WASHINGTON--Members of the newly-organized CERTA, the Coalition of Entertainment Retail Trade Associations, are meeting with members of Congress Tuesday (April 20) to drum up support to combat entert
- Virgin Artist Severs Ties On Contract Dispute
- Broadcasters Rip Analog Shutoff Plan
- Film Studios Mum On ClearPlay Suit
- Film Industry Warned To Heed Piracy Warnings
- Sharman Shuffles Legal Representation
- Sophie Hawkins: Money Not The IssueSophie
- Senate Piracy Hearing Set For April 29
- Air America Back On Chicago Airwaves
- CERTA Tackles Piracy This Week
- Radio Gets Cash For Digi-Conversions
- IP Tops French Culture Minister's Agenda
- Marketing Promotion For EMI's Mark Dunn
- Competition Concerns Snag Sony, BMG
- Showbiz Group Threatens Protest At Cannes
- This Week's Dream Makers & Deal Breakers
- 'Simpsons' Crew Underworked, Underpaid
- Britney Slapped With $10M Trademark Suit
- Recent Cases & Filings
Virgin Artist Severs Ties On Contract Dispute
By Jonathan Cohen
NEW YORK--Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has severed ties with Virgin Records, which released the group's two studio albums.
"We've been fighting to get out of our record contract for the last six months and are sorry we couldn't tell anyone about this," bassist Robert Turner has said. "But it was a very delicate thing that we didn't ever want to become ugly."
A label spokesperson was unavailable for comment. The move follows the recent announcement that the trio will join the lineup for this summer's Lollapalooza tour. BRMC is in the midst of a U.S. tour with the Rapture.
The group's self-titled 2001 debut and last year's "Take Them On, On Your Own" have sold a combined 172,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
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Broadcasters Rip Analog Shutoff Plan
By Brooks Boliek
WASHINGTON (Hollywood Reporter)--The broadcast industry are attacking a plan that would bring digital TV to America by 2009. That's when the government proposes to shut off the analog frequencies that TV stations now use.
In a letter to the FCC last Thursday, the National Association of Broadcasters and the heads of the major network affiliates organizations told the FCC commissioners that the plan proposed by the agency's staff is an unworkable series of "shortcuts."
FCC mass media bureau chief Ken Ferree rolled out the plan last Wednesday. Under the law, broadcasters are supposed to give the government the analog channels it uses now in exchange for digital ones.
The switch is set for 2006 or when 85% of the television audience can receive a digital TV signal. Ferree's plan, in effect, sets a hard 2009 deadline.
"The bureau's idea would not only fail to advance but also would retard the primary purpose of the transition--to deliver improved digital signals to the public and replace view reliance on analog-quality service," the executives wrote.
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Film Studios Mum On ClearPlay Suit
By Jill Kipnis
LOS ANGELES--It's still unclear if the Directors Guild of America (DGA) plans to sue hardware manufacturer RCA and retail giant Wal-Mart for making and selling a new ClearPlay-enabled DVD player.
Two years ago, the DGA and Hollywood film studios sued Utah-based ClearPlay, which makes downloadable filters for films that bypass scenes with graphic language, sex and violence. The plaintiffs had alleged that ClearPlay's technology violated studio copyrights and misrepresented directors' finished films.
In December, ClearPlay filed a brief asking for summary judgement in the U.S. District Court in Colorado. The motion is pending.
A new DVD player made by RCA, priced at $79.98, includes ClearPlay filtering software for 100 recent films. Consumers who buy the player can also sign up for a $4.95 monthly ClearPlay service to get all of the latest filters, or can order a CD-ROM from ClearPlay which includes 500 separate filters for $20.
The players are available at Walmart.com, and are currently shipping to Wal-Mart stores. Kmart is also expected to carry them.
Neither the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) nor the DGA would comment about the possible inclusion of RCA or retailers in another lawsuit concerning ClearPlay.
"Our position is that we oppose anyone or any enterprise who alters or changes our copyrighted materials," says Matthew Grossman, director of digital strategy and corporate communications for the MPAA. "We are not going into any details about the litigation."
Morgan Rumpf, spokesman for the DGA, says, "ClearPlay's software changes the very meaning and intent of both individual scenes and movies. Ultimately, it is a violation of law and just wrong to profit from selling software that changes the intent of movies you didn't create and don't own."
ClearPlay and RCA are unaware of any potential new legal actions.
