The musicians’ revolt

I know this is way old, but I’m running out of things I feel like writing about and I need to start clearing off some of these drafts.

In early October, Techdirt reported on musicians lining up to take back their copyright from the record companies, in the wake of Jack Kirby’s heirs invoking the same termination provisions in the Copyright Act against the comic book companies, and a similar attempt by the heirs of Jerry Siegel, Superman’s creator which ended in a very bizarre fashion. If you think it’s absurd the idea Superman can fly is restricted by part of the copyright, you’re not the only one.

Anyway, in 2013 musical works become eligible for the same type of copyright termination. Granted, this is still a good three years away. The RIAA of course has not taken this lying down, trying to get musical works classified as “works for hire” which is, to put it bluntly, absurd. If you go back to, say, 1979, there was no Internet, no Web, no personal computers as we know them today (the “personal computers” of 1979 were much closer to “fancy calculators” and in fact, their primary uses were bare-bones word processing, simple spreadsheets/budget applications, and rather primitive games), no Magnatune, no Myspace, no Facebook, no Ogg Vorbis or MP3. All copying was analog. Usually, local bands got their exposure from local shows, and were at the mercy of the A&R (artist & repertoire) people for exposure beyond that. In essence, there was no way around the record companies.

As the decades went on all that changed, 1989 saw the CD and the beginnings of digital recording on a home computer. By 1999 the Internet was in full bloom and record company CEOs were freaking out about the Diamond Rio, the first digital music player, to the point of launching a failed lawsuit to try and squash it. Already there was concern about CD “ripping” as the original CD format had only nominal copy restriction capability, which the CD drives on computers (“multifunction devices”) were not even bound to honor.

And here we are in 2010. Digital distribution is no longer the exception; it’s still relatively commonplace for local artists to sell CDs at shows, but some people are starting to see physical media as antiquated. But the artists have options: Magnatune, CD Baby, etc. It’s no longer a game controlled strictly by the record companies and they are feeling the pinch. They blame unauthorized copying (which they refer to using the loaded word “piracy”) when in reality they expect $20 for a CD that’s often an inferior product to a local artist’s $10 to $15 CD. Gee, I wonder why some people prefer to just go download it off of a peer-to-peer network instead of shell out $20, when the warm fuzzy feeling of being “legal” or “honest” is that expensive.

For every Napster or Bearshare, there’s a Pirate Bay or similar site. I do believe one has a responsibility to financially support those who make it possible for one to enjoy music. However, the viability of doing so by buying “legitimate” copies of CDs from RIAA-member labels is highly dubious at best. Beyond a certain level, even concerts become an activity which financially exploits artists (which I have already gone into in detail here several times).

It’s high time for those who actually make the music to get their fair share. I feel once the artists own the copyrights to their music, we’ll start seeing CD (or equivalent download) prices drop back to a much more reasonable level.

A clearly broken DUI/DWI law

Make no mistake about it: I’m no fan of those who endanger others needlessly by driving while intoxicated (sometimes called driving under the influence or drink-driving). But some of the laws are set up to give people like Daryl Fleck what can be perceived as a raw deal. And I believe he did get a very raw deal.

Originally reported on a site called simply thenewspaper.com and blogged by Young Americans for Liberty and Lew Rockwell, the facts of Daryl’s case are as follows:

  • Daryl was found asleep in his legally parked car close to midnight, one night during the summer of 2007, with the keys in the center console.
  • The engine in Daryl’s car was cold to the touch (it had not been driven recently).
  • He admitted to having consumed a significant amount of alcohol earlier that night.
  • He was tested to have a blood-alcohol of .18, twice the legal limit.

And based on these facts, even though nothing indicated Daryl had actually driven the car while intoxicated, he was convicted of DUI under the law of the state of Minnesota, simply because the keys he had could turn the ignition and in theory he could have driven the car.

Not to mention, when police tried to start the car, it would not start. Granted, this was some weeks after the fact, plenty of time for the battery to drain down to zilch.

Granted, Daryl had three previous DUI convictions and was thus far from an ideal test case for this situation. Still, I think this is an obvious case of way overzealous prosecution and a law that is simply too broad. And for that, Daryl, and no doubt several others, get another DUI conviction for sleeping in a car with that car’s ignition key.

And I know it’s a bit odd for me to quote the FSF’s “Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases That Are Worth Avoiding”, but the words apply the same here as there:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

And in this case, I believe the law has failed to achieve justice. This is a broken law and it is in the best interests of the people of Minnesota to act to fix it.

