Tech News May 2012

With the accelerating pace of technological change, the League will post a monthly summary of relevant news and information regarding changes, trends and developments that may affect the electronic media activities that orchestras use to achieve their institutional missions. 

If you have questions about this material or any other electronic media topic, please contact Michael Bronson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Joe Kluger at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

1.  Music Film Is Delayed by Fees for Songs

As the recording industry has seen its sales tumble by more than half since 2000, labels are intent on squeezing every bit of profit out of songs in their catalogs. Licensing that music to films — whether big Hollywood productions or modestly budgeted documentaries — is an attractive source of revenue.  This dramatically increases the difficulties that the makers of music documentaries face.  (Source: New York Times)

2.  Art Is Long; Copyrights Can Even Be Longer

Artists’ copyright is frequently misunderstood. Even if a painting (or drawing or photograph) has been sold to a collector or a museum, in general, the artist or his heirs retain control of the original image for 70 years after the artist’s death.  Think of a novel. You may own a book, but you don’t own the writer’s words; they remain the intellectual property of the author for a time.  So while MoMA owns the actual canvas of “Les Demoiselles,” the family of Picasso, who died in 1973, still owns the image. And under existing law, the estate will continue to own the copyright until 2043.  If someone wants to reproduce the painting — on a Web site, a calendar, a T-shirt, or in a film — it is the estate that must give its permission, not the museum.  That is why, Google Art Project, which just expanded its online collection of images to more than 30,000 works from 151 museums, agreed, because of copyright challenges, to remove 21 images it had posted and why, despite the expansion, Google Art Project still does not contain a single Picasso.   (Source: New York Times)

3.  More Than 100 Million Americans Now Listen to Online Radio

According to just-released survey data from Edison Research and Arbitron, 103 million Americans are now accessing online radio in some form, in any month.  That's nearly 40 percent of the US population 12 or over, and a massive chunk of breathing Americans. Which all sounds high-growth and rah-rah, but can the online radio sector afford its own growth? Pandora is struggling to reach profitability, and serious questions now surround its financial model. After all, the more listeners Pandora and the broader space attracts, the more money in licensing it has to pay - and so far, streams aren't covering costs.

And they aren't necessarily replacing traditional radio: 9 out of 10 Americans who listen to online radio still dial into a traditional, over-the-air AM or FM station. In fact, on any given week, 87 percent of Americans who access platforms like Pandora have also listened to some form of 'traditional,' 'terrestrial,' or 'from a tower' radio station.  (Source: Digital Music News)

4.  Federal Arts Endowment Sharply Cuts PBS Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts made sweeping cuts in its support of established PBS shows on Wednesday, and for the first time awarded significant grants to an array of gaming, mobile and Web-based projects. Among the PBS programs receiving significantly less financing under the 2012 Arts in Media grants were “Live From Lincoln Center,” which was awarded $100,000 last year and nothing this year.

The Metropolitan Opera received $50,000 for its national “Great Performances at the Met” telecasts, $100,000 less than in 2011. WNET in New York received $50,000 to support other “Great Performances” productions and the same amount for “American Masters,” compared to $400,000 for each last year.   (Source: New York Times)

5.  iTunes and Spotify boost UK songwriters' income

British tunesmiths cashed in on a surge in the use of digital services such as iTunes and Spotify in 2011, as royalty payments to songwriters grew 3.2%.  PRS for Music, the organization that represents 75,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers in the UK, said that a surge in growth in revenue from digital services and international markets helped more than offset a double-digit fall in royalties collected from the sale of CDs.  (Source: The Guardian)

6.  Music Industry Groups, Digital and Cellular Interests Reach Royalty Deal

Groups representing the labels, publishers, artists and songwriters have agreed to what they call an "historic" royalty deal with digital music services and cellular phone companies. The agreement fully resolves the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) Rate Proceeding under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. The new pact keeps the current song rate of 9.1 cents for downloads, CDs and other physical formats, 24 cents for ringtones, and the same formulas, with limited changes, used to determine the mechanical rate for different kinds of subscription and free interactive-streaming services.

What's more, new rate formulas for five new digital business models have been established:

  • For paid locker services such as iTUNES, music publishers will get a mechanical rate of 12% of revenue or 20.65% of total content cost or 17 cents per subscriber, whichever is greater.
  • For digital lockers that provide free cloud storage with a download purchase, music publishers will get 12% of revenue or 22% of the total cost of content, whichever is greater.* For mixed bundles that incorporates a music service into a cell phone services subscription rate, music publishers get 11.35% of revenue or 21% of total content cost, whichever is greater.
  • For a limited interactive service that offers limited amounts of music to certain genres or playlists that can be accessed at a lower price, music publishers will get 10.5% of revenue or 21% of total cost or 18 cents per subscriber, whichever is greater.
  • For music bundles that offers a download with the sale of a CD album, music publishers will get 11.35% of revenue or 21% of total content cost.

Source: All Access Music Group

7.  Streaming ahead

Although sound and video recordings of opera performances are nothing new, it is only in the past few years that technology has brought us something close to a true reproduction: high quality sound and visuals and, crucially, the potential for live relay.  

