“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
The Tor network is a group of volunteer-operated servers that allows people to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Tor’s users employ this network by connecting through a series of virtual tunnels rather than making a direct connection, thus allowing both organizations and individuals to share information over public networks without compromising their privacy. Along the same line, Tor is an effective censorship circumvention tool, allowing its users to reach otherwise blocked destinations or content. Tor can also be used as a building block for software developers to create new communication tools with built-in privacy features.
Individuals use Tor to keep websites from tracking them and their family members, or to connect to news sites, instant messaging services, or the like when these are blocked by their local Internet providers. Tor’s hidden services let users publish web sites and other services without needing to reveal the location of the site. Individuals also use Tor for socially sensitive communication: chat rooms and web forums for rape and abuse survivors, or people with illnesses.
Journalists use Tor to communicate more safely with whistleblowers and dissidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use Tor to allow their workers to connect to their home website while they’re in a foreign country, without notifying everybody nearby that they’re working with that organization.
Groups such as Indymedia recommend Tor for safeguarding their members’ online privacy and security. Activist groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommend Tor as a mechanism for maintaining civil liberties online. Corporations use Tor as a safe way to conduct competitive analysis, and to protect sensitive procurement patterns from eavesdroppers. They also use it to replace traditional VPNs, which reveal the exact amount and timing of communication. Which locations have employees working late? Which locations have employees consulting job-hunting websites? Which research divisions are communicating with the company’s patent lawyers?
A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.
FACEBOOK SAYS IT will give video creators and publishers a way to remove copyrighted videos that have been uploaded to its popular social network without the proper permission.
The company has come under fire from video creators, like YouTube star Hank Green, for allowing users to embed and post videos on the site, even if the content doesn’t belong to them. But this may soon change.
Facebook responded to such concerns in a blog post today, saying that it will soon be testing a “new video matching technology,” allowing video partners to check whether their content has been uploaded without their consent.
“This technology is tailored to our platform, and will allow these creators to identify matches of their videos on Facebook across Pages, profiles, groups, and geographies,” the company explained in the post. “Our matching tool will evaluate millions of video uploads quickly and accurately, and when matches are surfaced, publishers will be able to report them to us for removal.”
During its testing period, the service will be available to several media companies, multi-channel networks, and individual video creators, Facebook says. But it plans to make the tech available to more partners in the future.
The tech sounds a whole lot like what YouTube uses to keep copyright owners happy. Developed in 2007, YouTube’s system, called Content ID, allows creators to discover when any audio or video content they own is uploaded without their consent. When that happens, users can then choose to have it removed, monitored, or monetized by ads placed by YouTube.
Thomson Reuters — Customers with an Apple logo at the Apple store in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
Apple is known for being extremely secretive not only to the public, but internally as well.
Employees learn information on a need-to-know basis, which means you’re only given the exact amount of insight you need to do your job.
So if you’re a hardware engineer, you probably won’t have any clue as to what an engineer on the software team is working on.
But one Apple employee on Apple’s Special Projects team is so secretive it seems he doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s up to. Engineer Frank Fearon’s email signature consists of just a question mark, The Guardian wrote in their recent story about Apple’s rumored car project (emphasis is ours):
While one of the engineers corresponding with GoMentum Station admits to belonging to Apple’s Special Projects group, Fearon signs his emails with a cryptic question-mark icon.
It’s not uncommon for Apple employees to remain vague about their work. In fact, Apple puts new employees and interns through “secrecy training” when they’re hired, a former intern told Business Insider in a previous interview.
“You can’t tell anyone anything about your job,” this former intern said. “You can’t tell people outside of your family what you’re working on.”
This can make it hard to work effectively since you can’t communicate what you’re working on to people on other teams, said the former intern, who asked to only be referred to as Brad.
Here’s what Simon Woodside, a former Apple employee, wrote on Quora about the secrecy at Apple:
Having all these secrets was difficult from my perspective. I couldn’t really engage in idle banter with my colleagues for fear of slipping something out.
OLENA SHMAHALO/QUANTA MAGAZINE. COLLAGE RESOURCES FROM THE GRAPHICS FAIRY AND AND OLD DESIGN SHOP.
