Monday, October 30, 2006

Intellectual Property: Beyond Queen Anne

The UK's Institute for Public Policy Research has issued a report calling for the government to rethink its approach to intellectual property rights.

The UK press's angle on the report has stuck to the quick headline of why Queen Anne made it technically illegal to copy music on to a computer from your own CDs. The authors (William Davies and Kay Withers) do indeed argue that legislation hasn't kept pace with technology, but the full text is a meditation on the philosophy of intellectual property, an analysis of what intellectual property can do for the UK economy, and how works being in the public domain can actually add economic value, all with a minimum of acronym soup. In short, they want to argue that:

'the legitimate role for IP is to protect content sufficiently so that it can be commercialised over the medium term, but not to protect it so much that it can't be enjoyed by the public in the short term, or preserved for future generations in the long term.'

Davies and Withers do a valuable job of balancing the economic and cultural benefits of IP, and end up opting for a Danish-style model similar to the Open Access movement in academic publishing, while as far as economics are concerned: 'wherever content is made more searchable and accessible, it must also be made more purchasable'.

A key influence is Chris Anderson's idea of the 'long tail', which argues that digital distribution makes it profitable to sell a multitude of obscure items to a few consumers each. Early this month Universal released 250,000 previously unavailable tracks from its (western) European back catalogue for digital download only, putting the long tail approach into action. (It's good news for Noir Desir and Chris de Burgh.)

Separately, the UK Open Rights Group is throwing copyright term extensions into the debate - and a Treasury report on intellectual property is due before the end of the year. What's made copyright the temporary issue of the week? According to Boing Boing, it's because, with a 50-year UK copyright term on musical recordings, anything recorded in 1956 loses copyright protecton in a couple of months' time - freeing up the beginnings of rock and roll, and heralding more and more of a record-industry headache year on year.

Looking further afield, the Convergence Culture Consortium blog kept us updated last week with the news that Japanese broadcasters and music publishers have had over 25,000 items of media removed from YouTube. Clips from the Comedy Central station, including The Daily Show, have reportedly already been removed from YouTube for copyright violation, and the US majors have been pawing the ground at the site for some time, but the Japanese connection brings to mind the knock-on effect that YouTube's shiny new corporate focus will have on its possibly quite unexpected function as a channel for communication among diasporas.

(Or even between diasporas: the comments on one clip of the Bulgarian chalga singer Kamelia's Cheluvai me included one from an ex-Yugoslav of some description informing them that Mile Kitić's Šampanjac had got there first.)

Somebody with a faster internet connection than the Gazette probably ought to be starting a proper virtual ethnography on what Eric has started to call JuTube before its ex-Yugoslav TV clips (including material which has been even less available than the Universal back catalogue) start going the way of the Japanese content.

That's if anyone can agree on who owns the rights and ought to be making the complaints...

UPDATE:: Henry Jenkins of MIT on the YouTube buyout, participatory culture, and (buzzword bingo) Web 2.0.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Borat Marches On

As the release of Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat film approaches, the fake Kazakh reporter seems to be approaching critical mass.

Aside from the soundtrack issue covered here a couple of weeks ago (the film's music comes mainly from Macedonian and Romanian Roma bands), Boing Boing runs up a list of similar abstractions, such as the Cyrillic font that means gibberish in Cyrillic, and Borat's faux-Kazakh language turning out to be Hebrew (which Baron Cohen seems to use for note-taking while in character).

Evonomic anthropologist Grant McCracken, meanwhile, has been running a series of posts on how Borat apparently shows up American credulity and the boundaries of scandal.

All of which means that at some stage I'm probably actually going to have to go and see the thing...

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Once There Was An Album

More than a year ago, Croatian singer Marko Perković Thompson announced plans for a new album, Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj (Once upon a time in Croatia). A title like that suggests a high dose of heroic history and mythic timelessness, which - with emphasis on the 'timelessness' - has already come true. Two new additions to the Perković family delayed recording somewhat, as did the arrest of Ante Gotovina last December, which the Gazette would happily bet inspired some new material.

In the meantime, one Miroslav Škoro has temporarily cornered the market in patriotic, semi-diasporic showbusiness, leaving Thompson with some catching up to do.

Večernji list, however, is reporting that the final work on the album may be completed by the beginning of December. Given Thompson's (controversial) star status in Croatia, such news would surely be gratefully received by his label's executives, if anybody actually knew which label it's going to be coming out on.

