Monday, April 27, 2015

Is Jay-Z’s Tidal Making a Splash in the Streaming Industry?

In March 2015, Jay-Z along with other A-list musicians re-launched Tidal, a lossless audio and high-definition music streaming service. To date, Tidal offers two subscriptions tiers comprised of the “TIDAL premium” tier, where listeners pay $9.99/month for unlimited streaming of songs in high quality without ads, and “TIDAL Hifi,” which provides users the ability to stream 25 million tracks in high-definition audio for $19.99/month.

Shortly after Tidal was announced, Jay-Z participated in a Q and A where he addressed Tidal’s pay structure and how up and coming artists can benefit from the service. Specifically, Jay-Z used this Q and A as a platform to reveal that Tidal will pay the highest royalty percentage to artists out of all the currently available streaming services. And in particular, Tidal executive Vania Schlogel discussed the lack of a free streaming tier, attributing its absence to free music streaming and consumption having contributed to “depressing the record music industry” along with “the downfall of the recorded music industry.” But, in reality – does Tidal provide musicians with more royalties?

Throughout the marketing campaign surrounding Tidal, it was consistently emphasized that it would be significantly better for musicians than other streaming services such as Pandora. But the problem facing musicians isn’t streaming services like Spotify or Pandora not sharing enough of its subscription and advertising revenue. In fact, Spotify published a blog post at the end of 2014 stating that it has paid more than $2 billion dollars in royalties to record labels, publishers, and collection societies since its launch in 2008.

Instead, the challenge facing artists is that recording labels treat each “stream” as a sale, which means artists only receive 10% to 20% of the label’s royalties. And with musician's compensation governed, and restricted, by each individual musician's contract, the only artists who profit off the increased subscription price are those with shares in the business.

But since not even Jay-Z can amend each artist's contract with their record labels, it seems unclear if Tidal will be making as big a splash as predicted by the music moguls who helped rebuild the streaming service earlier this year.

                                                                                                                                 - Erica Vincent
                                                                                                                               Managing Editor

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Daily Fantasy Sports Sites

            If you turn on the TV to any sports channel your almost certain to see a commercial from one of the two major daily fantasy sports websites, FanDuel or DraftKings. The increase in popularity of these new daily fantasy sports sites in the last couple years has been astounding and has lead to massive profits. FanDuel alone ballooned from $135,360 in revenue in the first quarter of 2011 to nearly $37 million in the final quarter of 2014. Furthermore, their massive growth has attracted huge investors. As of April 2015, hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital has been invested in daily fantasy sports. Large and respected institutions like NBC Sports Ventures and Disney have delivered money to these platforms, because they realize the immense potential for further growth in fantasy sports and believe that daily fantasy games are simply the next iteration of an industry that has a track record of proven success.

Like with your traditional fantasy sports, participants draft a roster of players to compete. However, unlike traditional fantasy sports websites that require customers to play for an entire season, participants of daily fantasy sports sites can play for a single days games and get a fast payout. Participants can play head to head, against multiple people, or through a tournament. Customers can enter a draft for as much as $1 and up, and the prizes vary from the hundreds to the tens of thousands of dollars.

Many of the major sports teams have already capitalized on the opportunity by partnering with either DraftKings or FanDuel. The MLB has invested in DraftKings, while the NBA has partnered with FanDuel. The NFL, which is one of the few major sports organizations who has yet to partner with a fantasy league website, stands to make more than $50 million per year from a deal with one of the sites.

Even though these fantasy sports websites are really just a form of online sports betting they are able to skirt the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The UIGEA was enacted in 2006 to regulate internet gambling and specifically bans internet sports gambling. However, the UIGEA carved out an exception for fantasy sports in § 5362. Despite not being banned in the UIGEA, a few states including Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington have chosen to prohibit these type of fantasy sports sites.

Because there has been a new trend of acceptance towards sports betting and because these fantasy sports websites now have big money to throw at lobbyists, it is unlikely that a change to the UIGEA will be made banning fantasy sports sites. One thing is evident, barring an unlikely change in the law, their enormous growth will likely continue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Jameis Winston Sage Continues

            If you pay attention to the news media at all, you have heard of Jameis Winston. He first became famous in Fall of 2013 as an outstanding quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles. He led the Seminoles to an undefeated season, cumulating in a National Championship. However, before that season ended, Jameis Winston was accused of raping a female student in December 2012. Jameis fully admitted they have sex; however, he claims it was consensual.   