In 1850, the Reverend Thomas Kirkman, rector of the parish of Croft-with-Southworth in Lancashire, England, posed an innocent-looking puzzle in the Lady’s and Gentleman’s Diary, a recreational mathematics journal:
“Fifteen young ladies in a school walk out three abreast for seven days in succession: it is required to arrange them daily, so that no two shall walk twice abreast.” (By “abreast,” Kirkman meant “in a group,” so the girls are walking out in groups of three, and each pair of girls should be in the same group just once.)
Pull out a pencil and paper, and you’ll quickly find that the problem is harder than it looks: After arranging the schoolgirls for the first two or three days, you’ll almost inevitably have painted yourself into a corner, and have to undo your work.
The puzzle tantalized readers with its simplicity, and in the years following its publication it went viral, in a slow, modestly Victorian sort of way. It generated solutions from amateurs (here’s one of seven solutions) and papers by distinguished mathematicians, and was even turned into a verse by “a lady,” that begins:
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent division of SimonsFoundation.org whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
A governess of great renown,
Young ladies had fifteen,
Who promenaded near the town,
Along the meadows green.
While Kirkman later bemoaned the fact that his weightier mathematical contributions had been eclipsed by the popularity of this humble brainteaser, he was quick to defend his territory when another prominent mathematician, James Joseph Sylvester, claimed to have created the problem “which has since become so well-known, and fluttered so many a gentle bosom.”
The puzzle may seem like an amusing game (try a simpler version here), but its publication helped launch a field of mathematics called combinatorial design theory that now fills gigantic handbooks. What started as an assortment of conundrums about how to arrange people into groups—or “designs,” as these arrangements came to be called—has since found applications in experiment design, error-correcting codes, cryptography, tournament brackets and even the lottery.
Yet for more than 150 years after Kirkman circulated his schoolgirl problem, the most fundamental question in the field remained unanswered: Do such puzzles usually have solutions? Kirkman’s puzzle is a prototype for a more general problem: If you have n schoolgirls, can you create groups of size k such that each smaller set of size t appears in just one of the larger groups? Such an arrangement is called an (n, k, t) design. (Kirkman’s setup has the additional wrinkle that the groups must be sortable into “days.”)
It’s easy to see that not all choices of n, k and t will work. If you have six schoolgirls, for instance, you can’t make a collection of schoolgirl triples in which every possible pair appears exactly once: Each triple that included “Annabel” would contain two pairs involving her, but Annabel belongs to five pairs, and five is not divisible by two. Many combinations of n, k and t are instantly ruled out by these sorts of divisibility obstacles.
For the parameters that aren’t ruled out, there’s no royal road to finding designs. In many cases, mathematicians have found designs, through a combination of brute force and algebraic methods. But design theorists have also found examples of parameters, such as (43, 7, 2), that have no designs even though all the divisibility requirements check out. Are such cases the exception, mathematicians wondered, or the rule? “It was one of the most famous problems in combinatorics,” said Gil Kalai, a mathematician at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He recalls debating the question with a colleague a year and a half ago, and concluding that “we’ll never know the answer, because it’s clearly too hard.”
Just two weeks later, however, a young mathematician named Peter Keevash, of the University of Oxford, proved Kalai wrong. In January 2014, Keevash established that, apart from a few exceptions, designs will always exist if the divisibility requirements are satisfied. In a second paper posted this April on the scientific preprint site arxiv.org, Keevash showed how to count the approximate number of designs for given parameters. This number grows exponentially—for example, there are more than 11 billion ways to arrange 19 schoolgirls into triples so that each pair appears once.
The result is “a bit of an earthquake as far as design theory is concerned,” said Timothy Gowers, a mathematician at the University of Cambridge. The method of the proof, which combines design theory with probability, is something no one expected to work, he said. “It’s a big surprise, what Keevash did.”
Mathematicians realized in the early days of design theory that the field was intimately connected with certain branches of algebra and geometry. For instance, geometric structures called “finite projective planes”—collections of points and lines analogous to those in paintings that use perspective—are really just designs in disguise. The smallest such geometry, a collection of seven points called the Fano plane , gives rise to a (7, 3, 2) design: Each line contains exactly three points, and each pair of points appears in exactly one line. Such connections gave mathematicians a geometric way to generate specific designs.
