November 29, 2021

For Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, Some Notice

Until fairly recently, he acknowledged, if you had asked the average passer-by to name New York’s attorney general, you might have gotten a mystified “Huh?” or the answer that it was Andrew M. Cuomo (the governor who used to have the job) or Eliot Spitzer (the disgraced former governor who had it before that), rather than the correct response: Mr. Schneiderman.

In the eight months since he has assumed the office, the emphatically unglamorous Mr. Schneiderman has maintained a low profile for the state’s top law-enforcement officer, charting a busy but anonymous course between Spitzerian aggression and Cuomoesque charm. Even his own press aide, Danny Kanner, recently confessed that, before this summer, his own parents did not know who Mr. Schneiderman was. “And I’m their kid; I work for the guy,” Mr. Kanner said.

But then came August, when Mr. Schneiderman, 56, rejected a proposed nationwide settlement releasing some of the country’s biggest banks from a lawsuit brought by the states claiming misconduct in the mortgage markets. Almost overnight, he found his own name mentioned in a series of laudatory articles in publications as varied as Rolling Stone, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the Web site Gawker.

Adding fuel to the profile-raising fire were the phone calls Mr. Schneiderman received this summer from officials in the Obama administration who pressured him to smarten up and join his counterparts in other states in settling the case. There were reports that a Federal Reserve official, Kathryn S. Wylde, had harangued him in public for his stubbornness (at the funeral for Hugh L. Carey, the former New York governor, no less). At the end of August, an unrepentant Mr. Schneiderman was kicked off the executive committee of attorneys general in charge of the case by its leader, Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa.

Ever since, the four-member Correspondence Unit in Mr. Schneiderman’s office, in a building wedged between the New York Stock Exchange and the New York Federal Reserve Bank, has been dealing with a flood of mail. It is, by all accounts, a spontaneous and grass-roots eruption of thank-you notes.

From Brooklyn, there was this: “Thank you for upholding the law.”

From Manhattan, this: “I promise to volunteer for your campaign.”

From Baldwinsville, N.Y.: “The people are behind you!”

And an echo, from Ware, Mass.: “You have the people’s support.”

Arriving by the day, sometimes by the hour, there have been e-mails and letters from places like Charlottesville, Va.; Athens, Ohio; Placerville, Calif.; and East Berlin, Conn.

Someone from Long Island wrote to say (in capital letters): “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” There was a hat-tip from Los Angeles: “Good luck, sir. You are a beacon of responsibility in a dark and murky landscape.”

Along with the correspondence, there has also been a small tsunami of campaign donations, many in the form of modest checks ($5, $10) from ordinary people in unlikely locations: Clarkston, Ga.; Okemos, Mich.; Anderson, S.C.; Eufala, Ala.  During two weeks in August and September, Mr. Schneiderman received $4,179 in contributions. That may not sound impressive until one learns that they came from 36 people in 34 cities in 19 states.

So far, Mr. Schneiderman seems to have taken this attention in stride, or at least with a convincing semblance of stride.

“Honestly, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed,” he said in an interview last month. “It’s not like people are turning around, staring at me on the street. I have been getting a lot of support from people who are calling in, or writing, or calling my friends or people who work for us, and that’s gratifying. But I think this is kind of a no-brainer. I’m doing my job as a prosecutor. There was a lot of misconduct, and it needs to be looked into.”

Mr. Schneiderman is not alone in questioning the settlement arrangement, which its critics say would wrest up to $20 billion from Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and others for broad immunity from prosecution. The attorneys general in Delaware, Nevada and Minnesota have also expressed qualms that the deal is weak and inappropriately favorable to the banks. On Sept. 22, Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general, joined the dissenters, sending out his own announcement in praise of Mr. Schneiderman’s position.

Still, New York State’s attorney general, armed with weapons like the Martin Act, a powerful state securities law, has always been a first among equals and has conventionally held a second, if informal, title as the Sheriff of Wall Street. Some, like Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Spitzer, have parlayed prosecutions of the banks into successful campaigns for governor. Mr. Schneiderman, who has not expressed interest in higher office, has not let his close-up moment go unused. While he was in negotiations with the banks, his political fund-raising committee sent an e-mail to supporters trumpeting his “tough fight” against the industry. The e-mail was titled “Standing Up for You.”

