By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Ryan Spaulding, the proprietor of Boston-based music blog Ryan’s Smashing Life, noticed something odd happening to his archived posts a few months ago. His blog, founded in 2006, has expanded to include four contributors and now rakes in about 25,000 hits a month. Chump change compared to megablogs like Nah Right or Stereogum, which average at least twice that daily, but enough to attract a modicum of ads and a devoted community of readers.
But in November, some of Spaulding’s posts, both recent and older, long-forgotten ones, started disappearing from his site. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. One moment they were there, the next they were gone. Confused, he started comparing notes with other music bloggers, and they noticed a trend. A lot of posts across the Web, on everything from Abba to Zappa, had vanished.
That, of course, sparked countless e-mail-conspiracy theories. Blogger chat rooms buzzed with speculation about the mysterious force behind the surge in disappeared posts. Open e-mails to the Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA] began popping up at such a rapid rate that you’d think they contained new Justice mp3s.
Eventually, though, a consensus emerged: Each post takedown occurred on a blog hosted by the Google-owned Blogger platform, the publishing system used by the majority of mp3 sites, particularly those founded prior to 2007, when the open-source WordPress software became the vogue. Google, the bloggers believe, has quietly changed the methods by which it enforces its user agreement. Whereas in the past, a blog owner would receive a warning before a post’s removal, Google is now simply hitting the delete button. In Spaulding’s case, this means that posts written over the past year or more on Wilco, the Annuals, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Matisyahu and Earth, Wind & Fire are gone.
“I’d received the label’s press releases and followed their directions, spending my time and energy to promote their albums,” explains a frustrated Spaulding. “By pulling down my post, they destroyed my intellectual creativity, the very same thing they’re erroneously accusing me of doing. Say someone had linked to that post, or [blog aggregator] Hype Machine — it’s gone completely. If I go into my Blogger table of contents, it’s gone. Not de-published — gone.”
Spaulding says he plays by the understood rules, and is doing the same thing that thousands of other music bloggers are doing. “I’m not leaking albums, not putting up three mp3s. Just the one they wanted. And they start erasing everything, with the threat of a lawsuit. People are afraid.”
And perhaps they should be. U.K.-based Web-scouring copyright detective Web Sheriff will soon open its first U.S. office, no doubt spurred by its success in policing the Web for unauthorized mp3 leaks. Music bloggers are bracing themselves for a new round of scrutiny, and are taking measures to prevent the RIAA from working its way into their music blogs.
After seeing his old posts on Elliott Smith and Tim Hardin disappear without warning, local writer and L.A. Weekly contributor David Greenwald decided to switch his The Rawking Refuses to Stop! blog from the Blogger to the WordPress platform, which is what a lot of old-school Blogger devotees are doing. In Greenwald’s case, he’d received an e-mail from Blogger informing him that the expurgated posts violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [DMCA], passed by Congress in 1998 to regulate the then fledgling problem of Internet copyright infringement. Despite multiple e-mail retorts to Blogger, Greenwald has yet to hear back — a common experience among bloggers whose work has been deleted.
“The first was a collection of Elliott Smith live covers, which actually exists in several other posts on the site, which were untouched,” recalls Greenwald about his own blog. “You’d think it wouldn’t have any legal problems, given that Smith’s stuff’s on Archive.org and freely traded. In the case of the Hardin post, the mp3 links had been dead for over a year.” Greenwald adds that he’d gladly comply with a takedown notice if given a warning, which is historically how such matters have been handled. In fact, he’s done so in the past.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a blogger lacking a few war stories regarding the RIAA or its European arm, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. But actual lawsuits have been rare — other than the infamous 2006 Ryan Adams case, in which two bloggers were sued by Universal Music for leaking part of Adams’ Jacksonville City Nights. More recently, Culver City Guns N’ Roses fan Kevin Cogill was arrested for uploading unreleased tracks from Chinese Democracy. In the former case, the pair were sentenced to two months’ house arrest and two years’ probation; the latter case is pending.
But lately it’s hard to ignore a certain nervousness permeating the blogosphere, with many sure that the ever-erratic RIAA is continuing its haphazard approach to enforcement. Even the biggest music blogs, such as Nah Right, which rakes in nearly 2,000,000 views each month, are worried. More influential in the hip-hop world than any old media outlet, Nah Right, owned by a writer named Eskay, has become a virtual Canal Street for rap fans, offering everything from news aggregation and leaked singles to Web videos. A post on Nah Right, which operates as a de facto portal for smaller blogs, tacitly implies that the material is cleared for circulation in the piranha pool.