‘Event piracy’ sets off furor

WASHINGTON — The scene at the terribly formal Mayflower Hotel was positively surreal.

Dueling press conferences. Security patrols. Congressmen. Angry lobbyists. Napster-loving teens trying to crash the gates. The fuss? Copyright in the new millennium, whether it’s digital TV or the Internet. The Consumer Electronics Assn. of America (CEA) had been planning the March 6 confab at the Mayflower for weeks, hoping to rally support for its fight against Hollywood over what should be protected on digital TV and what shouldn’t. The CEA says consumers will be hurt if there is too much encryption.

CEA prexy Gary Shapiro was stunned to learn on the eve of the huddle that the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the Recording Industry Assn. of America were planning to hold a rival press conference at the Mayflower.

Shapiro, a constant thorn in the side of MPAA prexy Jack Valenti, thought it was rather impolite, considering he had made sure to include reps from the trade associations on various panels throughout the day.

“It’s event piracy,” Shapiro says.

Shortly before the dueling press conference, Variety spotted a CEA staffer talking intently to a group of surfer-type teenagers in the main hotel hallway.

Turns out the teens were there to rush the press conference. How much trouble they were planning became a moot point when the MPAA and RIAA instructed security guards to keep apparent interlopers out. Patrol did just that when the kids tried to gain entry.

Inside, RIAA prexy Hilary Rosen was besieged with questions about the RIAA’s success in convincing a court that Napster, an Internet file-swapping service for music lovers, had violated copyright laws by not compensating artists and labels.

The ever-shrewd Rosen acknowledged that the court win was not an “be all, end all” and that the entertainment industry’s fight for copyright has only just begun.

When the press conference concluded, rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy came through the door grumbling that he too had been denied entry. The security guards apparently had assumed he was with the teenagers.

The rapper, a leading advocate of Internet ventures such as Napster, told Variety that lawyers and other “pariahs” are now running the record industry. Midway through his sentence, Rosen walked up to say hello.

The two hugged, being old acquaintances and all.

Not long after, Chuck D returned to the CEA conference across the hall to give his keynote address. He said the major record labels and Hollywood studios shouldn’t be allowed to have a lock on content flowing over digital TV airwaves or the Internet.

“I encourage file-swapping servers like Napster to spread like gremlins,” he declared.

Singing happy tunes

TV and movie execs might take a lesson from “Songs of the Century,” a list of the 365 top songs or cast albums from the past 100 years released last week by the RIAA and National Endowment of the Arts.

Scholastic Inc. will develop a curriculum for each recording and ship it off to schools across the country, giving kids a crash course in the historical and cultural significance of a particular piece of music.

AOL@School will be in charge of streaming a song a day.

“Over the Rainbow,” sung by Judy Garland, topped the list, which was generally broken down by decade.

With Hollywood’s recent vilification as a cultural polluter, some of the recordings on the list might raise a few eyebrows, including Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” or Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” Such recordings were certainly controversial in their day.

Seems the old adage is true that what wasn’t OK yesterday may be OK tomorrow, as long as enough time has passed in between.

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