Arts/Activism

OK Go on net neutrality: A lesson from the music industry

Damien Kulash, Washington Post

On the Internet, when I send my ones and zeros somewhere, they shouldn't have to wait in line behind the ones and zeros of wealthier people or corporations. That's the way the Net was designed, and it's central to a concept called "net neutrality," which ensures that Internet service providers can't pick favorites.

Recently, though, big telecommunications companies have argued that their investment in the Net's infrastructure should allow them more control over how it's used. The concerned nerds of the world are up in arms, and there's been a long, loud public debate, during which the Federal Communications Commission appeared to develop a plan to preserve net neutrality.

The FCC's latest action on the question came partly in response to a federal appeals court ruling in April that appeared to limit the agency's authority over Internet service providers. In May, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a plan to classify the Internet under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. In English, that means the agency would be legally recognizing a fact so obvious that I feel silly even typing it: We use the Internet to communicate. With that radical notion established, the FCC would have jurisdiction to protect the public interest on the Net, including enforcing neutrality. Since announcing its intent, though, the FCC hasn't followed through, and the corporations involved are trying to take the reins before the public servants do.

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Appeals court strikes down FCC restrictions on broadcast indecency

Jim Puzzanghera, LA Times

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down the government's longstanding prohibition against indecency on broadcast television and radio, ruling that the policy was "unconstitutionally vague" and created a "chilling effect" that violated the 1st Amendment protection of free speech.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York is a major victory for the broadcast TV networks, which jointly sued the Federal Communications Commission in 2006 in the wake of a tougher crackdown on indecency over the airwaves.

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Time for artists to posse up to work around corporate media dominance

Davey D, Davey D's Hip Hop Corner

One of the more telling aspects that stood out during last week’s Allied Media Conference held in Detroit, is the importance of artists forming collectives as a way to deal with the increasing impenetrable walls preventing access to corporate media outlets. In a world where media consolidation is the order of the day and money and resources are ‘king’ many indy artists are finding that its there’s strength in unity.

It’s become clear as day that when engaging corporate media more often than not, it’s not about preserving, nurturing or appreciating the art. Instead it’s about them finding the most efficient way to make money by obtaining high ratings using a flawed system that seemingly rewards a bland dumb down product that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Hence there’s little or no room for musical expression that doesn’t immediately appeal to the lowest common denominator of a targeted audience.

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Apple to shut down Lala "music locker" service

Matt Rosoff, CNet

Once again, it looks as if the recording industry is standing square in the way of giving users what they want: access to their digital-music collections from any device in any location.

Earlier on Friday, a notice appeared on Lala, announcing that the service would be shut down on May 31. Apple acquired Lala in late 2009, and a lot of folks have speculated that Apple would launch its own version of Lala's online-music locker service, which enables users to upload their music collections to Lala's servers, then stream those songs to any Internet-connected device.

(Technically, users don't upload actual music files to Lala, as they do with MP3Tunes. Rather, users upload metadata about their music collections, and Lala then enables them to stream the songs from its servers.)

Unfortunately, according to a report from All Things Digital's Peter Kafka, music fans shouldn't expect Lala's music locker functionality to find its way into iTunes or MobileMe anytime soon.

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Naomi Klein on how corporate branding has taken over America

Naomi Klein, The Guardian

In May 2009, Absolut Vodka launched a limited edition line called "Absolut No Label". The company's global public relations manager, Kristina Hagbard, explained that "For the first time we dare to face the world completely naked. We launch a bottle with no label and no logo, to manifest the idea that no matter what's on the outside, it's the inside that really matters."

A few months later, Starbucks opened its first unbranded coffee shop in Seattle, called 15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea. This "stealth Starbucks" (as the anomalous outlet immediately became known) was decorated with "one-of-a-kind" fixtures and customers were invited to bring in their own music for the stereo system as well as their own pet social causes – all to help develop what the company called "a community personality." Customers had to look hard to find the small print on the menus: "inspired by Starbucks". Tim Pfeiffer, a Starbucks senior vice-president, explained that unlike the ordinary Starbucks outlet that used to occupy the same piece of retail space, "This one is definitely a little neighbourhood coffee shop." After spending two decades blasting its logo on to 16,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks was now trying to escape its own brand.