"Like with any technology, the industry needs time to study and develop it," says ClearPlay CEO Bill Aho. He says ClearPlay features will be available on virtually any hardware device that plays movies in the future. The company is in talks with other manufacturers about licensing its technology.
Dave Arland, spokesman for RCA, says that his company is aware of the suit. "The decision to move ahead with a ClearPlay-equipped player was based on feedback from our major customers," he says. "There is heightened interest in parental control."
Wal-Mart did not return calls by deadline.
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Film Industry Warned To Heed Piracy Warnings
By Cole Sternberg
WASHINGTON--The film industry had better take some lessons on piracy from the beleaguered music business.
That's the cautionary message from a new study by Deloitte & Touche. The report, called "Facing Piracy: Digital Theft in the Filmed Entertainment Industry," explores the causes of piracy, its financial consequences, and ways to address it.
Deloitte estimates global piracy revenue losses at $13.6-$15.1 billion dollars a year for the entire entertainment industry.
The report opens with a warning that, "(F)ilmed entertainment executives only have to look at the music industry to see the dangers of insufficient action. Take digital piracy seriously, or lose billions as well as fundamental control of the value chain."
Piracy in the film industry is caused by the growth of broadband use, the advancement of compression technologies (specifically DivX video codec, "the MP3 of video"), and the rise of peer-to-peer networks, the study says.
The plague of piracy, the report posits, is motivated by the skewed perception that pirates hold of the entertainment industry. "If people feel they are being ripped off, they are more willing to feel they are entitled to 'get even.' The entertainment industry is widely perceived to be rolling in cash," the report states.
To combat piracy, the study suggests litigation, education, restructured pricing, improved security of master film copies, and increased collaboration between studios.
As for the Recording Industry Assn. of America's suits against peer-to-peer users, Ken August, leader of Deloitte's Pacific Southwest Media & Entertainment Practice, comments, "(I)f the legal landscape shifted and the burden was pushed down onto the ISPs, things would change almost overnight."
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Sharman Shuffles Legal Representation
By Paul Resnikoff
BOSTON (DigitalMusicNews)--Kazaa-owner Sharman Networks is adding attorney Clayton Utz to its legal representation and has rejiggered its lineup.
The P2P operator is already contracting the services of Phillips Fox, and insist that the shuffle is not a replacement or sign of internal disagreements.
The Australian firm is under major heat from the Australian Recording Industry Association, which filed formal proceedings two weeks ago. ARIA, which represents all of the major Australian labels, is looking to shut down Kazaa for good.
A major aspect of the case will involve just how much control Sharman has over the decentralized network, including its ability to filter unprotected content from distribution.
Sharman has always maintained that it has no control over the Fast Track network, though many point to the swift dismissal of rival P2P application Morpheus from the network in 2003 as a sign of a central control.
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Sophie Hawkins: Money Not The Issue
By Ray Waddell and Melinda Newman
NASHVILLE and LOS ANGELES--For Sophie B. Hawkins, riding her bike to small claims court was worth the trouble.
The artist won a $346 judgment in a Santa Monica (Calif.) court April 13 against an eBay merchant who sold promotional copies of her new CD "Wilderness," which is not due in record stores until April 20.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roberta Kyman ruled in Hawkins' favor after the defendant failed to appear in court.
"There is a certain poetry to it," Hawkins tells ELW. "Because this was what it was and I need all the money I can get, I could've gone for copyright infringement and get as much as I could."
But Hawkins insists money was not the issue. "This is really about my fans being ripped off, paying $300 for something they could get in stores for $9-something on April 20," she says.
Rather than spend months or more in federal court chasing copyright infringement charges, Hawkins wrapped the matter up quickly with a couple of court appearances.
She first learned a promo copy of her yet-to-be-released new album was available on eBay last December, when a fan notified Hawkins' webmaster, who alerted Hawkins' manager, Gigi Gaston.
Ultimately, Hawkins had decided to record and release the album on her own Trumpet Swan imprint, investing her life savings in the project. "Then here comes a guy selling it for $300," she says. "I had to sell 80,000 (copies) to break even."
Hawkins says the eBay seller had somehow obtained a promo copy of her album. A fan bought the CD for $300 and sent it to Hawkins. EBay shut down the online auction of Hawkins' property after being alerted that the copies were not intended for sale.
The seller was then served with a cease-and-desist letter from Hawkins' attorney, Gary Stiffleman. But the seller skirted eBay and sold two more copies for $12 each.
Hawins sent the fan who bought the CD their money back, along with promotional collectibles from the release and the CD that was stolen. She doesn't really expect to collect the $348 award. "The judge will serve him, but she basically said 'good luck'," she says. "I feel like I made my point."
"Wilderness" will be the first album released on Hawkins' Trumpet Swan label. She recorded the album, including the new track "Beautiful Girl," from her home studio in Venice, Calif. She will tour to support the project, booked by Bruce Houghton at Skyline Music.
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Senate Piracy Hearing Set For April 29
By Bill Holland
WASHINGTON--Bookmark a hearing on international piracy efforts scheduled for April 29 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary.
The panel will be chaired by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. Mitch Bainwol, chairman/CEO of the Recording Industry Assn of America will testify.
No testimony yet, but insiders say Bainwol will praise current efforts, but ask for more help from feds to beef up anti-piracy components in foreign policy at the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
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Air America Back On Chicago Airwaves
By Paul Bond
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter)--Liberal talkers at Air America Radio returned to the airwaves in Chicago last Friday after the New York Supreme Court took its side in a spat with Multicultural Radio Broadcasting.
Multicultural had forced Air America off the air last Wednesday in Chicago and Los Angeles, saying Air America had bounced checks that paid for the leasing of two of its stations.
But the status of Air America in Los Angeles is still unresolved. Meanwhile, Air America has been presenting its side of the story via a written attack on its Web site directed at Multicultural CEO Arthur Liu and at Matt Drudge, who posted a story last Wednesday on the DrudgeReport.com Web site.
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CERTA Tackles Piracy This Week
By Bill Holland
WASHINGTON--Members of the newly-organized CERTA, the Coalition of Entertainment Retail Trade Associations, will meet with members of Congress April 20 to drum up support to combat entertainment piracy.
Then, at a media briefing and lunch, Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., and CERTA representatives will discuss how increased consumer education, legal deterrence and marketplace innovation can help curb piracy from entertainment products.
Of course, everyone's in favor of measures to curb piracy. More to the point, CERTA, representing the leading "middleman" providers of movies and music, have other issues to raise with Congress. But they're being soft-pedaled.
All the members have one thing in common: They view many of the digital-era policies by copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Assn. of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America as tough or unfair to retailers.
A look at CERTA members tells the tale: the Digital Media Assn., representing webcasters and digital download retailers; the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, which represents brick-and-mortar record shops; the Video Software Dealers Assn., the trade group for video stores; and the self-explanatory National Assn. of Theater Owners.
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Radio Gets Cash For Digi-Conversions
By Paul Resnikoff
BOSTON (DigitalMusicNews)--Cory Flintoff never sounded so crisp.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) recently announced that it will award $5 million in funds to 76 member stations to assist in analog-to-digital conversions.
The funds are part of a larger U.S. Congressional package amounting to more than $150 million over the past four years. The CPB has been putting considerable focus on converting rural stations to digital as well.
Digital transmission of talk content will only have marginal effects on sound quality, with major gains ahead for stations that carry mostly music. The CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 to develop educational public radio, television and online services in the United States.
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IP Tops French Culture Minister's Agenda
By James Martin
PARIS--"Protecting intellectual and artistic property against piracy" is a top priority of new French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.
Donnedieu de Vabres replaces Jean-Jacques Aillagon following the reshuffling of the French government three weeks ago.
Donnedieu de Vabres made this plea in a "French memorandum for European cultural cooperation," an initiative which aims to put culture at the forefront of the expanded Europe. Ten new member states join the EU on May 1.
Donnedieu de Vabres also underscored the importance of lowering Valued-Added Taxes on music and "protecting intellectual and artistic property against piracy." Both measures, he says, are meant to "encouraging cultural industries' development."
Several of the memorandum's priorities stand out for the local and European music business. First, the notion of "cultural diversity" should be promoted "not only in Europe, but throughout the world," says the minister, for example by "preventing the liberalisation of (state-run) audiovisual services."
The memorandum proposes to guarantee certain levels of European and local state aid to cultural projects.
"Financially speaking," says Donnedieu de Vabres, "culture is the EU's poor cousin, with just euros 120 million ($143.7 million), or 0.1% of the community's budget."
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Marketing Promotion For EMI's Mark Dunn
By Ray Bennett
LONDON (Hollywood Reporter)--Mark Dunn, who oversees EMI Music's DVD division, is now vice president of EMI Marketing.
He will oversee the company's catalogue, compilations, special markets and DVD activities around the world, EMI said last Friday.
EMI's first million-selling DVD, Coldplay's "Live 2003," was released last November, followed by a second, "What We Did Last Summer," by Robbie Williams. Other top DVDs on the label include the Beatles' "Anthology," "Live at Wembley Stadium" by Queen, and Norah Jones' "Live in New Orleans."
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Competition Concerns Snag Sony, BMG
By Leo Cendrowicz
BRUSSELS--The Sony-BMG merger won't be cleared by European regulators by June 22, the initial deadline set by the European Commission to end its probe on the deal.
The EC's competition department announced last week that it would suspend its investigation into the planned merger between Sony's music division and Bertelsmann.
The Commission's "statement of objections" was due at the end of April, but that deadline was also suspended. The "statement of objections" outlines the reservations from third parties and from the Commission on a proposed merger.
The delay--likely two weeks--will allow the EC, the European Union's executive body, to make new demands or give additional time for third parties to provide requested data.
A new deadline for an EU decision on the merger would be set after the companies answered questions on the distribution of music recording and intellectual property rights.
The EC is seeking an unprecedented volume of information from both companies and other market players. A questionnaire was also sent to a dozen companies in Europe--labels, publishers, collecting societies, retailers and e-tailers.
The EC wants to know if the market or the industry has changed significantly since its 2000 probe into the EMI-Warner proposed deal.
"This additional request concerns information on a variety of markets (affected) by this merger," says Tilman Lüder, spokesman for EU competition commissioner Mario Monti.
Lüder says the EC wants to examine competition concerns into markets for electronic appliances such as TVs and portable music players.
The areas where the new entity could use its muscle in technology or other media to gain competitive edge are part of the vertical and horizontal integrations of the probe.
Rivals fear Sony could use a distribution system, such as the forthcoming Connect service, to give preferential access to its music. Other concerns surround the Sony Playstation PSX, which features music download facilities. There is also concern that Sony and BMG could control the gateway on a range of proprietary technologies.
The vertical-integration concerns about BMG are different: Bertelsmann is the largest media company in Europe, and through its TV and radio stations, could prevent other record companies from getting airtime.
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Showbiz Group Threatens Protest At Cannes
By Shiraz Sidhva
PARIS--Protesting showbiz workers in France are calling for "an action committee" to stage demonstrations during at the upcoming Festival de Cannes.
The loose confederation of theater, music, dance and audiovisual workers unions is calling for a "national day of agitation" Monday (April 19) to fight against the government's reforms to their unemployment insurance benefits.
The group says that the film festival "would not be allowed to function normally" if their demands were not met. The workers say they would convene "a press conference on cultural plurality" May 14 during the festival, which runs May 12-23.
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This Week's Dream Makers & Deal Breakers:
- Nashville attorney Russ Farrar is now a partner with Ohio-based gospel group The Signature Sound Quartet. Farrar, who continues as legal counsel, will now oversee the group's business affairs. Farrar is VP of the Southern Gospel Music Association and counsel for the Southern Gospel Music Trust Fund and the Southern Gospel Music Guild.
- Harry Fox Agency in New York promotes Robert Auritt to senior counsel. He previously was associate counsel.
- ASCAP in New York promotes Richard Reimer senior VP of legal services. He previously was VP of legal affairs.
- Vivendi Universal Games' CEO Bruce Hack will serve as interim president and COO for North American operations, following the departure last week of Luc Vanha.
- Alliance Entertainment Corp. in Carlsbad, Calif., names Karl S. Ryser Jr. senior VP. He previously was a consultant at Alliance's Digital On-Demand.
- House of Blues Concerts in Los Angeles names Paola Palazzo talent buyer. She was a music agent at Creative Artists Agency.
- Premiere Radio Networks in New York promotes Gary Krantz to EVP of music operations. He was senior VP of operations.
- Acorn Direct in Silver Spring, Md., names Miguel Penella president. He was VP of customer marketing at Time-Life.
Contributors: Deborah Evans Price, Carla Hay and Melinda Newman
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'Simpsons' Crew Underworked, Underpaid
By Ray Richmond
All right, so I'm assuming that not too many of you earn $20,000 an hour--and if you did, you probably wouldn't take a walk while demanding, oh, $55,000 an hour.
This, however, is the situation at "The Simpsons," where principal voices Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Julie Kavner, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer are said to be holding out for a raise from $125,000 an episode to a reported $360,000-per in order to voice the show's (gasp!) 16th season next fall.