            His accuser, who I will not name here (even though she has since gone public in a documentary called The Hunting Ground) sued Jameis Winston Thursday, April 16 2015. In her newest lawsuit, she has accused him of sexual battery, assault, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of forcible rape. This suit comes about two weeks before the NFL draft. Winston is expected to be a first round draft pick, if not the first draft pick.

            However, this is not the first time the accuser has sought to prosecute Winston. While the incident happened in December 2012, the accuser did not pursue any action against Winston until the Fall of 2013 (it is important to note that she claims she did try to pursue charges against him after the initial incident in December 2012, but the police did not follow through). During that time, she claims, the Tallahassee Police Department and the Florida State University worked together to cover up the crime. An investigation pursued, and Willie Megs, a State Attorney, did not file any charges against Winston.

After the State Attorney dropped the case, the University itself conducted a code of conduct investigation and hearing. The hearing, tried by a former Florida Supreme Court judge, found neither Winston nor the Accusers' story to be more credible than the other; and therefore could not find that Winston violated FSU’s student code of conduct. After FSU declined to punish Winston, the accuser then sued the school itself. She claims that the University deliberately avoided its Title IX obligations and mishandled the investigation to protect their athlete.  The lawsuit is still pending. 

At the end of the day, there are only two people in the world who actually know what happened in the early hours of the morning in December 2012. But, from my count, Winston has been cleared of charges more than once. The State Attorney, who is notorious for prosecuting Athletes, did not find enough evidence to charge Winston with the crime. Then, in FSU’s code of conduct hearing, judged by a neutral 3rd party, Winston was cleared of wrongdoing. The Judge said that “the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that [Winston] [is] responsible for any of the charge violations of the Code. Namely, I find that the evidence before me is insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof."

While the burden of proof is low in civil suits, I am not sure she will be able to meet that burden in her civil suit against Winston. The retired Judge was unable to say that Winston committed the act by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a low standard. We’re just going to have to wait and see how the civil suit turns out. Though, now that Winston will be entering the draft and, in theory, becoming wealthy, I wonder if the accuser will push for an out of court settlement. Only time will tell!  

Sara Montgomery, Staff Editor 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Aaron Hernandez: Before the NFL

Aaron Hernandez, once one of the most respected, young NFL players, is now a convicted murderer who stands trial (yet again) next month for a double homicide. Throughout the trial that finally concluded on April 14th, the prosecution had a hard time establishing motive. Why would a young, successful NFL starter kill the victim, Odin Lloyd? Why would Aaron risk his entire life, his career and everything he worked for as a young boy, by allegedly killing Lloyd?

The answer: unchecked, narcissistic behavior that was partly fueled by NFL contracts worth millions of dollars. For Aaron, playing for the New England Patriots, less than three hours from his hometown in Connecticut, proved fatal in the end.

Aaron grew up in a middle class town in Bristol, Connecticut, where his dad was known throughout high school for his athleticism. After meeting Aaron’s mom, an Italian woman who worked in the city, the couple produced two athletic sons whose talents would surpass most expectations. Aaron’s father, originally from Puerto Rico, wanted his boys to fit in well with the middle-class community. Having a dream that one day his boys would make it in the NFL, Aaron, his father, and his brother practiced and worked out before school every morning and after the school day ended every evening. Aaron and his brother were so disciplined that they performed burpee’s (an intensive exercise) early in the mornings on weekends in order to improve their strength.  

In school, Aaron played football and was known to be the class clown on campus, always wanting to make his fellow peers laugh. He had a winning, baby-face smile that reflected both his sense of humor and desire to play football.

However, when he was sixteen, he would never be the same Aaron Hernandez again. Aaron’s mother and father experienced marital problems, as his mom began having an affair with Aaron's cousin's husband. And when his dad went to the hospital for a routine treatment, the healthy 49 year old was pronounced dead two days later, caused by a medical error.

Aaron was never the same. His mom married the man with whom she had an affair and who turned out to be a drug dealer and abusive to Aaron's mom. Aaron’s brother had left for college, leaving Aaron to spend more and more time with his father’s side of the family. His uncles and cousins did not live in the sheltered, middle class community Aaron did. Much of the family and close friends were drug dealers, who never had or held a job and used illicit substances regularly.

