FEATURE-Paris thinkers seek lingua franca with aliens
PARIS, March 26 (Reuters) - It seemed an unlikelyplace to discuss how to communicate with aliens -- a grey house off anondescript alley in a none-too-interesting suburb of Paris.
But as rain poured from the heavens outdoors, scientists,astronomers, artists and musicians hunkered down in the warm sittingroom of the private home to swap ideas on how to chat with E.T. -- ifhe ever calls. And what, if anything, to say.
Seemingly fulfilling every possible cliche -- from a young computerwhiz, to a softly-spoken NASA scientist, a professor with a shock ofwhite hair and an excitable Russian -- the group of respectableprofessionals were earnest in their arcane endeavours.
Mathematical equations filled overhead projection slides, exoticIndonesian gong music rang out and the talk was of complex scientificphenomena and deeply philosophical questions about the nature of humanbeings and their relationships.
"We are not trying to find the best message or even the mostintelligible," said Douglas Vakoch, who led the Paris workshop. In hisother incarnation, Vakoch runs the interstellar message group at theSearch for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute in the UnitedStates.
"I think we should construct thousands of messages in the hope oneof them could be understood...I think there is a reasonable chance wecan overcome the barriers between human and extraterrestrial worlds,but maybe we can't."
"Maybe, even if we get a signal from them, their way ofconceptualising will be so alien to us that we just can't."
SETI, a private non-profit organisation sponsored by the U.S.government, NASA and technology giants such as Sun Microsystems, hasbeen monitoring radio signals for the past 40 years in the hope ofpicking up a transmission from outer space.
"We have to use the tools that we have right now to search for signsof alien life. We are very hopeful," Vakoch said, as he sat in thekitchen of the Paris house.
"We are looking for signals by radio...but we can't rule out thatthey may already be trying to contact us and we can't detect them."
But, with computer and other technologies making advances all thetime, Vakoch argues it is time to get serious about working out what,if anything, humanity would want to say to an alien civilisation.
The assumption is that any signals picked up by SETI will be inradio form and therefore the alien sending the message will likely havesimilar technology and share our language of physics and maths --making possible a conversation, of sorts.
And that is where the Paris meeting comes in.
In the house of the late Frank Malina, a U.S. pioneer in jetpropulsion, and in the very rooms that some of the early Russiancosmonauts spent time learning English, the assembled artists andscientists put their heads together to brainstorm possiblemessages.
"Today the focus has been on whether we can explain something aboutour aesthetic sensibilities. Is there something about art that iseither universal or that can be taught, step by step, to anotherintelligence?" Vakoch said.
MUSIC, PAINTING, MATHS, RAINBOWS
Surrounded by walls covered in Malina's kinetic art -- pulses ofelectric light shining through moving elements -- people from sixnations discussed what aspects of the human understanding of art andbeauty could be revealed to other beings.
A professor of theoretical computer science suggested using music asa teaching aid to help aliens learn a coded language for cosmicconversations. He suggested employing the strange sounds of Indonesiangongs and gave a demonstration -- once he had worked out how to switchon the tape recorder.
An artist suggested using a rainbow as a metaphor for mankind'sunity through diversity; a symbol of peace and a bridge. He would liketo transmit the mathematical formulae for colour wavelengths so thatalien beings could create rainbows for themselves.
"Imagine how amazing it would be if we introduced colour into analien species' life for the first time," he said.
Others talked of algorithmic communication or computer systems thatmimic human responses.
For Vakoch, all the theorising serves another useful purpose.
"The truth is we don't know if there is alien life out there but inthinking about how we would communicate something about our sense ofbeauty or who we are, we are forced to reflect differently on ourselvesand question our basic assumptions," he says.
In discussing alien life and how it may or may not differ from ourown, Vakoch says, the differences here on earth between cultures,ethnic groups, nationalities and the sexes are put into a context whichrenders them less significant.
EMI axes 1,800 jobs, slashes dividend
LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - British music empire EMIGroup Plc said on Wednesday it was slashing 1,800 jobs and halving itsdividend pay-out as part of a drive to revive its fortunes in thedown-and-out music industry.
After making a splash by axing pop star Mariah Carey from itsroster, EMI said its revamp would bring 98.5 million pounds ($140million) of annualised cost savings but would cost 110 million, takingits exceptionals to a whopping 240 million.
EMI, the worlds third biggest music company, said the majority ofthe job cuts would be made by the end of this month, and will come froma workforce estimated at some 9,000. EMI will also slash its dividendto eight pence from 16 pence last year.
