US Senate passes bill modernizing music licensing and payouts

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The US Senate has unanimously passed the Music Modernization Act, which aims to bring the way the music business works in line with the digital age. Providing the bill is met with approval from the House, and is subsequently signed by President Donald Trump, the legislation — renamed the Orrin G Hatch Music Modernization Act in honour of the Republican senior senator responsible for introducing the bill — will finally be enshrined into law. It’s not expected to meet any opposition.

The bill, in three parts, ensures all music rights holders are compensated more fairly for their work. It will create a publicly-accessible database, detailing who owns a song, making it easier for publishers and artists to be paid royalties. Song reproduction charges have also been updated, to reflect market rates, and sound recording royalty rates will also be taken into account when considering performance royalty rates for songwriters and composers.

The bill has been a long time coming, with companies such as online radio SiriusXM and licensing organization SESAC creating issues along the way, but as SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe said: “The future of the music industry got brighter today. Creators of music moved one step closer to getting paid more fairly. And industry forces that fought to maintain an unfair and harmful status quo were rebuffed.”

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American Airlines offers free live TV through Dish


You might not be stuck watching a handful of mediocre movies (or your offline copies of streaming shows) the next time you’re on a long-haul flight. American Airlines and Dish recently started offering free live TV for domestic US flights aboard 100-plus aircraft with Gogo’s 2Ku satellite access. It won’t match your service back home, but you will have access to a dozen major networks including CNN, ESPN, NBC and Telemundo. And you don’t have to squint at a small seatback display — you can stream the channels directly to your laptop or mobile device.

The service will spread to AA’s fleet of over 700 mainline, narrowbody aircraft throughout 2019. The company is in the midst of an upgrade plan that will bring more power outlets to its aircraft, too, reducing the chances that you’ll reach your destination with a low battery.

This could make the airline more alluring if you’re not in the mood to read books or listen to podcasts in mid-flight. However, there’s also a decided advantage for Dish. This serves as a kind of ad for Dish’s satellite and streaming TV offerings. If it works well, you might be inclined to subscribe to one of those services when you’re back on terra firma.

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Google gives its Slack rival the ability to snooze notifications

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You can now stop Hangouts Chat notifications from breaking your concentration when you’re in the zone… or taking a short nap after a stressful task. Google has updated its Slack rival with the ability to block notifications for a set amount of time — just click on your status button and choose from the snooze notification options in the drop-down menu. You can choose to block alerts for as short as 30 minutes to as long as 8 hours, but you have to do so manually each time and can’t set a schedule for it.

According to 9to5google, your colleagues will know if you’ve only blocked alerts by looking at the status indicator. A purple crescent moon means you’re online but have snoozed notifications, and opening the private chat window will show until what time you can’t be disturbed. It works pretty much like its Slack counterpart, so we doubt anybody would have a tough time figuring it out.

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Bikini Kill's riot grrl punk is available to stream for the first time

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Prince, The Beatles and other well-known artists gave into the siren’s call of streaming music years ago, but not Bikini Kill — you still had to get the iconic riot grrl group’s music the old-fashioned way. Until now, that is. The feminist punk group has posted its small but influential catalog on streaming services, including Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal. Why now? If you ask singer Kathleen Hanna, it’s about accessibility.

In an interview with Tidal, Hanna acknowledged that the group wasn’t fond of the lousy royalty rates streaming services typically offer. However, that both made the music harder to find and would drive people to a “crappy third-rate version on somebody’s YouTube video.” Bikini Kill wanted to be sure as many people could hear the music as possible in the way it was originally recorded (which was admittedly still raw). “I just don’t think it’s right that everybody can’t have access to it,” Hanna said.

Simultaneously, it’s apparent that the group was faced with the same dilemma that has faced other politically active artists, such as Jello Biafra or Rage Against the Machine: they had to participate in the very system they opposed in order to be heard and make a living. Hanna blamed capitalism for creating arbitrary rivalries between fame seekers, but her band couldn’t just ignore it — streaming ensures that people will receive the message.

