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Week in Review

By Chris Helsel

Amazon.com Offers Unlimited Subscription Service - Self-published Writers Unhappy, Consider Organizing Union

Self-published authors are furious with Amazon.com (Amazon) following the release of the company's new all-you-can-eat subscription service, Kindle Unlimited. The service, which offers customers unlimited access to over 700,000 books for $9.99 per month, operates just like Netflix or Spotify. Without the subscription, each book costs a few dollars. For traditional e-book purchases, Amazon normally pays authors 70% of the purchase price. Kindle Unlimited, however, pays authors a significantly lower rate for digital "borrows" - as low as $1.33 each.

The authors assert that the service is drastically reducing their profits. Some have pulled their material from Kindle Unlimited, but many fear that Amazon will not promote their books unless they participate. Mystery writer H.M. Ward, for example, who has sold over six million books, recently left the program after watching her income drop 75% in two months.

From Amazon's perspective, the affordable Kindle Unlimited serves as a valuable method of attracting new customers and encouraging the purchase of other products. The books are therefore loss leaders - yet it is the authors, not Amazon, absorbing the loss.

Further, Kindle Unlimited requires self-published authors to be exclusive, meaning that they cannot sell their books through any other outlets, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple, or local bookstores.

Some self-published authors have responded by raising the possibility of forming a union, telling Amazon "in a united voice that we're not going to lie down and take their terms."


New Spanish Anti-Piracy Law Shuts Down Popular Streaming and Torrent Sites

The popular live sports streaming website Wiziwig (formerly known as MyP2P) and torrent site Elitetorrent have stopped linking to copyrighted material, effective immediately, in order to comply with Spain's new anti-piracy law. Under the new law, the sites could have faced fines of up to €600,000 (over $720,000) if they failed to respond to takedown requests in time.

Wiziwig, which received hundreds of thousands of visitors per day, had been set up in Spain specifically due to the country's previously lax copyright protection laws. In fact, linking sites were declared legal there in the past. In the face of the new law, however, the site's owner announced that the website would be shut down completely.

Elitetorrent, which is ranked among the top 100 most visited websites in Spain, did not shut down completely, but removed all links to downloads that are copyright protected. Its owner, Juan José, says that he plans to transform the site into an online community of movie and television fans, with news, trailers and other information.


Suitors Vie For Bankrupt New York City Opera's Name and Other Assets

The New York City Opera, which filed for bankruptcy in October 2013, is selling its name and other assets (a 23rd Street thrift shop, mainly). Two bidders have emerged as potential front-runners, though both proposals are controversial and have drawn heavy criticism.

The City Opera Board voted in early December to sell the troupe's name and thrift store to a group called NYCO Renaissance, which plans to bring the opera company back to the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center. This plan has received the support of the musicians' union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, as well as the family of Julius Rudel, the maestro who oversaw the City Opera's golden age and recently passed away at age 93.

However, the man tapped to step in as general director of the newly reconstituted company, Michael Capasso, has a history of failed opera companies and non-payment of wages to musicians. His small company, Dicapo Opera, was a failure and has been sued multiple times by musicians who were not paid for performances. The union recovered over $50,000 in back wages, pension and late fees in 2010, and won a judgment for $66,140.92 last year, which has not yet been paid. Further, several non-union singers claim to not have been paid for their work in a 2012 Dicapo production. In an email to the musicians at the time, Mr. Capasso alleged that the non-payment was the result of "a complicated banking issue" and that the checks would be sent soon. The singers have still not been paid.

Alan S. Gordon, the executive director of the American Guild of Musical Artists, noted that the NYCO Renaissance proposal recommends paying singers less than musicians, and that the guild intends to picket its performances as a result. He described the NYCO plan as "an imaginative but grossly underfunded pipe dream, an unrealizable fantasy that will frustrate the hopes of opera lovers for a revival of City Opera," and expressed serious doubt that Mr. Capasso can succeed with City Opera when he was unable to do so with his much smaller company.

The other primary suitor for City Opera's name and assets is an architect named Gene Kaufman. In court papers, he argued that City Opera's Board had mishandled its affairs, draining its endowment, and that the company's assets should be sold in a court-supervised auction. However, Mr. Kaufman's proposal has also been called into question, as he exaggerated his relationships with two prominent groups: Opera America, a service organization that provided Mr. Kaufman data used in his proposal, and the Glimmerglass Festival, which stages operas in upstate New York. Opera America's president wrote in January 2014 that Mr. Kaufman's proposal had represented his group "in a manner that is not consistent with our understanding of our relationship." His proposal also suggested a merger with Glimmerglass Festival, but the festival wrote that it "had not participated in the preparation of the Kaufman proposal, has not authorized it and takes no responsibility for it."

Other suitors who have submitted proposals include the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Purchase College.

Judge Sean H. Lane of the United States Bankruptcy Court ruled in December that bids for City Opera's name and assets would be due on January 12th. The hearing for the sale - which becomes an auction if there are multiple bids - is set for January 20th.


Ndamukong Suh's Suspension for Leg Stomp Overturned

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended by the National Football League (NFL, league) for one game for twice stepping on the injured leg of Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers last Sunday. As the violation occurred during the final week of regular season play, the suspension would have caused Mr. Suh to miss this weekend's playoff matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.

Upon announcing the suspension, NFL Vice President of Operations (and former player) Merton Hanks wrote to Mr. Suh: "You did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground. This illegal contact, specifically the second step and push off with your left foot, clearly could have been avoided."

Mr. Suh immediately appealed the suspension, and appeals officer Ted Cottrell released his opinion on Tuesday. At the appeal hearing in New York, Mr. Suh maintained that his feet were numb from cold and he was therefore unaware that he was stepping on his rival's injured leg. Mr. Cottrell unsurprisingly did not buy this argument. The appeals officer agreed with league officials that Mr. Suh violated the NFL player conduct policy by stepping on Rodgers' leg, but determined that the proper punishment was a $70,000 fine, not a suspension. Mr. Suh is therefore eligible to suit up for the Lions' playoff game this weekend.

Mr. Suh has been fined eight previous times and suspended once for improper conduct on the field. On one occasion, he was fined a record $100,000 for an illegal chop block against an opponent. His prior suspension was the result of intentionally stomping on the arm of another Green Bay Packer, lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, in 2011.

Fortunately for Mr. Suh, he was not considered a "repeat offender" in the most recent incident due to a new formula applied to NFL rules this season. Under the new policy, a player who manages to go 32 consecutive games without violating the player conduct policy is removed from the repeat offender list. Mr. Suh's most recent prior violation occurred during the first game of the 2013 season - 33 games ago. Therefore, he was removed from the repeat offender list prior to the Green Bay game, and his history of prior violations was never cited during the hearing.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 2, 2015 4:00 PM.

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