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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 06, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Rio Riot, MP3, Copyright, and Batting 1.000

The entertainment business is driven by two great devils: greed and terror.

And nowhere do these twin monsters reveal themselves more clearly than in the current demand by the entertainment industry for perpetual copyright and universal copy protection.

Those of you who have already bought HDTV systems -- the entertainment industry is planning to make your expensive equipment worthless. How? By requiring that all copy-protection systems do their decoding at the screen or projector rather than in the receiver.

And why are they doing this ridiculous thing? Because they live in constant terror that someone, somewhere, will intercept their signal and make a single copy ... for free.

DVDs are already encoded -- and regionalized, so that a DVD encoded for Asia can't be played on an American DVD player.

The music industry is just as bad. They're now beginning to release encoded music CDs that can't be "ripped" (copied onto a computer and duplicated).

They put a stop to Napster, too, which ran a music-sharing system whereby you could sign onto the web, go to somebody else's computer, and upload the tracks they had ripped from some cd.

I make my living from copyright, so you'd think I'd have more sympathy for the music and film industries. After all, I wouldn't appreciate it if somebody started taking my books and letting people read them ... for free! Without paying me each time!

Oh, wait. They already do. In fact, the government does it -- with libraries.

But ordinary citizens do, too. They buy my books and then lend them to friends. They proudly tell me, "Fifteen people have read this copy of your book."

I've known writers who would answer, "So that's fourteen sales I didn't make, fourteen royalties I won't get paid."

But I think those writers are idiots to think that way. That isn't fourteen lost sales! That's fourteen readers who will be looking for my books in the future.

This same brouhaha was played out back when they started playing records on the radio. The music publishers were livid. Why will people buy our records when they can hear the songs for free on radio?

Government was involved in helping broker a settlement in which radio stations pay a small royalty to the songwriters for each airplay. But nothing at all is paid to the performers. Why?

Because radio play was discovered to lead to far more record sales. Indeed, it turned out that radio drove record sales -- the more airplay the record got, the more copies it sold.

The entertainment industry is convinced that digital copying is completely different. If you can get a perfect copy of a cd for free, why would you pay for one? Therefore, they have to eliminate the possibility.

They are so wrong. And here's why:

The Rio Riot.

It's an MP3 jukebox that will hold the music from a couple of hundred albums in the palm of your hand.

I just replaced my hundred-cd jukebox with the Rio Riot. I ripped all the cds I love best and loaded their contents (minus the tracks I didn't like as well) onto the Rio Riot.

Using a cheap headset-to-RCA cable from Radio Shack, I pump the sound through the same amp and speakers that I used with my old cd jukebox. The same songs sound better from the Rio Riot.

I'm not sharing these with other people. I'm just putting them into a convenient format that allows me more control over the way I listen to music.

Meanwhile, people who do share "stolen" copies of cd tracks aren't, in the long run, cheating anybody out of anything, any more than people who lend my books out are cheating me out of royalties.

Most people only read a book once, after all. Having read it, why would they buy it?

But they do. And they do with music, too. We hear it on the radio, or a friend sends us an MP3 over the web, and if we like it, we go out and buy the cd.

The only piracy that hurts the publishers is when somebody copies their music and sells it. Otherwise, it's the modern equivalent of singing around the piano.

And I will never, never buy a copy-protected cd. I have too much good music already to need to give in to this paranoid, greedy, self-defeating attempt to keep me from using the cds I buy in the way I choose to use them.

And for those who say, Ah, but would you put your books online where people could download them for free? -- well, my answer is, I not only would, I did. Until the bookstore chains made me stop.

It didn't cost me royalties. It widened my audience. But try persuading a greedy paranoid of that!

*

In the airport in Greensboro, the gift shop out near the Delta gates sells lots of Duke and Carolina shirts and caps, and even has a small selection of Wake Forest -- but there's nothing there bearing the logo of A&T or UNC-G, let alone a hint of Guilford College, Greensboro College, Bennett College, High Point College, or GTCC. I guess we're even invisible at our own airport!

*

If you haven't seen The Rookie, go! I couldn't care less about baseball stories, but this film isn't made for baseball fanatics. Instead it's a human story about people who care about whether other folks are happy.

It is, in short, about good people doing good, yet without ever being smarmy or sappy. It's G-rated because there was simply no reason to show anything indecent or close the door on any movie-goer.

Dennis Quaid's performance is restrained and natural -- and all the more moving because of that. It's a shame that the vicissitudes of Hollywood have kept him in the second tier of male leads. He could play most roles Harrison Ford has played, every bit as well -- and he could do every Michael Douglas part lots better.

Even the minor characters are gems. The little boy who plays Quaid's son is a delight; the young actor who plays the catcher on the high school team is the best of a good lot.

It's promoted as a sports film, a "family film," but in reality it's simply a good film, well worth seeing.

*

Speaking of baseball ...

Back when I was in fifth grade, our school promoted the "teen-age book club," which allowed kids to order books from a catalog provided through their classroom teacher.

I was so passionate for books that I skipped lunch (something I don't do lightly) to get book money, and when I had ordered every book that looked remotely interesting to me, I went ahead and ordered books that were absurdly wrong for me. I mean, I ordered "Black Flag at Indianapolis" even though I don't care a whit for race cars. I even ordered "Candy Stripers," a girls' book if there ever was one.

I read them, too. I even enjoyed them. And I remember them, umpty-ump years later.

Now, if there's anything in which I had less interest than Indy racers or nurses' aides, it's baseball. I was lousy at playing it and bored to tears when required to watch it and ...

And I still ordered "The Kid Who Batted 1.000." It was a fun story about a kid with no talent for baseball except that he could always get a piece of every pitch and foul it away. Since you can't strike out on foul balls, this meant pitchers had to keep pitching and pitching to him until they walked him.

It was a charming book with engaging characters. I remember it well.

I remember it so well that I was quite irritated to see a new novel with the title The Kid Who Batted 1.000 as a brand new sports novel by Troon McAllister.

In an afterword, McAllister acknowledges that he had heard about the earlier book, the one I read as a kid, but only after his book was completely written did he get a chance to read it. So it's just a coincidence that they even have the same ending.

McAllister's book is not without its charms. It was obnoxious when he repeatedly savaged Christian ballplayers who wear their religion on their sleeves.

But McAllister's style is pleasant, the tale engaging, and even though there is nothing like a human character or relationship anywhere in the book, he does a dazzling job of setting up weird situations where obscure baseball rules come into play.

But the original YA novel was better. I wish it were still in print.


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