Vicarious Music & Media

Apple shutting down iTunes?

Apple is threatening to shut down the iTunes store lock stock and barrel if the Copyright Royalty Board follows through with jacking up per track royalty fees Apple must pay, reports Fortune. The Board is expected to rule today on a request by the National Music Publishers’ Association to increase royalty rates paid to its members on songs purchased from online outlets from 9 cents to 15 cents a track – a 66% hike.

The U.S. Senate on Friday approved the PRO-IP Act, which will beef up penalties and enforcement of intellectual property laws — but the bill as passed did not include a controversial provision that would have granted the Justice Dept. new authority to prosecute civil copyright infringement cases. The provision about civil copyright enforcement was dropped from the bill after the Bush administration weighed in to complain that it would turn the Justice Dept. into “pro bono lawyers for private copyright holders regardless of their resources.” The bill, which was heavily backed by the entertainment industry, will also create a Cabinet-level “piracy czar” to coordinate U.S. intellectual property enforcement activities worldwide. The House passed a similar bill last year, which did not include the civil copyright prosecutorial provision; a new version is expected to pass on Saturday, when it is scheduled to come up for a vote.

There’s hope after all for online music webcasters. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved the Webcaster Settlement Act, which passed in the House over the weekend and was introduced to allow webcasters to continue to negotiate new royalty agreements with copyright owners while Congress is busy with the elections. “This legislation will enable the Digital Media Association (DiMA) and our member companies, and all Internet radio services, to continue negotiating royalty rates with SoundExchange for the years 2006-2015. We are very hopeful of reaching agreement soon, and thereby creating long-term stability that will re-energize the Internet radio business,” said DiMA executive director Jonathan Potter. Many webcasters have said that the royalty rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board are so high that they will be forced offline. The bill will now be sent to President Bush. Last week, the Digital Media Association, along with the National Music Publishers Association, Recording Industry Association of America and others submitted a draft proposal on mechanical royalty rates for subscription and ad-supported services to the Copyright Royalty Board.

Tech Stocks were among those battered during this weeks historic stock market plunge, occurring after the House of Representatives voted to reject the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial industry. Apple plunged by nearly 18%. Google and Yahoo closed down 9% each, the margin the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell by overall. The day even started badly for the sector. Before the opening bell several analysts issued pessimistic reports voicing concern for demand of gadgets and services amid a slowing economy.

Illustrating yet another reason why users hate DRM restrictions, Wal-Mart announced it will stop supporting tracks sold with DRM beginning Oct. 9. After that users will be unable to transfer tracks they’ve already purchased to another computer. If this affects you, hurry up and burn the tracks to a CD then rip them back to non-DRM MP3 tracks.

A federal appeals court has overturned a $1.5 billion damages award that Microsoft had been ordered to pay France’s Alcatel-Lucent over patents related to MP3 technology, CNET reported. Microsoft called the ruling “a victory for consumers of digital music and a triumph for common sense in the patent system,” while Alcatel-Lucent told CNET it is reviewing its options to determine its next step. Some had speculated that, had Alcatel-Lucent been successful, it could have opened up many other related technologies to new patent claims.

The issue of who’s going to foot the bill for the transition to digital projection units seems to be getting closer to getting resolved. A consortium of major exhibitors is getting ready to announce a $1 billion financing agreement with Universal, Paramount, Disney and Fox provisioning enough cash to upgrade more than 15,000 screens nationwide with digital projection systems, per THR. The deal means the studios will pay a majority of the upgrade costs estimated at $100,000 per system, including provisions for some 3D-capable projection facilities.

Former Sony Music employee Mark Ghuneim’s new company Wiredset’s online tracking service Trendrr introduced new set of features including a Firefox browser plug in that will allow easy tracking of web consumption of web videos. The add-on, which tracks views across sites such as YouTube, AOL Video, Veoh, MySpace Dailymotion and Metacafe, compares such metrics as aggregate videos or views on a certain topic, breaking usage down by the number of total views, views per day, comments, and times “favorited” on YouTube.

Another drawn-out court battle is brewing over consumer rights to digital content with the official release of RealNetworks’ RealDVD software. RealDVD allows Windows users to make a digital copy of store-bought DVDs (extras and all) and save a backup copy of the movie to their hard drives for transfer to DVD-R. RealNetworks figures the product is legal because it leaves CSS encryption intact, making uploading and sharing of the ripped DVD a challenge. But just to be sure, the Seattle-based company filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the studios and the MPAA yesterday asking for a declaratory judgment protecting it against legal action. Sure enough the MPAA cried foul, filing a temporary restraining order itself against RealNetworks for violation of copyright protections. MPAA attorney Greg Goeckner even managed to insert a pithy one-liner into the brief, referring to RealDVD as “StealDVD.”

Widget platform Clearspring acquired bookmarking and sharing service AddThis. AddThis makes those little “+” buttons that make it easy to share and track content across third party sites.

One of the reasons total television views of last Friday’s debate were down by 10 million viewers from 4 years ago is no doubt due to the event’s wide availability online. Thanks to innovation in video streaming interfaces, now users don’t have to sit through the whole thing to get the gist of what the candidates are saying about issues important to them. (If the 80′s spawned the MTV generation the 00′s gave birth to the YouTube generation, which demands navigation and personalization features above all.) MSNBC unveiled a new politically-themed video player yesterday allowing users to skip to specific topics by selecting one of 20 keywords. A legend below the screen identifies which candidate mentioned the topic and adds related analysis points from NBC News commentators., which also hosted a live stream of Friday’s debate, calls its interface the Debatinator. This player provides a live transcript of the debate alongside the video and also lets users to skip to specific moments by offering thematic sections. Times’ editors provide analysis of what happened in “Check Points” of scrolling text. Both outlets will feature the highly anticipated Joe Biden/Sarah Palin debate live on Thursday night.

In “maybe we should try this in marketing meetings” news, a new site called deploys a voice analysis technology (currently being used by law enforcement officials in the UK) to help catch politicians and celebrities when they’re lying. The site developed a tool it calls the “Believability Meter” that analyzes over 100 vocal elements and performs over 1,000 calculations/second to determine when the subject is stretching the truth. The site relies on user-posted videos from the worlds of Entertainment, News, Sports and Politics to fill out content on the site. Tonight staffers are trying something new – posting segments of the Palin vs. Biden debate as close to real time as they can manage to help viewers decide who is really winning or losing.

Two months after its merger with XM Satellite Radio, Sirius has added several of XM’s exclusive channels to its radio service, Reuters reported on Tuesday. “Now for the first time, you can add XM channels to your Sirius subscription,” Sirius said on its website. Among the available channels is the popular Oprah & Friends, as well as NBA, NHL and PGA Tour programming. To receive the extra channels, current subscribers must upgrade to a plan that costs about $17 a month, up from the basic charge of about $13 a month.

National Public Radio (NPR) on Tuesday announced the beta launch of new online community features, which let users create profile pages, and comment on NPR stories. “NPR is late to this game, to be blunt,” said NPR editorial director for digital media Dick Meyer. “NPR has been cautious because we want to do it right; we want the comments and the conversations to be useful, friendly and civil; we want NPR employees to participate and talk about their work. We needed the right tools and the right philosophy to come together.”

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