Friday, January 9, 2015

Universal Music Files Copyright Lawsuit Over Mixtapes Sent to Prisoners

A care package featuring Eminem songs is "contraband personified," says the music giant

In the past year, record companies have been in court claiming copyright infringement onplanes in the sky and in automobiles on the road. Not every target has to be moving. Some are in prisons.
Among the items being sent to prisoners, according to a complaint filed in California federal court, are mixtapes featuring performances by artists like James Brown, Eminem, Marvin Gaye and Stevie WonderOn Tuesday, Universal Music filed a lawsuit against a group of companies including the Centric Group and Keefe Group alleged to be selling "care packages" that family members and friends can send to inmates who are incarcerated in correctional facilities.
"Defendants boast on their website that their business 'was developed to eliminate contraband,' yet the infringing copies of Plaintiffs’ sound recordings and musical compositions, in which Defendants unlawfully transact and from which they unjustly profit, are contraband personified," states the lawsuit.
A few months ago, Universal put DJ music up for legal examination, and now the company is doing the same for mixtapes.
As the complaint explains, "Mixtapes are a form of recorded music in which DJs combine (or 'mix') tracks, often recorded by different artists, onto a single CD, sometimes creating overlaps and fades between songs, and/or reflecting a common theme or mood. Such so-called 'mixtapes,' unless authorized by the copyright owner or owner of corresponding state law rights, are nothing more than collections of infringing, piratical compilations of copyrighted or otherwise legally protected sound recordings and copyrighted musical composition."
Universal says the "mixtape" is "frequently a cover for piracy," but acknowledges there are authorized distributors out there.
The defendants are alleged not to be in that authorized category, that they are infringing the copyrights of Universal's records and publishing divisions as a "door opener to solicit customers." Indeed, Universal says that the defendants sometimes sell the music at a financial loss, using items like a hip-hop mixtape as a "loss leader to boost sales of their other goods and services." Presumably, Universal doesn't believe the mixtapes fall as a fair use.
For allegedly reproducing, distributing and preparing derivative works based on their compositions, Universal is demanding maximum statutory damages in the amount of $150,000 to each copyrighted work infringed. The plaintiff also is asserting state unfair competition claims and seeking the imposition of a constructive trust, restitution of unlawful proceeds, punitive damages and more. The lawsuit is being handled by Jeffrey Goldman at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell.
Representatives for the defendants haven't yet responded to our request for comment.

Inside Story of How Madonna Turned Her 'Rebel Heart' Leak Into a Global Hit

The Inside Story of How Madonna Turned Her 'Rebel Heart' Leak Into a Global HitOn Dec. 16, Madonna was in her New York apartment when she received word that more than a dozen unfinished demos for her forthcoming album had leaked. Her manager, Guy Oseary, was just returning to his Beverly Hills estate when he got the news. The album, Rebel Heart, was set for a late-April release, and thanks to a meticulous marketing plan and an inspired group of collaborators (including DiploKanye West and Avicii), buzz was strong on the singer's 13th studio full-length.
But now, all bets were off. Madonna shot off a fiery post on her Instagram account lambasting the leak as "artistic rape," Oseary got on the phone, and both sprung into action. "I don't recall that phone coming off my ear from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m.," he says. High-profile leaks and other security breaches have been a scourge of the entertainment industry for the past 15 years: from Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001 and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III in 2007 to Madonna's own "Give Me All Your Luvin'" in 2011 -- which resulted in an unidentified fan's arrest in Spain, although he was later released -- not to mention the hacker group Anonymous' threats to rapper Iggy Azalea in 2014's final weeks. But this Madonna leak was unusually severe, including images and videos as well as music. However, the singer and her team's quick response may have set a new precedent for how the industry can mobilize in an effort to combat them.

On the morning of Dec. 17, Steve Berman, vice chairman of Madonna's label distributor Interscope, was on the phone with her and Oseary. "She was in a very angry, upset, emotional place," Berman recalls. He had visited her in New York the week prior to hear some of the album's first finished songs with label president/CEO John Janick. "She told me, 'Steve, I care about my music. I can't have the songs being heard the wrong way.'

Andrae Crouch Dead at 72

"Berman was confident that Apple's iTunes could be engaged to turn around an official release of finished Rebel Heart tracks on a dime, even though the digital retailer's servers would effectively shut down for the year on Dec. 19, just two days later. But he faced two major hurdles: pushback from the upper rafters at Universal Music Group ("Should we just wait and do it all at the top of the year?" was the response from one executive) and the availability of iTunes vp contentRobert Kondrk, who was already on vacation with his family in Mexico.

