What’s the Real Story Behind Home Land Security Shutting Down Hip Hop Websites?

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday something very disturbing took place… Homeland Security along with ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) , the Department of Justice and the National Intellectual Property Rights Co-ordinating Center seized over 80 websites including popular Hip Hop websites RapGodfathers.com, dajaz1.com and Onsmash.com. These Hip Hop sites were accused of copyright violations, which is crazy, because their popularity rested in the fact that they mostly worked with artists to promote their work and help establish a buzz.

Was there anything on those sites in violation of copyright law?  The nature of any music site as robust as the ones mentioned, is you will inevitably find material. It might come in the form of someone posting a song on a message board or a video clip from a concert. It might be a link to a third-party site where folks can download a song, which was the case with the aforementioned sites. My experience over the years has been oftentimes its the artists themselves coming to sites asking for their material to be posted while the labels which also own part of the copyright objects.

In most cases if a site wasn’t blowing things up too much, most industry folks didn’t trip. in talking with label heads they note  that in most cases if a song or material was being highlighted prematurely or jeopardizing upcoming promotions a letter, email would be sent out or a phone call made asking for the files or links to be removed. Most sites comply without too much fanfare. It’s the way things have been done for years. It’s the symbiotic relationship that has long existed with record labels and media.

It’s important to note this practice of labels asking media outlets to stop playing or highlighting material has been around long before the internet. Working at a major radio station and several large music outlets, the name of the game  was for us to get material way ahead of its release date. Sometimes we managed to get a hold of a ‘press copy’ of a song given to magazines months in advance. Other times it was someone inside the label ‘leaking us a song’ which we would play for a couple of days only to get a letter from the record labels lawyers ordering us to cease and decease playing their material. Many of these stations including ours would post those letters up on the wall and even frame them. It was a source of pride and demonstrated your ability to have impact.

Granted the internet and us being in a digital world has allowed for unlimited copies of material to be distributed and there has definitely been rough patches with digital media and record labels, but at the end of the day all this boils down to relationships and the rule of thumb has been-know the people who run the sites and ask them to remove anything that was causing problems.

All these popular music sites were seized w/o warning

In the case of these Hip Hop sites, no warning was given. Not only that, but the entire websites were seized. In some cases we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of message board postings, articles etc. This wasn’t a shut down of a website. It was the shut down of a community and no matter how one feels about copyright law and how vigorously it should be enforced shut downs without due process should be disturbing to every last one of us.

What should be even more disturbing is how those shut downs took place. Who in Homeland Security was up on Onsmash.com enough to sit down and make a sound decision to shut down the site and seize its domain? How did they know the sites were in violation of any copyright? Was it the word of copyright owner? Did DHS check to get the other side of the story? Did the owners get arrested? Had they been fined or in trouble for any of this in the past?

Let me paint out a couple of scenarios that folks should consider before people start puffing out their chest and acting all righteous about websites breaking the law. First as mentioned earlier take down notices should be given thus allowing one the opportunity to straighten anything out. Thats first and foremost.

Second, oftentimes you have artists and even promotional folks at labels that will come along and give you material and a greenlight.  I could show you at least half a dozen emails that I’ve gotten in the past two weeks with folks asking how I can get material on my site. two have offered to pay. What many of us who do this work have discovered is that what the promo guys and the artists want may not always be in lockstep with what the lawyers or the trade organization for major labels (note I said labels not artists-remember that) the RIAA is pushing. The relationship with the artists and labels are fluid and informal while the relationship with the RIAA and lawyers for the label may be strictly by the book and to the letter of the law. One often has no idea what the other is doing. End game mass confusion.

The RIAA has railed against copyright infringement before there was an internet. They were mad about cassette tapes, then DATs, then CDS and now the web. This powerful lobbying group has always been a presence up on Capital Hill pushing for laws that would protect the interests and intellectual property rights of MAJOR record labels.  They definitely been up on the hill pushing and many say help right some of these new copyright laws, which leaves one wondering are they pointing out offending websites to Homeland Security?