"Cost savings are coming through 33.5 million pounds ahead of theoriginal target, but at a significant (initial) cost," said SimonBaker, media analyst at SG Securities. "The bigger concern is that thiswill just be a short-term benefit."
EMI shares slipped 0.29 percent to 345 pence in the first 30 minutesof trade in London after a strong rally last week on hopes thathigher-than-expected savings would come from the revamp. Thepan-European DJ Stoxx index was flat.
The world's top five music giants have been under severe pressure todrive down costs and restructure after one of the industry's worstyears on record when an economic downturn compounded the effects ofwaning CD sales and rampant piracy.
EMI, home to Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams and Mick Jagger, hasbeen hit more than most after seeing major mergers with rivals WarnerMusic and BMG fall through, and some of its multi-million dollar starsfail to score hits.
Desperate to reverse its decline, EMI sacked some of its topexecutives last year and brought industry guru Alain Levy on board toturn around the group. Levy has spent the last six months trawling thebusiness for savings and has already been wielding his management axeand restructuring EMI's top labels.
EMI stuck to its 2001 pre-tax profit forecast of 150 million poundsafter two profit warnings in the past six months. The group also set anoperating margin goal for its recorded music division of 11-13 percentwithin three years.
In additional to the 110 million pound cash cost of its revamp, EMIsaid there would a further exceptional item of some 92 million poundsrelated to the write-down of loss-making investments and other assetwrite-offs. The group is also taking an exceptional charge of 38million pounds for Carey's contract.
Dr. Robert Moog receives a Technical Grammy award
LOS ANGELES - On Tuesday, February 26th, the National Academy ofRecording Arts and Sciences presented a Technical Grammy award toRobert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, for his contributions ofoutstanding technical significance to the recording field. Dr. Moogbuilt his first synthesizer in 1963, and in 1969 unveiled the highlyinfluential performance synth, the Minimoog. Today, Dr. Moog designsand builds musical instruments for his company Big Briar.
Composer Oskar Sala dies at age 91
The German physicist and composer, Oskar Sala, died Tuesday,February 26. He was 91.
Born in the eastern German town of Greiz, Sala is known fordeveloping and mastering the trautonium, a tube-based electronicmusical instrument invented in 1929. He performed on the trautonium, aprecursor to the synthesizer, with the Berlin Philharmonic many times,as well as for German ads of the '40s and '50s.
Perhaps the most well-known use of the trautonium was in AlfredHitchcock's 1963 film "The Birds," where the instrument was used toelectronically create the calls of the birds themselves. In 1995, Saladonated his original Mixtur-Trautonium to the German Museum forContemporary Technology in Bonn.
Morpheus users move to Gnutella Web music network
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Thousands of Internet users turned tothe little-known Gnutella network over the weekend to download freemusic and movies, throwing up another possible roadblock for mediacompanies fighting unauthorized downloads of copyrighted material.
Makers of the popular Morpheus file-sharing software released anupdate Friday that switched from the Fast Track file-swapping networkto Gnutella after a dispute over licensing fees with Kazaa BV, theDutch company that owns the Fast Track network.
As a result, the Gnutella network nearly tripled in size over theweekend with an average of 353,000 users logged on at any time, saidRedshift Research, a research firm based in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Traffic on the Fast Track network dipped slightly over the weekendas well, said Redshift analyst Matt Bailey.
The move fragments the formidable Fast Track user base, but alsoplaces another hurdle in front of a music industry seeking to stamp outunauthorized file-sharing services, Bailey said.
Recording companies managed to shut down the wildly popular Napsterservice last July, and have since filed suit against Morpheus alongwith Kazaa and Grokster, two other high-profile Fast Track clients.
The music industry says the three companies should prevent usersfrom trading copyrighted material, a request the companies say isimpossible because they cannot control what is traded.
A lawyer for the Recording Industry of America, a trade grouprepresenting the five major labels, said the move belied Morpheus'claims that they could not control their network.
"Their prior claim that they could not be shut down proved to beuntrue. We are examining the current situation," said Matt Oppenheim,senior vice president for business and legal affairs at the RIAA.
But even if the industry wins its case, it will face ongoingheadaches as users migrate to new services, Bailey said.
"This is just another sign that the actual peer-to-peer file-sharingindustry is so fluid ... that it's going to be hard to really stop,"Bailey said.
GNUTELLA COMES OF AGE?
The move marks a coming of age of sorts for Gnutella, which has inthe past been overshadowed by more efficient networks like Fast Trackand Napster.
While Napster boasted 1.57 million simultaneous users at its peaklast February, only 19,000 people on average were using Gnutella at anytime last December, Redshift said.
