Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Just theatre for the media"

As the defendants in The Pirate Bay case are handed a guilty verdict, the underlying issues of online file distribution remain unresolved

For the last few months, The Pirate Bay (TPB) trial had been generating a lot of interest from the online community. The Swedish website which claims to be "the world's largest BitTorrent tracker" had been accused of being a facilitator of illegal downloading, and the four men behind the website - Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm, and Carl Lundström, dubbed the Pirate Bay Four - were being charged with "promoting other people's infringements of copyright laws". The lawsuit was seen as an effort by the music, film, and TV industries, led by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), to curb the illegal sharing of copyrighted material over the Internet.

The Pirate Bay was launched in 2003 and has an estimated 22 million unique users. The website, which is primarily funded through advertisements, allows users to search for and download data files including songs, movies, and TV shows from other users, without actually hosting any copyrighted content on its own web servers. Throughout the trial, the defense had attempted to show that TPB was a tool with plenty of legal uses, and was, in effect, nothing more than just a search engine, while the prosecution portrayed the website as a profitable business thriving off helping others violate copyright law.

The trial had often been referred to as 'Spectrial' (a combination of 'spectacle' and 'trial') by the defendants, and its verdict made its way to the public in a fittingly ironic fashion: a few hours before it was officially announced, the verdict was reportedly leaked. "According to leaked information from the court, we lost (got the news last night)," co-defendant Peter Sunde wrote on Twitter. "Really, it's a bit LOL," he continued. "It used to be only movies, now even verdicts are out before the official release."

The defendants were indeed convicted by Stockholm district court and sentenced to one year in jail each and a total of 30 million SEK (3.6 million USD) in fines and damages, and intend to appeal the case. Protestors demonstrated in Sweden on Saturday (April 18) against the court's conviction, with rallies organized by Sweden's The Pirate Party, a political party which supports free file sharing for noncommercial use and strives to reform copyright and patent laws.

Meanwhile, the entertainment industry has applauded the verdict, calling it a landmark decision, and has hailed the ruling as a victory, despite the fact that previous cases - like Napster and Grokster - have shown that lawsuits have not been very successful in curbing downloads; for every site or service that is closed down, many others come up to take its place. File sharing, the industry claims, results in losses of several billion dollars each year.

But the tech gurus believe that the industry is missing the point, and that in winning the battle, they're actually losing the war. They say the entertainment industry is clinging to a rusty business model that is no longer viable, and is looking at technology as a threat instead of an opportunity. File sharing plays a vital role in increasing the fan base for both musicians and actors, which then results in greater revenues through tickets sales, merchandize sales, commission work, and even artist access. So evolve, they urge. Innovate.

Luckily, some musicians are catching on. The most cited example: Trent Reznor. The Nine Inch Nails frontman realizes the importance of evolving with technology and embracing unorthodox distribution methods, and has been releasing the bands latest albums online under the Creative Commons licenses (while also selling limited edition physical versions). "I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't think music should be free," he told "But the climate is such that it's impossible for me to change that, because the record labels have established a sense of mistrust. So everything we've tried to do has been from the point of view of, 'What would I want if I were a fan? How would I want to be treated?' Now let's work back from that. Let's find a way for that to make sense and monetize it." And Reznor is not alone. Artists around the world - old and new, established and un-established, touring and non-touring - are now realizing the importance of developing alternatives that work for them. Musicians like Ellis Paul, Jill Sobule, and Kristin Hersh have even managed to get their fans to pre-finance their albums through different tiers of sponsorship, proving that fans will willingly support musicians, as long as the quality of the output (and the associates perks) actually merit support.

Some of our own musicians agree that file sharing can actually be a helpful tool: "File sharing is good," says Abbas Ali Khan. "It takes your songs places. Everyone wants music for free, so why not give it to them. We don't get our royalties anyways." And the source of revenue? "Shows, corporate deals, commercials."

