April 16, 2007 in Business

Is music industry cracking down on MP3 blogs?

Frank Sennett Correspondent The Spokesman-Review
 

The wary pas de deux between audio bloggers and the recording industry might be escalating into a dance-off targeting song-sharing sites for elimination.

Music-label publicists regularly feed tracks to MP3 blogs. Online shout-outs from bloggers with quirky tastes and loyal followings can be as useful as college radio spins in breaking new artists or bolstering an established act’s latest release.

But when sites post files for download without permission from copyright holders, they’re breaking the law. Labels, musicians and watchdog groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America can then direct hosting providers to remove the infringing blogs.

Copyright holders can avoid killing off these indie marketing channels by simply asking bloggers to pull disputed tracks. But anecdotal evidence suggests the nuclear option may be getting more use lately.

MP3 blogs Country Pinball Machine, Shameless Complacency and Side One, Track One recently had their file-hosting services or entire sites suspended by providers responding to allegations of illegal song posts, Idolator.com reported. (The music gossip site has itself pulled songs at the request of the RIAA.)

As of last Thursday, only Shameless Complacency remained offline. Music bloggers often sign on with a new hosting provider as soon as the old ones banish them.

In some cases, the music industry’s enforcement arm seems unaware of what the publicity side is doing. For instance, the RIAA recently sent cease-and-desist notices to bloggers who posted advance tracks from the April 17 Nine Inch Nails release, “Year Zero.”

But as Billboard.com reported, the leaks were part of a viral marketing campaign in which the band hid thumb drives at concert sites like MP3-stuffed Easter eggs.

When I first covered audio blogs last April, an RIAA spokesman provided a nuanced assessment of them. “If artists, record companies, publishers and others choose to use music blogs to distribute their music, that is their choice and we think that’s a great thing,” he said. “[But] it is important that bloggers … respect the value of music by obtaining the appropriate licenses from the copyright owners, or their designees.”

Is nuance giving way to scorched earth? I didn’t hear back from the association by deadline, but I’ll post the answer on the Blogspotter blog if it arrives.

One indication that all-out war might be avoided did come via e-mail from Side One, Track One’s John Laird, however.

“My site got suspended because my host was scared by a standard cease-and-desist e-mail from the RIAA concerning a post on Kings of Leon, who … just had their highest first week of sales ever,” Laird wrote.

After noting the downloads were approved by a firm promoting the album, Laird added, “My situation clearly shows that the RIAA isn’t in touch with what its own business partners are doing. … My host should have quarantined the songs and provided me with a small window of time to remove them, but the RIAA has everyone so terrified of being sued that when they come knocking most just cower in the corner.”

Jeff Giles of jefitoblog.com also was forced to switch file-hosting services. “Songs and CDs from the major labels are there for the asking,” Giles said via e-mail. But “when the RIAA comes knocking, none of these publicists will come to your rescue.”

The uncertainty has helped codify a code of conduct among music bloggers. So the industry might actually benefit from its seemingly schizophrenic approach.

“All of the reputable sites seem to follow a few rules,” Giles said. “Links are temporary (mine stay up for a week), purchase links are posted where applicable, and commercially available recordings are not posted in their entirety.”

It remains to be seen whether the music industry will pull the plug on them anyway.

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