Archive for the ‘copyright’ Category

Stop Laughing About Ministry of Sound

September 5, 2013

There’s been some recent bashing of Minstry of Sound, a British label that makes music compilations. They have sued Spotify for not taking down their users’ playlists that are copied from their compilations. I think this is fascinating, and I don’t share the critique that they’ve received around the web.

I don’t know MoS very well at all. But let’s assume that they spend shitloads of time to make these compilations. Keeping up with trends, upcoming artists, getting to know the right people, know their audience, and so on. It’s a bit similar to how a DJ works. Or a newspaper. Or a professional blog. Or any other job that requires you to assemble things together rather than creating something from scratch. Some would say that everything works like that now. “Creativity”, they say, is the basis of everything – not just art, music and design but business, science, personal relationships, sports, health, etc into infinity. You have to be creative!!!

I once talked to an artist who exhibits his own works, but also makes presentations about his field of art. He said that it took a lot more work to do the presentations, than to make the exhibitions. Finding the works that you want to present is the first step, but then you have to put them together in a way that makes sense. For him it was clear that this is worth more (money) than his own works are. It also makes me think of the times when a book review has been better than the book itself.

Most people might disagree, because content is considered as sacred. Content creators must be protected by complex bureaucracy so that they can make money. But times are changing. Curators, organizers and DJs make more money than the people who create the content. Good or bad? That’s not the point. It’s a growing tendency that we need to consider.


From this point of view, it makes sense for Ministry of Sound to protect their work. Now I don’t really know their compilations, but spontaneously I feel like what they do is more important than what composers and artists do. I guess most people would disagree, but in my world music creators are spammers hehe.

The last year I’ve put vast amounts of time and energy into research for that I run with Raquel Meyers. I have found plenty of other tumblrs who scan images from obscure old publications, and make them available with info, links, credits, context, etc. It’s really important and useful work, and it’s usually more interesting than following some music d00d or artist that only talks about themselves. Or a reblogger that has reduced him/herself to a distribution machine.

I really value the work of researchers, curators, compilers and compressors (??), reviewers, etc. Sure, the legal action from Ministry of Sound is absurd. But it’s no more absurd than the copyright industry who is currently fighting to incorporate streams, links and mentions into their business model. And that’s just about control and repression that puts money into lazy pockets. It has nothing to do with helping artists or audiences.

Anyway. Ministry of Sound probably sucks.

White Bit vs Afrofuturism

May 11, 2012

There’s not enough Africa in computers, Brian Eno once said. And the same could probably be said about computer users, especially those who claim to work with obsolete technologies. It seems like a quite, uhm, white subculture. Perhaps even the “total white music” like Burzum supposdely said. Urgh.

A few months ago I went to a shop in Stockholm that sells African art. There were chairs made from tyers, bowls made of telephone wires and other so-called appropriations of technologies. To make some conversation with the shop keeper, I said “it’s good to see that they’re re-using the materials around them”. But then I felt so white that I probably became red.

Because what’s the difference, really, between using wood or wires or bits? What’s the difference if it’s 5, 50 or 5000 years old? You take stuff and turn it into other stuff. Assemble it with other things, tweak it, bend it. There’s nothing new with that. We do it with complex digital and analogue technologies now. So what? It seems a bit arrogant to put more value into something simply because it’s a manipulation of a commercial product. The historiography of this needs to look further back than circuit bending in the 1960′s.

Dweller’s Amiga disk backup in Lego.

It is of course an understandable starting point for those who are focused on breaking free from a commodity culture:  a world where all of our tools are built with a consumerist logic. Perfect presets, intuitive interfaces, constant updates: the product is the medium. If you want to be an autonomous individual, you’ll probably get sucked into discourses like noise, indeterminism, retromania and appropriation. These so-called critical tactics seem to be just as normalized as many other counter-cultural ideas of the 1960′s. But maybe it’s time to move on? That’s what I feel. All that criticism is like 100 years old so its ideological base is sort of ideologically obsolete. :)

We’ve become rather similar to a cargo cultWe build strange myths and rituals around objects that we don’t understand. There’s all kinds of weird shit being thrown at us and we don’t really know why we’re getting them and what to do with it. Some people say that it’s part of a military conspiracy, others that it’s a democratic saviour. But we all use it.