In the 1920s, the renowned statistician Ronald Fisher showed how to use designs to set up agricultural experiments in which several types of plants had to be compared across different experimental conditions. Today, said Charles Colbourn, a computer scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe, “one of the main things [experiment-planning software] does is construct designs.”
Starting in the 1930s, designs also became widely used to create error-correcting codes, systems that communicate accurately even when information must be sent through noisy channels. Designs translate neatly into error-correcting codes, since they create sets (groups of schoolgirls) that are very different from each other—for instance, in the original schoolgirl problem, no two of the schoolgirl triples contain more than a single girl in common. If you use the schoolgirl groups as your “code words,” then if there’s a transmission error as you are sending one of the code words, you can still figure out which one was sent, since only one code word will be close to the garbled transmission. The Hamming code, one of the most famous early error-correcting codes, is essentially equivalent to the (7, 3, 2) Fano plane design, and another code related to designs was used to encode pictures of Mars that the Mariner 9 probe sent back to Earth in the early 1970s. “Some of the most beautiful codes are ones that are constructed from designs,” Colbourn said.
Design theory may even have been used by betting cartels that made millions of dollars off of Massachusetts’ poorly designed Cash WinFall lottery between 2005 and 2011. That lottery involved choosing six numbers out of 46 choices; tickets won a jackpot if they matched all six numbers, and smaller prizes if they matched five out of six numbers.
There are more than 9 million possible ways to pick six numbers out of 46, so buying tickets with every possible combination would cost far more than the game’s typical jackpot. A number of groups realized, however, that buying hundreds of thousands of tickets would enable them to turn a profit by scooping up many of the smaller prizes. Arguably the best assortment of tickets for such a strategy is a (46, 6, 5) design, which creates tickets of six numbers such that every set of five numbers appears exactly once, guaranteeing either the jackpot or every possible five-number prize.
No one has found a (46, 6, 5) design so far, Colbourn said, but designs exist that are close enough to be useful. Did any of the betting cartels use such a design “to siphon money from the Lottery at no risk to themselves?” wrote Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who discussed the Cash WinFall lottery in his book How Not to Be Wrong. If they didn’t, Ellenberg wrote, they probably should have.
It would be hard to make a complete list of the applications of designs, Colbourn said, because new ones are constantly being discovered. “I keep being surprised at how many quite different places designs arise, especially when you least expect them,” he said.
A Perfect Design
As the number of design applications exploded, mathematicians filled reference books with lists of designs that might someday prove useful. “We have tables that say ‘For this set of parameters, 300,000 designs are known,’” said Colbourn, a co-editor of the 1,016-page Handbook of Combinatorial Designs.
Despite the abundance of examples, however, mathematicians struggled to get a handle on just how often designs should exist. The only case they understood thoroughly was the one in which the smallest parameter, t, equals 2: Richard Wilson, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, showed in themid-1970s that when t = 2, for any k there is at most a finite number of exceptions—values of n that satisfy the divisibility rules but don’t have designs.
But for t greater than 2, no one knew whether designs should usually exist—and for values of t greater than 5, they couldn’t even find a single example of a design. “There were people who felt strongly that [designs] would exist, and others who felt strongly that it’s too much to ask for,” Colbourn said.
In 1985, Vojtěch Rödl of Emory University in Atlanta offered mathematicians a consolation prize: He proved that it’s almost always possible to make a good approximatedesign—one that perhaps is missing a small fraction of the sets you want, but not many. Rödl’s approach uses a random process to gradually build up the collection of sets—a procedure that came to be known as the Rödl nibble, because, as Keevash put it, “instead of trying to swallow everything at once, you just take a nibble.”
Since then, the Rödl nibble has become a widely used tool in combinatorics, and has even been used in number theory. Last year, for example, mathematicians used it to help establish how far apart prime numbers can be.
But mathematicians agreed that the nibble wouldn’t be useful for attempts to make perfect designs. After all, at the end of Rödl’s procedure, you will typically have missed a small fraction of the smaller sets you need. To make a perfect design, you’d need to add in some additional larger groups that cover the missing sets. But unless you’re very lucky, those new larger groups are going to overlap with some of the groups that are already in your design, sending new errors cascading through your system.