During the next 48 hours, Kondrk was able to help Apple greenlight a Rebel Heart preorder that would include six instant-gratification songs for download by midnight ET on Dec. 20 -- including "Living for Love," the set's first single, which was initially intended for a Valentine's Day release (and will now be promoted to radio on Feb. 10). However, Madonna had to make sure the six songs were in finished form, so she holed up in her New York studio working on the final mixes into the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 18. "There was no time to call any of the producers -- nothing," says Oseary. "Just her final mastering sessions."

The result of Rebel Heart's 48-hour turnaround? The album preorder topped the iTunes charts in more than 40 countries -- including the United States, where three of the six released tracks entered Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songschart dated Jan. 3, despite just two days of eligibility. To date, the six tracks have sold a combined 131,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music, with preorders for Rebel Heart at a robust (considering the situation) 50,000 to 60,000, according to industry estimates. "We know that in today's world, having a top 10 album with no promotion is really hard," Oseary says. "It's pretty... exciting isn't the right word, but it's rewarding to see it so well-received."

Still, Madonna's work is far from over. There's still at least one more preview track from Rebel Heart on its way before the album's March 10 release (likely due Feb. 8, the night of the Grammy Awards, Oseary says), and an official video for "Living for Love," to be filmed in late January. Plus, there's an ongoing investigation into the source of the leaks (another 14 tracks hit the Internet on Dec. 24), which, given their volume, seem too far-reaching to emanate from a usual suspect like a studio staffer or a backing musician. Neither Oseary nor a UMG representative would confirm that the investigation has resulted in a police report. Oseary's only comment on the matter was, "We are working really hard to solve this crime."
This article first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of Billboard.

Andraé Crouch, Gospel Great, Dead at 72

Acclaimed gospel artist Andraé Crouch has died. He was 72. 

Andrae CrouchThe seven-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, arranger, producer and pastor was taken to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles this past Saturday after suffering a heart attack, according to USA Today

Along with writing and singing such popular gospel songs as "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power," "My Tribute (To God Be the Glory)" and "Soon and Very Soon," Crouch also directed the choirs that sang on Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer." He was often praised for bridging the gap between popular music and gospel, bringing a contemporary pop and R&B sensibility to his music.

Inside Story of how Madonna...

He also served as a pastor alongside his sister at the New Christ Memorial Church in San Fernando, Calif.
"On Saturday, January 3rd, my brother, Andraé Crouch, was taken to the hospital so that medical staff could more directly address some serious health complications that had arisen," his sister Sandra Crouch said in a statement Monday morning. "At this time, Andraé is being attended to by a medical team, and we are so grateful for their wonderful care. We are also so grateful for the many thousands of people around the world who are praying for Andraé right now. We ask for your continued prayer -- that Andraé will respond positively to the medical attention being given to him at this time, and that he will fully recover from this current health complication."

Crouch had been hospitalized in December with pneumonia and congestive heart failure, forcing him to postpone his Let the Church Say Amen Celebration Tour that had been scheduled to start Dec. 6 in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

'High-Definition' Music Explained: Can You Really Tell the Difference?

Cell phone and headphones, 2014.
In the past 48 hours, a story has trickled out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that has many internet pundits asking: "what is Sony thinking?"

Fortunately for the Japanese giant, this has absolutely nothing to do with shadowy cadres of malicious hackers, vainglorious dictators, the Obama administration or embarrassing leaked emails and trade secrets -- things the company would love to leave behind (SO 2014!).

No, the news out of CES concerns Sony's NW-ZX2 Walkman, a high resolution audio player with a sticker price that has people gasping: the new device will retail for nearly $1,200.
High resolution audio has become something of a movement lately. During a panel discussion at the SF MusicTech Summit in November, audio engineerDennis "Wiz" Leonard summed up the goal of the Musicians for Audio Quality Initiative, a group of which he is a member:"In the time between 1980 and now we have made all these advances in technology but we are in fact listening to lower resolution than the CD standard. And what is at stake here is our sanity, seriously," Leonard said.

He and co-panelist Bob Weir, founding member of the Grateful Dead and another leader of the initiative, detailed the subliminal affects of listening to the sort of low-resolution music that we get from our smartphones, claiming there was scientific evidence demonstrating that such music causes stress. The holy grail, Leonard said, is high resolution audio that is streamable, downloadable and shareable.

The new NW-ZX2 Walkman features a 4-inch touchscreen, a new built-in amplifier, and enhanced-quality Bluetooth streaming. It supports a wide variety of high resolution audio formats, both through its headphone jack and wirelessly. Sony claims its DSEE HX technology can restore lost detail to MP3's and other compressed files. The device also has 128 GB of storage and a battery that can support 33 hours of continuous "hi res" playback.Last fall, both Deezer and Rdio waded into offering higher resolution streaming. Last spring, Neil Young's Pono Player became the third highest-funded Kickstarter campaign of all time, raising over $6 million on the site. That device is significantly heftier than this newest Sony release -- it has a triangular Toblerone shape -- and is set to retail at about $400, putting it roughly in the same price range as the NWZ-A17 "hi res" Walkman that Sony released in September.