There is a similar problem with art that criticizes copyright, patents and all that. It’s considered to be subversive to use copyrighted material (less everyday, but still). In the documentary Sonic Outlaws (1995), Negativland does this. They portray themselves almost as freedom fighters (which reminds me of Punishment Park). But in the same film, Tape Beatles don’t explain their methods as a problem. It’s just a common sense thing to do. Pracitical and fun. There’s nothing to it. Of course it depends on what context you are working in and so on. But the point is: there is a risk that these methods only reinforce the thing that you want to change.

Okay okay, but where do we go from here? Afrofuturism is an interesting field to draw from. Although I just started reading about, it seems to have very useful ideas about hacking, sci-fi (not just for the future) and the relationship between humans and machines. Afrika Bambaataa, listed as a musicin in afrofuturism, was very inspired by Kraftwerk. In all their robotnik romantikz he saw an understanding of themselves as already having been robots, argues Tricia Rose and continues:

Adopting ‘the robot’ reflected a response to an existing condition: namely, that  they were labor for capitalism, that they had very little value as people in this society. So it was a way to play with the idea of robots, but also to put on an armour against manipulation which Rammelzee (below) did so well with his low-tech body suit.

The armour is a good metaphor. Good things need to be protected. Turntablism and techno built a sort of armour around political struggle and highly competent techno-skills, by camouflaging it as dance music. People were dancing to the beat of resistance without even knowing it. There was no need for outspoken counter-cultural poetry, since it was all about the music and the machines. Frequencies.

Consider how pioneers like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash were working with new technological methods. Perhaps there was not much politics in the resulting music, but as a new form of assemblage of man-music-technologies-entertainment it certainly had political relevance. Now compare that to what Reed Ghazala did with his circuit bending. He seems to be aiming more for art and democracy. Bending becomes something for high-brow shoegazing, stoners and communist librarians who want to teach kids how to reclaim the commodities. /me ducks and covers

But isn’t it more relevant to be able to program than make noise? I’d say it is. Maybe because I’m not a programmer :). For some it comes more natural to simply use what’s available, and make stuff with it. And if it’s not such an introvert process, perhaps something more useful than counter-culture comes out of it. Sometimes, it’s because there’s no other way: acute solutions to a flood, lights without electricity and sometimes it’s just quick n’ dirty trixxx.

Actually, I think this is what many artists are doing. It’s just that they are using the discourse of obsolete hacking in order to make a living from it (or sth). That’s great and I don’t blame them for it. We all make compromises, I guess. But what are they going to do when the hype is over?

The most expensive pixel art ever in the history of time and space?

June 26, 2011

Two years ago Andy Baio released a chipmusic tribute to Miles Davis. He paid royalties for the music, but forgot about the cover art. It had a pixel art version of a photo by Jay Maisel, who sued Baio. The whole thing ended with a settlement outside of court where Baio had to pay $32,500.

We know this because Baio insisted on his right to be able to talk about it. That’s rare. Usually there are contracts to make people shut up about these things. We’ll probably never know what really happened with all that Timbaland-stuff, for example.

Now the haters are all over Maisel. Maisel is the bad guy, Baio is the good guy. But this is not really a story about two individuals. It’s about a complex system that revolves around money, and is maintained by those who can profit from it. Lawyers, for example. Copyright holders. Copyright collecting agencies. Distributors. And last (and probably least) the people who produce the stuff that this system revolves around.

In this case, Maisel can earn this amount of money in a day doing other things but for his copyright attorneys it’s their main source of income. They don’t care about Maisel’s reputation, they are “just doing their job”. Maisel, on the other hand, probably considers this as a good deed for the photographic community which has been severly screwed by mainstream media for decades.

