copyright action shouldn't be pursued through a court in Virginia, USA.
For its part, the RIAA argued that 31 million Americans have used the sites more than 96 million times, with 542,000 users in Virginia alone. The record industry trade group also reckoned that, at various points, FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com had used US-based servers, domain registrars and advertising networks.
However, judge Claude M Hilton has now concurred with Kurbanov that the Virginian courts do not have jurisdiction in this case. The defendant had not specifically set out to target American users and, the judge said, because the sites are ad-funded and require no sign-up by those looking to stream-rip, they didn't have commercial relationships with users in the US.
Although the RIAA is yet to respond to the ruling, it will be disappointed with the judge's conclusions. While Americans may make up a small portion of the total number of users on FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com, a significant number of people in America are nevertheless using the sites to make unlicensed copies of streams. And piracy sites are also commonly ad-funded and therefore require no formal sign-up on the part of those looking for pirated content.
The ruling could also make others operating stream-ripping sites more bullish when targeted with legal action - or threats of legal action - by the music industry. Many stream-ripping sites insist that they aren't actually liable for copyright infringement, using the classic argument that their services have legitimate as well as illegitimate uses. But ever since the US record industry successfully forced top stream-ripping site YouTube-MP3 off the internet, we've seen a number of similar services shutdown when targeted with threats of litigation.
The decision is also likely to heighten calls in the US for web-blocking to be introduced there as an anti-piracy tactic. Web-blocking, where courts order internet service providers to block access to copyright infringing sites, usually begins with jurisdiction issues. Which is to say, it's a way for copyright owners to restrict usage of piracy sites in their home countries where those sites are based in other places where it is hard to sue.
Efforts to introduce web-blocking in the US in 2012 proved very controversial indeed and American law-makers pretty much dropped the whole idea as a result. Though more recently both music and movie industry lobbyists have started to call for some sort of web-blocking Stateside, noting that a flurry of web-blocks in countries like the UK have not resulted in the censorship of legitimate websites, as some critics of web-blocking claimed could happen.
StubHub responds to launch of new European anti-touting campaign
"As a fan first marketplace we are concerned by the rhetoric of the newly formed Face-value European Alliance For Ticketing and its potential to harm consumers, especially as we observe the trend of rising average face value prices", says Wayne Grierson, Managing Director at StubHub's northern EMEA division, in a statement.
Arguing that StubHub has "revolutionised the long-existing secondary ticket market by creating a safe, secure and transparent platform for fans to buy and resell tickets", he says that any legislation to cap resale prices will simply drive secondary ticketing for profit to social media and other websites where it is difficult or impossible to regulate. Which has long been the preferred argument of those in the ticket resale sector countering calls for restrictions to be put on online touting.
The real problem, Grierson then says, is all the bloody primary ticket sellers. He continues: "StubHub challenges FEAT to advocate for increased transparency on the primary market. Fans have the right to understand how many tickets are being made available for sale, and when and at what price and whether those prices will fluctuate due to demand. In the state of New York, it was reported that an average of 54% of tickets never even go on public sale and are instead held back by promoters and primary sellers. When consumers have this information available to them, they can make informed purchasing decisions".
He concluded by praising the new-ish regulations for secondary ticketing in the UK, which are now being enforced by the Competitions And Markets Authority, saying: "This past week in the UK, we've seen the positive effects that regulation can have on the consumer experience across the secondary market. Any further regulation should look comprehensively at the entire industry and focus on protecting consumers, not policies that will have negative consequences".
Responding to StubHub's arguments, two directors of FEAT - MCT-Agentur CEO Scumeck Sabottka and Doctor Music CEO Neo Sala - said in a statement this morning: "While we agree on the importance of a secure environment for fans to resell tickets when they can no longer attend a gig, we disagree on the need for this to involve price-hiking to the value of 8 billion euro annually".
Noting StubHub's advocacy of a more transparent ticket-buying experience, they go on:
They conclude: "Both artists and fans want face value resale. We note the closure of Seatwave and GetMeIn! in the UK, the success of face value resale platforms like Twickets in the UK and Spain, and the fact that countries like Ireland are moving towards a face value resale only policy. We hope StubHub will catch this wave and work with organisations like ours towards a resale ecosystem that is truly fan first".
The UK developments in the "past week" referred to by Grierson relate, of course, to the passing of the CMA's deadline for secondary ticketing sites to comply with various specific elements of UK consumer rights law. StubHub voluntarily agreed to meet the CMA's demands, while a court order was secured forcing its rival Viagogo to fall in line. Viagogo then claimed ahead of last week's deadline that it was now totally compliant, although critics - including some in the secondary ticketing market - say that this is not the case.
As that deadline passed, the CMA also published an open letter to event organisers, outlining their responsibilities under UK law in the resale domain. In particular, it explains exactly what and how information should be displayed at the primary ticketing stage if promoters plan to restrict the resale of tickets on the secondary market. Particularly if they plan to cancel tickets that they know have been touted.
