Saturday, April 28, 2012

4.26.11 Graham Parker and the Figgs

Graham Parker and The Figgs
April 18, 2012

Oh, how I wish I didn’t have to write this one up. Graham Parker and The Figgs, back together for one of their occasional dalliances, which have over the years yielded a number of CDs, a live DVD, and considerable critical acclaim. For reasons I can’t explain, I’d only seen Parker once, and I’m ashamed to say I’d never seen The Figgs. That’s just wrong. 

This was the first night of a mini-tour, and it showed. There was a mention of a “day and a half” of rehearsals, which I think was exaggerated. There was a lot of shucking and jiving by folks who, as wonderful as they are, and they are wonderful, can’t carry a night by shucking and jiving.

Granted, not the most inspiring setting: Valentines, with some kind of metal band playing downstairs and the sound bleeding up, and an audience of, let’s generously say, 100 mostly un-athletic males over the age of 55 (a category of which I include myself). Were I one of the great songwriters of our time or a member of one of the great quintessential American rock and roll bands I might have slacked off a bit myself.

The Figgs opened and played a rather uninspired set, peaking for the tunes from their brand new (and fabulous) double album The Day Gravity Stopped. Even in this less than optimal state, the band was a marvel of instinctive group interplay with the occasional flash of individual brilliance. I’ve always loved the idea of the Figgs. Now I love the Figgs.

Parker came out, looking hale and hearty; but things were loose, and not in a good way. And the song selection left an awful lot to be desired. This didn’t need to be a greatest hits show, but a show of tunes mostly unknown to all but the biggest GP fan got long fast. And the late set trampling of “Fools Gold” was just plain depressing.

Still, there were moments. Few singers know their way around a song—how to build a song—better than Parker. And when Gent mentioned that the night before they’d listened to the soon-to-be-released reunion album from Parker and his old band The Rumour, whatever hair remaining on the collective heads in the room stood up and said howdy. So there’s that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


This article originally appeared in the 4.19.12 issue of Metroland.

I just became aware of a two-part article that ran recently on the business news site about what’s wrong with copyright law. It’s by the brilliant copyright scholar (and Google counsel) William Patry, and is excerpted from his new book How To Fix Copyright (Patry’s also the author of the treatises Patry on Copyright and Patry on Fair Use, and 2009’s wonderful Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars.) It’s like a long string of brilliant money quotes, one after another, and if this stuff interests you even slightly, you can Google “Patry Bloomberg” and you’ll land right there. Don’t skip the comments at the end, in which various knuckleheads get all agitato about what they think Patry just said, and then get quietly, politely, and efficiently demolished by a Patry rejoinder.

One of Patry’s many statements that leapt off the screen into my cerebellum was “We are fast approaching an era when there will be copyright laws without copies in the traditional sense of the word.” Hoo boy.

History time. There was no real need or call for copyright laws until copying technology emerged in the form of Guttenberg’s movable-type printing press in the 1500’s. The first laws protected (and restricted) publishers, then after a hundred years or so authors started getting their due. The idea was that giving authors near-monopoly control over what happens with copies of their works would provide authors with an incentive to create more works.

So what happens when there are no copies? It can certainly be argued that a digital file, a mess of tiny 1’s and 0’s sitting on a little disk, are barely copies of anything. And what about streaming? You are looking at someone else’s copy, which is located on a server far, far away. If there is any kind of monetized transaction at all, it’s not for a copy, but for access to somebody else’s copy.

A Cato Institute study a few years back described the difference between having a digital copy and streaming as insignificant, since both result in having the work appear on your screen or in your speakers. And there’s a zillion free and easy to use programs that capture streams so you can have your own digital copy. And watch kids. They grew up on digital; they don’t care if they “own” a copy or not, they just want stuff to happen once they touch a button.

So, it only makes sense that everything is headed to the cloud, right? Spotify, Netflix, IPads, smartphones and feather-light laptops with minimal storage because who needs it? Everything is up there, all the time, waiting for you to come get it.

Which brings us to the MegaUpload debacle. You may have heard that this cloud storage mega company got busted a few months ago, ostensibly for hosting all sorts of pirated movies and music. This was no normal bust. Based on a US warrant, a New Zealand SWAT team stormed the castle of MegaUpload’s founder, an odd, corpulent German guy who’s named himself Kim DotCom. Around the world, other officers of the company where hauled in, and all of MegaUpload’s billions of dollars have been seized. An unrelated internet hosting company that operated the servers holding billions of files for MegaUpload’s estimated 60 million customers, Carpathia Hosting, has been left holding the bag.

The legal issues here are sticky—did MegaUpload actively encourage infringement? Did any infringement even happen in the US? Is the seizing of a guy in New Zealand kosher?

Meantime, the US Department of Justice is acting pretty weird in the preliminary court proceedings. What’s of particular concern is that the prosecutors don’t seem a bit interested in preserving what’s on the servers. And even assuming that there was lots of illegal stuff going on and that MegaUpload is liable (and that’s a big if), it’s undisputed that there is A LOT of totally legitimate, non-infringing stuff that people had stored on MegaUpload. Just a couple of weeks before the bust, the company mounted a big PR campaign featuring a bunch of musicians (including Will.I.Am and Kanye West) singing “I Love MegaUpload”. Truth is, lots of folks, famous or not, used the site to legally store and distribute information.