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Doh! Canada responds to Yes Men hoax by zapping thousands of websites

Justin Elliot, TPM Muckraker

The Canadian government managed to temporarily wipe out 4,500 personal and small business Web sites last month as it frantically grappled with a climate change hoax by the Yes Men, enlisting the national cybersecurity agencies of Canada and Germany in the process, a Danish web hosting company and the Yes Men tell TPMmuckraker.

Yes Man Mike Bonanno, one of the marquee personalities of the lefty activist group, tells TPMmuckraker that the experience, in which a German Internet service provider shut down the Yes Men's parody Web sites in response to a Canadian demand, is "really unfortunate for free speech on the Internet. The kind of scary thing about this is that these hosting companies seem so eager to act in the interest of whoever has the most power."

The overzealous response by Canada echoes the Chamber of Commerce's handling of a similar hoax in December: namely, suing the Yes Men in federal court.

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TechSoup wants to stretch broadband dollars

Kim Hart, The Hill

Marnie Webb flew to Washington from San Francisco to spend this past week to try to make connections in the broadband community.

As co-CEO of TechSoup, a non-profit that helps other organizations use technology more effectively, she's interested in helping the Commerce Department make broadband stimulus grants go farther. And she is interested in partnering with other groups, like the Sunlight Foundation, in goals of getting underserved populations into the civil discourse happening online. She also wants to share broadband adoption techniques she's learned with the the Federal Communications Commission for its national broadband plan.

But Webb admits she is naive to the ways of Washington. As she meets with non-governmental organizations and agency officials, she has to stress that she is not looking for financial help. TechSoup did not apply for any money in the first round of stimulus grants. She's thought of talking to the staff of her district's representative, who happens to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but she knows she'll have a hard time getting an audience.

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Chamber of Commerce unleashes lawyers on Yes Men

Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones

After the Yes Men pulled their now-famous prank earlier this week on the US Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber issued a vague threat of "law-enforcement action." The group doesn't appear to have called the cops on the Yes Men just yet, but on Wednesday it issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down demand notice for the parody site that the Yes Men set up to publicize their fake event, in which the "Chamber" announced that it would support a sane global warming policy after all.

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Musicians ask FCC to probe radio boycott

Jenna Greene, National Law Journal

You won't hear Bruce Springsteen on KXIT ("Your home for the classics") in the Texas Panhandle -- or Sheryl Crow or Tim McGraw or Rod Stewart or dozens of other artists either.

It's not their music that station owner George Chambers finds objectionable. It's their membership in MusicFirst, a coalition that wants to change the law to require AM and FM radio stations to pay royalties for the music they broadcast. Other radio stations across the country have allegedly refused to air the group's advertisements supporting performance-royalty legislation, as well as blackballed individual artists who are members.

Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is being called upon to investigate whether such tactics run afoul of broadcasters' obligation to serve the public interest. The agency put out a notice last month seeking information regarding whether broadcasters are "targeting and threatening artists" or engaging in a media campaign that "disseminates falsities," and to determine the effect of refusing to air the ads. The commission is also being asked to take the stations' conduct into account when it comes time to renew their broadcast licenses.

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No celebration of occupation: 1,500 artists and writers sign letter protesting Toronto Film Festival decision to spotlight Tel Aviv

Democracy Now

The Toronto International Film Festival is renowned as one of the world’s top cinematic events, the staging ground for the top films in any given year. But since the festival’s opening last week, a protest over the Israel-Palestine conflict has taken center-stage. At issue is the festival"s decision to host a showcase on Israeli films from Tel Aviv for its inaugural City to City program.

Palestinian activists say the TIFF spotlight plays into Israel’s attempt to improve its global image in the wake of the assault on the Gaza Strip and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. In the weeks before the festival, a group of artists and writers drafted a letter of protest against the Tel Aviv spotlight. The letter is called The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation. It says in part: “…Whether intentionally or not, [TIFF] has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine… We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers… nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of… an apartheid regime.”

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey