Plugged:

The early iPhone reviews are out and for a change the digerati is treating the launch with some degree of restraint (rare among the Apple-fanboy tech press corps).

Most of the hesitation was due to AT&T's 3G network, which is valid.

But there were even a few shots at the device itself, like Walt Mossberg making the sadly needed point that the device's battery life is a bit lacking (ultimately the fault of the 3G connection, again, but still inherently a device-centric issue).

Thankfully, there's no tearing-at-their-hair freak-out that took place after Apple fleeced its most fanatic supporters when the first iteration of the iPhone was released. Steve Jobs had the temerity to charge $600 for a device that is essentially being relaunched a year later for a measly $200 and it still received the moniker of the "Jesus Phone" and Jobs again is walking on water as the most-loved CEO on the planet.

But my how times have changed.

There was a time when Apple products received a great deal of skepticism from a disgruntled user base. People forget how much Apple was ridiculed when it first unveiled the iPod. True! Check out "fanboy" ravings on the iPod when details came out in October of 2001. My favorites:

- "Great, just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where's the Newton?!"

- "Are you really aiming to become a glorified consumer gimmicks firm?"

- "I still can't believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently! Why oh why would they do this?! It's so wrong! It's so stupid!"

Ah, for the good old days. Now the iPhone is certainly a revolutionary device, and the 3G version has some admirable advancements, such as the app store and the faster connection speeds. But on the whole, it's refreshing to see people taking a breath before praising a shiny piece of metal as the Second Coming.


UnPlugged:

I feel so used. So manipulated. Because yet again, the press is being used as a negotiating tactic by companies trying to hammer out a digital music licensing deal. This time it's Merlin treating me like the tramp I am, putting out a press release bemoaning its negotiating status with Last.fm. The indie rights body was aiming to score some quick press by lambasting Last.fm's stance on licensing music from indie artists right on the heels of Last.fm's own announcement that it had taken its artist royalty program live. Don't sign with Last.fm, says Merlin, wait for us to get you a better deal.

And sure enough, it worked. I feel so dirty.

Now I appreciate Merlin wanting to get the best deal for members. It wouldn't be much of an organization if it didn't. But accusing Last.fm for infringement is a bit confusing.

Last.fm is one of the few digital music services to rise out of virtually nowhere using a Web 2.0 model of social networking that hasn't been sued for copyright infringement. MySpace, yes. YouTube, yes. Imeem, yes. I can go on. But Last.fm skated through that thicket unscathed and deserves some credit for doing so. It's no small reason why CBS bought the service.

Are there songs on Last.fm that can be played, in full, on demand without a license? Yes. It's inevitable. The only way to stop it is for every unsigned or indie artist to register its music with the Last.fm database so the company can restrict unlicensed content to 30-second clips. Last.fm has a pretty easy system in place for artists/labels to make takedown requests as well.

So I gotta question how serious Merlin is when it says it wants Last.fm to make any licensing deal retroactive for past "infringement" before it can be finalized. If you really want that back payday, man up and file an infringement lawsuit against Last.fm. Any settlement will involved a payment for past damages, as well as a license, and we can all move on.

Otherwise, I recommend artists and indie labels just sign up with Last.fm directly and start getting paid right now.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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