Call vocalist Junaid concurs: "Being in Pakistan, we don't work on royalty; we sell our product to record labels, so sharing is actually good for us because our songs are reaching spots where the record label might not be able to distribute. Even in Pakistan, stocks might not be available in certain locations, but the Internet makes our product accessible to more people making the Internet a good source of distribution for us. However, there is an eventual loss for the record label."

There are others, however, who think file sharing is not helping musicians: "It's about general ethics to support artists," says Jal guitarist Goher Mumtaz, "especially the newer ones. The ones who are established can make money through concerts and endorsements, but [the success of] the ones that are new can be appreciated through royalties [that will show] how many people have purchased their songs." He points out that "artists spend a huge amount of money on producing and making an album" and that there should be rules against websites that are "surviving on songs that they get for free". Goher also thinks that music videos are a better promotional tool than free file distribution online. "Videos have a larger impact," he says. "(After watching the videos, viewers) try to buy or download the same songs from the Internet."

Singer Atif Aslam opines, "Anything can be shared as long as it is being done within the copyright criteria. File sharing mostly hurts bands," he says, "as there is no copyright act being properly enforced in our region which ultimately affects sales."

But the fact remains that the file sharing battle is far from over, and the underlying issue behind the case still remains unresolved. As for the Pirate Bay Four, they say their case is "just theatre for the media" and plan to continue fighting. "We can't pay and we wouldn't pay," says Sunde. "Even if I had the money I would rather burn everything I owned, and I wouldn't even give them the ashes."

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 22nd April, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another one bites the dust

cover story

As the 2008-09 television season wraps up, many series are falling victim to the cancellation hatchet. While some of these series have had the chance to play out their storylines, others have not been so lucky and are disappearing in a fray of unanswered questions as a result of their early demise. Here are some of the latest casualties that will not be returning for another season:

According To Jim
With the very unlikely pairing of Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith, According to Jim was either very annoying or somewhat amusing, with the response largely depending on whether or not you want to hurl your remote control at the TV every time Jim Belushi appears on the screen. Revolving around a ‘Jim messes up, Jim fixes it’ premise, the sitcom surprisingly lasted for 8 seasons and a total of 182 episodes, and (if we’re really unlucky) could remain in syndication for many years to come.
Deserved cancelled? According to me, hell yes!
Original run: October 3, 2001 – May 19, 2009

Boston Legal
The very awesome spin-off of The Practice, this quirky legal drama was one of the very few shows on tele that were actually worth watching. Centred around the attorneys at Crane, Poole and Schmidt, the very awesome dramedy featured the acting talents of the very awesome James Spader and William Shatner. Boston Legal was cancelled after 5 very awesome seasons, probably because people didn’t recognize how very awesome the series was, and a 100 episodes after it started, the show ended with a very interesting two-hour finale at the end of last year.
Objections to the cancellation? As we have already established, the series was very awesome. Therefore it should not have been cancelled. I rest my case.
Original run: October 3, 2004 – December 8, 2008

Eli Stone
Another legal dramedy, Eli Stone was the story of a thirty-something attorney who suffers from an inoperable brain aneurysm that causes him to hallucinate. With Jonny Lee Miller (yes, that would be Ms. Jolie’s first husband) playing the protagonist, supported by a cast that included Natasha Henstridge and Victor Garber and a host of cameo appearances by George Michael, the series was an amusing mix of comedy, drama, music and fantasy, but sadly couldn’t make it past season 2.
Will it be missed? By some if not all. Eli Stone might not have been the best series ever, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. Shows of the more boring variety (I’m looking at you Ghost Whisperer) continue to trouble our TV sets.
Original run: January 31, 2008 – December 30, 2008; the remaining four unaired episodes are now surfacing (in March and April) as the series is aired in various countries.