That’s not a far-fetched notion and should have all concerned. Corporations sitting along side law enforcement to protect whose interest? All of our interests or just theirs?  Are the police and law enforcement following the dictates of corporations at everyone else’s expense. At the end of the day that’s called Fascism.

days after this photo was taken, editor Jason Chen got a vist from REACT

We saw blatant display of this earlier this year when a task force consisting of several police agencies called (REACT)  California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team went banging on the door of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen entered his house and took his computers to see if he was behind the leaking of Apple’s next-gen i-phones. The task force claimed they were investigating to see if a law was violated.

Initially some clapped and felt the police were doing their job, until it was discovered that Apple sat on the board that oversaw the new task force that took Chen’s computers. Did the police do this because of Apple’s initial complaints or because they sat on the board?

Fast forward to a troubling news story a few weeks ago here in the Bay Area where a young man had a computer stolen from his office. He had a tracking chip inside that took a picture of the thief, however local police did not immediately follow-up with an investigation. The man resorted to taking his story to local news stations and even then there was no action. Talk about an imbalance of power and influence.

We did an interview earlier this week with Peter Eackersly of Electronic Frontier Foundation which has been in the forefront of protecting internet freedoms. He noted that what took place was far reaching and will continue to be so, because now the US is shutting down sites overseas. he also noted that what took place here without due process appeared to be the first step in the government with the assistance of corporate interests seeing how far they can go before they get push back.

While following these cases keep a close eye on the types of steps and reaches made around the Wikileak saga. Whatever the government is allowed to get away with is gonna set a precedent. Thus far we’ve seen shut down attacks  and seizures take place. Even more disturbing has been American companies like Amazon taking down the Wikileak cables. They officially say it was because of terms of service violations, but most experts are noting they got pressured.

Senator Joe Lieberman has been threatening websites without due process

To show you just how far the government is going, look what Senator Joe Lieberman just did. He threatened a Seattle-based company called Tableau to take down information that was legal and not classified, but reported on and issued charts about who and what countries were discussing Wikileaks.. His actions prompted a scorching response from commentator Glenn Greenwald.

“Those are the benign, purely legal documents that have now been removed from the Internet in response to Joe Lieberman’s demands and implied threats. He’s on some kind of warped mission where he’s literally running around single-handedly dictating what political content can and cannot be on the Internet, issuing broad-based threats to ‘all companies’ that is causing suppression of political information.”

You can read the story HERE

Today its Wikileaks being taken down which one might accept it because arguments can made about sensitive material being revealed and national security at stake could be argued. But what happens tomorrow when its you or me, because we represent competition or hold political beliefs that aren’t agreed upon? What happens when its you or me and the justification is that we’ve always allowed government to take down websites without a day and court, why complain now?

During our interview with Eackersly he noted that it was important for artists and others in the Hip Hop community to stand up, be aware of what transpired and come to the aid of those Hip Hop websites and communities that were shut down especially if they meant something to you.

After our interview Eackersly wanted to know the type of support the seized websites were getting. In his mind, he knew such large outlets would have throngs of artists ready to go to war for them. I think he was a bit surprised to see that more of us were talking about Lil Kim vs Nicki Minaj then the undue processed seizure of music websites. Even sadder is that many have callousesly moved onto other sites as if the shut downs of Onsmash and RapGodfathers was no big deal and was just another day in the life. Mark my words not understanding this and being dismissive will come back to haunt folks.

Understand this.. the seizure of websites without due process, corporate interests lobbying and then writing laws that allow them to be the police and t personally enforce, the battle over net neutrality is all about concentrating power in the hands of a few. This is about controlling the flow of information and being a gate keeper in the communications arena. Its the first step in moving a democracy toward a dictatorship. The next step is getting a population to endure fianacial upheavels and hardships.

