LimeWire media deal: It’s no joke

According to a report in Fortune, the file-sharing network LimeWire has signed a deal with Comedy Central that will make it easy for users of the peer-to-peer application to find and buy legal versions of comedy videos from Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg (who appears in the video embedded here, a clip from the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal) and others. LimeWire opened a download store in March, but until now it has consisted primarily of content from small record labels and independent artists. The addition of licensed content will make for an interesting test: Are LimeWire users willing to pay for content that they like, provided it’s easy to do so? Or are they dedicated to pirating it no matter what?

Jack Vaughn, head of Comedy Central Records, said that the network doesn’t like piracy, but that it is looking for ways to expose its content to as many new audiences as possible, and LimeWire fits that bill: “We looked at the Lime Wire Store, and we said, ‘Are they going to pay? Are they going to pay on time, and are they going to expose our artists to a new audience?’ The answer was yes.” Whether this attitude shift will help the P2P network in its ongoing fight with music labels over the copyright-infringing content on the system remains to be seen. In an unrelated move, the co-founder of the Kazaa P2P network is also trying to help such networks go legit.

U2’s McGuinness: Still a moron

Another month, another rant from U2’s longtime manager Paul McGuinness, about how everyone else is to blame for the music industry’s problems, except of course the music industry and the major record labels. Primarily, he blames the Internet service providers — whom he compares to “shoplifters” and says are “rigging the market” — but he also tosses a few grenades at cellphone handset makers, telecom companies and (as far as I can tell) everyone other than your Mom (and he’s keeping a pretty close eye on her too). Seriously — why can’t Bono or the Edge or someone get this guy to sit down and shut up?

McGuinness’s latest rant was a sort of micro version of his speech at the Midem conference in Cannes, in which he said:

“Network operators, in particular, have for too long had a free ride on music — on our clients’ content. It’s time for a new approach — time for ISPs to start taking responsibility for the content they’ve profited from for years.”

This is the music industry’s equivalent of newspaper mogul Sam Zell’s rant about how Google is “stealing our content” and should be forced to pay. And McGuinness thinks that if ISPs don’t cough up some dough, then they should all be forced to do so by the government (something others — including in Canada — have recommended as well). While we’re at it, why not force gun manufacturers to pay a fee to the financial industry because occasionally someone uses one of their products to rob a bank? There is no rational basis for what McGuinness is suggesting, other than the sheer desperation of the music industry.

The same goes for the plan that Jim Griffin has been hired by Warner to try and set up, in which users would pay an “Internet tax” (yes, I realize it doesn’t meet a lot of the technical requirements of a tax, but I’m using the term in the sense of a “forced payment”). The Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have proposed a more voluntary arrangement, in which music fans could pay a monthly fee for the right to download at will, in much the same way that the radio industry was legalized through a compulsory licencing system. That’s something that might be worth talking about — but not with Paul McGuinness.

MediaDefender becomes MediaAttacker

We’ve all heard of some boneheaded moves on the part of the record industry when it comes to dealing with the rampant downloading of music. Take the Sony rootkit, for example, not to mention suing 12-year-olds and then wondering why the PR outcome is less than desirable. But I have to say that this incident really takes the cake. According to Jim Louderback of Revision3, the TV arm of the Digg empire, the company’s BitTorrent server was taken down by what amounts to a denial-of-service attack — an attack that appears to have come from MediaDefender, an “anti-piracy” company whose major clients are the global record companies, TV networks and Hollywood movie studios.

It’s actually even more devious than just that, however. According to a couple of execs at MediaDefender, the flood of SYN requests that overloaded the server came about because the anti-piracy group’s network was actually trying to reconnect to Torrent files that it had stored on the Revision3 server — without the company’s permission or knowledge. According to MediaDefender, the company was only trying to re-establish contact with its own files, which Revision3 had shut off access to. As Louderback describes it:

It’s as if McGruff the Crime Dog snuck into our basement, enlisted an army of cellar rats to eat up all of our cheese, and then burned the house down when we finally locked him out – instead of just knocking on the front door to tell us the window was open.

I know I said that this particular idiotic move takes the cake, but there’s plenty of cake to go around where MediaDefender is concerned. There’s the whole debacle involving Miivi, for example — a file-sharing network that was set up by MediaDefender as a kind of honey trap for P2P users, whose user info was then turned over to the RIAA and others. And speaking of turning data over to the authorities, Louderback says that the FBI is looking into MediaDefender’s use of what amounts to a DOS attack, something that is illegal in most states.

When all else fails, declare victory

Remember that lawsuit the RIAA launched against the Russian file-sharing site AllofMp3 awhile back? And remember how the site shut down, and then started up again under another name (Mp3Sparks) with the same look and all the same millions of music files? And remember how the Russian courts found the company not guilty of all charges (at least according to Russian copyright law)? Well, Torrentfreak says the RIAA has responded to all of that — by declaring victory.

Neil Young says P2P is “the new radio”

Marshall Kirkpatrick has a post at Read/Write Web with some notes from an interview he and some other bloggers did with Neil Young at the JavaOne conference. And why was Neil there? Apparently he’s releasing his entire back catalogue as a Blu-Ray disc, which — thanks to the Java embedded in Blu-Ray — will automagically download new content if there is any when you play the disc. Among other things, Neil in jeans and a T-shirt was probably the only person who could make ponytailed Sun CEO Jonathan Schwarz look stuffy and uptight.

I’m a big fan of Neil’s, and always have been. And not just because my family and his family were neighbours in Toronto about a hundred years ago, or because his cottage is up in northern Ontario (“there is a town in North Ontario” he sings in Helpless) just like my cottage. Neil has always done whatever the hell he wanted to do, regardless of what his record label wanted — anyone remember the album Trans, released in 1982? — and he has a similarly straightforward approach to file-sharing and the dangers thereof, according to Marshall’s post.

“It’s up to the masses to distribute it however they want,” he said. “The laws don’t matter at that point. People sharing music in their bedrooms is the new radio.”

Obviously, he’s not saying that he’s happy people are trading mp3 files of his music rather than buying it. But I think he knows he can’t stop it, and I get the sense that he thinks it’s probably on balance a positive thing — and there will always be people who want the Blu-Ray disc with the whole back catalogue, or the $300 package deal that Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails made $1.6-million or so on awhile back, despite the fact that he was effectively giving the entire album away. You just have to focus on that, and give them the best you can give.