So: nobody is doing anything “wrong”? Maybe not. In fact – copyright lawsuits happen even if everything is legit (which probably was the case here). But if you don’t have the money to pay the lawyers, you will always lose to those who can. So you choose to not risk it, pay the settlement, and shut up “because that’s the least expensive option available“. That is the story here and Baio is a hero for making it public. And reactionary initiatives like Creative Commons are more like make-up that justify the abuse instead of fixing the problem.

An Even More Secret History of Social Networks

February 1, 2011

BBC has published a radio documentary called the Secret History of Social Networking. It interviews people involved with BBS-communication in the 1970s, was influenced by the counterculture in California. It’s a rather expected historiography – pioneering Americans that used computers to network the whole world, and John Cage got into it. We’ve heard it before.

The counterculture merged with commercial interests in a Californian ideology that shaped the home computer revolution. This technolibertarianism probably made the term personal computer catch on so well. So in a way, it is a very relevant history of social networking: individual freedom and computer networks and entrepreneurs (yeah!).

Community Memory, a BBS from 1973

On the other hand, there are the social networks that emerged from software piracy in the 1980s. Already in 1979 there were digital networks for Apple II-crackers, and a few years later a lot of people were distributing cracked software. Not only modem-to-modem, but face-to-face and mailman-to-mailman. It was a network for middle-class kids that had little to do with highbrow art or traditional politics; it was merely a way to use computers for what they were designed for. Copying information.

In other words – it was a popular network where common people did common sense things. It was an early warez economy, which is not so different from the current network economy/culture. You make, share and remix things for free and you get stuff back – either as money or status. Or something like that.

The point is that the countercultural BBS-stuff is an interesting early example, but did it influence things to come?  Sure they conversed and organized through modems, but what else? The cracker/demoscene networks pioneered or perfected many things: text art, free distribution of executable artefacts, open source music and remix culture, mail art, computer parties, etcetera – and it had very real effects on the economy and culture outside of itself. Eventually. If the counterculture led to iTunes, then this network led to netlabels and the Pirate Bay.

I don’t blame the BBC for their angle and perhaps they will also deal with this topic in future episodes. But there’s been very little research made on the cracker- and demoscene networks. I wrote a text for the Media Art Histories 2009 that has some additional information, but it was hastily put together so don’t expect too much.

Crackers Cracking Cracks

May 27, 2010

Akira has uploaded a bunch of C64-games at CSDb. As seen here before, the Argentinian C64-scene was special because 1) they had its own C64-clone that worked with the obscure PAL-N standard, 2) it was common that shops sold demos and cracked games, and 3) Argentinian crackers cracked cracks – they took cracks from other groups and put their names on it: so-called re-cracks. This is a big no-no among crackers, but I suppose it was possible since it stayed within Argentina. Cracking was business. To control the market, some crackers even introduced a new “copy protection”, such as a code that you had to know to start the game (read here). Akira also posted a C64-game made in Argentina in 1990: Team Tetris. And here are all the cracked games he uploaded:

And for no apparent reason, here is some classic (for me anyway) Amiga music in a cracktro by M.A.D (who later became Paradox). Does anyone know who made it?

Oh no More Plagiarisms

May 25, 2010

As the previous post about HtheB is getting more complete, his other activities have been scrutinized by the Ant1/Strobe detective team over here. HtheB has released music in a number of NintendoDS-games. Since these games use MOD-files and there are massive MOD-archives around, it is possible to search for MOD-files that has exactly the same filesize. It paid off, because HtheB did not change anything in the songs (except for the author name).

The game MancalaDS uses:

The game MegaEtk uses:

The game No Place to Hide uses:

The game Blubb 3D uses:

This is an interesting consequence of ‘open source’ tracker music. All the sounds and sequences are available in the file, as opposed to recorded music. With recorded music, you would instead analyse the frequency spectrum, like the spectrum analysis that Nitro2k01 made with Crystal Castles. This is, of course, a glimpse into the future when we won’t be so hung up on recordings of music but have found more interesting ways of distributing music.