Designs just didn’t seem to have the kind of flexibility that would allow a random approach to work. It seemed “obviously impossible,” Gowers said, that an approach like Rödl’s could be used to make perfect designs.
Last year, however—nearly three decades after Rödl’s work—Keevash showed that it is possible to control the cascade of errors by using an approach that marries flexibility and rigidity. Keevash modified Rödl’s construction by starting off the nibble with a specific collection of schoolgirl groups, called a “template,” that has particularly nice algebraic properties. At the end of the nibble, there will be errors to correct, but once the errors propagate into the template, Keevash showed, they can almost always be fixed there in a finite number of steps, producing a perfect design. “The full proof is extremely delicate and it is a phenomenal achievement,” wrote Ross Kang, of Radboud University in the Netherlands.
“I think a few years ago, nobody thought that a proof was on the horizon,” Colbourn said. “It’s an extraordinary breakthrough.”
For pure mathematicians, Keevash’s result is in a sense the end of the story: It establishes that for any parameters t and k, all values of n that fit the divisibility conditions will have a design, apart from at most a finite number of exceptions. “It sort of kills off a whole class of problems,” Gowers said.
But Keevash’s result leaves many mysteries unsolved for people who care about actual designs. In theory, his template-nibble approach could be used to create designs, but for now it’s unclear how large n has to be for his method to work, or how long an algorithm based on his method would take to run. And while Keevash has proved that designs almost always exist, his result doesn’t say whether a design will exist for any particular set of parameters you might care about. “People will presumably still work on this for generations,” Wilson said.
Still, Keevash’s result will shift the mindset of mathematicians who are trying to find designs, Colbourn said. “Before, it wasn’t clear whether the focus should be on constructing designs or proving they don’t exist,” he said. “Now at least we know the effort should focus on constructing them.”
And the shortage of information about specific designs leaves plenty of fun puzzles for recreational mathematicians to solve. So in the spirit of Kirkman, we will leave the gentle reader with another brainteaser, a slight variation on the schoolgirl puzzle devised in 1917 by the British puzzle aficionado Henry Ernest Dudeney and later popularized by Martin Gardner: Nine prisoners are taken outdoors for exercise in rows of three, with each adjacent pair of prisoners linked by handcuffs, on each of the six weekdays (back in Dudeney’s less enlightened times, Saturday was still a weekday). Can the prisoners be arranged over the course of the six days so that each pair of prisoners shares handcuffs exactly once?
Dudeney wrote that this puzzle is “quite a different problem from the old one of the Fifteen Schoolgirls, and it will be found to be a fascinating teaser and amply repay for the leisure time spent on its solution.” Happy solving!
Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.
A woman holding an Apple iPhone passes a Samsung Galaxy S6 advertisement at a mall in Singapore April 24, 2015. Samsung is expected to announce Q1 results this week. Picture taken April 24, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Apple Inc (AAPL.O) was handed a mixed ruling by a U.S. appeals court in the latest twist in a blockbuster intellectual property battle with Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), as a prior patent infringement verdict was upheld but a trademark finding that the iPhone’s appearance could be protected was thrown out.
That means up to 40 percent of a $930 million verdict which had been won by Apple must be reconsidered.
In the highly anticipated ruling stemming from the global smartphone wars, the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. upheld patent infringement violations including one which protects the shape and color of its iPhone as well as the damages awarded for those violations.
“This is a victory for design and those who respect it,” Apple said in a statement on Monday.
Samsung welcomed the court ruling regarding the trademark finding.
“We remain confident that our products do not infringe on Apple’s design patents and other intellectual property, and we will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our products,” it said in a statement.
Shares in Samsung climbed 2.6 percent in Seoul trading after the decision, beating the wider market’s .KS11 0.6 percent gain.
The long-running dispute with Samsung dates back to when former Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs was still alive and was seen as emblematic of his tendency to fiercely defend the company’s proprietary designs and technology from copies.
“Blurred Lines” was the most talked-about single of 2013. Partly because it was an insidiously catchy pop confection that sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks. And partly because of the controversy over whether the song, and especially the accompanying video (which racked up almost 400 million views), was misogynistic and “rapey.”
