By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Nor is SDMI the lone effort under way to make the Internet safe for the multinational music corporations. On February 8, one behind-the-scenes endeavor came out of the closet — once again at a New York press conference that brought out high-level executives from the five big labels. The occasion: the unveiling of IBM’s long-rumored, formerly secret "Madison Project."
Madison is IBM and the Big Five’s proj ect to create a mechanism for secure downloading of whole CDs. The Madison Project also includes software that enables buyers to take their downloaded music away from their computers by recording or, in techie terms, "burning" it onto a blank CD.
The trial will run this spring in San Diego, using the local Time-Warner-owned cable-modem system. Needless to say, as with other attempts to impose security, the Madison Project has been met with derision by mp3 advocates. If you can play it, you can record it. And if you can record it, you can encode it as an mp3 file.
"[Security] really is impossible for a variety of reasons," says Steve Grady of GoodNoise. "Until you’re willing to remove CDs from store shelves or change the format that CDs are stored in, which basically means replacing all the hardware, then anybody can walk into a store and in 15 minutes have them up on their Web site in mp3."
Grady also notes that computers play sound through standardized sound cards — which cannot understand "secured" files. The file must be unsecured in order to play. The only way to deal with that sticky issue: Replace รข every sound card in every computer.
"And even if you were able to replace all this stuff with one agreed-upon standard," Grady notes, "the people who are motivated to get around it are still going to get around it."
Another "security" leak: the transfer of mp3 files onto portable mp3 players. Portable players promise to bring mp3 headlong into the mainstream by liberating music fans from their computers. Or as one RIAA lawyer rather indelicately put it in court, mp3 expands the market "from those of us who like to spend our lives in front of computers to people who actually have lives."
The lawsuit claims that the Rio promotes music piracy, in violation of the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act. It’s a tough charge to make stick, however, as the Rio does not record. Instead, users must move mp3 files from their computer hard drives into the Rio’s memory using a cable connected to the computer’s printer port.
The RIAA sought an injunction preventing Diamond from selling its product. A U.S. District Court granted the injunction, then reversed itself 10 days later. That decision remains on appeal.
Diamond countersued the RIAA, claiming that the RIAA was really aiming not to prevent piracy but to quell the nascent mp3 business.
In the meantime, since the injunction against Diamond was lifted on October 26, Diamond says that it has already shipped upward of 100,000 Rios.
Jim Griffin was once a leader in the industry effort to stamp out illegal mp3 sites. As an executive at Geffen Records, he sent what he calls "polite letters" to roughly 300 sites that were distributing music without permission. The sites all complied. But even as he was challenging the spread of new technology, Griffin was becoming enamored of its implications.
Last year, Griffin left Geffen and formed his own company to capitalize on his conversion. OneHouse is officed in an imposing building on Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea — an area and a structure that convey corporate gravitas. The company is young enough that you can walk through the door into a vast, empty space and be greeted by the CEO himself. And his cat. It’s a setting that bespeaks nothing so much as potential.
Before launching into his prophecies about the music industry, Griffin offers a demonstration. A couple of clicks on his lightning-fast computer, and mp3-quality tunes come pulsing out of the machine — with no download at all. He seems to have overcome the final obstacle to total convenience in online music delivery. Even mp3s are supposed to take some time to download, aren’t they?
Not when they stream.
"Streaming" is Net terminology for playing audio and video while it is still downloading, rather than having to wait minutes or hours for the whole file to settle onto your hard drive. Streaming is the Net equivalent of a radio broadcast. According to Griffin, at some point not long from now, we won’t worry about CDs or even about storing mp3 files on our computer hard drives. All music will arrive in streams.
In Griffin’s post-download future, music buyers will pay a subscription fee, or put up with advertising, for the right to play songs or whole albums on their computers, on their stereos, in their cars or at the beach — or anywhere — whenever they want. Itradio, but with your personal playlist.