There is one other thing about this case I’d like to comment upon. From thenewspaper.com’s story:

As Fleck was an unsympathetic figure with multiple DUI convictions in his
past, prosecutors had no problem convincing a jury to convict. The court took up Fleck’s case to expand the precedent to cover the case of mere presence in an undriven — and perhaps undrivable — car into the definition of drunk driving. The court relied on Fleck’s drunken claim that his car was operable to set aside the physical evidence to the contrary.

When I was last on a jury, the defendant did have a prior conviction. However, we did not find out about that until the sentencing phase. Granted, that was in Texas, and this case is in Minnesota. However I still find it difficult to believe that the jury knew about his prior convictions during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial. If they did, that’s another broken law that needs fixing up there in Minnesota.

“Inmate…” revisited

I’ve let this sit here way too long. It’s time I post this and be done with it.

This is a follow-up post to my original post on this story back in 2009 November, so just in case you have not already read it, you may wish to go back and read that one and get some of the background. In case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: I blogged my reaction to a Houston Press article describing an apparent lapse in medical care of a man at the Harris County Jail. While this man, Monte Killian, doesn’t start his unfortunate ordeal with our “justice system” in the best of medical shape, the medical care he receives is so sloppily managed that he is effectively coerced into pleading guilty, and on the day after his release he is immediately sent to the emergency room by his doctor.

Before I go any further: It is my position that regardless of the crime of which one is accused, that this kind of thing should never happen. One whom a government agency has taken into custody and thus accepted the responsibility for should not just be released into the free world in a condition where one should be in a hospital. To do otherwise is reckless.

I honestly had no idea when writing that post on this story that it would be so hotly contested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and that I would wind up exchanging several e-mails with both Randall Patterson, the Houston Press reporter, and Alan Bernstein, the HCSD’s director of public affairs. I did learn a few things about the case that I did not know before, that were not made quite as explicitly clear in the original story.

I have seen both the memo Mr. Bernstein sent to the Houston Press, and the response from Margaret Downing, the editor. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to quote from either, but I am permitted to relay my impressions after reading both. Were I not, there would be no reason to enter another post on the topic.

I, of course, did not expect the warmest reception to a story quite critical of a party, by a liaison for that party. Mr. Bernstein’s memo is very aggressive in calling out what he believes to be errors in the story, quotes taken out of context, and he like. I believed many of these errors to be minor and immaterial to the story, even before reading the official word from Ms. Downing that the Houston Press stands by the story as printed.

Even the slightly more significant errors do not really undermine the story. In fact, it’s kind of a stretch to call some of them errors, some can be seen as simply a different way of telling the story that doesn’t quite jive with the county’s PR people want out there.

This part is, or at least should be, public record: Monte did not plead guilty to the drug possession charge, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer. However, this latter charge falls squarely in the category of the type of “trumped up” charges often laid on someone in the hope that even if the original case is thrown out, the other charge(s) will stick. Other examples of these kinds of charges: resisting arrest, evading arrest, disorderly conduct, escape and related charges (for those already in custody). These are not the only ones.

The laws are written specifically to make sure these trumped up charges stick even if the original charge is dropped. In fact, just to give you an idea, I’ll quote some of the penal code here, for the charge of resisting arrest:

Sec. 38.03. RESISTING ARREST, SEARCH, OR TRANSPORTATION. (a) A person commits an offense if he intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from effecting an arrest, search, or transportation of the actor or another by using force against the peace officer or another.

(b) It is no defense to prosecution under this section that the arrest or search was unlawful.

There are similar sections of other laws (most notably, 38.08 as it applies to both charges related to escape).

I know I’m speculating big time here, but I can’t let this go unsaid. It is entirely possible the “crack rock” the original arresting officer saw was just a ploy to try to establish probable cause, of looking through events with “cop-colored glasses.” I will admit I wasn’t there, and I haven’t seen the original arrest report. At some point I’ll try to get whatever is available as public record.

Even if I were to give the HCSD every benefit of the doubt, and accept Mr. Bernstein’s memo as the gospel truth, I am still left with this: A man who HCSD was responsible for the custody and care of, was given “strict ER precautions” by a county doctor at LBJ Hospital, and yet the day after his release directly to the free world (not to a hospital or medical care facility), he’s in such bad shape he’s sent immediately to the ER by his own doctor.