Now “Blurred Lines” is having a second moment. The song has been the subject of a pitched legal battle between the family of the late Marvin Gaye and songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. Members of the Gaye estate publicly accused the musicians of copying key elements of Gaye’s iconic 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.” Williams and Thicke pre-emptively sued the Gaye estate, seeking a court declaration that they did not copy Gaye. And this week the verdict came down. The “Blurred Lines” team was found liable for copyright infringement and ordered to pay nearly $7.4 million in damages.
This is one of the largest music industry copyright verdicts in history. But the biggest losers in this saga aren’t Williams and Thicke, who can readily afford the millions each. It’s all of us who love music. The “Blurred Lines” verdict may end up cutting off a vital wellspring of creativity in music—that of making great new songs that pay homage to older classics.
“Blurred Lines” unquestionably references “Got to Give It Up.” Indeed, Williams and Thicke made clear that the feel of their song and Gaye’s were very similar. The key issue in court was whether they crossed the line into copyright infringement—and where exactly that line is.
So, what precisely did Williams and Thicke copy? We should start by making clear that they did not copy any of the specific sounds on Gaye’s classic recording of “Got to Give It Up.” This is not a sampling case, like the famous 1990s suit between Rick James and MC Hammer over “U Can’t Touch This.” Cases like that, and a host of others, put what many consider a sad end to the era of free and easy use of sampling in popular music.
(Reuters) – Google Inc on Thursday reversed its decision to remove several links to stories in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, underscoring the difficulty the search engine is having implementing Europe’s “right to be forgotten” ruling.
The Guardian protested the removal of its stories describing how a soccer referee lied about reversing a penalty decision. It was unclear who asked Google to remove the stories.
Separately, Google has not restored links to a BBC article that described how former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer E. Stanley O’Neal was ousted after the investment bank racked up billions of dollars in losses.
The incidents underscore the uncertainty around how Google intends to adhere to a May European court ruling that gave its citizens the “right to be forgotten:” to request the scrubbing of links to articles that pop up under a name search.
Privacy advocates say the backlash around press censorship highlight the potential dangers of the ruling and its unwieldiness in practice. That in turn may benefit Google by stirring debate about the soundness of the ruling, which the Internet search leader criticized the ruling from the outset.
Google, which has received more than 70,000 requests, began acting upon them in past days. And it notified the BBC and the Guardian, which in turn publicized the moves.
The incidents suggest that requesting removal of a link may actually bring the issue back into the public spotlight, rather than obscure it. That possibility may give people pause before submitting a “right to be forgotten” request.
On June 9, a musician named Michael St. James tapped into a deep vein of insecurity shared by all artists challenged by the ongoing digital transformation of society. He wrote an article posing the question: What if it just doesn’t work out? What if, ultimately, there isn’t enough money for artists to make a living? As it is, the streaming companies who’ve risen to prominence in recent years — Pandora, Spotify, Beats — aren’t making a profit. And what happens if they never make a profit?
The question’s timing was, in one sense, odd. There’s never been more hype about streaming than right now. More hours of music are being streamed than ever before, and more people are paying monthly subscriptions to streaming services than ever before. (Spotify alone claims 10 million paid subscribers.) New entrants to the business are rushing in. Three days after St James’ lament, Amazon added a streaming music component to its Amazon Prime package of goodies. On June 18, Google confirmed it is launching a new paid streaming service, and T-Mobile announced that it would allow unlimited music streaming in all of its data plans. And way back on May 28, Apple announced it was buying Beats by Dre, a deal that many observers assume was all about getting control of Beats Music, yet another streaming service.
For some industry veterans, streaming is the long-awaited solution to the woes of an industry that Napster and the Internet broke. For one thing, it’s so consumer friendly that music piracy has become a non-issue. Marc Geiger, a prominent agent and veteran of several music-related start-ups, told a digital music biz conference in February that in less than a decade there could be 500 million — or even a billion! — people signed up for streaming services worldwide, paying fees that averaged 12 bucks a month and steadily go up over time. (“The history of subscriptions says that they start cheap and they go up — always,” said Geiger, somewhat ominously. “Once they have the subscription needle in the arm, it’s very hard for it to come out.”