Thompson likes to present his guiding themes as 'God, the family and the homeland', and all three look set to be present on Bilo jednom u Hrvatskoj. Sine moj is dedicated to his oldest son Šimun, and a title like Dida i Petrovo Polje (Grandpa and Petrovo Polje) suggests it'll be harking back to Thompson's home region of Dalmatinska zagora.

It would be unprofessional to speculate what grandpa might have said/thought/done at/about Petrovo Polje, but Thompson's previous form might make many people curious about whether and how he'll touch on one of the more historically significant epochs in grandpa's life.

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Bajaga: The Show Begins At Midnight

Belgrade rock star Momčilo Bajagić-Bajaga, not to mention his Instruktori, first returned to Croatia in 2002, and hasn't stopped (not at all deterred by the various unpleasantnesses when he played in Split in 2003): his latest one took place last week at the city stadium in Osijek.

Bajaga is pessimistic about the prospects for the record industry, and released his most recent album Šou počinje u ponoć (The show begins at midnight) at a cut price through newspaper kiosks in order to undercut pirate prices; he also distributed copies to his concert-goers. Now it seems his next album might be released only through his website, as he tells Jutarnji list:

'Although I came from the age of records, it's clear to me that the record industry will probably disappear in a couple of years. We sold the last album at kiosks, at the 'pirate' price of just two euros. We didn't make any money, but at least we gave people 86,000 copies of the originals.'

Coincidentally, Nancy Baym has an article today arguing that 'in an age when fans can get [steal] the product free, artists need to cultivate (seemingly) interpersonal relationships with their fans if they’re going to see income', and dressing it all up with a little social exchange theory.

From her perspective, Bajaga would certainly seem to be following the right lines - although having a bra thrown at him, as happened during his Zagreb concert this April, may be a little more interpersonal than he intended.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dream Job, Continued

Via Bosnia Vault, here's an interview at Pop Matters with the Bosnian film director Danijela Majstorović about her 2005 documentary Posao snova (The dream job).

Posao snova follows a young Bosnian Serb woman's entry into the Serbian turbofolk industry as a backing vocalist, punctuated with interviews with various folk professionals such as Lepa Brena and sevdah star Hanka Paldum.

Majstorović says that 'I thought it would be good to explore the pop culture because it's where you can really see the patriarchy, and corruption and women almost desperate to make the most in such a deviant society.' There's certainly a wealth of material in her subject, and the film came highly recommended by East Ethnia when it was shown in Zagreb this February.

London-based readers will get the chance to see for themselves on 3 December when Posao snova screens as part of Riverside Studios' annual Bosnian Film Festival - also presenting Grbavica, Karaula (the first film to be co-produced by all the Yugoslav successor states - so arguably as Bosnian as it is anything else), and Go west - the latter a three-line whip for any fans of Tarik Filipović, gay Yugoslav cinema and/or emergency cross-dressing.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Croatian Folklore Redux: Anima Croatica

Jutarnji list's big music news today is the issue of a seven-CD box set of Croatian folk music, co-published by the Croatian Tourist Board and the Croatian Composers' Society and titled Anima Croatica.

The compilation, with its cover designed by Boris Ljubičić (the man responsible for all those Croatian chequerboard logos), isn't intended for commercial release, but rather for tourist promotion. Its non-commercial orientation means all the pieces are available for download at the compilation's website.

There's a sense in which every compilation gives editors the opportunity to put forward a particular narrative of the place or musician they're describing (maybe downplaying other aspects as they go), and Anima Croatica is no exception: its concept of Croatian musical culture is based on 'four autochthonous regions: the Istrian region, the Alpine, the Pannonian and the Dinaric-Dalmatian region, also including the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina in which Croats also live, dance and sing.'

The selection, edited by the eminent klapa composer Ljubo Stipišić Delmata, includes four sections - Folklor (demonstrating that 'the question of what sound should represent us in the world and be our sound identity', Sacra (church music and folk songs connected to religious festivals), Klape (which 'has not flinched in front of the false premise that everything klapas sing countas as 'klapa song' - so no sign of the schlager-klapa hit Da ti mogu pismom zvati), and a final CD devoted to Etno, including modern ethno-musicians such as (the usual suspects) Tamara Obrovac, Lidija Bajuk, Mojmir Novaković's two bands, and Dunja Knebl.

According to JL's critic, Branimir Pofuk, the compilation finally rectifies a situation in which:

Since an independent Croatia has existed, we have been hearing lamentations and wailing over the lack of meaningful presentation of Croatian culture and artistic heritage, over the non-existence of real Croatian cultural souvenirs and so on.

Croatian music publishing and broadcasting is scattered with attempts to put exactly that to rights, including the late-nineties ethno movement of Novaković, Bajuk, and the rest of the usual suspects, plus various attempts by Croatian Television (HTV) to make room in its schedule for 'authentic' folk music.