Anyway. As Strobe points out – please note that the game developers are not to blame here. Just like when Laromlab gave Kentucky Fried Prophet one of my songs, they probably assumed that the music wasn’t made by other people.

UPDATE As Strobe briefly mentions in the forum thread, HtheB has apparently done many of these things before. Aleksi Eeben found this thread about him using other people’s code, and I guess there’s plenty more to be found.

UPDATE2 And now for the final straw that atleast made me laugh.

So Clémence found this clip here, where it says that the song is made by Achim89. Others say that it was made by Firestorm. HtheB prefers it like this, so he files a copyright claim. I think it’s hilarious :-)

Oh no Another Plagiarism

May 25, 2010

The witch-hunt for chipmusic plagiarizers has certainly cooled off, which is perhaps a good thing. But can someone identify the songs that HtheB has released in his album -=HtheB=-? I think they’re still at Spotify and iTunes though I’m blind at those sites.

Orbiter first posted about it in the the mega-thread at pouet in November last year and not much has happened since. The chip-styled songs of HtheB are: Commodore 64, Final Boss, Dance to the Rhythm, ROFL song, Victorious, and Happy Hardcore. I would not be surprised if the other songs are made by demosceners aswell though.

If you have a minute to spare, have a listen and help out. With Exotica’s Modland Search you can search various chip-formats, including the instrument-texts of e.g. mod/xm. Let’s start detecting, detectives! So far, with help from Dubmood and Eebliss here and comments from Ant1 & Rez & Clémence & Strobe we have the following songs. BONUS: Some of the album cover art is copy-pasted from here (as found by Clémence Saussez).

1. Dream Egg (Dance Mix) by Haroon Piracha mp3
2. The Edge by Eiffel 65 youtube
3. Unreeeal Superhero 3.xm by Rez & Kenët
5. mod.Intro.DSX.4 by DSX
6. from the game osu, unknown author youtube
7. mod.Back 2 the Roots by Dalezy
9. mod.Disco Vering by Joule
11. mod.Cloze Doze by Beathawk
12. mod.Brillsmurf by Maniac
14. Perhaps by Achim89 or Firestorm? see video here

UPDATE: For more HtheB action read this post.

The 8bc Scandal: Hex, Shrugs, and BleepBloop

January 18, 2010

Two new chipmusic communities appeared online quite recently: and It seems that they both went online as a reaction to the drama at at 8bitcollective – the largest chipmusic community for the past years.

Founder and admin Jose Torres designed his BleepBloop Gameboy USB cartridge which became a popular alternative to previous transfer-solutions. However, the code that Torres used for the project was identical to that of the GB Cart Flasher. GB Cart Flasher was developed by “two polish IT-students” in 2007/2008 (sourceforge, It is a hardware+software solution to transfer data between Gameboy and hi-tech computers. But only information, no products for sale. Torres used the code, eventhough the original authors prohibited “any kind of commercial work” in their manual. He later published an explanation for why he didn’t do the code on the “simple microcontroller on the cartridge”. He didn’t have the time to write his “own version of the code” so now he would work on a “revision”.

In connection to this a number of threads concerning the issue were deleted and several well-regarded users were banned, such as low-gain and e.s.c who were admins, and kitsch-bent who supposedly did not receive his batch of cartridges for his vendor site. Several threads that concerned these bans were consequently deleted, or shrugged at by Torres. He has also been blamed for not delivering carts that were paid for. It’s not difficult to imagine the shitstorm that followed at 8bc after Torres’ behaviour. Especially considering that he had previously banned x|k for not shipping his Midines on time, introduced restrictive rules about selling products at 8bc, and deleted threads about the competing product Smartboy because they were using other people’s code (in fact, the same code that Torres used).

At best Torres did what he did due to valid private reasons that we are not aware of. At worst, he protected his plan to make a living off 8bc. In November he announced that he had quit university, turned 8bc into a corporation, and would work on it full-time. He brought in two new people (to manufacture cartridges) in an 8bc office that he was now renting. So now, 8bitcollective is both a corporation, and a community. Many 8bc-members are arguing to disregard of the drama to keep the community alive. They might even use the paypal donation button to help pay for the server fees. We can only wait and see what will come out of this.