Total global revenue in such a scenario, said Geiger, would be $72 billion at the low end, downright dwarfing the high of $38 billion a year that the music industry made at its peak in 1999. That’s right — better times than ever are supposedly around the corner.
If Geiger’s correct, there would certainly be a lot more money to spread around the music industry, perhaps even enough to keep everyone — songwriters, artists, tech start-ups and labels — fat and happy. But there are some significant problems with Geiger’s thesis, not the least of which is it assumes that the average music consumer will be happy to pay double or triple what he or she was paying at the peak of the physical album era. That seems questionable.
Evangelism for the future also doesn’t speak very coherently to the current moment, a free-for-all of arm-twisting, litigation and desperation. Even more to the point, when the music industry was doing great, artists were still routinely getting screwed by the labels. More money doesn’t necessarily change that dynamic, if the distribution remains skewed.
In one of the great ironies of the digital revolution, the closer you look at the music business after all these years of disruption and contraction, the more obvious it appears that the companies currently in the best position are the record labels — the very same companies that first ignored and then furiously resisted the digital earthquake. Songwriters are making a fraction of what they used to make, artists have to land massive hits to see significant income, and the streaming companies themselves aren’t making a profit — but the labels earn serious cash from licensing their catalogs to Pandora and Spotify and Amazon and Beats. In fact, in many cases, the labels are part owners of the very companies they are licensing those catalogs to. Nice work if you can get it!
But that’s not necessarily good news for the little guy, the artist who is struggling to make ends meet. Even for those canny enough to have embraced YouTube and figure out how to sell their songs on iTunes while touring 365 days a year, some artists report that it’s gotten harder to make a living as streaming has started to boom. As revenue from paid downloads falls, streaming is not picking up the slack.
So Michael St. James asks a good question. And no one really knows the answer. A hundred or so years ago, technological advances made it possible to make a living from recording one’s creative output. Today, technology seems to be taking it away.
But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any hope at all. For some battle-scarred veterans of the last decade of upheaval, the answer turns out to be more technology, not less. Jack Conte, one-half of the band Pomplamoose, is the founder and CEO of the artist-focused crowd-funding start-up Patreon. He is convinced that given the right tools, people will directly support the artists they love. Music won’t go away, because we need it. We want it. We have to have it. So if streaming doesn’t solve the financial quandary so many artists find themselves in, we, the people, are going to have to do it ourselves, as patrons and communities.
* * *
“It’s a big conundrum,” says Brian Zisk, the founder of SF MusicTech Summit,an annual conference held in San Francisco that tracks the evolution of digital music. “We are never going back to the days when people can sell tens or millions of CDs. So then the question is: How does the compensation happen.”
The answer is a huge, insanely confusing mess. Even Kafka would throw up his hands at the labyrinth of rules governing how performers and writers get paid. Zisk ran though a few examples: When old-fashioned radio plays a song, the songwriters get a cut, but the performers get nothing. When Internet radio streams a song, the songwriters get a pittance, while performers get much more. Pandora, which doesn’t allow on-demand listening, pays royalties according to a different regime than Spotify, which does allow on-demand selection.
Just to be able to play any songs at all, the streaming services must make huge upfront payments to license the rights to the catalogs of music owned by the three major record labels — and there’s absolutely no requirement that any of that cash go back to songwriters and artists. It heads straight to the bottom line.
It’s an environment ripe for litigation and arm-twisting and paradox. Conglomerates like Sony have sub-labels and publishing company subsidiaries. So Sony, as a record label, on the one hand charges Pandora a huge amount for rights to its catalog; and then, as publisher, threatens to withdraw all its music from Pandora because it believes the royalty rates are too low.
Meanwhile, just following the convolutions of the years-in-the-making showdown between Pandora and the two organizations that represent the vast majority of songwriters and publishers, ASCAP and BMI, is worth a book of its own. Both sides have sued each other over the question of what should be a “fair market rate” for songwriter compensation for streamed songs. Pandora has won the majority of legal battles so far, but on June 6, the Justice Department announced that it was opening a review of the 75-year-old “consent decrees” that govern how songwriters get paid for the performance of their works. I talked to several industry insiders and none of them had a clue as to what the Justice Department would decide.
