Wednesday, April 17, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 4.18.13 issue of Metroland.

Urgh.  The events in Boston are gonna further wreck your freedom.  Just watch.  Last night I was listening to a special program from WBUR about the bombings, featuring listener call-ins.  The first call was from a guy from Georgia indignantly demanding to know how something like this could happen after the billions of dollars we’re spent since 9-11 on homeland security.   Sure, it’s an utterly moronic question, but you know it’s being echoed everywhere.  Why can’t somebody do something?

            And, of course, being a moronic question, it is destined to be asked in the Halls of Congress.  In times of crisis, even an unpreventable crisis like this appears to be, Congress has to do something under the fiction that we can insure that nothing like this ever, ever happens again.  If Congress doesn’t do something, Congress appears impotent.  If Congress doesn’t do something, anything, the terrorists, whoever the hell they are this time, will have won!

            And, unfortunately, there is a something Congress can do that’s already before it--- CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act),  a hideous little law being pushed by House Republicans, those buffoons who are against government, except when it comes to controlling the little guy.  The proposed law would allow any company that collects online data from people, essentially every company you use to get online and every company that you visit online, to be immune from any lawsuits arising from the company’s sharing all of that data with the government.  In other words, those privacy policies you see on every website you visit, that you think protect you?  They’re meaningless!  If your ISP channels all your emails to, say, the FBI, there’s nothing you can do.

            CISPA is ridiculous and overbroad, and it trumps every other law on the books that’s supposed to be protecting your privacy.  As I write this, it’s sailing through the House and in its way to the Senate.  The White House has said it will veto the law unless it contains privacy protections, like limiting the immune shared information to stuff that doesn’t contain individuals’ identities.  But that’s not what the Republicans want.  They want their foot on your neck.  You just know that some pantload Senator is going to get on the floor and declare that he knows for a moral certainty that had CISPA already been the law that the Boston Marathon tragedy would have been averted.  And the Fox News will amplify it.  And then how is Obama gonna veto the very thing that would have saved those precious lives?

            Privacy schmivacy.   You know, if you ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong you got nothin’ to worry about.  Right?  Time to get your VPN jammin’.

            Moving on.  A couple months ago a young libertarian-leaning House staffer issued a report that said, essentially, that the entire Copyright Act was a piece of crap that was being used to block innovation and creativity and that it should just be thrown out.  The dude got fired a couple days later.  But just a few weeks ago the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, marched up to Capitol Hill and pretty much said the same thing.  She told Congress that it was time for the “next great copyright act,” noting that the current laws, created largely in the 20 years leading up to the 1976 Copyright Act, simply don’t address the digital age.

            While I’ve never much trusted the Copyright Office and the Obama Administration regarding IP issues, Pallante’s remarks were really quite revolutionary and on the mark.  Here’s a money quote that alludes to the corporate hijacking of the Copyright Act with pages of impenetrable technocratic nonsense:

Because the dissemination of content is so pervasive to life in the 21st century, the law also should be less technical and more helpful to those who need to navigate it....  my point is, if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law.

            Well hello!  She went on to emphasize that the public good is what copyright law is supposed to be about, and that the discussion for the new law had to include not just businesses, but parties representing the public, the ultimate end-users of IP.  She listed some of the things that she felt needed to be done, including dealing with orphan works, reforming the music marketplace, creating fairness in licensing, reevaluating what rights a copyright holder should have or not have, making sense of fair use, and restoring a robust public domain by shortening the automatic term of copyright.

            It’s a nice start.  Given that the last go-round took over 20 years at a time when copyright law was an arcane subject that directly affected very few, it’s gonna be interesting, to say the least, to see how this plays out.

Paul C. Rapp is a local IP lawyer and volunteer firefighter who, like Kenny Loggins, Lou Reed, Paula Cole, Human League, Matisyahu, and Barbara Streisand, believes in love.      

4.18.13 BOW DOWN

This article originally appeared in the 4.18.13 issue of Metroland.

Graham Parker and The Rumour
Swyer Theater, The Egg
April 10, 2013

            I won’t go into the strange fable about how Judd Apatow got Graham Parker and the Rumour back together after 30+ years, nor the long, strange history of Parker, one of our more prolific, accomplished, and cerebral songwriters, nor why he’s been relegated to obscure troubadour status for much of the last 20 years.

            I will tell you that last Wednesday’s show in the Swyer Theater was one of the most breathtaking concerts I have seen in my life.  Last November, I caught their 2nd reunion show in Poughkeepsie; less than 30 seconds in I realized I was weeping, overwhelmed by the truth of the sound. Last week’s show had that and more; to paraphrase Mike Eck, it was like riding in a car with a extremely skilled driver going very, very fast.

            Not for nothing that in their heyday (1975-1980) GP & The Rumour were often compared to The Band and The Rolling Stones, or that Bruce Springsteen famously said that this was the only band he’d spend money to see.

            They were that good.  And, despite the fact that they now look like a bunch of retired college professors, they still are.  The rhythm section of drummer Stephen Goulding and the incredible bassist Andrew Bodnar were locked down, especially on the shuffles and those white-boy reggae beats that they simply own.  Guitarists Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont and keyboard Bob Andrews all spent as much time listening as playing, but when they each played it counted, and what they played was delicious.  This was a perfect team of master craftsmen doing things better than anyone else.