The long-running medical drama set in the emergency room of the County General Hospital that at one time featured (the amazing) George Clooney and (the lovely) Noah Wyle had been on the air since 1994. But by the end of the 11th season, all the original cast had been replaced by newer characters, and the viewership had gradually declined. At season 15, NBC finally decided to pull the plug on the series.
Let it go? The original cast members moved on a long time ago. Maybe it’s time the viewers did the same.
Original run: September 19, 1994 – April 2, 2009

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Late Night With Conan O’ Brian
Not so much a cancellation as a shuffle, talk show host Jay Leno will be moving to his own primetime series (tentatively titled The Jay Leno Show) which is expected to start in September, while Conan O’Brian will take over The Tonight Show starting June 1st. O’Brian has been succeeded by fellow SNL alumnus Jimmy Fallon who started hosting Late Night on the 2nd of March this year.
Original run: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno started on May 25, 1992 and will end on May 29, 2009; Late Night with Conan O’Brian aired from September 13, 1993 to February 20, 2009.

Kyle XY
Kyle XY has often been described as John Doe Jr; the two series began with a very similar premise – the title character waking up without any recollection of who he is or how he got there despite his super-human capabilities. But while the series diverged in execution – John Doe was driven by action and mystery while Kyle XY decided to turn into an overindulgent teen drama – both ultimately shared the same fate: neither got the chance to wrap things up. At the end of season 3, Kyle XY wasn’t renewed for another season, and viewers were left hanging as the series ended on cliffhangers, never getting a chance to come up with a proper finale.
Axed why? The show might’ve been high on conspiracy, low on making sense, and a little too desperate to appeal to the younger audience, but the series did have a loyal fan base who did not deserves to be left with unanswered questions and unresolved storylines.
Original run: June 26, 2006 – March 16, 2009

This delightful dramedy starring Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective has been on the air since 2002 and follows Monk as he investigations cases while his OCD and various phobias both impede and aid him in the process. The show has even inspired a series of novels, and although it has been cancelled, the show will return for a final season.
Time to end? Well, we’ll make our peace with it but only if Mr. Monk ends up solving the mystery of his beloved Trudy’s death.
Original run: July 12, 2002 – present; will return for what is believed to be its final season in mid-2009.

October Road
From the very first episode of October Road, it was fairly obvious the series wouldn’t last. The drama, which revolves around a writers-block struck author who returns to his hometown after ten years, is apparently on a mission to bore to sleep anyone who would make the mistake of watching this show. And while October Road made a few unconvincing attempts at seeming sincere, it was just taking itself too seriously and ultimately failed to connect with viewers. With ratings falling by the episode, it all went downhill until someone mercifully pulled the plug at episode 19.
Short road to ruin? In the series’ Star World promo, Laura Prepon says that there’s nothing like this series on TV. Yes Laura, nothing is nearly as boring.
Original run: March 15, 2007 – March 10, 2008; the 15-minute series finale will be released as part of the second season DVD on May 5th this year.

Prison Break
When it started, Prison Break was one of the most interesting and (ignoring the plagiarism allegations) original shows on TV. It’s premise – a man deliberately getting himself sent to prison to help his brother escape – was touching, its moral ambiguity refreshing. Yes, Prison Break was awesome…and then it was renewed for a third season. Shark-jumping antics pursued. And if season 3 was a stretch, season 4 was downright ridiculous. Viewer-ship consequently fell, and cancellation followed soon after. Its first season will remain one of the best debuts of recent time. If only it hadn’t wandered off into the realms of ridiculousness thereafter.
Bring it back? Not unless you want to see how far fetched a series can get. Maybe the show will redeem itself by the finale?
Original run: The series started on August 29, 2005, and will return for its final episode(s) on April 17, 2009.

The Emperor’s New School
Based on the characters of The Emperor's New Groove, the animated series chronicled Kuzco’s attempts at passing all his classes so that he can become emperor, and was possibly one of the more delightful things Disney channel has done in years, something they probably would’ve noticed had they not been so busy mass-marketing teen-pop clones like Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez.
No more doodles? Looks like it. To the person who killed this show: may a llama eat your paycheque.
Original run: January 27, 2006 – November 20, 2008

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 17th April, 2009