Since then, usage has gradually grown to 91,000 simultaneous usersas new services like Limewire have boosted sluggish download times,Bailey said.
The head of Morpheus' parent company said legal concerns were notbehind the switch.
"It was a business decision we made in an adverse time, but it hadnothing to do with the lawsuit," said Steve Griffin, chairman and CEOof StreamCast Networks Inc.
StreamCast engineers were working on a way to incorporate bothGnutella and Fast Track in their software until a dispute overlicensing fees with Kazaa BV forced Morpheus to go offline last week,Griffin said.
StreamCast has withheld $60,000 in licensing fees to Fast Trackowner Kazaa BV since last October because Fast Track did not providedocumentation with new versions of the network, Griffin said.
As a result, Kazaa did not provide StreamCast with a new version inFebruary, creating technical conflicts with other network users.
Griffin said he felt confident he would hold onto his user base whenthe company introduced an improved version of Morpheus in a fewweeks.
But there were signs that at least one other file-swapping companytried to lure the Morpheus users who previously made up 60 percent ofthe Fast Track network.
"Morpheus users come on over to our place ... you'll feel right athome," said the Web site of the Kazaa Media Desktop, a Fast Trackservice that is no longer associated with Kazaa BV.
Sony licenses music for song-swapping CenterSpan
LOS ANGELES, Feb 28 (Reuters) - CenterSpanCommunications Corp. on Thursday said itstruck a deal to distribute Sony Music Entertainment's music on itspeer-to-peer service, marking the first time a major record label haslicensed its content to a file-sharing company.
CenterSpan agreed to pay Sony Music, a unit of Sony Corp. , about $2 million in cash plus 283,556 shares and awarrant to buy 189,037 additional shares of its common stock at anexercise price at $8.11 per share, according to a filing with theSecurities and Exchange Commission.
CenterSpan's stock on Thursday closed up almost 41 cents at $8.75 onNasdaq.
Internet content distributor CenterSpan bought controversialNapster-like audio and video Web site Scour.com in 2000 after Scourdeclared bankruptcy in the wake of a copyright infringementlawsuit.
CenterSpan in April 2001 launched a free trial of a new secureservice known as C-Star CDN, including the underlying peer-to-peertechnology of Scour that allows users to trade encrypted filesauthorized for copying by copyright holders.
The agreement lets CenterSpan provide music from Sony MusicEntertainment artists to online service providers seeking to offertheir subscribers streaming and downloadable music.
A CenterSpan spokesman said the company is also talking with othermajor recording labels, movie studios as well as online subscriptionservices, such as Pressplay.
"This deal continues the experimental phase the music industry isgoing through as it tries to figure which digital distribution
model is going to work," said PJ McNealy, analyst with GartnerG2.
Napster, a once-popular peer-to-peer service that was also idled dueto a copyright lawsuit, has signed a conditional licensing deal withMusicNet, a major label-backed subscription service.
When the deal between MusicNet and Napster was announced, several ofthe big labels involved in the venture said they would not licensetheir music to Napster unless they were satisfied it had created asecure service that compensates artists fairly.
Analysts expect Napster's deal will be abandoned because Napster iscurrently negotiating settlement and future licensing termsindividually with each label involved in the copyright infringementlawsuit who are the partners in the MusicNet venture.
Portland, Oregon-based CenterSpan on Thursday also reported afourth-quarter net loss from continuing operations of $6.4 million or73 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $2.2 million or 35cents per share.
Music biz in a funk
NEW YORK (Variety) - The total number of units shipped by themajor record labels sank by more than 10% in 2001 -- a decline theindustry blamed in part on the ballooning growth of Internet piracy,but which others claim may also reflect more fundamental troubles inthe business.
The five majors, which together represent nearly 90% of all musicsold in the U.S., shipped 969 million units last year (net of returns),including CDs, cassettes, LPs and DVD music videos, according to datacompiled by the Recording Industry Assn. of America. That's down from1.08 billion in 2000.
The downturn was not as pronounced on a dollar-value basis, asmore-expensive CD-format shipments continued to account for a largerpart of the mix. Music product worth $13.7 billion shipped to stores,down 4.1% from the year before.
The shipment numbers provided by the RIAA are not the same as actualsales at retail, which include the effect of independent-label stockand exclude record club sales. They also diverge because offluctuations in retailers' inventories. Retail sales in the U.S. fellnearly 3% in 2001, according to data released earlier this year bySoundScan.
The industry said a large part of its woes in 2001 are attributableto the Sept. 11 effect and the dismal economic backdrop, which haspounded consumer goods makers of all stripes. But the RIAA saved thebulk of its ire for cyberpirates, whom they claim are siphoning off theindustry's growth prospects.