The internet was the most democratizing tool we’ve had in a long time and now those who hate having to share and be accountable are trying to shut things down.It’s a power grab of the highest order. Don’t ever get used to being oppressed..It’ll be your undoing for years to come..Stay alert be ready, because they coming for you next.

You can peep the full interview we did on Hard Knock Radio with Peter Eackersly of EFF right HERE

http://www.swift.fm/mrdaveyd/song/81785/

Also be sure to peep this excellent article on alternet about this topic..Here Comes the Homeland Security Internet Police

Lastly after printing this I just got wind of a story Democracy Now just ran…

State Dept. Bars Staffers from WikiLeaks, Warns Students

The U.S. State Department has imposed an order barring employees from reading the leaked WikiLeaks cables. State Department staffers have been told not to read cables because they were classified and subject to security clearances. The State Department’s WikiLeaks censorship has even been extended to university students. An email to students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs says: “The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. [The State Department] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.”

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USSF 2010: Why and How Do Corporations Get to Hire Cops to do their Bidding?

Here at the US Social Forum in Detroit we caught up with longtime Austin based activist Debbie Russell and spoke to her about the growing trend of corporations using cops as a private army or law enforcement wing. Our good friends at Alternet just published a Mother Jones article called Louisiana Off-Duty Cops Working for BP? Corporate Police State Watch

Here this article highlights this disturbing practice with BP Oil being a recent partaker. In the article they detail how BP Oil is using Lousiana cops to enforce BP rules on public property and p[reventing reporters from filming dead oil stained animals.

Last week, Drew Wheelan, the conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association, was filming himself across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana. As he explained to me, he was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggest[ed]” that he get lost since “BP doesn’t want people filming”:

Here’s the key exchange:

Wheelan: ”Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: ”Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: ”Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: ”Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

Not really! Shortly thereafter, Wheelan got in his car and drove away but was soon was pulled over.

It was the same cop, but this time he had company: Kenneth Thomas, whose badge, Wheelan told me, read “Chief BP Security.” The cop stood by as Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes, asking him who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana. He phoned Wheelan’s information in to someone. Wheelan says Thomas confiscated his Audubon volunteer badge (he’d recently attended an official Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training) and then wouldn’t give it back, which sounds like something only a bully in a bad movie would do. Eventually, Thomas let Wheelan go.

This footage and story should be frightening to everyone who loves their freedom watching it…We should all be asking ourselves, ‘How did things dissolve to this point where corporations own the police who enforce rules put forth by the company?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=344em_5hwcQ&feature=player_embedded

Debbie Russell

Russell who rolls with the ACLU explained this is totally illegal and went into lots of detail explaining why. During our convo, it was pointed out that in recent times we saw police and corporations merge when the employees of the RIAA (Record Industry of America Association) were photographed wearing windbreakers similar to law enforment and physically joining them on raids to arrest deejays selling home made mixtapes.

Unfortunately the practice was ignored by many because it was music industry / Hip Hop thing..However, when word leaked out that Steve Jobs of Apple chaired a board that oversaw a special task force of local Bay Area police officers which  were seen kicking in the door at the wee hours of the morning confiscating the computer of a reporter who took pictures of Jobs ‘lost iphone.

I asked Debbie with companies yeileding this much power, how does the average person counter? Do we get to hire our own cops?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO06FJXVGyk&feature=channel

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Limewire Loses Major Case to the RIAA-But Will that make a Difference in Record Sales?

A couple of articles to peep around the issue of  file sharing…The first talks about the recent court ruling against Limewire where the RIAA is happy as heck as it validates their long held complaints about how file sharing is ruinning the music biz..

  The second story is the exact opposite. It talks about how yet another study been published that shows there is no correlation between illegal downloading and record sales..  This is a hard pill to swallow for many in the industry. The thought of having to find another cause to explain low album sales is daunting for those who are still yearning for the old glory days of the industry where money and album sales was plentiful. Them days will not be returning anytime soon..

