This little .jpg has shown up about three times on my facebook feed over the last two days. Have a look.
(Click me to embiggen).
That fellow on the far left, the one we’re supposed to feel sorrow and outrage for is a guy named Kim Dotcom, nee Kim Schmitz. Let’s first clear some air: Mr. Schmitz has not been sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was only arrested last week, and has not yet even been extradited to the United States from New Zealand, where he was placed in custody by police there. So there’s that. But there’s more here.
Kim Dotcom did not get arrested for “sharing” anything. Kim Dotcom was arrested for being the man behind the popular file upload/download site Megaupload, because Megaupload–according to the Feds–knowingly engaged in internet-based IP piracy and conspiracy of same.
Let’s understand what’s going on here. Megaupload is/was one of many sites that are known as “cyberlockers”. Others include Rapidshare, Filesonic, Mediafire, etc. These sites all have similar models for what they do and how they make money. They offer a service by which users can upload files. When the file is uploaded, the site generates a unique URL address which the user can then share with others who may then download the file. When users go to these sites, they’re typically assaulted with a variety of ads, popups, and perhaps even adware/malware downloaded to their own computers. Users who wish to download a file are normally given a choice involving a slow download, or a faster one available with a monthly membership, typically in the $10/30 days model. There are legitimate uses for such sites, but they are also a haven for uploaded copyrighted music, movie, and game files as well.
To understand what happened here, it’s also necessary to understand how these cyberlocker sites save money and space in bandwidth and storage. If you’re uploading a file, you may not be the only person who’s done that with that particular file, and in the exact same format. It would be inefficient for these sites to store all these exact same files as different files on their servers, and the uploading of these files likely clogs their bandwidth, so what they do is “hash” their files. Let’s say that you’ve uploaded a public-domain movie to a cyberlocker. That cyberlocker sees this, and simply gives you a unique URL for the movie file that you can share, but doesn’t have you actually upload anything. They know they’ve already got a copy in the same format and don’t want to waste the space on redudancy. Where this comes into play on Megaupload is that folks were uploading movies, music, and games that were under copyright. When Megaupload hashed the files, it would simply generate unique URL addresses for users to share, all of which pointed to the same file on their servers. So…if a thousand pirates uploaded a Radiohead album in the same format, (which happens; you, Mr. Pirate, are not the unique snowflake your parents tell you that you are), Megaupload would generate a thousand different, unique URL’s, but they’d all point to the same file.
Now we get to the problems. Youtube (which isn’t a cyberlocker, but which I included to prevent jackholes from commenting “What about Youtube!”)and various cyberlocker sites that aren’t in trouble have been diligent about removing content when a copyright holder complains about it. For right now, that’s enough to satisfy US laws; if you are a musician and see your copyrighted music being shared and want to stop that from happening, you file a complaint and the offending site removes the file. What Megaupload would do (and you can see this coming, can’t you?) was to remove the offending URL that had been complained about, but KEEP the actual file on their servers, with potentially thousands of other URL’s out there still pointing to it and making it a valid link. In seized emails and chatlogs, Kim Dotcom of Megaupload and various others in the company actually discuss this practice as a matter of policy and allegedly admit to fostering piracy through their site.
And so that’s bad.
But there’s more.
I understand that there are a lot of folks out there in the “Information just wants to be free!” camp. I get that, even if I disagree with it. Let’s be clear here, however. Kim Schmitz/Dotcom did not “share” anything. Mr. Dotcom made a ridiculously posh living off of it. By visiting Megaupload, he got money off of clickthrough’s from advertisers. He got money off of subscribers who paid him $10/month. He “shared” files in the same way that McDonald’s “shares” food: you give them money, they give you the goods.
How much money did this “file sharer” make off the copyrighted works of others?
Here’s his house. You tell me.
(If you’re struggling with this, Kim Dotcom’s net worth is estimated at $200 million USD)
There are legitimate and useful cyberlocker services out there, and this is not a condemnation of them as a blanket by any means. Even more than that, many of these sites are smart enough to put their server farms in European countries with more forgiving “fair use” laws than those in North America (Megaupload had a huge server farm in Ashburn, VA and also in Canada). What this is is a condemnation of one person and one site whose willful and gleeful scofflaw activity emboldens politicians to send legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA on through.
(Courtesy of Dan Lehr at NewsChannel 9 in Chattanooga; I actually knew this little factoid, but earlier today Dan–one of my dearest friends from college–tweeted it and I remembered it again and how odd and interesting this really is and decided to share.)
