Wednesday, August 28, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 8.29.13 issue of Metroland

Nick Lowe
Club Helsinki
August 21, 2013

            I’ve been telling everyone within earshot how much better Nick Lowe was at Helsinki last week than he was two years ago at the Linda.   Then I dug out my review of that show, discovered that it actually took place over 5 years ago (!!!).  Reading my gushy unqualified rave, I realized that  Helsinki show was, on paper, virtually the same show, and in fact, I could easily change a few words and turn in my 2008 review now and it would be accurate.

            But it wasn’t the same show, not by a long shot.  Despite my drooling in 2008 (Fanboy?  Moi?  Absolutely!), my current recollection of that show (and I saw him the next night in Northampton, too) is that something was missing, something I can’t put into words.  Like solo Nick was strumming and singing and looking around for his band. Although maybe it was that I was looking around for his band.  It generally struck me as a great show for Lowe fans, but maybe just a tolerable one for everyone else.

            In any event, last week’s show at a jam-packed Helsinki (a packed Helsinki is as wonderfully cozy and intimate as the old micro-Helsinki was) was full, universal, warm, human... Nick’s voice was incredible, he was utterly comfortable, and delivered every twisted and tragi-comic nuance of his remarkable songs with élan and grace.  The transformation from Basher to timeless troubadour appears to be complete.

            Opening with Rockpile’s “Heart” (name a better pop song.  Name one), Nick wandered mainly through his rich recent catalog, singing sweet (“Where Is My Everything”), sad (“House For Sale”, “I’ve Let Things Slide”) and debased (“I Trained Her To Love Me”).  No matter the mood, every song featured Nick’s trademark couplets, improbable and impossible rhymes that no one else would dare write, or even think about.  There was the occasional unexpected cover (Cliff Richards’ “Travelin’ Light”, Elvis Costello’s “Alison”); but the song that brought the house down mid-set was “Dollar Short Of Happy” a new song co-written with Ry Cooder that’s on Nick’s upcoming holiday album Quality Street.  Riotously hysterical.  You will want to own this holiday album, especially if you hate holiday albums.

            When he started strumming the chords to “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” I looked at my co-pilot and said “Oh shit, I’m gonna cry.”  Nick sang the song slowly and quietly like a prayer, the polar opposite of Elvis Costello’s raucous version, and, yup, I sat there and cried like a baby.  And I wasn’t alone.


Thursday, August 22, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 8.22.13 issue of Metroland.

ROBIN THICKE SUES MARVIN GAYE’S FAMILY makes for a great headline, doesn’t it?  It brings to mind the sad and shameful legacy of white exploitation of black music and musicians:  Bo Diddley!  Pat Boone doing Tutti Frutti! Elvis ripping off Otis Blackwell!  Lester Chambers!  This headline set off a stream of anti-Robin Thicke invective, that no-talent coddled rat-bastard thief!  Oh, the humanity! I was moved to grasp my dog’s paw and launch into a spirited white-boy version of “We Shall Overcome.”

            But wait.  What if the headline said “T.I. Sues Marvin Gaye’s Family” or “Pharrell Sues Marvin Gaye’s Family”?  Doesn’t have the same sting?  Oh, that’s different?  Well, no, it’s not.  Because T.I. and Pharrell are suing Marvin Gaye’s family.  In fact, they’re Thicke’s co-plaintiffs.

            What’s going on?  This all revolves around Thicke’s little slice of ear candy, the big fat hit Blurred Lines, which T.I. and Pharrell co-wrote with him.   (If you haven’t already, I recommend you watch the improbably charming adult version of the video for the song, which features lots of naked women, and the iPhone version with Thicke, Jimmy Kimmel and The Roots)   In interviews, they freely admitted that the tune was inspired by Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up.  Apparently, that was enough to get Marvin Gaye’s kids (Gaye was murdered by his father in 1984, leaving three kids, Frankie, Marvin III, and Nona) demanding money and threatening a lawsuit.

            At the same time, publishing company Bridgeport Music was also demanding money and threatening a lawsuit against Thicke and friends, claiming that Blurred Lines infringed on the George Clinton / Funkadelic song Sexy Ways.

            So, Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell decided to bring matters to a head, and brought suit for what’s called a declaratory judgment, asking the court to declare that Blurred Lines doesn’t infringe either song.  Since the Gayes and Bridgeport own the songs at issue, and because they’ve all threatened to sue Thicke & Co., they are defendants in the case.  In other words, they’re not being sued for money damages (although they may end up paying Thicke & Co’s attorneys fees if the case goes the distance).

            Now I’d like you to put this down and go to YouTube and listen to the songs (if you wanna see them Blurred Lines nekkid wimmins you gotta go to Vevo) and make up your own minds.

            This strikes me as nothing but proper reaction to a shakedown.  Write a hit song, expect to get landed on by somebody claiming to have been ripped off.  Blurred Lines doesn’t infringe either song.  If it does, then so does half of Prince’s catalog.

            As a general matter, copyright protects lyrics and melody; it doesn’t protect style, feel, groove, etc.  Being influenced by something, or writing a song that’s “like” another song isn’t necessarily infringement.  Influence and copping styles is how music flourishes and grows.  Every musician and songwriter is influenced by other musicians and songwriters.  Duh!  

            But did they really have to march off to court?  Well, yeah.  Bridgeport is extremely litigious, many refer to it as a copyright troll (it also has been accused of stealing George Clinton’s catalog—a dispute that I hear will be playing out soon), and it likes to sue people in Tennessee, where it gets wacky results.  About ten years ago Bridgeport got the Tennessee federal appeals court to rule that any digital music sample was automatically an infringement, no matter how small and even if the sample was unrecognizable.  This insane decision, which as we lawyers like to say is still “good law”, has impeded the progress of music-making ever since.  You don’t wanna get sued by Bridgeport in Tennessee.