There are far too many cats in this biz who have totally forgotten about handling the basics which centers around relationships.  They refuse to go out and create a solid community. Instead of seeing fans as friends and allies, they see them as mindless consumers  who they accuse of morphing into despical theives when they don’t sucumb to the charms of a cheesy marketing plan. Too many executives and artists forget that a good relationship will be rewarding, not punitive.

There’s a very vocal segment of the music industry that reminds me of the proverbial loud mouth artist  who is barely known on his block but will be the first to complain that his lack of success is due to downloading… He’s the first to show  up and say “no’ to technology, but the last to show up and put in the hard work of shaking hands, kissing babies and leaving a lasting impression.

Everytime I hear this type of charcter whine, I feel like holding up a sign that says;

‘Son fallback..Nobody knows or cares  who you are..Ain’t nobody on Limewire looking for your joints..’

Sadly in an industry full of insecurities and egos, my line of thinking will rub some the wrong way.. no matter how true the assessment.

The reality is far too many artist refuse to really put in work and sincerely reflect the realities of the people they want to purchase their music. They wanna stand around and talk big like they’re entitled to the next fat check when they never really put in work. These types of folks need to go the way of the dinosaur.

Fortunately there’s a growing segement that has learned to embrace change. These are the types that consistently take every challenging situation and turn them into a fertile opportunity.

For example, I recall LA Hip Hop pioneer Egyptian Lover talking how his peers were moaning about getting bootlegged. He said he understood early on the bootleggers were there to stay and the best thing he could do was create a situation where it could work to his advantage.  Instead of woofing he said basically saw the bootleggers as a street team. They become promoters. He figured he was gonna need one earlier, might as well let the bootlegger do the work..  Egypt  put on his creative thinking cap and did what so many The record labels execs and artists have forgotten to do because they’ve become too comfortable. He  figure out how to ‘flip the script’.

Something to ponder

-Davey D-

LOS ANGELES — File-sharing software company LimeWire has lost a long-running court battle to the major recording companies.

A judge with the U.S. District Court in New York ruled this week that the company and its chairman, Mark Gorton, were liable for inducing copyright infringement.

The decision in the case, which began in 2006, doesn’t mean the site will shut down right away. The record labels and LimeWire are to meet with Judge Kimba Wood on June 1 to determine the next steps, such as a possible deal to work together going forward and a potential award for damages.

Recording Industry Association of America Chairman Mitch Bainwol said in a statement Wednesday that the ruling was “an extraordinary victory” against one of the largest remaining file-sharing services in the United States.

The RIAA said more than 200 million copies of LimeWire’s file-sharing software have been downloaded so far, including 340,000 in the last week alone.

The ruling could pave the way for a deal, similar to the way Napster was sued out of existence in 2000 but was reborn and is now under the ownership of Best Buy Inc. with licensing deals with all the major recording companies.

“This isn’t about getting something shut down, it’s about getting something licensed and legal,” said Steve Marks, general counsel for the RIAA.

LimeWire CEO George Searle said in a statement that while it “strongly opposes” the court’s decision, the company held out hope for a deal. The company sells an “Extended Pro” version of its free software for $34.95 a year, leaving open the possibility that a new business model could emerge in cooperation with the music industry.

“LimeWire remains committed to developing innovative products and services for the end-user and to working with the entire music industry, including the major labels, to achieve this mission,” Searle said.

original source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/12/limewire-loses-riaa-case-_n_574338.html

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Another Study Vindicates Filesharing

By Jerry Del Colliano

http://insidemusicmedia.blogspot.com/2010/05/another-study-vindicates-filesharing.html

Steve Meyer, who as I have often said is the smartest observer of the record industry, knocked my eyes out in a recent issue of his publication Disc & DAT (Digital Audio Technology).

Yet another study that exonerates filesharing as the culprit in today’s music industry.