(The HTV shows do have a tendency to be overtaken by showbusiness: by the time I caught up with this year's Svirci moji, launched at the tail-end of the Štikla case in order to 'show the difference between the more and more ever-present narodnjaci and real authentic folk [narodne] music', its big finale was Ivana Banfić reprising her performance of her own ethno-kitsch Dora entry, Kad se sklope kazaljke.)

There's no trace of the Banfić tendency on Anima Croatica, of course, and even less of the Štikla one. Even though the Putokazi track in its Etno section happened to be first performed at a ZadarFest six years ago...

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tired Of Being Quiet

Andrea Pisac, an author living in London, is 'tired of being quiet'. So she has a new blog, starting with her thoughts on Orhan Pamuk and Anna Politkovskaya.

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Ništa Kontra Seve

The Zagreb suburb of Zaprešić isn't the happiest place for Severina at the moment, according to the SeveFanClub blog: after postponing a concert there due to food poisoning, the rescheduled concert was interrupted by Dinamo Zagreb fans throwing lighters at the stage when Severina began to sing...

...Nista kontra Splita (Nothing against Split), Dino Dvornik's smash hit from 1995 which quickly became an anthem for Dinamo's biggest rivals, Hajduk Split.

That'll be the problem, then.

(The extensive Hajduk songbook also includes: Mišo Kovač's Dalmacija u mom oku, a Hajdukised version of Magazin's Tri sam ti zime šaptala ime, a certainly unsanctioned version of Novi fosili's Za dobra stara vremena, and a version of the Ustaša anthem Evo zore, evo dana rewritten for the splitski huligani.)

Readers of SFC and Jutarnji list, which picked up the story today, largely seem to be asking what Severina was doing transgressing Croatia's north-south divide in the first place, although expecting Severina not to be provocative these days is a tall order.

The Gazette wonders whether this qualifies Severina, in the footsteps of Doris Dragović (but not quite Seka Aleksić), as the new Kraljica Torcide...?

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Friday, October 13, 2006

For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Ederlezi

The Gazette is dragging itself into the blogged-to-death topic of UK comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat character, the spoof Kazakh news reporter whose US-travelogue TV sketches have been expanded into the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Baron Cohen's seemingly random choice of Kazakhstan provoked a detailed rebuttal earlier this month from the country's ambassador to London. The recent Kazakh historical epic The Nomad, which retells the national myth of 18th-century proto-Kazakh tribes uniting against the Mongols, has also been interpreted as a reaction to Borat - although makes it clear that The Nomad was well in the can before Borat the film appeared.

Today's Večernji list helpfully presents a full tracklist for the Borat film's soundtrack CD, officially titled - deep breath - 'Borat: Stereophonic musical listenings that have been origin in moving film 'Borat: Cultural learinings of America for make benefit glorious nation of Kazakhstan'. Kazakh music is conspicuous by its absence: instead, the soundtrack emphasises Balkan and Roma music, with featured artists including Macedonian Roma singer Esma Redžepova, Macedonian Roma brass band Kočani orkestar, Romanian manele star Stefan de la Barbulesti, Romanian Roma-fusion group Mahala Rai Banda and - a byword for cinematic musical essentialisation - Goran Bregović's Ederlezi.

With a soundscape like this, Baron Cohen's Kazakhstan seems to be an extension of the abstract, orientalised British 'Balkans'
- including various Ruritanias, Herzoslovakias and (I'm afraid) Illyrias.

From which perspective, something like this or that presumably just wasn't sufficiently Kazakh...

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Croatia On Chalga

Talking of Bulgaria and turbofolk, Jutarnji list in Croatia has noticed that the latter is rather popular in the former, now that there's a Ceca Ražnatović-shaped hook for it to be hung on.

Not failing to mention that the Bulgarian leg of Ceca's Rainbow Tour didn't actually work out as well has had been expected, JL's woman in Sofia devotes most attention to the local chalga scene which has taken root 'even though Serbian narodnjaci are there valued as the authentic ones, and therefore better quality to the domestic ones' - and the starring role of 'the eroticised Lepa Brena and Ceca' in inspiring Bulgarian pop-folk, so that now:

'Chalga is the local name for turbo-folk, and in recent years Bulgarians' cultural landscape cannot be imagined without turbo-folk. Narodnjaci surely aren't the best thing that Bulgaria is bringing into Europe, but currently they are the loudest thing a European hears when he enters the new future member of the EU.'

Or maybe candidates who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones?

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