John Tyler was born in 1790, a little more than a year after the United States became the United States by ratifying the Constitution. Tyler grew up in Virginia as a member of a proud family who could trace lineage back to the colony at Williamsburg. One of the heroes of the War of 1812, William Henry Harrison, selected Tyler to be his running mate, and won the election of 1840. When President Harrison died shortly after taking office in 1841, Tyler became the 10th President of the United States. He wasn’t really much of a President. The major accomplishment of his career in the White House was annexing the state of Texas to the union–which is why there’s a city in Big Tex called Tyler. His second year in office, the First Lady, Letitia Tyler, died of complications after having suffered a stroke years earlier. President Tyler ended up taking a second wife after leaving office. He was 56 by then. She was 26. Good on him. With his second wife, Julia, John Tyler had 7 more children very late in life.
Wacky factoid, coming up. Really. Promise.
One of his sons was a fellow named Lyon Tyler, who was born in 1853, when his father was 63 years old. Lyon Tyler had a personal life very similar to his father’s. Lyon’s first wife, Anne, passed away in 1921. Lyon Tyler was 69 years old. He married a much younger woman and had three children with her, including Lyon Jr. and Harrison Tyler, born in 1924 and 1928 respectively. (For his part, Lyon Senior lived to be 82 years old, passing away in 1835.)
Lyon Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Tyler are both still very much alive. They’re the grandsons of the 10th President of the United States, who was born in 1790.
Should the purpose or intent of an album/song be something you consider when weighing quality and worthwhile-ness of the experience?
I pose this question as I look over the flaming wreckage of the best records I heard in 2011. A “band” called National Skyline, which originally consisted of a couple of Jeffs: Jeff Dimpsey of sometimes-talked-about-here 1990′s Illinois group Hum and Jeff Garber of Castor. National Skyline has been just Garber for a while now. In 2009, under the Skyline name, Garber released a terrific “comeback” album called Bliss & Death. I didn’t hear that record until late 2010, but it sure made me interested in hearing more from this project.
And so back in February, National Skyline put out two EP’s. I loved them. Then in May we got another full album, called Bursts (Amazon lists it at just self-titled) of new material as National Skyline. I liked that too, but in smaller doses. Individual songs sounded great, but it was nothing I could listen to for extended periods. It was a classic case of “I like two songs”, but in this case the odd thing was that it could be any two songs, depending on which two songs were the first two I heard.
Then in August he/they released another full album’s length of material called Broadcasting. All new. All sort of sounding the same tones and themes of his previous work in 2011. Then in December…another new album (Primitive Parade), all new, same deal. All of that stuff sounds….really good on first and even second or third listens. At first I was thinking that if you cobbled together an album of 12 of the best National Skyline songs of the many released in 2011, you might really have something.
But there’s a catch.
Seems that the 2009 return to grand form Bliss & Death attracted the notice of some tastemakers with deep pockets, namely MTV. Garber signed on with a music publishing company/label/promotional entity called Hype Music. Hype is an MTV affiliated thing that basically act as a conduit between non-musical commercial entities who need music, and artists who create said music. In this case, MTV and some associated Viacom networks needed music for TV series, specifically for a show called Teen Mom which I have never seen. And so guess what all that prolificness was for? The uniformity of tone, palette, and style on all three National Skyline full-length releases this past year was because those “albums” were actually songs that were written for Hype that appeared in that show and others of similar inane (I’m assuming) ilk (Jersey Shore was another show to feature National Skyline, so inanity confirmed).
Let me be fairly clear here: I am the world’s least-opposed music snob/geek/asshole-senile hipster when it comes to music artists making money off their craft. I’ve seen musicians who I love and adore struggle to make ends meet with “real” jobs, and have seen promising music careers derailed because frankly the money sucks and it is damn near impossible to get paid for creating it, much less carve out a living doing it. So. If National Skyline–who is just Jeff Garber now–is making some decent money by writing songs for teen angst reality shows, good on him/them. I am wholly and 100% in favor of that. What I am less in favor of is the releasing, for commercial sale, this same music under the name of a band that spent a good number of years toiling in the underground building a pretty nice vault of indie goodwill capital. I must look at the pleasing nature of that music as me being somewhat deceived. I must consider that the striking similarity of tone, lyrics, and overall sound that these songs possess are stitched together through copying and pasting in Pro-Tools or Garage Band as if they were random prose generators.
To be more stark about it, in National Skyline’s previous creative peak from 1999 through 2001, they released something like 21 songs. In the 2011 calendar year under the name “National Skyline”, Garber has released 44 songs. After playing around with trying to make my own album of the best dozen of those 44 I’ve concluded that I could throw darts at a board to pick any 12 and they’d sound no different from 12 other songs chosen by some other random method.
That’s a problem. Perhaps I should let this go and say “I like the songs on these records, even if they are created to plug into TV shows to create easy mood and emotional audience manipulation”. Perhaps I may end up hearing enough difference to get there.
Then again, perhaps I won’t. I’m not sure I’m all that interested in listening much more.