"When 23% of surveyed music consumers say they are not buying moremusic because they are downloading or copying their music for free, wecannot ignore the impact on the marketplace," RIAA president HilaryRosen said, citing a study commissioned by the trade group.
But the industry has also been broadly criticized for relying on abusiness model that is fast becoming outdated and for choosing to fightonline music fans rather than find an effective way to sell tothem.
The record biz's two main stabs at a legal alternative to the freefile-swapping world, Pressplay and MusicNet, went online nearly twoyears after the rise of Napster, and have taken heat for therestrictions they place on copying and transporting music files.
"They have begun to wake up, but it probably would have helped ifthey had done that 18 months ago," said James Glicker, CEO ofindependent music Netco FullAudio, which has developed its own digitaldistribution platform. "The technology radically changed the businessmodel, and some of the things they're facing are very difficult tocorrect. On the other hand, they could have been a lot more aggressivein providing alternatives."
One of the most intractable problems for the industry, according toboth Glicker and the RIAA, is the proliferation of CD-burningtechnology.
The industry-sponsored study found that more than half of people whodownload free music from the Net also copy it onto a burned CD or MP3player, and that ownership of CD-burning hardware has tripled over thelast three years to 40% of music consumers surveyed.
Free music has proliferated on the Net over the past year, as thedemise of Napster's free service has given way to several moreefficient and harder-to-stop successors. The RIAA has suits pendingagainst the most popular of these, including Morpheus, Kazaa andGrokster, but it's unclear as yet how effective their enforcementefforts will be.
By the RIAA's numbers, CDs continued to grow as a percentage of thetotal shipment mix, even though the numbers sold declined 6.4% overall(2.3% in dollar terms). CDs represented 91% of units sent to retailers,compared with 87% in 2000.
DVD music video shipments surged along with the larger DVD market asthe format continues to be embraced by consumers. Shipments of thatformat leapt nearly 140% in both unit and dollar terms.
Meanwhile, shipments of LPs held steady at just over 2 million, andmusic cassettes continued their steady decline into oblivion, withshipments slumping by 40% from the year before.
Internet music piracy pact gets into swing
GENEVA, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A ground-breaking internationalpact to protect musicians and the multi-billion dollar recordingindustry from Internet piracy will finally go into force in May, aUnited Nations agency announced on Thursday.
Over five years after the treaty was signed, the needed number ofratifications for it to take effect was achieved on February 20 whenHonduras became the 30th country formally to join, the WorldIntellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) said.
The treaty -- the WIPO Phonograms and Performances Treaty (WPPT) --bars the unauthorised exploitation of recorded or live performances onthe World Wide Web.
It formally takes effect on May 20.
Together with a sister pact on protecting the copyright of authorsand publishers, due to come into force in March, the new treaty willbring "international copyright law into line with the digital age,"WIPO said in a statement.
The IFPI, the record industry association, welcomed the news, sayingthat the treaty would "benefit all record companies globally --independent and major record labels, in developing and developedcountries."
"It strengthens our industry's protection from piracy on theInternet and it provides the foundation needed for the music industryin every country to introduce new online delivery services," itadded.
There are no consensus figures for the cost to the music industry ofInternet piracy. But the International Intellectual Property Alliance(IIPA), a U.S. pressure group, calculated that U.S. industry lost $2billion in 2001, up from $1.8 billion the year before, from copyrightpiracy of music and records.
Under both treaties, countries guarantee the rights of "creators,performers and recording producers to control and/or be compensated forthe various ways in which their work is used or enjoyed by others,"WIPO said.
It noted that the music business pact would also give recordingartists and record companies the right to use technology to prevent theunlicensed reproduction of their work on the Internet.
The United States was among the first states to ratify the pact,which only has the force of law in those countries that have adoptedit.
Ratification in the European Union is taking longer because thebloc's 15 members all have to bring their domestic legislation intoline. But this process is expected to be completed by the end of theyear.
"Of course we want all countries covered, but this is an importantpolitical statement," said Jorgen Blomqvist, director of WIPO'scopyright law division.
US appeals court reinstates digital recording suit
NEW YORK, Feb 21 (Reuters) -Rhythm and blues artists whorecorded albums dating back to the 1950s won a court battle on Thursdaywhen an appeals court reinstated a copyright suit against major recordcompanies over digitized works sold on the Internet or downloaded fromWeb sites.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a lower court rulingthat had thrown out the case filed by members of The Chambers Brothers,The Coasters, The Original Drifters and The Main Ingredient.