Elsewhere in StubHub news, a major eBay shareholder, the Elliott Management Corporation, has called on the wider business to enact a plan that it believes will boost the firm's share price. This includes spinning the "thriving" StubHub off into its own company, rather than it operating as a subsidiary of eBay itself.
Jean-Michel Jarre updates HSBC's "sound identity"
Seven different versions of new composition 'Together We Thrive' will be used by the bank. It has been "created to be relevant to the 66 markets in which HSBC operates by working across different languages and cultures".
If you phone up HSBC today you can hear it while you're on hold. So that's something to do. It'll also start appearing in adverts, in branches, in HSBC's app, on its ATMs and at its offices around the world. So if you engage with HSBC a lot, you'd better prepare yourself to start getting very tired indeed of this new track.
"This is the first time that I have worked with a brand on a project like this but I really connected with HSBC's deep focus on the notion of thriving", says Jarre. "My music has always been about the future and in order to thrive in the 21st century, I truly believe we need to focus on the environment, education and technology. Once I understood their value to the HSBC brand, suddenly it seemed that we were speaking the same language".
Christ. And here's HSBC Global Head Of Brand Andrea Newman: "Sound is an increasingly important part of brand building in a world where our audiences are busy and distracted. Having a distinctive sound which works alongside our visual branding and logo means we can be easily recognised wherever and however our customers interact with us. We are delighted to have partnered with Jean-Michel Jarre who has created a sound identity which will work across the many countries and cultures in which we operate".
Despite all this probably making you feel like you need a bloody good wash, 'sonic branding' is actually really interesting. Have a listen to this episode of the excellent 20,000Hz podcast on the subject.
RealNetworks doubles its stake in Napster
Officially speaking the Napster streaming music business is still owned by a company called Rhapsody International Inc. Rhapsody was once a division of RealNetworks, operating a digital music service called Rhapsody in the US. It was spun off as a standalone company in 2010, with MTV owner Viacom also a significant shareholder at the time. That company then acquired the Napster streaming service the following year, ultimately phasing out the Rhapsody brand that had only ever been used in the US.
Subsequently a New York-based investment set-up called Columbus Nova pumped a load of money into the business and became a key shareholder. But now RealNetworks has confirmed that it has basically bought Columbus Nova out of the business, meaning it is the majority shareholder again, with an 84% stake.
RealNetworks said in a statement that it had "acquired the debt and equity interests in Rhapsody International, which does business as Napster, from Rhapsody Applebee LLC, which is managed by Columbus Nova Technology Partners. The deal increases RealNetworks's stake in Napster to 84% from 42%".
Basic terms of the deal were also revealed, with the statement adding that "RealNetworks will pay $1 million in cash, and an additional $14 million over time subject to certain conditions, with additional consideration depending on subsequent events, that could total up to $40 million".
The Napster download and then streaming service has never really enjoyed the profile or significance of the original Napster file-sharing network that was sued out of business in 2002 but retains an iconic place in music industry history.
In the early days as a legit licensed digital music set-up, Napster's subscription model never really caught on as Apple's iTunes set the precedent that the initial digital music boom would operate on a dollar-per-download basis. Then, when streaming took off and subscriptions did become the norm, Napster quickly fell behind the likes of Spotify.
Which is why you'd probably forgotten Napster was even still an option for your ten-pounds-a-month streaming music fix. Though in more recent years, Napster bosses have been pushing more into B2B streaming, providing a platform for other companies that want to offer musical streams on a subscription basis.
The boss of RealNetworks, Rob Glaser, yesterday said that it was that strategy that meant he was optimistic about the future of the streaming music business his company now controls again.
"Napster has reported five-straight quarters of positive operating income", RealNetworks reassured its shareholders yesterday. "This success", Glaser added, "was achieved by pivoting to a B2B strategy focused on selling the Napster platform as a service. We think Napster's future is very bright".
Pitchfork will add a paywall this year
But good news everybody! Optimists in the world of magazines are hoping that the world is finally ready for paywalls around the written word, and to that end magazine publisher Condé Naste has got the builders in constructing various assorted paywalls around every one of its US-based sites.
In a memo to staff, Condé Naste boss Bob Sauerberg confirmed that paywalls would be added to all of the company's American websites by the end of the year, the publisher having first dabbled with online subscriptions in 2014 on The New Yorker, then adding limits on freebie readers of Wired and Vanity Fair last year.
"This is the next phase of a strategy that was implemented with the launch of the paywall at The New Yorker in 2014", Sauerberg confirmed. "Since then, audiences at The New Yorker, Wired and Vanity Fair have proven that they are willing to pay for the quality content we create, and the performance of those paywalls has exceeded our expectations".
Some traditional newspaper and magazine publishers tried out paywalls in the early days of the world wide web, but - except for more business-centric titles - in the main people seemed unwilling to pay to access journalism online. So most publishers instead opted for an ad-funded free content model, hoping that if they could build big enough audiences around that content, when internet advertising finally took off they'd be quids in.