At this point all of the data is being preserved by Carpathia at considerable expense, and most of the parties are asking that the judge release some of the seized money to facilitate returning non-infringing files to their owners. And the US attorneys are fighting this tooth and nail. At a minimum, you'd think they'd wanna preserve the infringing stuff. It's called evidence. But they don't care.

And this weirdness has the cloud-storage world in paralysis. If the public perception is that any remote server is vulnerable to getting wiped off the face of the earth by an out-of-control government prosecutor, then the lovely and natural future envisioned by William Patry is toast. And who benefits from that? Nobody except the big record and movie companies, who desperately cling to their outdated, anti-consumer, and anti-technology business models, which are threatened by the cloud.

Paul Rapp is a local information and media lawyer who hasn’t read an ebook yet, but hopes to soon. He can be reached through his website

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


This article originally appeared in the 4.5.12 issue of Metroland

The drapes got pulled last week on one of the most absurd aspects of major media culture—the MPAA’s movie rating system. The MPAA’s Film Ratings Board, the people who attach the G-PG-R-NC17 ratings on mass-distributed films, have designated the documentary Bully with an R rating. At least hypothetically, this means that no one under the age of 17 will be allowed to see the movie unaccompanied by an adult in a theater.

Movie ratings have been around for almost as long as there have been movies. In the late 1920’s, civic groups (mostly connected with the Catholic Church) began railing about racy movies, movies that glorified gangsters, and the like. Rather than risk obscenity lawsuits, picketing, or worse, the incursion of the federal government, the movie industry agreed to an “independent” (and Catholic dominated) film code board that “sanitized” movies coming out of Hollywood. Many states and cities also had film boards that predated the "Hollywood Code". These local boards also busily cut, compromised and sometimes banned films deemed to be an affront to public morality. I’m told that the NY State Museum has one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Hollywood film scripts from the 1920’s-60’s, all the original scripts and the notes of the state film board toadies who butchered them.

A series of free speech court rulings in the 1950’s-60’s pretty much knocked the stuffing out of these boards, but in 1968, the MPAA, citing fear of government intervention and public disapproval, unveiled the current rating system. The ratings board, appointed by the MPAA and a theater owners trade group, consists of purported “ordinary citizens” who operate in secrecy, and make odd and capricious decisions that can affect not only a film’s content, but often its commercial viability. Certain words can only appear so many times, shots of naked bodies can’t linger, some sex is OK, some sex is not OK. Violence, on the other hand, is generally fine and dandy in most any form. We're talking 2012 here.

An NC-17 (formerly X) rating is the designation of death. Time was when X-rated films (not to be confused with XXX, which was a marketing ploy used by the porn industry) were nearly mainstream, played in normal movie theaters and cineplexes, and could reap big profits. Between theater consolidation and the Christianistas, however, an NC-17 rating now means that a film may not be distributed at all, and if it is, it definitely won’t get shown in the vast majority of mainstream theaters. The film dies. Directors are routinely sent back to the editing room to remove a couple of spoken “fucks” or a fleeting glance at genitalia. Our movie culture is micro-edited by a handful of corporate-designated “ordinary citizens” with no training, no discernable standards and bad attitudes. If you want to see a disturbing, revealing, and hysterical look at the MPAA Film Ratings Board (and one filmmaker’s quest to unmask it), get 2005’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated (no rating); I show this to all my art & entertainment law classes, and the students uniformly gasp in astonishment throughout.

So along comes Bully, a new documentary that follows several vulnerable high school kids and documents what happens to them at the hands of their classmates. Bully is, by all reports, wonderful, a must-see for all teen-agers, which appears to be the target audience of the film. And, because the f-word is dropped a few too many times, the Ratings Board demanded some f-words get taken, or else the film gets slapped with an R rating.

Now, we all know that, at least around here, an R rating is rarely enforced. Most of the teensploitation films (you know, the “Another _____ Movie” phenomenon, etc.) tend to have R ratings because they tend to be wall-to-wall boobies, drinking, swearing, sex with apple pies, drugs, etc., and these movies are shown everywhere and make millions from teenage audiences who wouldn’t go to the theater “accompanied by an adult” on a dare.

But the considerations for Bully are different. With an R rating, it won’t ever play in high schools anywhere, and in the depressingly ever-growing Bible Belt regions where the R rating is actually enforced, kids will be totally shut out. So why not just take out some “fucks” and get the PG-13 rating? Because these were words actually spoken, unscripted, by real teenagers. This is the real world, and the notion of shielding that from our nation’s youth is delusional. The filmmakers, god bless them, are taking a stand.

So amid all the rancor (there’s been more written about the ratings system this week than in the previous 5 years), the film’s producer announced that Bully would be released without a rating, and mega-theater owner AMC, ditching its ban on unrated films, has agreed to show it and will admit any teenager who brings a downloadable parental consent form. More theater chains, I’m guessing, will follow.

And the pantloads at Christian “family” advocacy groups and the MPAA are bleating that all this will destroy the ratings system.


Paul Rapp is an art / entertainment / IP attorney in Housatonic MA who prefers to use his gifts for good, not eeee-villll. He can be reached through his website