The songwriters have a fair reason to be angry at Pandora. Executives like founder Tim Westergren and former CEO Joe Kennedy have already cashed in on their IPO to the tunes of millions of dollars. In fact, Westergren may have made more money in 2013 by cashing in his stock options than Pandora paid to ASCAP in total for steaming royalties!
But at the same time, Pandora, as a business, isn’t making enough of a profit to pay songwriters much more than they are already getting. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone. There is much less money being made in the music business now than in 1999. Changing the laws to give higher royalty rates to songwriters will either drive the streaming companies into bankruptcy or force the record labels and performers to reduce their own cut.
Cue: More litigation!
The real winners, right now, are the labels. They are generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue just from licensing, with no need to pay for distribution or manufacturing. Spotify alone is reported to have paid $100 million to the three major labels to license their catalogs.
And guess what: 25 percent of Spotify is owned by the three major labels. That’s a great business — licensing your catalog to a company you own a big piece of. If Spotify goes public or gets sold off to some big cable company or Internet giant, the labels get another huge payday. And in many cases these upfront payments are tied to overall revenue — so as the streaming piece grows, the licensing revenue surges.
So much for disruption! The dinosaurs — Sony, Universal and Warner — are doing quite nicely, thank you.
Zisk told me that the best way to survive in such a climate is to work entirely outside of the label ecosystem. Artists need to control their own rights to their work, which enables them to take advantage of whatever new opportunities emerge. Everyone agrees that artists need to think of revenue from their recorded work as just one income stream out of many — including live performances, merchandising, commercial endorsements. But Zisk’s advice doesn’t apply all that well to the retired songwriter watching the royalties form his 1970s-era classic rock chestnut evaporating.
Perhaps even more disturbing: When I asked him to point me to an artist who, by controlling his own rights, exemplified his thesis, he told me to contact Jack Conte, of Pomplamoose. But when I talked to Conte, the answers got muddier.
On the surface, Pomplamoose look like a great example of a band that figured out how to thrive in the digital era. Conte and his partner Nataly Dawn embraced YouTube early. They figured out how to make viral, entertaining covers of popular hits, siphon off a hardcore of fans who would buy both their covers and original songs on YouTube, and even scored commercial gigs with bit outfits like Hyundai. So they were doing all right. Conte bought a house, and built two studios.
But Conte laughed outright in disbelief when I asked if Pomplamoose was able to get any money out of streaming. “Less than tens of dollars,” he said. “Our Spotify stream is irrelevant.”
Meanwhile iTunes sales are declining.
“We all see the writing on the wall,” he said. “The idea of someone buying an à la carte song in 2020 — that is a totally unrealistic prospect.”
With the rise of streaming, he says, “the monetary value of a song has dropped to nothing.”
“The big problem,” says Conte, “is the tech industry is creating consumer-first companies. They’re not creating creator-first companies. The purpose of these companies is to make the product as cheap as possible. And that’s why creators are struggling so much to make a living.”
So what happens when you see the writing on the wall, and you are an artist within shouting distance of Silicon Valley? In Conte’s case, he decided to embrace the beast rather than litigate it. Twelve months ago, he founded a company dedicated to nurturing creators, called Patreon.
“Here’s the way I see it,” said Conte. “A hundred years ago, people figure out how to take art and put it on a physical thing. They figured out how to record light or music on a wax cylinder, and then we built huge industries on top of getting that physical media to consumers. With the Web, to get your art from creator to fan is an entirely free process, and essentially what’s going to happen is that we are going back to a time when the physical thing didn’t exist. In the past Michelangelo and Beethoven depended on patronage to make money. What’s weird is actually selling your art for money. Except for that hundred-year blip, patronage is how it’s always been and that it is how you are going to be. I honestly feel the crowd-funding revolution is the future of how artists are going to make money. People are going to step up to the plate.”
Conte eats his own dog food, as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs love to say. He isn’t taking a salary, but if you want, you can become a patron of Pomplamoose on Patreon. For example, you can agree to pledge a dollar to be paid to Pomplamoose every time they release a new video. Right now, Pomplamoose videos are making around $5,000 per release, and the band releases two or three a month.
In total, Conte says Patreon has distributed $2 million to 25,000 artists in one year. There’s no going back, only going forward.