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Chrome OS revamp delivers a new look and Linux app support

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Now that the Chrome browser has received a makeover, it’s Chrome OS’ turn… and it’s about more than just feature parity. Google has released a Chrome OS 69 update that introduces the updated Material Design visuals alongside a few features that could make your Chromebook decidedly more enticing. Most notably, there’s now support for running Linux apps. You’ll need a supported machine (a handful of machines from Acer, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Google itself). Still, this could be more than a little helpful if you want to run a conventional desktop app or command line terminal without switching to another PC or a virtual environment.

The new software also adds the long-in-the-making Night Light mode to ease your eyes at the end of the day. Voice dictation is now available in any text field, and there’s a fresh Files interface that can access Play files and Team Drives. You’ll even have fast access to emoji in case you need to drop an eggplant or monocle into the conversation. All told, Chrome OS just grew up a bit — particularly for people who’ve wanted more than Android and web apps.

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The 2018 Emmys were a watershed moment for streaming TV

“The goal is to become HBO before HBO can become us.”

That’s what Netflix’s Ted Sarandos told GQ back in 2013, and it subsequently became a corporate mantra. Back then, it was hard to see how this upstart could supplant the bluest chip in TV’s firmament. It had money, sure, but nobody could have expected it to execute the change from being a DVD rental business to a ubiquitous TV platform. Just five years after launching its first original, House of Cards, Netflix has won.

The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, on September 17, 2018, was a watershed moment, as we saw streaming TV platforms stand equal to cable. For the previous 16 years, premium cable network HBO had received the most nominations and awards, an unprecedented streak. This year, however, Netflix received more nominations, and by the end of the ceremony it had tied HBO in award count — 23 each on the night.

The reason for Netflix’s rise, beyond harnessing its data, is its willingness to spend on content for its empire. Most networks have budgets that can accommodate a small number of new projects a year, a limit Netflix lacks. None of Netflix’s shows swallowed the awards whole, but it could instead overwhelm the competition through force of numbers. The Crown, Stranger Things, Ozark, GLOW and Black Mirror all shared the nods around.

It’s this volume that should scare more budget-conscious outlets, including HBO, which has been forced to pick and choose projects in the past. Famously, it was outbid for House of Cards by Netflix, arguably the moment when the threat of streaming became real. Perhaps that explains WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey’s comments about increasing HBO’s reach: writing a blank check and letting them commission every premium drama it can get its hands on.

Ironically, the biggest winner on the night was neither from HBO not Netflix, but Amazon Prime: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It won five comedy awards on the night, including Best Series, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Writing and Best Direction. And Amazon, which has struggled to make shows with broad appeal amid a shakeup of its leadership, will only devote more time and resources to getting better. The odds of its Lord of the Rings series vacuuming up at the technical awards should be pretty short indeed.

Sure, HBO only had Game of Thrones as its big awards beast of burden this year. And by next year, the network will likely broadcast new seasons of Veep and True Detective, not to mention new episodes of Westworld, The Deuce and Succession. That should be enough to give it a respectable number of nominations and wins, but I expect Netflix will become the apex predator at next year’s Emmys.

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'Avatar: The Last Airbender' returns as a live-action Netflix series

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That sound you heard was legions of Avatar: The Last Airbender fans squealing with glee. Netflix has announced that it’s releasing a “reimagined,” live-action Avatar series on its service in partnership with Nickelodeon. Production will start in 2019, and the animated show’s creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko will executive produce the new run. Details are unsurprisingly scarce at this early stage, but DiMartino and Konietzko stressed that the Netflix production would include a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed” cast.

There’s no guarantee that this will prove as memorable as the animated series, even though it should retell the story of Aang and companions saving the world from Fire Lord Ozai. However, the involvement of its original creators provides some hope. This shouldn’t be a repeat of the mess that was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender movie, which both clashed with the original vision and tried to condense an entire series into a 90-minute window. As it is, you aren’t going to see the Netflix series for a while — finer details like the casting and direction might not be known for some time.

