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The Open Letter-Off of '07

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Over the past few weeks, the web has been buzzing with competing open letters about Digital Rights Management, all starting from a post on February 6 by Steve Jobs. We break down the dialog after the jump, in excruciating detail....

It started on February 6, when Steve Jobs posted his Thoughts on Music, an open letter on the Apple web site. Jobs wrote about Apple's FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management) system, which is used to prevent copying music sold by the iTunes Store. The point of the letter is that Jobs believes DRM limits consumer choice, and is ultimately ineffective -- he points out that the vast majority of music sold today is on CD's, which contain no DRM. A central point of the letter is that Jobs believes Apple's FairPlay DRM system cannot be opened up to other companies, as it would inevitably be cracked by someone, and music companies have contractually obligated Apple to repair any such problems within a fixed period of time -- something that would become impractical in a landscape where many companies implemented their own versions of FairPlay. Jobs appears to have written the letter in an effort to deflect European legal pressures on iTunes, trying to shift the focus onto music companies, since they're the ones who demand DRM be used to protect music sold online.

Later that day, Jon Johanson (aka "DVD Jon," a cracker who broke DVD encryption some years back) responded with a blog post disputing Jobs' statistics and an open letter to Jobs suggesting that iTunes could implement a system for selling DRM-free music within "2-3 days."

On February 7, Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) appeared to miss the point, encouraging Apple to open its FairPlay technology to competing companies. This despite the fact that Jobs had already explicitly rejected this possibility in the original open letter, along with a fairly lengthy explanation of why it wouldn't work.

Later on February 7, The Economist weighed in, with an unsigned editorial (read: open letter) on the issue. On the whole they agree with Jobs, though the editorial details how Jobs has changed his tune on DRM over the years. Norway's Consumer Council also got in on the action, suggesting that Jobs was simply trying to divert European legal attention to the music companies and away from Apple (their suggestion was that if he believes DRM is a problem, he should simply solve it, rather than calling for consumers to petition the music industry).

On February 9, Warner Music executive Edgar Bronfman suggested that Jobs' proposal was without logic and merit. Bronfman didn't post his own open letter, he just gave a brief statement to BBC News. On the same day, Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com, posted an open letter, suggesting that Jobs put his money where his mouth is and start selling DRM-free music, as well as opening up the iPod's technology to competitors.

On February 10, MPEG Chairman Leonardo Chiariglione posted an open letter responding to Jobs, pointing out some flaws in the original open letter and suggesting methods by which DRM could be standardized and adopted worldwide.

On February 12, Yahoo Music head Dave Goldberg came out against DRM, essentially agreeing with Jobs (though it's unclear whether Goldberg's comments were originally made in response to Jobs' open letter).

On February 18, Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso wrote his own open letter, in which he (among other things) offered to take Apple's FairPlay DRM system and incorporate it into the Macrovision stable of products. Again, this appears to miss Jobs' original statement that this was not going to happen. Are these guys even reading each others' open letters? (Read a non-marketing-ese translation of Amoroso's letter.)

The torrent of open letters (and analysis of the open letters) continues -- if anything significant happens, we'll be sure to write an open letter about it.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:

1. ELVIS’S NUNCHUCKS

Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.

2. PRINCE’S GUITAR

A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.

3. KURT COBAIN’S CHEERLEADER OUTFIT

Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.

4. MICHAEL JACKSON’S WHITE GLOVE

A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.

5. WOOD FROM ABBEY ROAD STUDIOS

A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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