Considering the length of their work week (6-7 hours on average), the cushy conditions they work under and the fact they can show up in their pajamas if they so desire, these folks already earn a king's ransom. What they do is the equivalent of a sitcom table read.
Moreover, their contracts are nonexclusive. Once they put in their hours, they are free to pursue whatever other labor they please--a luxury that's unheard of in the live-action world.
For the past four seasons, the "Simpsons" voice sextet has each earned nearly $3 million annually for what is collectively less than a single month's work. And now they're seeking a bump that's almost three times that to roughly $8 million in yearly salary.
This, for a show whose best days are certainly behind it. I mean, it's already the longest-running comedy in television history. If we can't exactly pinpoint a jump-the-shark moment, there's wide agreement that "The Simpsons" has about had it. It's understandable. Nothing is forever. Not even dysfunctional yellow cartoon families.
It's also well understood that this is perhaps the ultimate writers show. It's the 20-odd writer-producers--not the voice talent--who drive this "Simpsons" engine. They're the ones who work 24/7/365, who labor over every word and phrase and setup and punch line in scripts whose versions are countless. By comparison, the actors make cameo appearances, toss down their lines and then head on their merry way.
All of this means that the voices are unreasonable to demand such a hefty raise, right? Well, yes and no.
While this group may not work as hard as the casts of conventional sitcoms, none of the usual animation rules apply when it comes to "The Simpsons." The fact that they collectively "earn less than one "Friend," as Castellaneta pointed out last year, is a bit apples and oranges yet significant nonetheless.
There have been few more profitable properties in TV over the past 15 years than this show. Its syndie ratings and revenue remain huge. It's an international phenomenon without peer in the medium's annals.
As an actor, you only get one "Simpsons" per lifetime. And only if you're tremendously lucky. Castellaneta, Cartwright, Kavner, Smith, Azaria and Shearer not only can't be blamed for squeezing out every last penny they can. As the stars of such an American treasure, they've been essentially underpaid by most any megahit measure--outrageous though that may sound.
We're not gauging compensation here by the standards of the common working stiff. It's an absurdly inflated equation to begin with. You've got to toss out the "look at how much they earn an hour" whining and declarations of how grateful they should be to have glommed onto the voiceover Holy Grail.
This is business, ladies and gentlemen. Or have we all forgotten? All that matters is how valuable these voices have been, and continue to be, to the "Simpsons" franchise. They remain virtually irreplaceable as the show trudges forth into television immortality. That's a fact.
Ray Richmond is a TV columnist with Billboard sister publication The Hollywood Reporter.
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Britney Slapped With $10M Trademark Suit
By Samantha Chang
NEW YORK--A San Diego clothing manufacturer is suing Britney Spears for $10 million, claiming her use of the phrase "In the Zone" infringes its trademarks.
In the suit, filed Feb. 17 in the U.S. District Court for Southern California, Lite Breeze and its founder Rodd Garner contend that the use of "In the Zone" on Spears' multi-platinum Jive album of that name, as well as on DVDs and T-shirts, is unauthorized.
Lite Breeze also filed a cease-and-desist order the same day, attempting to ban Spears from using the trademark in her concerts, recordings and promotional campaigns. Also named as defendants are Clear Channel Entertainment Television, Jive and Signature Network.
The name of Spears' recent concert tour, which opened in San Diego last month, was changed to "The Onyx Hotel Tour" from "In the Zone Tour" after the suit was filed.
Charles Reidelbach, Garner's attorney, says Spears' use of "In the Zone" is confusing to consumers in the San Diego area. "When people who buy T-shirts think of 'In the Zone,' they think of Lite Breeze. But now they may no longer," says Reidelbach. Lite Breeze, which was formed 20 years by Garner, has owned the trademark since 1992.
Spears' lawyer, Peter Anderson, could not be reached for comment.
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Recent Cases & Filings:
Case: Kirk Burrowes v. Sean Combs; Kenneth Meiselas; Bad Boy Entertainment
Issue: Breach of contract, fraud.
Cite: NY Supreme Court 104225
Filing attorney: G. Oliver Koppell
Case: Dwayne Bastiany v. Megahertz Music Group; 151 Music; Dorsey Wesley; Anthony Botter
Issue: Copyright infringement
Cite: SDNY CV-2160
Filing attorney: Wallace Collins of Serling Rooks
Case: National Broadcasting Co. v. Photomatch Systems
Issue: Trademark infringement and breach of contract
Cite: NY Supreme Court 600752
Filing attorney: Mariano Schwed
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