So far, a lot of the hubbub regarding the ZX2 has focused on the fact that it runs on an old version of Android -- 4.2, which was released in 2012 -- and the shock of its exorbitant price tag.

The Android concern is probably irrelevant, as the device is not intended to replace a user's smartphone, even though it can access the Google Play store and supports apps and games. The user interface may look outdated to some, but that won't likely matter much to its target audience, for whom the enhanced music quality conquers all other considerations.

And who is that target audience? While the price tag may be shocking to some, it looks like a steal once one begins browsing the audiophile hardware universe -- $15,000 speaker cables, anyone? It also has price point parity with other "hi res" pocket devices, such as the Astell & Kern AK120. Like other such devices, this latest Sony offering pairs with headphones, headphone amplifiers and other high end accessories, many of which Sony produces.

The ZX2 is almost at the threshold of a mainstream product, and is certainly competitively priced within the niche, hardcore audiophile market.

A more troubling problem is inherent throughout the high resolution audio movement: while new technology can deliver audio with remarkably high sample rates and bit depth to our ears, can listeners reliably tell the difference? This is a question that has consistently stirred up flame-wars in online audio forums over the years.
Ethan Winer, an audio engineer and frequent contributor to these sound-nerd throwdowns, has aroused a lot of anger with his insistence on empirical testing and his conviction that CD-quality sound is absolutely adequate.
I spoke with Ethan by phone this afternoon. He said that any claims to restore lost frequencies to MP3s are scientifically bunk, and strongly suggested that the ZX2 is a reboot not of the Walkman franchise but of the much older tradition of snake oil salesmanship.

"The hi-res movement is based on delusion," said Winer. "It has been proven time and again with proper blind tests. The problem is that most people don't do proper tests or understand how digital audio works and rely on theoretical arguments instead."

There have been a number of high profile tests over the years to uphold Winer's position. Here are just a few for your wonky reading pleasure. Suffice it to say there is not a strong scientific consensus that even the most perceptive human ears and minds can appreciate the enhanced quality of sound at ever-higher resolution. It should be noted, however, that traditional MP3s and streaming do fall short of the circa-1980 industry standard for "CD-quality sound," so there is room for improvement there.

So is the ZX2 Walkman just the latest foray in an industry attempt to resell its back-catalogues yet again, the way it did with introduction of the CD or the Blu Ray DVD? Or is there a genuine demand for higher quality audio that is finally being met by unprecedented proprietary technology? The answer, as always, is in the ear of the behearer. 

Either way it's clear that many of the biggest players in the music industry are elbowing for position to be the go-to source of that "hi-res" sound.


The date is drawing near and while we anxiously await  the Angela Bassett-directed Lifetime premiere of Whitney, a few lucky folks received first dibs of the project, Tuesday.

Premiere Of Lifetime's "Whitney" - Red Carpet
Bassett was joined by stars Yaya DaCosta, Arlen Escarpeta (Bobby Brown) and a long-list of A-listers as they gathered for the screening of Whitney at the Paley Center for Media, in California.

While everyone wore smiles, it didn’t go without notice that Whitney Houston’s family were no-shows at the premiere.
Quite interesting, being that it has been stated before that Bassett received the family’s blessing and that they trusted her vision for the film.

Is static brewing again?

If you recall, early on, Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina slammed Bassett in an one-sided twitter feud for not considering her to play the role of her mother.

Bassett eloquently responded as to why Bobbi Kristina was not considered for the role and assured that the family was extended an invitation to be a part of the project from the beginning but declined.

Maybe there is no drama. It could very well be that the biopic premiere was held in close vicinity to the Beverly Hilton hotel, where Whitney drowned in 2012.  That could certainly still be traumatic to the family.

Who knows?  But our question is: will you be watching?

“Whitney” premieres on Lifetime, January 17 at 8p.m. ET and marks the Oscar-nominated actress’ directorial debut.