One larger question here is if a community is doomed when it becomes large-scale and money gets into the picture. Maybe the 4chan-owner would agree, being $20,000 in debt but keeping 4chan ad-free. If you base a community on centralized control, there is a bigger risk of power abuse. Then again, maybe that’s better than the more “anonymous” control that’s going on elsewhere. You can be killed by Google, closed down by your ISP, cave into cease and desist letters, or have your Internet connection shut down altogether. In a way, there is something oldschool and refreshing with a non-anonymous censorship á la Torres. Atleast we know who did it (since admins like e.s.c and dotdummy were kind enough to talk to me).

The other question concerns authorship and licensing. Why didn’t anyone manage to get hold of the “two polish IT-students”? Would they care about it if they knew about it? If the GB Cart Flasher was properly licensed, would people have reacted differently to what Torres did, or would Torres have refrained from using the code? I am one of those who question the relevance of licenses, as for example with the current case of Voddler violating a GPL-license (who owns and defends a collectively produced GPL-software?).

And on a different note, can Torres claim ownership to 8bc? Just like with Piratebay, 8bc cannot only be described as founder+server+domain+brand. 8bc wouldn’t be much without songs, messages, memes, pictures and software that was made by others. That is probably not what Torres refers to when he says “this is my site“.

Monotrona: SID, Freaks and Children

December 23, 2009

Yes! C64 and weird people freaking out children on television! We’ve seen it before, but this is one is from 1998. The performer is Monotrona and the song is Cadillac Fantasy, from her album Hawkeye & Firebird. The C64-music is not made by her though, it is Hotrod and was made by Jeroen Tel in 1989.

Hailing from the Chicago noise scene, Monotrona was started in 1996 and she used self-built instruments, circuit bent toys, lo-fi keyboards, the Sidstation, MC-505, and of course other people’s C64-music. I also consider it more as “posthuman” than mere goofery: the lyrics are about mechanical beings and computer life, and she apparently had the girl from Fischerspooner replace her when she couldn’t attend her own gigs. A lot of the chip-styled stuff is found on Hawkeye & Firebird and The Might Mun, which you can download here. If anyone has a list of the original songs, please share it. Montrona was discontinued in 2003.

Although I suppose some people are disturbed by this (like the original composers), I think she makes is pretty obvious that she didn’t do the music herself. Also, she includes the original composers’ names in the CD, or so Peter at TCTD told me (who informed me about Monotrona, thanks!). So maybe not so posthuman after all. But maybe it is not much different from what Fitts for Fight did. It’s just that this won’t get the same attention, partly because it’s old, and partly because it is something very different than what FFF did, imho. But I’m biased because I like Monotrona and the music. Then again, I’m the kind of person who puts on Fitts for Fight in a DJ-set…

C64 in Argentina: Crack the Crack

December 7, 2009

The Polish magazine C&A Fan #4 from last summer contained two articles on Commodore 64 and cracking in Argentina. For me this is a very interesting topic, because both the hardware, software, and the computer cultures were (are?) different there.

The first article is about the company Drean that manufactured the official Argentinian C64 clone, and the other one concerns “cracking” in Argentina. Together they paint a picture of how Drean bought faulty Commodore motherboards, fixed them up, and released them as official clones (unlike most clones that are unauthorized). For the software part, shops sold cracked games and even made their own versions of the EU/US crackintros. I really like this idea of ‘cracking the cracks’, messing with the commercial *and* the underground sense of copyright and attribution. (Hm, I think 8GB once told me that even demos were sold in South America..) Anyway, I asked the author Pablo Roldan for an English version, and I was happy to get a quick response. I have edited the text slightly and here they are for your pleasure. If you have more sources or information to add, please comment! I did not fact check these texts. Also, it seems that CSDb or could use an update with South American software.


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