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Facebook pushed for access to financial firms' user data

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Facebook is in hot water again over its data sharing deals — or rather, attempted deals. The Wall Street Journal has learned that Facebook had spent “years” negotiating for access to financial companies’ user data. The amount of data it wanted to collect varied. It initially insisted that it had access to all data on its servers, but later backed off and arranged limited data use.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Facebook had been pushing for access to individual users’ Messenger conversations with chatbots and customer service representatives. Numerous companies balked at the thought of handing over individual financial info, however, and signed custom deals that limited what Facebook could see. American Express would only provide aggregated data, for instance. And some companies were outright skittish — Bank of America moved private messages off Facebook, while Wells Fargo warned customers against providing sensitive info in Messenger chats lest Facebook use it.

In a statement, Facebook spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana said that the social network didn’t use consumer-level financial data for targeted ads, and that it partnered with financial companies to “improve people’s commerce experiences,” such as through better support. Facebook also stressed that it wouldn’t use financial information from its Messenger bank services for ad targeting.

The scoop illustrates the evolving attitude toward data privacy both for Facebook and its users. Although it certainly had privacy controls during this period, it was still pressing for access to sensitive info in ways that made companies uncomfortable. Flash forward to 2018 and it’s a different story. The social site certainly hasn’t tossed out financial services, but incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal have made both Facebook and outsiders keenly aware of the potential for privacy abuses.

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YouTube's revamped gaming hub offers faster access to top streams


YouTube is as determined as ever to compete with Twitch, and it’s giving its dedicated gaming portal a makeover to make sure that happens. The new YouTube Gaming hub borrows key features from the mobile app, including faster access to top live streams, pages for specific games and a new “On the Rise” section that highlights up-and-coming creators. You’ll also find entire “shelves” for both live streams and trending videos on top of personalized content that reflects your tastes and subscriptions.

The revamp won’t come without its casualties. YouTube is axing the mobile Gaming app on March 2019 due to its limited reach. YouTube can cater to a “far bigger” number of gamers through its main portal, the company said. To put it another way, most people were content to visit YouTube proper on their phones than checking out a curated gaming experience.

YouTube has become more of a force in the gaming world thanks to record-setting streams and overall familiarity. Over 200 million gamers visit every day, it said, and they’ve watched 50 billion hours of gaming-related material in the past year. However, there’s little doubt that Twitch remains the giant in the livestreaming world with 15 million daily visitors (as of the end of 2017) who are largely there to watch live feeds, not pre-recorded clips. The redesign could draw more attention to YouTube’s live efforts and give you a reason to visit YouTube beyond the latest Let’s Play video.

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ACLU: Facebook allowed gender-discriminating job ads


The ACLU has filed a complaint against Facebook with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for what it says is unlawful gender-based targeting of job ads. The organization filed the charges on behalf of three women, the Communications Workers of America and the women the CWA represents. Its charges allege that Facebook allowed employers to target their job ads toward men and it names 10 companies that it says took advantage of that feature.

“Sex segregated job advertising has historically been used to shut women out of well-paying jobs and economic opportunities,” said ACLU Attorney Galen Sherwin in a statement. “We can’t let gender-based ad targeting online give new life to a form of discrimination that should have been eradicated long ago.”

In its complaint, the ACLU shows that when Facebook users are creating an ad, the platform requires them to choose whether they want the ad targeted to men, women or all. “Targeting job ads by sex is unlawful under federal, state and local civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said the ACLU.

Facebook and its ad platform have been in hot water before. Just last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint against the company for allowing advertisers to target housing ads based on gender, race, religion, accessibility and national origin. While Facebook removed the ability to target housing, credit, employment, insurance or public business ads based on race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation or disability status in April, it disabled an additional 5,000 targeting options in its ad tool suite following the HUD complaint.

“While Facebook has recently taken some steps to prevent employment discrimination against people of various protected classes on its ad platform, Facebook has consciously decided not to stop itself or employers from targeting employment ads that exclude female users from receiving the ads,” said the ACLU complaint. “Instead, Facebook has consciously retained the gender targeting tool and deployed it to send employment ads that excluded non-male users from receiving the ads.”

Among the employers named in the complaint are moving, retail and construction companies, software developer Abas USA and the Greensboro, North Carolina police department.

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