Thursday, December 03, 2009

Music label accountancy

With the exception of one short sentence in the middle this blog post from a member of the band Too Much Joy is just about the politest description of music label accounting disadvantaging artists that I've seen anywhere.
"A word here about that unrecouped balance, for those uninitiated in the complex mechanics of major label accounting. While our royalty statement shows Too Much Joy in the red with Warner Bros. (now by only $395,214.71 after that $62.47 digital windfall), this doesn’t mean Warner “lost” nearly $400,000 on the band. That’s how much they spent on us, and we don’t see any royalty checks until it’s paid back, but it doesn’t get paid back out of the full price of every album sold. It gets paid back out of the band’s share of every album sold, which is roughly 10% of the retail price. So, using round numbers to make the math as easy as possible to understand, let’s say Warner Bros. spent something like $450,000 total on TMJ. If Warner sold 15,000 copies of each of the three TMJ records they released at a wholesale price of $10 each, they would have earned back the $450,000. But if those records were retailing for $15, TMJ would have only paid back $67,500, and our statement would show an unrecouped balance of $382,500.
I do not share this information out of a Steve Albini-esque desire to rail against the major label system (he already wrote the definitive rant, which you can find here if you want even more figures, and enjoy having those figures bracketed with cursing and insults). I’m simply explaining why I’m not embarrassed that I “owe” Warner Bros. almost $400,000. They didn’t make a lot of money off of Too Much Joy. But they didn’t lose any, either. So whenever you hear some label flak claiming 98% of the bands they sign lose money for the company, substitute the phrase  “just don’t earn enough” for the word “lose.”"
Read the whole post however. It's well worth it. Thanks to Glyn Moody for the pointer.

Update: 1709 Copyright blog commentary on this is well worth a read.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

UK government consultation on sharing data on electoral roll

The UK Ministry of Justice is running a consultation on whether it would be a good idea to abolish the edited version of the electoral roll, in other words the version that the government sells to commercial and other organisations. The consultation document explains the context in its foreword:
"In July 2008, Dr Mark Walport1 and Richard Thomas2 undertook a review of the framework within which personal information is used in the public and private sectors: the Data Sharing Review3. As part of that Review, they recommended that the Government should remove the provision in law which allows for the sale of the Edited Register4 and abolish the Edited Register. As a result of the Review’s findings, the Government committed to consult on the future of the Edited Register.
The Electoral Commission and the Association of Electoral Administrators have argued that the electoral register should primarily be used for electoral purposes. Dr Mark Walport and Richard Thomas argued in the Data Sharing Review that:
“…selling the edited register is an unsatisfactory way for local authorities to treat personal information. It sends a particularly poor message to the public that personal information collected for something as vital as participation in the democratic process can be sold to ‘anyone for any purpose’. And there is a belief that the sale of the electoral register deters some people from registering at all.”
Any proposal that would change the nature and operation of the Edited Register could have an effect on those organisations that currently use it, as well as the public. This consultation is intended to enable us to build a firmer evidence base about the advantages and disadvantages of the Edited Register and the impact of any changes, and to consider the way forward on the basis of the responses we receive."
Also from the executive summary:
"The Edited Register came into existence in 2002 when the Government introduced Regulations to establish a new framework governing access to and the supply and sale of electoral registers. This followed the recommendation made by the Final Report of the Working Party on Electoral Procedures5 (“The Howarth Report”) and the judgment made in a court case (Robertson6) brought by an elector concerned about the use of his electoral data for commercial purposes. Prior to 2002, the full electoral register could be made available for a variety of purposes. Any company, organisation or person could buy a copy.
As a result of the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 20027 (subsequently referred to as “the 2002 (Amendment) Regulations”) there are now two versions of the electoral register: a full version, and an edited version of the full register. The latter is known as the Edited Register and shows only the names and addresses of those on the full register who have not ‘opted out’ of inclusion in the edited version.
Unlike the full electoral register, the supply and use of which is strictly regulated in law, the Edited Register is available for sale to anyone for any purpose. Members of the public may choose to have their details omitted from the Edited Register by ‘opting out’ by ticking the box included for the purpose on the form used for the annual canvass, which is sent to each household on a yearly basis to determine the names of those to be included on the electoral register. Once produced, the Edited Register is used by a number of groups like charities and businesses for a variety of purposes including, but not limited to, compiling mailing lists."
So the consultation is being set up in response to criticisms about the sale of electoral roll details but interestingly, amongst the options in the questionaire the government is using, option 3 considers widening the commerical access to the details on the full register:
"Question 6. From the list below, which options are your most and least preferred? Please give reasons.