            On top of that, there was plenty of chatter about Thicke & Co ripping off the Marvin Gaye song, which was not doing their reputations a whole lot of good.  So rather than wait to get dinged by Bridgeport in Tennessee, face a second lawsuit who-knows-where from the Gayes, and see their names continue to get dragged through the mud, they sued, in their home turf of California, one lawsuit that basically asks the court to tell Bridgeport and the Gayes to just STFU.  For all the crap they’re getting (and Thicke’s getting the worst of it), it was the right thing to do.

            It’s also gotta be noted that the actual songwriters of Got To Give It Up and Sexy Ways aren’t involved in this at all.  George Clinton even tweeted his support for Thicke & Co.  I don’t know anything about Marvin Gaye’s kids, maybe they’re nice people, who knows, but there’s always something unctuous about a great artist’s kids trying to wring every last dollar out of Mommy’s or Daddy’s “legacy”.

            Gotta feeling this is all going to go away quietly.  Hope not.  I wanna see Thicke (and T.I. and Farrell) completely vindicated.

Paul Rapp is an earnest entertainment attorney who used to play in a popular band that stole stuff from everybody.  All the time!


Thursday, August 08, 2013

8.8.13 BETTER?

This article originally appeared in the 8.8.13 issue of Metroland.

            Since early 2005, I’ve been popping up here more or less every other week and complaining about something or other having to do with the law, information, and technology.  There’s never a lack of things to call out, what with Big Media and Corrupt Government colluding night and day to keep you all shivering and cold in the darkness, trying to make you pay more and more for things that ought to be free or at least cheap, and getting all snoopy into your biz.  It’s been fun, and at the risk of looking like I’m continually tearing down without building up, what I’ve tried to do is let you know that the status quo is nonsensical and isn’t working; that the way things are aren’t the way they need to be, and aren’t even the way things have always been; and that you’ve been getting screwed, blued, and tattooed by a monolithic corporate regime backed up by the government.  And it’s all about getting stuff to watch, look at, read and listen to.

            But slowly, very slowly, things might be getting better.  Congress dipped its toe into the waters of copyright reform last week with a short hearing that featured a surprising number of sane (read: non-corporate stooge) speakers, along with some fairly intelligent questions coming from the representatives.  Sure there was a photographic guild guy who was a little bonkers (what is it with photographers?) and some special effects company guy who equated mondo-budget movies (like all of the movies that flopped this summer) with “good jobs,” without any mention of copyright law at all.  But there was some enlightenment, too, like Tor Hanson, the owner of that sweet indy label Yep Roc, who tried to explain all of the ways the internet made his business better and asked that government step in and make music royalties make sense.  While it was troubling that there were no actual creators among the speakers (only business owners and lobbyists) the tone of the hearing (which was cut short because the Congress-people had to go vote on something really important, like perhaps repealing Obamacare for the 39th time) was civil, hopeful, and intelligent.

            Then this morning there’s news that Comcast is looking at some interesting new ways to combat illegal downloading.  Over the years, we’ve had Big Media suing the bejesus out of individuals for downloading stuff, a stupid strategy that’s now dying fast after porn producers started using it, and courts really started looking at the law.  That was replaced, sort of, by this absurd “Six Strikes” thing, where your internet company is supposed to monitor what you’re downloading and send you six graduated sets of warnings that you’re being bad, with sanctions that include forcing you to take copyright re-education courses and severely slowing down service if you are chronically disobedient.  Really.

            Now, Comcast is talking about replacing the Six Strikes thing with a new program where it will send an illegal downloader a pop-up message containing a link to where the content can be acquired legally.  Obviously, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  First, as with the Six Strikes thing, this means Comcast will be all up in its customers’ junk, as in actively monitoring what you’re doing online.  You cool with that?  No, you’re not.  And then there’s the obnoxious pop-up part.  And then there’s the issue of what happens when Comcast can’t offer you something.  Take, say, HBO’s Game of Thrones”, which is one of the most downloaded programs on the torrent sites right now.  The reason it’s the most downloaded  program is that the only way to get it otherwise is to buy cable service and then get HBO, and an increasing number of people don’t want either one.  So the downloading of these “premium” shows will continue, until the studios realize that a la carte offerings are what people really want.

            So, this Comcast thing is probably DOA, but look at what it represents in terms of Big Media’s attitude in dealing with what they like to call “piracy.”  We’ve gone from massive federal lawsuits to friendly nudges.  And that’s significant.

            And then there’s newspapers.  In just the last week, two of the world’s most iconic papers have been purchased on the cheap by profoundly successful non-newspaper guys:  Boston Red Sox owner (and commodities trader) John Henry bought the Boston Globe and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos grabbed the Washington Post.  What does this mean?  Everybody seems to have an opinion but nobody really knows.  But newspapers, large and small, are an anachronism; they are shrinking in size, influence, relevance, and quality, and nobody seems to be able to figure out how to make a newspaper work in the digital / internet age.  But if anybody can make that happen, it’s these guys.

            Before long I may not have anything to bitch about over here.  Sheesh.

Paul Rapp is an IP attorney and radical notary who will be presenting “Legal Issues For Artists and Writers” on Monday, August 12 at Bascom Lodge, atop Mount Greylock, Adams MA.  6 PM.  Free!