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The record industry hazes its own hype machine – with a little help from Google

The students from the Masters program at the University of Sydney are with us again, with Bec Crew being the first to submit her online assignment to Webdiary. Well done, Bec; we look forward to receiving more over the next few days.

The record industry hazes its own hype machine – with a little help from Google
by Bec Crew

Music bloggers the world over are getting nervous. Suddenly they are the target of an industry that censors and deletes content without warning, and there’s very little the blogger can do to prevent it. Since late last year, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been making reckless attempts to crack down on online music piracy. They are wrongly accusing music bloggers who have permission to publish their material of breaking the law, and their right to access this digital content has been removed.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of ordinary people being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars after being found guilty of mp3 file sharing via the Internet. Famously, when acting in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the RIAA has tried to sue low-income single mothers, a thirteen year-old girl and a deceased person, to mention just a few, its take-no-prisoners court-showdown approach to piracy not doing it any public-relations favours.

But as more and more music blogs started to provide links to mp3s, so users can hear and sample new music, the RIAA has changed tack. It’s enlisted the help of internet service providers (ISPs) to remove any posts which might breach copyright – say by allowing users to copy music files. If the RIAA suspects an mp3 has been posted without copyright consent, it requests that the blogger’s ISP remove the entire post, including the original written content, blog comments and images. A courtesy email is sent to the blogger only after all traces of the suspect post have been eliminated. Currently those affected are using Blogger platform, a subsidiary of Google, which until recently was the most popular platform for music bloggers to use. It’s only a matter of time before this practice goes beyond the Blogger borders.

The major problem with this no-questions-asked behaviour is that there is no distinction being made between bloggers who have permission to post these mp3 links, and those who don’t. The Internet is steadily replacing the radio as the chosen medium for young people to discover new music, and with this in mind, record labels as big as Warner Music and as small as Nightshifters Records will send mp3s with press releases to the blogs to capitalise on this. However, the RIAA’s use of automated ‘bots’ to target posts containing mp3s is threatening this use of online promotion.

Last November, the high-profile and well-established music blog, Palms Out Sounds, found itself the unwitting victim of the RIAA’s blind wrath, one of its contributors, Haldan Blecher, recounting, “We had three old posts removed from the blog, with no warning or explanation. Then we had two recent posts removed followed by a brief explanation. No copyrighted content is hosted on Google’s servers by Palms Out, it’s all hosted on our own server with hyperlinks.”

Blecher insists that Google is not playing by the rules, stating, “We didn’t do anything wrong. We make an effort to get permission (from the copyright owners) to post all the music on our blog. And Google only tells us which post they’ve removed, not the mp3 link that caused the problem, so we can’t make reference to it in our counterclaim.”

Ironically, it’s the record labels and the artists that the RIAA are supposed to be protecting who are being adversely affected by this practice. Music blogs add to the public discourse surrounding an artist and their material, the positive effects of blog-driven hype well-known and acknowledged in the industry. Music bloggers provide a free promotional service to the labels for musicians they enjoy and respect, but Google is treating them like copyright breachers and content leakers. Perhaps Google should stop imploring others to, “Do no evil,” and follow its own advice.


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Labels need to change their mind-set

Richard, you're right, it's a tricky situation when record labels need to make money to keep themselves and their artists going, but surely the answer isn't to try and ban something that will always be around, and probably increasingly so. Instead, the smart, forward-thinking labels are opting to make something good from a bad situation - they know they can't prevent their music being posted for free, but if they choose to work with the people doing it and build good relationships with them, they can achieve some kind of control over it, and effectively build a team that does their marketing for free.

If you talk to the people who run these kinds of labels, they'll tell you that the cost of letting a few tracks go for free is nothing when you consider the sales that come from the hype and publicity generated by the blogs posting them.

The times they are a-changin'...

I agree with a lot of the points you've made, Bec, the smarter labels are embracing and working in conjunction with the rapidly evolving ways in which music is accessed and marketed online.

Overall, I believe the recording industry has been fairly unprepared for the changing ways that music is distributed, marketed and even recorded.

These days anyone with a Mac Book and an internet connection can record, distribute and promote their music without the help of a major label or distributor. The recent phenomenon of Myspace launching bands from obscurity into international staredom is testament to this.  A favourable review or two on a "cool" music site and a bit of internet savvy self-promotion can virtually turn a bedroom artist into a household name after having barely released a few tracks.

Keeping these ideas in mind, it is incredibly important that labels rethink the way they approach the situation. As you say, Bec, to ensure the future survival of record labels, they MUST adapt quickly and build relationships with bloggers posting their music, they must work alongside them and develop relationships with them or control will be totally lost.

Perhaps major companies like Sony BMG are still yet to find their feet when it comes to keeping pace with digital music communities, bloggers and music downloaders. It may only be a matter of time until these companies restructure a little more and develop more effective strategies to work in conjunction with the changing environment.

It's the subtlety that beats

It's the subtlety that beats us, Richard.  It's down to such a fine art that we miss it most of the time.

Richard: Dunno about that...

Paying the piper

I'd figured, a couple of months back when the Travelling Wilburys clips disappeared from Youtube, that things were tightening up. Have a look at current financial figures for recording company losses; Sony, for one, have taken a huge dive due to the downturn.

I'd suspect, Bec, that all the free links around the place might have been creating an endurable level of profit dissipation for a while, but now that money's tighter, it's time to pay the piper.

Michelle Shocked, one of my favourtie singers, posted this on her Facebook page the other day:

Here’s a fact: music never comes free. It’s earned, and paid for, or stolen sometimes, but there is always a price. Always.

Good for Google

Has anyone noticed the first google ad on this page?

Since this may be semi randomised, it reads (for me):

Free Music Downloads

Download Free Music From Your Favorite Artists. 100% Legal. www.Mp3Discovery.com

Fiona: What exquisite irony, Jay. Having their cake and eating it?


I thought you were supposed to be down in your dungeon, chained to your desk sorting 43,876 tute postings..!!

Richard: Okay, so I was exaggerating She's allowed out for fresh air every now and then. It would seem I need to work more on attempted deadpan humour.

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