And yet, the county (as evidenced by Ms. Garza’s statement quoted in the original post) stands by the PR spin that “Mr. Killian’s medical issues were always promptly addressed by the physicians,” everything is fine and dandy. Oh, what, he was barely alive when he pleaded guilty? This newspaper reporter writes this story that he pleaded guilty just to save his life? Hey, we did our job, we kept yet another trial off the court’s docket, we made sure the public defender didn’t have to deal with another trial, mission accomplished.

That’s inexcusable. That’s disgraceful. That’s the kind of stuff that wrecks years’ worth of goodwill and makes honest PR people cringe knowing they might have to clean up that mess.

I’m not expecting first-rate medical care out of the doctors and nurses the HCSD hires to work in the jail. But even the deputies should be able to make the call “hey, we can’t just let this guy wander out into the free world like this, he needs to go to the hospital or at least have a doctor look at him.” Maybe even say to the inmate (Monte in this case) “you’re a free man right now, but we really think you should get checked out by a doctor.”

It does not matter if one is accused of assaulting one of their own. There is a reason for the expression “one of Harris County’s finest.” The badge means one has a duty to be better than that. Those not up to fulfilling that duty shouldn’t be wearing that badge.

An ingenious way to deal with ticket scalpers

Okay, last ticket scalper/reseller post for a while, I swear.

A recent page posted on the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo website (hslr.com) details the plight that the local rodeo has to deal with in regards to ticket scalpers. When I went last year, I did happen to notice that resale of rodeo tickets is prohibited by the language on that ticket, though I’m sure they don’t bother in the majority of cases.

However, I’m really shocked by this (and I know the formatting is wrecked by my copy and paste–forgive me, please):

Hey, RODEOHOUSTON fans!

Don’t get drawn in by offers from “ticket resellers”!

They’re selling a ticket to the Jonas Brothers at RODEOHOUSTON in the lower level for $170 and an upper-level ticket for $80!

Did you know that for just $132, you could get a ticket to Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato, PLUS Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Alan Jackson, Eli Young Band, Gary Allan, and Blake Shelton. Seriously—$132 (plus one $10 handling fee), nine shows, 11 entertainers.

This shows just how low the scalpers are willing to go. (The rodeo is being way too nice by calling them “resellers.” I assume they are trying to avoid potential defamation lawsuits. I have no problem calling them “scalpers” because I am, so far, a much less inviting lawsuit target. That may change in the future…)

The rodeo is one reason I’m proud to be a resident of Houston and one of the things I love about the city. The people that run it have gone out of their way to keep it affordable. It disgusts me that scalpers continue to rip off the rodeo–our rodeo–year after year. It’s one thing to rip off big-name entertainers; it’s no more excusable, but some of those entertainers can afford to leave money on the table. I do realize the rodeo is a for-profit enterprise as well, but it is an exceptional low to rip off an organization which keeps ticket prices low on purpose, whether non-profit or for-profit.

Anyway, one ticket at a scalper going for the price of an entire mini-season-ticket package is outrageous. Please don’t support these scum.

“We’ll censor anything, even the dictionary”

According to this story in the Press-Enterprise (Southern California), school officials in the Menifee Union School District have decided to censor a most-unlikely target: the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary. The reason? An allegedly too-precise definition for “oral sex.”

If it’s the same as this definition from merriam-webster.com then I honestly can’t tell what all the uproar is about. Quoted below just so you can see what I’m referring to:

Main Entry: oral sex
Function: noun
Date: 1973

: oral stimulation of the genitals : cunnilingus, fellatio

The reason given is, to me, lamer than a one-legged duck:

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said [district spokesperson Beth] Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

Particularly troublesome–and according to the story, parents and members of the school board have a problem with this too–is that it is based on one parent’s complaint.

I concur in principle with Rita Peters, a school board member who is quoted in the story as saying “If we’re going to pull a book because it has something on oral sex, then every book in the library with that better be pulled.” I say “in principle” here because the far more likely outcome is that this silly run of censorship will be stopped dead in its tracks because nobody will want to go through an entire school library looking for mentions of such things.

It’s a slippery slope, and I don’t think there’s a single place where one can draw the line that will make every parent happy. Besides, the kids will learn about “the birds and the bees” at some point anyway. Should that be taught in first grade? Probably not. The age at which it is appropriate is a topic of debate and may not even be the same for every child. What is not appropriate, at any age, is teaching our children that censorship is an acceptable response to objectionable material.