Defendants in the suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, are AOLTime Warner Inc, Sony Corp of America, a unit of Sony Corp, BMGEntertainment, a unit of Bertelsmann AG, and Universal Music Group andMP3.Com, which are owned by Vivendi Universal.
The appeals court ruled the district judge had improperly consideredcertain materials when he dismissed the suit. It sent the matter backto the district judge for further consideration.
The lower court had dismissed the case after finding the plaintiffs'recording contracts effectively transferred their rights in digitalversions of their recordings to the record companies and thus barredtheir federal copyright infringement claims.
The artists had recorded music for labels owned by the defendantsfrom the 1950s through the mid 1990s. Under the contracts, theplaintiffs assigned ownership rights, including copyrights, to therecord companies in exchange for royalties from the sale of theirrecords.
However, they said that the "digital revolution" changed the waymusic is recorded, distributed and sold.
They argued that when the original analog master recordings, whichserved as the basis for the production of vinyl records and cassettetapes, were remastered digitally and placed on CDs, they becamesusceptible to rapid reproduction by computer as digital audio files.Once the files were placed on the Internet, they could be downloaded toa computer or simply broadcast over the Internet in a process called"streaming."
The recording artists alleged that their contracts did not grant therecord companies the right to sell or authorize others to selldigitized versions of their pre-1996 performances on the Internet or to"digitally download" or "stream" their works.
The plaintiffs argued that unauthorized "clones" of their digitalrecordings are competing with sales of recordings in the vinyl,cassette and CD formats, thereby reducing their royalty stream.
U.S. to rule on royalty rates for online broadcasts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. government panel will announceon Wednesday how much Internet broadcasters should pay musicians andrecording companies for use of their songs, setting the ground rulesfor the growing "Webcasting" industry.
The decision will have an impact for years to come, say thoseinvolved in the negotiations, as more consumers tune in toInternet-based broadcasts from online music providers and existingradio stations over the next few years.
At issue is the royalty rate that Webcasters pay record companiesand musicians whose songs they play. Only fractions of a penny apart,the two competing proposals could mean a difference of millions ofdollars in payments, negotiators said.
Unlike the music industry's much-publicized battles with Napster andother online song-swapping services, neither side is disputing the factthat money is owed for millions of broadcasts dating back to 1998. Theissue is how much.
"Webcasters have built a business based on artists' work," said AnnChaitovitz, national director of sound recordings for the AmericanFederation of Television and Recording Artists.
"We want to pay and we want to pay fairly for their works,"countered Kenneth Steinthal, a partner with Weil, Gotschal and Mangeswho represents Webcasters. "But that doesn't give them the right tocharge whatever they want to."
GOVERNMENT STEPS IN
Radio stations and other broadcasters are exempt from payingroyalties to performers, but the exemption does not apply to digitalbroadcasts.
The Copyright Office stepped in last summer and conducted hearingsthrough the fall after the two sides were unable to reach an agreementon their own.
Record companies and musicians want four-tenths of a penny perlistener per song, while Webcasters have proposed payingfifteen-hundredths of a penny for each hour logged by a listener,roughly one-thirtieth the copyright owners' proposal.
Recording companies say the higher rate reflects the market value oftheir material.
"Our request is based on deals that we've done in the market withother Webcasters who aren't part of the arbitration," said Steve Marks,a lawyer with the Recording Industry Association of America.
Marks said the RIAA has signed agreements with 25 differentWebcasters, including Internet portal Yahoo Inc
Webcasters say their lower rate reflects the rate radio stations payto songwriters, an amount Steinthal said totals between $300 millionand $400 million each year.
"The Webcasters' case was significantly more tied to facts andreasoned analysis, and I think we made that case in the arbitration,"said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital MusicAssociation, which represents Webcasters.
Webcasters who agreed to the higher rates did so to curry favor withthe labels or for other unrelated reasons, Potter and Steinthalsaid.
In December, recording companies and established broadcasters likeClear Channel Communications Inc. reached an agreement on the rate thatcommercial radio stations should pay for online broadcasts of theirexisting programs.
But the Copyright Office rejected the settlement after the two sidesrefused to disclose the terms of their deal due to fears that it wouldinfluence the outcome of other matters before the panel, such as therate online-only broadcasters should pay.
The panel's decision, due late Wednesday, must be approved by theLibrarian of Congress in May before it takes effect. The rate willapply for Internet broadcasts made between 1998 and the end of 2002, atwhich point the two sides must try again to reach an agreement.
Whatever the outcome, both sides agreed it will not be the end ofthe issue.
"We can anticipate that one or both sides are certain to appeal thisdecision, because everybody wants it to be always a little better,"Potter said.