            Which brings us to Mr. Parker.  First of all, damn, what songs he’s written.   Daring, poignant, blunt, beautiful... Second, having this band behind him and playing on larger stages allows Parker to be not just a singer, but an artist, a true artiste, maybe for the first time in his long career.  And he wears it so very well.  The one-time angriest of the angry young men still spits fire, but now it’s more directed, more knowing, and more tempered with wry humor and compassion.   And when the anger and indignation are turned toward society’s foibles, nobody does it better.  On two of his new tunes, Parker turned actor with a laser-like focus: stalking the audience on the Winston Churchill-quote inspired A Lie Gets Halfway ‘Round The World, or repeating the ominous phrase “we got a reader here...why you readin’?” in Last Bookstore in Town.

            The audience could have been a bunch of long-of-tooth freemasons—overwhelmingly male, white and old, like me.   And that’s too bad.  The new “traditionalist” singer-songwriters and their fans, with all their affectations and studied brooding, could learn a lot about a lot from this guy and this band.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 4.4.13 issue of Metroland.

A couple of months ago I wrote about an epidemic of copyright infringement lawsuits brought by porn companies against many thousands of people.  These lawsuits were not any different from the mass infringement suits of few years ago by the recording and film industries, except (a) there were a lot more of them,  (b) they involved porn, and (c) judges are a lot more attuned to the world of the internet than they were 5 or so years ago.   Essentially, all these cases were postured in a way that the porn companies were demanding that John Doe defendants pay them thousands of dollars or the defendants would be publicly named in a porn lawsuit. 

            I had a defendant in a suit in federal court in Massachusetts, one of 80+ John Does in one case, all accused of downloading a moist towelette of cinematic brilliance entitled Dirty Babysitters #3.  A bunch of defendants paid the man, and a bunch of us fought it.  A couple of weeks ago the judge (following the lead of a lot of judges all over the country) threw the whole thing out, ruling that (a) it was unfair to lump all of these defendants into one lawsuit, that the porn companies were using the courts as a business model more than vindicating any rights, and (b) there was not sufficient proof that the defendants, holders of the internet accounts on which the infringing activity took place, were the individuals who actually did the alleged downloading.  Boom!!!  Buh-bye trolls!

            Moving on. When did the City of Albany become stupid?  Culturally moronic?  Last December, Albany code enforcement shut down a burlesque show at the Lark Tavern, apparently based on a “tip” from some clean-up-the-neighborhood types.  The reason?  Well, it’s “burlesque”, so that means like, nekkid wimmins, right?   Really?  In this century?

            Not content to look merely dumb, but apparently in an effort to turn Albany into a laughingstock and embarrassment, code enforcement has now at least twice tried to shut down EDM shows at the Armory.  Now, as we’ve discussed here before, EDM (electronic dance music) has exploded in recent years as the prevalent and preferred type of live entertainment for the vast majority of kids, who we’ll loosely define as persons under the age of 25.  It’s happened, beautifully, outside of the traditional music industry, it’s about the only thing that matters at events like Coachella and Bonneroo, even though you don’t hear much about that because the media sends middle-age white guys to cover these festivals, and most middle aged white guys don’t have a clue, and are in bed and asleep before packed tents fire up with this special brand of madness.

            EDM performers (often referred to, deceptively, as “DJ’s”) are performers and celebrities in their own right.   And yes, they perform; in fact they typically will play the audience in real time much more than your typical “live music act” like a singer or a band.  Their computers are their instruments, their lights are their show.

            The Armory has been running EDM shows ever since a local promoter booked a DJ named Bassnectar a couple years ago and the show sold out before it was officially announced. Apparently there was a single tweet from Bassnectar to his followers.  These shows typically sell out, and fast.  And we’re talking 3000-4000 folks a pop.  Yup, the Armory’s filling a need, and if you’re surprised about the scope of this, it’s because it’s a huge subculture that doesn’t include you.   You’re old.

            There have been incidents; too many people show up, or when the shows let out, thousands of kids hit the streets at once with fairly predictable and unfortunate results.  The Armory has, I understand, beefed up security and taken other steps to lessen the neighborhood impact.  I’ve heard talk about rampant drunkenness, which is a little suspect, as the vast majority of the kids at these shows are under 21 and don’t get served.

            But the City is still trying to shut them down.  Now, if the neighborhood impact is a real problem, I’m sure there are ordinances regarding noise, crowds, and the general well-being of neighborhoods the City could rely on.  If it is the problem, there could be hearings, fact-finding, something resembling due process to come up with a fair and reasoned resolution to the problem.

            But that would require effort.  What City code enforcement has done is to try to disingenuously shut down the EDM events claiming that the Armory doesn’t have the right permits.  The Armory has permits to have concerts, but not, apparently, to act like a nightclub.  It’s been the City’s position, pathetically, that because there’s a “DJ” performing, these EDM shows are indistinguishable from some guy playing records at a bar.  And that the shows can’t be concerts because there’s no “fixed seats” on the floor. 

            A judge last week refused to uphold the City’s attempt to stop these shows, stating the obvious, that “fixed seats” aren’t a rational measure of whether an event is a concert.

            Burlesque.  DJ’s.  City code enforcement is either hopelessly ignorant of the world around it, or it’s got an agenda that’s not based on the rule of law or common sense.  Neither is acceptable.

Paul Rapp is a civic-minded IP attorney who is salivating at the thought of seeing, along with his fellow old people, the best rock band in history at the Egg next Wednesday.