The Metropolitan Opera was the first to forge the way when, in 2006, the company began to broadcast live screenings of New York matinee performances and it has proved lucrative.  The Berlin Philharmonic orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall is screening 30 live performances this year and Royal Opera House’s 2011-2012 season includes five live cinema relays. Meanwhile, Glyndebourne has entered into a partnership with Picturehouse Entertainment, which will screen performances in more than 50 cinemas across the UK, and renewed its partnership with the Guardian newspaper to live-stream opera on its website.

"I think the driving forces have changed," says David Pickard, Glyndebourne’s general director. “Ten years ago it was very much the intention that we would film as much as we could, on the basis that if we had the rights to that material, there would at some point in the future be a secondary stream of income – and indeed that’s still the case,” he explains. “But the technological world is so different and now, equally important, there is this fantastic way of simply getting our work out to a broad audience.”  (Source: Financial Times)

8.  Supreme Court to Revisit ‘First-Sale’ Copyright Doctrine

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide the global reach of U.S. copyright law, in a case testing whether an overseas purchaser of a copyrighted work may resell it in the United States without the copyright holder’s permission.  The justices will hear the case, which considers the “first-sale” doctrine, in its next term and is expected to set a nationwide standard. Federal circuit courts of appeal are split on the issue.  The first-sale doctrine generally allows the purchaser of any copyrighted work to re-sell or use the work in many ways without the copyright holder’s permission. That’s why used bookstores, libraries, GameStop, video rental stores and even eBay are all legal. But how the doctrine applies to foreign-purchased works — the so-called grey market — has been a matter of considerable debate.  In many ways, this is a battle for non-digital goods. Most digital goods, like software, e-books and MP3s — because of licensing or sandboxing — cannot be resold. However, a U.S. startup, ReDigi, is testing that theory when it comes to online music.   (Source: Wired)

9.  Met 'Live in HD' landmark: 10 million tickets sold

The Metropolitan Opera in New York has reached a landmark in its movie-theater broadcasts from the stage to the world: 10 million tickets sold since the series started.  (Source: Google News/Associated Press)

10.  I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. Puccini

New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe traveled throughout the country, attending the Met’s 11 HD broadcasts in different locations, in order to evaluate how the movie theater experience compares with the live — really live, not live in HD — production in the opera house.  Woolfe concludes that the “Live in HD” series, which began six years ago, and now reaches 1,700 theaters in 54 countries, is a great success in terms of the increased number of people experiencing opera, the financial viability of the series (which the Met says is now profitable) and “the added intangible benefit of associating the Met with something more innovative than the stale media of public television and classical radio.”

Woolfe believes, however, that the audio and video elements of the HD productions have achieved mixed results.  While the sound quality in the theaters is exceptional, what the microphones don’t, and can’t, capture are the differences in size of voices.  Even as the vocal performances are homogenized, the visuals are often thrown into higher relief. In getting so close to the performers the broadcasts can create remarkably strong moments.   That exaggeration of detail is where the subtle shift in the opera experience happens.   Live opera acting depends more on posture and physical fearlessness than on the kinds of details — a quiver of the mouth, a quick turn of the eyes — that convey emotion in cinematic close-up.   This has changed the range required of singing actors, who, to be successful, must now work on several levels at once, some of which might be accessible live and some on screen.    (Source: New York Times)

11.  Troll Claims To Hold Patent On Tweet Seats

Recently the fad of “tweet seats“ — seats in theaters where patrons are allowed, even encouraged, to tweet — has been embraced more and more, even making its way to Broadway. If that sounds like a stupid idea to you, you might be pleased to hear there is a roadblock to further adoption. You shouldn’t be happy to hear that it involves patent trolling, by Inselberg Interactive, which says that it’s laid claim to the tweet seat idea in a wad of patents that all deal with “method[s] and apparatus for interactive audience participation at a live spectator event.”  Now tweet seats aren’t an invention; they aren’t even a particularly novel idea. According to a Geekosystem blogger, “It seems very questionable as to whether or not this could be proven to be ‘non-obvious,’ but Inselberg seems ready to try and has accordingly filed suit against the tweet seat” programs at several symphony and opera organizations.  (Organizations faced with threatened legal action should advice and counsel from an attorney.)  (Source: Geekosystem)

12.  Theaters Vexed by the Text

Although many theaters prohibit audience members from texting during performances, the reasons are not always clear to those you are used to such having almost universal access to such interactive multi-tasking opportunities.  An article in the Wall Street Journal lists “ten reasons you can't—and shouldn't—text in the theater (or concert hall or opera house or cinema, for that matter).”   Source: Wall Street Journal

13.  YouTube loses music clip copyright battle in court

YouTube must take down copyrighted clips of music, a German court has ruled, in a move that could be a step towards forcing it to pay large sums in royalties.  The move is a fresh setback for Google's video site after a US appeals court this month reopened a $1 billion case brought by media conglomerate Viacom, as well as the Premier League and other media companies against YouTube in the US over copyrighted videos on the site.

Gema, a German royalties group, scored the victory in Hamburg, where the court ruled the website was responsible for the content its users published, a decision that could be a first step towards YouTube – and potentially other internet publishers – having to pay royalties on videos with copyrighted music embedded in the soundtrack.   YouTube argued it merely provided the technical framework to publish content and was not responsible for monitoring videos and music clips for possible copyright violations.  The court ruled that YouTube was responsible for the content users post online and should remove any clips for which Gema had asserted copyright protection. It also said YouTube did not have to proactively trawl through its site in search of possible copyright violations, but must remove clips at the request of the rights holder. 

(Source: The Guardian)