It’s a lack of innovation — not filesharing – that’s the conclusion.

I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but it may be to the record labels who are acting like it is 1999.

Professor Nico van Eijk of the University of Amsterdam conducted the latest study and his conclusion speaks volumes:

“The entertainment industry will have to work actively towards innovation on all fronts. New models worth developing, for example, are those that seek to achieve commercial diversification or that match supply and end-user needs more closely. In such a context, criminalizing large parts of the population makes no sense. Enforcement should focus on large scale and/or commercial upload activities. . . Introducing new protective measures does not seem the right way to go…”

In other words, filesharers are consuming all media especially concerts, films and games – not just copyrighted music.

I’ve linked to the 55-page report here.

Let me comment on a few of the findings my friend Steve Meyer highlighted:

“The study concludes (among other things) there “isn’t a clear relationship” between the decline in sales and file sharing, while also finding that fear of evolution prevented the recording industry from adequately adapting their business models to the broadband age. While the recording industry is having problems, argues van Eijk, it has less to do with file sharing, and more to do with the fact they’ve been “abstaining from innovation” — as the study phrases it”.

Think about it.

The labels could have bought Napster, not annihilated it, thus avoiding creation of the Napster vacuum that was promptly filled by bit torrent sites, etc.

The labels could have innovated along with Steve Jobs when the Apple CEO caught them off guard with his offer to help stop piracy. That offer was the iPod and iTunes store. He played to their fears. They allowed him to become the de facto Big Kahuna of the Record Industry.

They could have laid off streamers and come up with an easy to swallow royalty payment schedule that would have grown music consumption instead of dampened it.

Could have launched its own cloud.

Could have done Pandora itself as an industry consortium – that is, if they could have gotten along together for a minute. Bet Steve Jobs would have loved to own Pandora. Bet he still does.

More from the report:

“Turnover in the recorded music industry is in decline, but only part of this decline can be attributed to file sharing. Conversely, only a small fraction of the content exchanged through file sharing networks comes at the expense of industry turnover. This renders the overall welfare effects of file sharing robustly positive.”

Innovation scares the record industry.

God forbid, they had a new idea other than CDs.

If record labels had to run the space program, they would find themselves doing a soft landing in Camden, New Jersey instead of the moon because they cannot figure out which way is up.

Now, record labels really need to know which way is out.

Because Steve Jobs is running their show.

Setting the rates, making the new age “record players” if you will. For all practical purposes, he’s eliminated the album (although you wouldn’t know that by Lady Gaga).

Apple is about ready to launch cloud-based instant access to iPods, iPads and iPhones – while record labels can brag about instant access to – well, suing people. And, by the way, the labels are opposing Apple’s iTunes “cloud”, too as witnessed by this recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

So expect the RIAA to raise a commotion and argue the latest study that looks at filesharing as the lesser of evils.

The worst being – a lack of music industry innovation.

As Meyer pointed out in his piece, Steve Jobs says “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

That’s a great quote — not that Jobs ever admits a mistake (like in the current version of Apple TV).

Still wisdom of the quote is right on.

And Steve Meyer wrote this in 2003 when he launched his newsletter:

“Any software programmer will tell you the hard core (ugly) truth is this: anything that can be encoded digitally can be decoded and replicated with a little work. It’s time the labels recognize this fact, accept it, and now spend time brainstorming on how new revenue streams can be created within the framework of all the technology at hand.”

Okay, so don’t admit to past mistakes. We understand.

But, wake up and look around.

My USC students used to be split about whether filesharing was stealing. They had many excuses – some good (“I use it to preview what to buy”) and some bad (“the money never gets to the artists anyway”). I’ve often wondered about these rationalizations.

But there is no denying that one could also look at filesharing as today’s radio.

A source of music discovery.

And now we have yet another carefully considered report that explains the phenomenon if not the unfortunate response of the record industry.

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