This occasioned a rare instance of criticism, in The Daily News, which scolded Mr. Schneiderman in September for letting his actions be guided “by political considerations.” The New York Post is also on the attack. Two weeks ago, it published an article gleefully announcing that a 36-year-old lawyer in Mr. Schneiderman’s office was moonlighting as a professional dominatrix. (She has been suspended.) Weeks before that, in an editorial criticizing his objection to the settlement, it slighted Mr. Schneiderman himself — in a strange affront to the city — as an “ambitious, liberal New York pol.”

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Google’s Digital Music Service Falls Short of Ambition

But the service that the company unveiled on Tuesday, called Music Beta by Google, fell short of those ambitions. There is no store, the streaming function comes with restrictions, and, like Amazon’s Cloud Drive service announced in March, using it requires a long upload process.

What came between Google and its ambitions was an obstacle familiar to many digital music start-ups: despite months of negotiations, the company could not obtain licenses from the major record companies.

In interviews, Google executives put the blame squarely on the labels. “Generally there were demands on the business side that we think were unreasonable and don’t enable us to have a sustainable, scalable music business,” said Zahavah Levine, director of content partnerships for Google’s Android unit and the lead negotiator with the labels.

Music Beta was introduced on Tuesday at Google I/O, a developers’ conference in San Francisco.

Neither Google nor the labels would specify which points they stumbled over. But their disagreement follows a long pattern of friction in which the labels demand high prices for licenses or withhold the licenses altogether. The stubbornness of the labels has earned them a particular caricature in Silicon Valley: the bridge troll, demanding payment for passage.

“They tend to not look at these things as opportunities, but as someone taking advantage of their business,” said Fred Goldring, a former top music lawyer who invests in media and technology companies. “Until they figure out how they’re going to deal new technology on their terms, they don’t make a move. And when they finally do, it’s usually too late.”

The labels believe they are protecting their content and maximizing income for themselves and their artists. But as technology companies and industry analysts see it, the labels’ conservatism in striking deals that involve their licenses hinders technological development and ultimately harms the marketplace by reducing consumer choice.

“The history of the digital music marketplace is littered with the ramifications of record label conservatism,” said Mark Mulligan, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Music Beta, which Google is offering by invitation only while in its trial state, will allow users to store 20,000 songs at no charge and stream them to Android phones, tablets and other devices. As with Amazon’s Cloud Drive, the company does not need special licenses as long as it stores each user’s files separately and then streams them back only to that user, intellectual property lawyers say.

But to sell music, or to operate a master jukebox of every available song and then matching users’ collections to it — widely viewed as the most efficient form of cloud music — Google would need licenses from the labels. Google’s plans were described by many record label executives who have been in discussions with them but spoke on condition of anonymity because their talks were private.

Google and Amazon have not been the only companies negotiating with the labels for cloud music services. Apple is preparing its own, and Spotify, a popular European subscription service, has been locked in talks for two years over American distribution rights. In most of these cases the disagreements are over lump upfront payments or concerns that a service that charges users too little could cannibalize other sales and devalue music overall, executives say.

Ted Cohen, a consultant and former major-label executive, said that when both sides of such negotiations have bad faith, customers suffer. “Neither side is playing fair with the other,” he said. “They go into the negotiations believing that the other side of dishonorable. It’s rare that both sides see that the common goal is to create a consumer experience that people value and are willing to pay for. Things don’t come to market because of this.”

But whether Google and Amazon have abandoned their bigger plans or were just scaling them back temporarily was unclear. In an interview, Ms. Levine denied that the abrupt introduction of Music Beta was a negotiating tactic. But music executives said that since Amazon introduced Cloud Drive — with almost no advance notice to the labels — it has been in discussions over licenses, and these executives, speaking anonymously, said they expected Google to eventually return to the negotiating table.

A more robust digital music service would attract more users to Google. But Mr. Goldring said that it was the labels that really needed to strike a deal.

“At the end of the day they’re clearly hurting themselves,” he said, “because they’re leaving money on the table.”

Claire Cain Miller contributed reporting.

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