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In 1906, the bandleader John Philips Sousa produced a remarkable document decrying “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” Recorded music, he warned, would destroy the essential culture of music.
SWEEPING across the country with the speed of a transient fashion in slang or Panama hats, political war cries or popular novels, comes now the mechanical device to sing for us a song or play for us a piano, in substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul… I foresee a marked deterioration in American music and musical taste, an interruption in the musical development of the country, and a host of other injuries to music in its artistic manifestations, by virtue – or rather by vice – of the multiplication of the various music-reproducing machines. When I add to this that I myself and every other popular composer are victims of a serious infringement on our clear moral rights in our own work, I but offer a second reason why the facts and conditions should be made clear to everyone, alike in the interest of musical art and of fair play.
It is tempting to file Sousa’s lament away with every other naysayer who has ever sounded the warning trumpet against the advancement of technology, right next to Plato’s warning that the invention of writing was a cultural disaster. Recorded music, after all, made it possible for generations of artists to cash in on their intellectual property without playing for pennies every night on the road or hawking T-shirts. But Sousa was also not all that wrong in some important aspects. It’s no accident that the peak of piano manufacturing was a hundred years ago. Back in the day, we may well have been more active creators of music than passive consumers.
And now we live through another enormous transition. It’s all happening again — it’s been happening for decades. And no matter what the Department of Justice decides on how songwriters get compensated, or how loudly we may scream at how artists are getting screwed, we are going to be just as successful in resisting the current era of upheaval as Sousa was in trying to stop the evil of machine-made music.
But $2 million in 12 months for Patreon artists is nothing to sneeze at. Clearly, as a society, we do want to support the creation of art and music. So are faced with a terrific, inspiring challenge: finding ways to use technology to build connection and community even as the old world disintegrates around us. Michael St. James is right to worry about what will happen around the corner, but probably wrong to fret about music itself. doomed. Because we’ll still need it to free our souls. And if people stop making it because they can’t make a living from their streaming royalties, then we’ll be forced to flock to places like Patreon, to keep music alive.
Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is not against rebooting his classic show
The Monday before the Oscars, Scott Kramer, a digital content producer based in Los Angeles, called his close friend Joshua Elson, a high school choir teacher, with an idea. For months, both their families had been obsessed with the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s animated phenomenon “Frozen.” Kramer, mindful of the growing online clamor focused on everything “Frozen,” wanted to make a video parodying “Let It Go.” It would be self-consciously “meta” — a plea from a father who was being driven crazy by the song’s ubiquity, begging the world to let “Let It Go” go.
Like the movie and the Oscar-winning song, the video “A Frozen Father (‘Let It Go’ Dad Parody)” became a huge hit, with almost 1.6 million views to date. Deliciously, it peaks at a moment of high drama that mimics the dramatic importance of the song in the film’s plot arc; you will not easily find a more well executed thrust of gleeful irony than the moment when Elson looks straight at the camera and sings, “Let it go, let it go, NO MORE YouTube videos!”
The numbers that define “Frozen’s” cultural and financial success beggar description. It is not only the highest-grossing animated film of all time; it has also registered the most Blu-Ray DVD sales and paid digital downloads of any movie ever. The soundtrack to “Frozen” has sold 2.7 million copies. According to the Wall Street Journal, some 60,000 fan-made versions of “Let It Go” have been watched more than 60 million times. The authorized film clip featuring the song has been viewed over 147 million times. A shortage of affiliated merchandise — even Disney did not anticipate quite how big “Frozen” would get — has incited Cabbage Patch/BeanieBaby levels of hysteria.
Frozen is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon and there are many reasons for its success, including, but not limited to, its mildly feminist take on the classic princess tale and the obvious influence of Pixar genius John Lasseter on Disney’s creative process. But one of the most interesting things about “Frozen” can be glimpsed in the popularity of “A Frozen Father” on YouTube. Disney’s expertise in nurturing, co-opting and, most of all, not cracking downon the many ways fans have embraced “Frozen” online is a template for how to thrive in a digital, copy-promiscuous, consumer-empowered environment. Disney, long one of the fiercest and most powerful defenders of strict intellectual property control, has learned how to let copyright go.