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Jonathan Vankin

The Big Dirt Napster

Last July, a court ordered the wildly popular online file-sharing service Napster to remove from its server every single file that violated a copyright. Because almost all of those files were music tracks that users had ”ripped“ from CDs, there was no way to obey. Napster shut down. Almost immediately,......

The Neurotic Superhero

Stan Lee is the originator of the idea that possessing superpowers can really suck. The typical comic book of the 1950s was a brightly colored affair in which a cheerful hero, endowed with extramortal powers, merrily dueled an improbable ray-gun-wielding, saucer-flying foe from beyond the reaches of the galaxy. Said......
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You Say You Want a Revolution?

The courtroom where Judge Stephen Marcus presides is a small one at the end of the seemingly endless third-floor corridor in the downtown Criminal Courts building. It looks a lot like what you’d expect — brown paneling, church-pew seats — but on the afternoon that I visited, what I saw......

Online Music Distribution

In the early days of punk, about a quarter-century ago, bands realized that they didn’t need major record labels. Wanted them, maybe. Coveted their attention. But needed them? Not anymore. The self-pressed or small-label single — promoted with one-eighth-page ads in fanzines and semi-obscure magazines like New York Rocker, Trouser......
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Failed Promise

Illustration by John Ueland As airline accidents go, the dramatic July 25 flameout of an Air France Aerospatiale BAe Concorde 101 wasn’t all that bad. Really. The death tally of 114 (109 onboard, five on the ground) doesn’t even rank the crash among the Top 100 air disasters of all......
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The Pitcher’s Pitcher

In the early 1960s, legendary Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax was so much better than everyone else that other pitchers said he must have “come down from a higher league.” But Koufax’s supreme talent was matched only by his modesty. To this day, he politely declines interviews and shows no interest......
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Killer Clones and the MP3

Illustration by Melinda Beck Just over a year ago, this weird little thing called “MP3” appeared on the Internet to strike terror into the hearts of music-industry executives everywhere. For those of you still using IBM Selectrics, MP3 allows sound files to be scrunched to a size at which they......
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Vintage Computers

SCOTT DUNCAN IS EITHER WELL AHEAD OF HIS TIME, or well behind it. Or both. The 52-year-old Disney Imagineering engineer pulls his Saturn automobile up to a large public storage facility in suburban Valencia, rolls up the door to one of his three bins, and out pops a scene from......
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Invasion of Piracy

Art by Peter BennettGEORGE LUCAS, I AM YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE. I have seen Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on a laptop computer, which makes me the enemy of all things Lucas whether I want to be or not. Lucas' company, Lucasfilm, has threatened to sic the FBI on......
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Sonic Surfers

Due to a quirk of administrative shortsightedness, UCLA has never been a big player in the college radio scene. The marquee entry in the University of California system doesn’t have a radio station at all — at least not one that casts its signal through the ether. Because no one......