What no one foresaw was that, when internet advertising did indeed take off, Google and Facebook would gobble up most of the money as brands sought to push their products through search lists and social feeds rather than the online versions of traditional media. All of which has led to newspaper and magazine owners looking for other revenue streams, including branded and sponsored content, and adding e-commerce buttons alongside articles.
In more recent years we've seen broadsheet newspapers in particular dabbling again with subscriptions and paywalls. The hope was that platforms like Netflix and Spotify had convinced consumers that online content is something you might actually pay for, and that those newly educated consumers might then be persuaded to pay to access the kind of long-form journalism that isn't quite so ubiquitously available everywhere on the internet.
Some broadsheet newspapers have had some success with this more recent move into paid-for content online, leading to some magazines - especially those with more long-form articles like The New Yorker - following suit.
Still, questions remain as to whether paywalls can really work for all newspapers and magazines or only a select few. Certainly on the newspaper side, it is broadsheets that have had some success in this domain. When The Sun put up a paywall around all its tabloid nonsense, it was a commercial disaster. Which means opinion is divided as to quite how wide a range of magazines could successfully go the online subscriptions route.
Condé Nast's plan is interesting from a music perspective because it owns music site Pitchfork. The media firm has said that paywall policies will be developed on a site-by-site basis. Which means that quite how much content can be accessed before payment is required will vary according to audience and the kind of content being published. And tweaks can be made depending on how people then respond.
Music media owners the world over will be watching with interest how the Pitchfork paywall works, what kind of music content Condé Nast reckons it can restrict to paying users only, and what impact all that has on the site's traffic and revenues.
The paywalls-for-all strategy at Condé Naste follows the recent news that Pitchfork's founder and former CEO and Editor In Chief, Ryan Schreiber, was departing the company. He said that after more than two decades working on the music site "the time feels right" to leave and "I'm excited to open a new chapter in my life and explore fresh challenges".
Stephen Malkmus announces electronic album
The new record is a departure from previous works, as is sees Malkmus divert into electronic music. "It's fun to mess with things that you're not supposed to", he says. "The electronic music side of the album, I wanted it to be sonically pre-internet".
Staying with that thought, he says of the new single: "I was thinking things like Pete Shelley's 'Homosapien', the Human League and DIY synth music circa 1982, and also about how in the new wave 80s, these suburban eighteen-and-over dance clubs were where all the freaks would meet - a sanctuary".
Tammi Kidd Hutton, SoundCloud, Lil Wayne, more
Other notable announcements and developments today...
• Ole has signed a new worldwide co-publishing deal with Nashville songwriter Tammi Kidd Hutton. "Great people; great company", says Hutton.
• SoundCloud co-founder Eric Wahlforss has resigned as the company's Chief Product Officer. "This was not an easy decision to make, but one of the biggest reasons why I feel I have made the right decision is that the company is in such capable hands", he said in a memo to staff. In a statement, CEO Kerry Trainor added: ""It's not easy to express the depth of my respect and admiration for Eric".
• Lil Wayne has released the video for 'Don't Cry', featuring XXXtentacion.
• Pixies are set to release a new album later this year, which will seem them reunite with Kim Deal for the third time. Ahead of the release, in June they will start publishing a new weekly podcast, 'Past Is Prologue, Pixies'. Here's a trailer.
• Daniel Johnston has released a new animated video for 'Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grievances' from his 1983 album, 'Yip/Jump Music'.
• Sega Bodega has released new track, 'Mimi'. It arrives ahead of his live show at Hoxton Hall in London on 7 Feb.
• Shitting hell, King Prawn are back! The band will release their first album since 2003 - 'The Fabulous New Sounds Of...' - on 19 Apr. They are also set to play shows in Manchester, London and Hastings the same month.
• Seraphina is back with new single 'Kingdom Come'. "The song is about the addictive power of doomed desire", she says. "Like a cult promising salvation, it draws you in and once you sense the shadows lurking it's too late to pull away from the thrill".
• Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
UK Eurovision contenders unveiled
In an attempt to make the selection process more interesting, this year the BBC has decided to both simplify and complicate it at the same time. There are six contenders, but only three songs. So there are two versions of each song. Each version will be pitted against the other, then an overall winner will be selected from the remaining three.
So, the contenders...
'X Factor' runner-up (of sorts) Holly Tandy and winner of 'All Together Now' Michael Rice, will each perform the song 'Bigger Than Us'.
Then there's Jordan Clarke, who - like pretty much everyone now - has been on 'Britain's Got Talent', and girl group Maid, who will appear in a live action remake of 'Aladdin' directed by Guy Ritchie next year. Wait, what? Really? Ah well, before that they'll both perform the song 'Freaks' in a bid to get to Eurovision 2019.
Finally, there's another (even less successful) former 'X Factor' contestant, Kerrie-Anne Phillips, and Anisa Moghaddam, who actually seems to have had some success, so probably shouldn't be doing this. They've done versions of a song called 'Sweet Lies'.
We, the lucky public, will be able to vote for our favourite song and performer - but possibly not both - when this year's 'Eurovision: You Decide' is broadcast on BBC One on 8 Feb. Listen to all the songs in their various forms here.