I’ve been reading about the Guns and Roses new album leak, as perpetrated by a blogger who got a hold of unreleased tracks and posted them. In doing so, the FBI pounced on him, and he’s found himself in court and on bail bond for copyright infringement, making him the current John Dillinger of illegal music distribution. He faces hefty fines and possible jail time. The ruling claims that the blogger, Kevin Cogill, is responsible for the band’s revenue loss as a result of the leak. This article from Richard Koman explains the case in further detail.
I think that copyright law needs to catch up with technology and social media – yesterday. And further to that, I think that artists who take bloggers to court instead of encouraging them promote their materials in cooperation with them should give their heads a shake. I don’t get why why certain artists will not work with the bloggers. Blogs are a ready-made means of testing the market out there, with direct interaction with the audience they’re trying to sell to. Sure, ask the blogger to take the materials down if he crosses the line (as Cohill may or may not have done), or limit the use of materials by users if necessary by engaging them in a dialogue – a crazy idea, I know.
Copyright, ownership, and control of intellectual property are serious issues that bear attention in this digital wonderland age of ours. I think everyone agrees on that. But, it’s important to remember that we music fans are evangelists; we’d love to turn you on, as the song says. And we’d also love to be converted to sounds we might not have considered, or found on our own. There is money to be made in bringing fans into that process, particularly fans who have an audience, or are a part of greater communities who share their interests. I don’t get why supposedly savvy business people don’t understand this.
Musical movements have always started because of one fan sharing music outside of mainstream channels with other fans. For instance, this was true of the 60s beat group scene and London R&B booms, when British sailors imported American records into British port cities, like Liverpool, and circulated them locally so that people like John Lennon could hear them. You couldn’t get rock ‘n roll on British radio, so that was one of the only ways to hear it. And that sure turned into cash for everyone, even the original artists who made those records, having gained a new following in another country.
Radio Luxembourg broadcasts of music unavailable in other parts of Europe had a tremendous significance to British rock scenes and in the development of little groups like the Beatles. But, those broadcasts were unlicensed domestically. Later, pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline, which also promoted music outside of established channels began broadcasting in formats not dreamed of by the mainstream. Unlicensed radio got the music heard during a time when commercial radio was still trying to figure out how to frame where rock ‘n’ roll was going.
This grassroots, fan-driven dynamic was true of pre-Internet mix tape culture in the 80s too. And this was during the heady times of the “home taping is killing music” campaign, which is not much different to the lines of reasoning put forth today. Yet, this tape-sharing subculture gave birth to grunge, and it made sure that hip hop grew up into the mainstream behemoth it is today. Home taping didn’t kill music; it fed it. Bloggers will do the same, if they’re allowed to form communities of listeners instead of having to hide from the FBI and the RIAA.
There is a rich history of fan-driven musical trends which initially defied the mainstream, but ultimately transformed it. Today, with even more channels for fans to engage with music, I really think that the music industry, and musicians themselves, need to take a long hard look at their relationships with their customers. To this point, I wonder about the loss of revenue decision. It seems to me that terrorizing the band’s fanbase by making an example of one of them has taken care of that quite nicely.
The age of ego-driven artists taking a decade and a half to release a record while expecting fans to be grateful anyway is gone, and good riddance.
Hopefully, Axl’s lawyers enjoy the World Tour. I’m sure his PR people won’t.