Phylicia Rashad Defends Bill Cosby: It's "Declaration in the Media of Guilt Without Proof"

Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad appeared Wednesday on ABC's World News Tonight to clarify her recent comments in defense of longtime co-star and friend Bill Cosby

Rashad, who shared the screen with Cosby on NBC's The Cosby Show and CBS' Cosby, told ABC's Linsey Davis that the women who have accused the actor of sexual abuse do not appear to have sufficient evidence to back up their claims.
"What has happened is declaration in the media of guilt without proof," the 66-year-old Tony-winning actress said. 
She said she never heard anything about abuse claims while she was working with Cosby. "I can't even speak to those things and don't want to," she said of the allegations, pointing out that she has always known Cosby to be a kind man.
Rashad was quoted Tuesday by Showbiz 411 as saying about the accusers, "Forget these women." But she told Davis that this was a misquote. 
"What I said is, 'This is not about the women.' ... This is about the obliteration of legacy," Rashad said. She added about the reported quote: "I am a woman — I would never say such a thing." 
Rashad told Showbiz 411 that the "destruction of [Cosby's] legacy" is being "orchestrated" by someone other than the accusers. When Davis asked Rashad who might want to ruin Cosby's career, the actress replied: "That's my question, too."
In a Wednesday press conference, attorney Gloria Allred introduced three new Cosby accusers and called out Rashad for her Tuesday remarks. "Phylicia, you should be supporting these women rather than joining Cosby's paid 'attack dogs' who are trying to undermine them in any way they can," Allred told the media. 
Cosby has largely remained silent about the numerous decades-old allegations that have resurfaced in recent months. His legal team has denied the claims and questioned the accusers' credibility.

Fox's 'Empire' Sets 'Dynasty'-Style Soap Opera To A Hip-Hop Beat

At times, Fox's new hip-hop centered family drama Empirefeels like Dynasty by way of Jay-Z and Beyonce — or Glee with a beat.

Especially during scenes like the moment that pops up early in Wednesday night's debut episode, when two brothers improvise a song together during a house party that winds up sounding like it was pieced together over weeks in a Los Angeles recording studio.
The stars of Fox's new drama Empire (clockwise from left): Bryshere Gray, Trai Byers, Jussie Smollett, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.Credit musical director and hit hip-hop producer Timbaland for spicing up Empire with head-turning tracks that actually sound like they could be big radio hits.

Unfortunately, the show's plot is a little less original: Terrence Howard plays Lucious Lyon, a rapper-turned-music mogul with three sons; secretly stricken with a serious disease, he wants to groom an heir as their company goes public.

"It can only be one of you," Lucious tells his boys during a family meeting.
"What is this?" says one of them. "We King Lear now?"

Lucious responds with anger: "Call it what you want, smartass. ... In order for it to survive, I need one of you Negroes to man up and lead it!"

Less King Lear than The Godfather, this succession fight features three sons who seem little more than stereotypes: the clean-cut son with a white girlfriend, trying to prove he's really black; the gay son whose dad won't accept his sexual orientation; and the volatile hip-hop star with more style than good sense.

Fortunately, this show has an ace in the hole.

Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson eats up the scenery on this show as Lucious' ex-wife Cookie. She's steely, streetwise and savvy about the music industry. But she took a fall for Lucious, going to jail for 17 years so he could use $400,000 in drug money to start their company.

As the show begins, she's fresh out of the slammer and threatening to derail everything if she can't manage her son's career.

"I've been living like a dog for 17 years, and now ... I want what's mine," she tells Lucious while plunking on a piano in his office. "I want Jamal."

This sets up one of many conflicts on the show, as Cookie takes over managing their gay son, Jamal, and Lucious backs in-your-face rapper son Hakeem. Clean-cut son Andre has subtly encouraged this — egged on by his white girlfriend — in hopes that his two other brothers will destroy each other.

Just like the films Daniels has directed, "The Butler" and "Precious," "Empire" soars highest when probing the conflicts and contradictions of the black family.

It's safe to say network TV has never built a show around a black family quite like this. And that challenge inspired co-creator Lee Daniels.

"There just hadn't been any African-American television that I respected ... or hadn't been for a long time," he said in a behind-the-scenes program about the series. "And I thought, what a way to come and give you a provocative sort of look at a family in the hip-hop world."

Some things don't work here. There are so many storylines, the pilot seems overfilled with high drama. And positioning the white girlfriend as a Machiavellian schemer with the duplicitous Andre seems a troubling and too-obvious knock at black men who dare to date Caucasian women.

But Empire really clicks when showcasing this wealthy black family that started out poor.

Image result for empire series foxLucious rides his sons hard. He tells one to "take the bass out yo' voice when you talk to me," in an old-school rebuke to kids who dare to talk back.

And in a flashback scene to when Jamal was a young child, we see Lucious spot him wearing women's shoes and attack him, trying to dump him in a trash can.

But Cookie stops her husband, comforting Jamal. The incident resembles a story Daniels told about his own childhood duringan interview with Out magazine a few years ago, hinting at how personal some of these plotlines are.

Just like the films Daniels has directed, The Butler andPrecious, Empire soars highest when probing the conflicts and contradictions of the black family, making high drama out of the dysfunction lying just beneath the surface.

Empire debuts at 9 p.m. EST Jan. 7 on Fox