Aaron was finally able to leave the “hood” behind when he was accepted to the University of Florida to play on the University’s team. But he never completely left the "hood" behind. It was too late. Despite the positive change into a more conservative, religious state, Aaron was committed to his “ghetto lifestyle” that had been swept under the rug for so long because of his talent on the field.

One of his coaches at the University of Florida realized Aaron’s talent and wasteful habits. In an attempt to mentor Aaron and encourage him to be religious, his coach allowed Aaron to stay with him several days a week. Despite his efforts, Aaron failed multiple drug tests and was benched for several games. Aaron’s violence escalated, as his old, drug dealing friends from Connecticut visited him often. Aaron would not give up his narcissistic behavior, which led to a civil claim filed against the University of Florida when Aaron punched a waiter in the face, breaking the waiter's eardrum.

When being considered by the NFL, Aaron was consistently ranked exceedingly highly for his athleticism and talent as a tight end, but failed miserably for his lack of maturity. Aaron promised that if he failed another drug test, that the NFL could keep a portion of his paycheck. However, his promises proved empty. Aaron became completely divorced from reality due to his use of “Angel Dust,” a hallucinogen causing him to become extremely paranoid. The paranoia continued to escalate so much so that he refused to leave his home without a gun. He rarely spoke with his teammates, who saw Aaron as a loner rather than a team player. Aaron failed to show up for practices, even receiving calls from the Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, who questioned Aaron about his behavior. Aaron believed he was invincible because of his drug use, money and drug dealing friends who constantly mooched off of him.

And that’s when Aaron met Odin Lloyd. Lloyd was Aaron’s fiancĂ©e’s sister’s boyfriend. Three weeks before Lloyd's murder, Lloyd's cousin met Lloyd and Aaron at a night club, where Aaron spent thousands of dollars. The night involved a lot of drugs, models, dancers, and drinking. Lloyd's cousin warned Lloyd about Aaron, telling him not to trust him. Hearing the exchange, Aaron became enraged, and never let that night go. The night of Lloyd's murder, Lloyd knew something was wrong with Aaron because Aaron texted his sister frantically, telling her that he left with “NFL…” in case anything would happen. And that night, Lloyd was taken to a roadside and was shot fatally, six times, before being left there.

Aaron returned to his home with his two friends (who subsequently ratted him out during the trial) and had smoothies that his fiancé, Shayanna Jenkins made.

It was not long after Lloyd's murder that law enforcement located the body and traced the murder back to Aaron Hernandez.

Part II of the blog will discuss the trial.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Federal judge in Frozen lawsuit will not ‘Let it Go’

A lawsuit over the trailer to the highly-regarded animated film, Frozen, is causing The Walt Disney Company quite a headache as Disney attempts to get it dismissed.

Kelly Wilson, the creator of a short 2D computer-animated film entitled The Snowman, brought the copyright lawsuit in March 2014 with alleging that the Frozen teaser-trailer was substantially similar her film. The bar on showing similarity in copyright cases is usually quite high, but in July 2014, California federal judge Vince Chhabria ruled on Disney’s motion to dismiss stating that "the sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar."

Disney made another attempt to beat the lawsuit on summary judgment, which included a forensic analysis (i.e., who viewed the video, where watchers were geographically located, how long they watched) of YouTube records of The Snowman and Frozen. Disney argued the creators of the Frozen trailer lacked access to Wilson's work. Disney's lawyers also attempted to introduce denials from witnesses they'd ever seen The Snowman. This argument failed on multiple points as well.

In court papers detailing his April 2015 decision in denying Disney’s summary judgment motion, Chabbria cited the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival where The Snowman screened four times, saying roughly 16 Pixar employees who were heavily involved with the creation of Frozen attended the festival and viewed The Snowman. He stated that there is a genuine factual dispute over whether the creators of the Frozen trailer had access to Wilson’s work, stating that “[th]e connection between The Snowman and people involved in creating the Frozen trailer is fairly close.”

There is one more bizarre connection between the two films. "Wilson and her co-creator sent numerous job applications to Disney and Pixar, some of which included images from or references to The Snowman," writes the judge.
And with that, the case seems likely to be headed to trial, or Disney could decide to settle instead of racking up a hefty legal bill. Disney is hoping that the judge will also deny Wilson’s own motion for summary judgment, which argues that that the works are so "strikingly similar" that they could not have been created independently.
The judge says a reasonable jury could go either way, and a trial has been tentatively scheduled for October.

- Sarah Wobken