Music for Podcasts

Lots of discussion this week about non-RIAA music for podcasts. Early this year, when I decided IT Conversations would be more than just a hobby for me, I knew I needed to stay 100% legitimate with regard to music and other intellectual properties. I began using some music from Tanj, one of my son’s L.A. bands. [Sorry their web site is defunct.] I then spent many hours investigating what it takes to legally play and pay for mainstream music. I sent email to ASCAP, BMI, RIAA, SESAC and SoundExchange offerring to pay for music, but got only one response. It’s a truly Baroque system. [HowStuffWorks has a helpful tutorial on music licensing.] Bottom line: You can’t do it. If you’re running an Internet radio station, you’ll find a license for you. But there are no licenses for occasional use of so-called RIAA music. The closest category has minimum fees of thousands of dollars per year even if you just play one track to a handful of users.

At that time I was working on a project with Simon Carless and the Internet Archives. Simon suggested I get in touch with John Buckman at Magnatune, and after a brief exchange through email, I licensed some of the Magnatune collection for IT Conversations.

Magnatune may be the leading open record label, but if you look around there’s a lot of very good non-RIAA music that may be used either without a license, under Creative Commons, or available at reasonable cost. Not only is it a great way to get your music legally, but it also supports an important challenge to the copyright cartel.

Live from Pop!Tech

I’m streaming live the entire Pop!Tech 2004 conference today through Saturday (October 21-23). Click here to listen or check out the broadcast schedule. The program just got started, but I think it will be an awesome three days.

Update: Great blog coverage by David Weinberger. You can submit questions via the IT Conversations LiveQuestion system. No guarantee they’ll be answered — you’re competing with the folks in the live audience — but we’ll at least get them to the Pop!Tech crew.


I just saw the world premiere of Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge at the Mill Valley Film Festival. This is the story about Iraq we haven’t seen. It’s about the people of Iraq and what our invasion and occupation means to them. [QuickTime trailer]

But there’s a subtext that’s important to all Americans. Not only do we never get to see or read this story, we don’t even get to see this type of footage. Our billion-dollar news organizations only show us the latest car bombings and endless replays of about-to-occur beheadings. I blame the American media for this more than I blame the administration. If you get to see this film, you’ll know what I mean. If you’ve seen Control Room, about Al-Jazeera, you’ve had a hint. Battleground tells us much more of the story.

After the screening we had a Q&A with one of the film’s producers and she said there was currently no distributor for the 82-minute feature. To date, everyone has considered it “too controversial.” I hope that somehow it will be released and that you’ll be able to see it. It’s so well produced, I’m confident it will eventually find a distributor. In any case, keep your eyes open for it.

Here’s the blurb from the festival:

Intense, emotional and fascinating from the first frames to the last, Battleground goes beyond media madness and political posturing into the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people and of American soldiers stationed on the front lines, to examine how the conflict has changed lives. Frank, a former anti-Saddam guerrilla and torture victim exiled for 13 years, finally returns to Iraq to see his family; Iraqis living without water or electricity wonder what has happened to their home in the name of “freedom and democracy”; American soldiers offer surprisingly candid views about the war. Shot over three weeks in late 2003, this superb documentary offers a real-world perspective you simply won’t see anywhere outside the Middle East.

The film was produced by Berkeley’s awesome Guerilla News Network, whose mission is “to expose people to important global issues through guerrilla programming on the web and on television” and who recently published True Lies, a book that also does what our mainstream media should be doing. Two thumbs way up for this film.

Sony So Doesn’t Get It

Just saw this on BoingBoing:

Sony sent a bullying shut-down notice to Retropod, a website selling hand-made iPod cases made out of recycled Sport Walkman housings.

Although it’s a different issue, this is consistent with Sony’s ongoing general attitude towards its customers, standards and proprietary technologies. I usually like Sony products: great VCRs, digital cameras, and more. But what’s with MemorySticks? They’re nothing more than Sony’s attempt at lock-in. Lower capacity and more expensive than open standard memory cards. I use MemorySticks because I have no choice, but every time I deal with one, I’m reminded of how locked in I am.

Even worse are Sony’s MiniDisk recorders. Sony doesn’t allow you to read the files digitally. You’ve got to play them back in real time through the line output and re-record on another device. Sucks.

My sense is that all of this happened when Sony acquired Columbia. When that happened, a company that was once seen as an advocate of consumer gadgets and technology began to take the wrong side of the DRM debate. Now when you buy a Sony product, it’s like buying an MP3 player from one of the major record labels.

I just bought a new Hi-MD (1 gigabyte minidisc) recorder from Sony because I need the capacity in a small device, but if there had been a more open alternative, I would have gone that route instead. Sony has finally announced it will support MP3 in some of its devices, but apparently not until next summer.

Get it together, Sony. Apple has replaced you as the company that understands the user by almost every measure. As far as I’m concerned, Apple now has an open road to lead in almost any consumer-electronics niche–peviously Sony’s opportunity.

ID3 Tags

Lots of discussion and email about the best way to utilize the MP3 ID3 tags. I’ve recently made some changes for IT Conversations, and I’ve received both positive and negative comments. I’d like your feedback on my current thoughts.

ID3 supports the following hierarchy: Artist—Album—Title

Here are examples of how I propose using this hierarchy for a variety of IT Conversations programs:

IT Conversations—The Gillmor Gang—October 15, 2004
IT Conversations—Memory Lane—Len Kleinrock
IT Conversations—Voices in Your Head—James Patrick Kelly
IT Conversations—Law and IT—The INDUCE Act 2.0
IT Conversations—Gnomedex 4.0—Steve Wozniak
IT Conversations—Joel Spolsky—Joel on Software

The last example is slightly different because it’s one of my own interviews. To be more consistent, I probably should create a series name such as:

IT Conversations—Doug Kaye’s Interviews—Joel Spolsky

I know the ID3 tags are handled in varying ways by different MP3 players, so let me know if you think the above scheme will work for your player or whether it can be improved. Leave a comment here (on the blog) so others can react.

Clarification: The above schemes are not the way I’ve been using ID3 tags, I just realized. They’re they way I propose to use them in the future.

BitTorrent for Flash Content

When I interviewed Bram Cohen back in March I realized how brilliant BitTorrent was: a content-delivery mechanism that actually scales better than linearly. The more downloaders, the cheaper the cost per download. I’ve used BT on and off for a few months, but tonight I wanted to see the clip of John Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire (thanks, Dave). I clicked on the link and the download was painfully slow. Then I remembered — I recently re-initialized my firewall.

I forwarded ports 6881-6889 to my PC and re-started the download. Wow…superfast! If you have popular large objects, it’s awesome. But you already knew that, right?

And the Golden Rule of BitTorrent: When you’re done your download, don’t close the BitTorrent Window. Give unto others as you would have them give unto you. It costs you nothing.