Options abolishing the Edited Register

Option 1: Abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable.

Option 2: Set a timescale or ‘trigger point’ for abolition of the Edited Register.

Option 3: Abolish the Edited Register as soon as practicable, but extend access to the Full Register for other purposes to be decided in light of the consultation.

Options retaining the Edited Register

Option 4: Retain the Edited Register, but impose restrictions in legislation on who can purchase it and for what purposes.

Option 5: Replace the current ‘opt out’ provision with an ‘opt in’.
Option 6: Improve guidance for the public about the Edited Register."
I tick the opt out box on the form every year, so would be firmly opposed to extending access to the full register, i.e. option 3 above.

Digital economies bill takes aim at public wi-fi

Professor Lilian Edwards was in fine form in the Guardian yesterday pointing out how the government's digital economies bill is aimed, amongst other things, at banning public wi-fi networks.
"A lot of people have talked to me over the last week about Wi-Fi (open and closed, i.e. password-protected) and the Digital Economy bill. The more I try to find answers, the more ludicrous it becomes. For instance, last week it turned out that a pub owner was allegedly fined £8,000 because someone downloaded copyright material over their open Wi-Fi system. Would that get worse or better if the Digital Economy bill passes in its present form?
To illustrate, I'm going to pick my favourite example of a potentially worried wireless network provider: my mum.
She doesn't understand or like the internet, refuses to even think about securing her Wi-Fi network. What is her legal status? What will she say if/when she receives warnings under the Digital Economy bill because someone has used her open Wi-Fi to download infringing files?"
Highly recommended. It's a natural deduction from the argument that someone running an open wi-fi network cannot be expected to know who might be using that network illicitly, that the way to deal with this is to ban open wi-fi networks. This, however, as Lilian so eloquently illustrates, leads to further unintended consequences. And so we have the bad Net policy domino effect, where 3 strikes leads to banning public wi-fi leads to... and all because Peter Mandelson doesn't understand the Internet.

EU ACTA analysis leaks

Michael Geist notes that the EU analysis of US ACTA proposals has leaked.
"The European Commission analysis of ACTA's Internet chapter has leaked, indicating that the U.S. is seeking to push laws that extend beyond the WIPO Internet treaties and beyond current European Union law (the EC posted the existence of the document last week but refused to make it publicly available).  The document contains detailed comments on the U.S. proposal, confirming the U.S. desire to promote a three-strikes and you're out policy, a Global DMCA, harmonized contributory copyright infringement rules, and the establishment of an international notice-and-takedown policy."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lilian Edwards on the Digital Economies Bill

Look no further than Lilian Edwards' blog for a terrific analysis of Peter Mandelson's 3 strikes proposals published in the UK government's digital economy bill last week.
"Clauses 4-17 of the Digital Economy Bill introduce an “initial obligations” regime for ISPs, whereby subscribers accused of filesharing by rightsholders will be sent warnings of alleged copyright infringements, or “strikes”, by their ISPs; and a “technical measures” phase, to be green-lit only after evidence has been amassed that warnings do not work (but see below), which will allow sufficiently warned offenders who still seem not to have seen the error of their ways to be disconnected from the Internet. Traffic slowing and banning of access to certain sites eg the Pirate Bay, may also become available measures.

The Bill also, almost as an after thought, adds a “Henry VIII” clause, which allows the relevant Secretary of State (currently Lord Mandelson of Mordor sorry BIS) to make new copyright law in any area of Parts 1 and 7 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA), by statutory instrument (SI) not primary legislation, if justified by speed of technological developments (even ones that haven’t happened yet – see proposed new s 302A of the CDPA.) So essentially, new and important copyright laws (not exclusively to do with filesharing – DRM, fair dealing and user rights might all be affected) are to be made under the public radar, and without proper Parliamentary scrutiny. anytime, anywhere (hereafter, the “Martini clause”).

There has been a great deal of coverage of these matters – see eg here and here – so I will only point out a few matters of detail which have struck me as particularly worrying, on top of my, er, well-ventilated previous concerns about the principle of a regime of “three strikes” at all. Most of the press attention has focused on the posited disconnection regime, since of course the sanction is so far reaching. But the warnings regime, which if the Bill passes is likely to be of more immediate concern, is also staggeringly poorly drafted"
See also Lilian's follow ups on Thursday and Saturday. Read, re-read and inwardly digest and it would be good, if unlikely, if policymakers did likewise.