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
In three-plus years of blogging, Eskay has received his fair share of cease-and-desist letters (mostly, he says, from draconian Atlantic Records). But he maintains that anything posted on Nah Right has been expressly approved by either label or artist. When asked, he says, he’s deleted all potentially offending material and is allowed to continue operating with relative impunity. Nonetheless, he worries that the capricious and ever-desperate RIAA might soon crack down further.
“It’s definitely something I think about often,” says Eskay. “I don’t want to wind up the DJ Drama of the blog world [referring to the Atlanta mixtape kingpin arrested in a January 2007 sting operation for allegedly bootlegging mixtapes]. I try to respect the artists and the labels.”
And, really, only the most Luddite of labels would have a problem with Nah Right and its brethren. The dynamics of promotion have changed dramatically, with early online buzz now creating an incubator for later commercial success (see Gnarls Barkley, Arcade Fire and Lily Allen). Even Web Sheriff believes that it’s in the best interests of the labels to dole out at least one or two promotional mp3s prior to an album’s release.
John Giacobbi, Web Sheriff’s managing director, says that his company recommends to its clients (XL Recordings, the Domino label and George Michael among them) that they give fans two tracks prior to release. “At the end of the day, all most blogs are guilty of is overexuberance,” Giacobbi says by phone from the company’s London headquarters. “Our strategy is to try to engage blogs and fans and articulate the certain ground rules for any prerelease. What they can get for free and what they can’t. For the most part, they’re willing to play by the fair rules of the game.”
In late November, Web Sheriff made headlines when it sent a menacing letter to popular Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear, which posted an illegal leak of Animal Collective’s “Brother Sport” on its band site. Grizzly Bear was forced to publish an apology to Animal Collective, and keep it posted for at least seven days. (There was no mention of whether Grizzly Bear was allowed to watch television during the interval.)
Giacobbi says he hasn’t heard of a shift in RIAA blog policy, but admits that such a change wouldn’t surprise him. Nor would it shock Wendy Seltzer, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and one of the founders of Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, an organization designed to help Internet users understand their rights in the face of C&D threats.
“It sounds like some arm of the recording industry is getting more aggressive about enforcing copyright, and is pressing Blogger to respond more rapidly,” speculates Seltzer. “I’m not sure what’s motivating it. Many labels think blogs are good publicity, so I can easily believe that one hand sends out the mp3s and the other bears a C&D letter.”
Seltzer noted the Sisyphean nature of stymying offending posts, likening it to a game of Whac-a-Mole, with two or three new sites popping up for each one shut down. One source at the RIAA who declined to speak on the record seems fatalistically resigned to the necessary evils of blog promotion, insisting that there’s been no change in policy: The RIAA continues to send its master list of offending URLs to Google/Blogger, which then deals with the problem. According to the same source, the RIAA’s chief focus has become leak control.
But none of this explains why Blogger is deleting year-old Elliott Smith songs that can be legally accessed elsewhere. All arrows, however, point to an unacknowledged switch in Google’s corporate policy. Though its corporate brass declined an interview with L.A. Weekly, Andrew Pederson, a spokesperson for the Mountain View–based company, explained via e-mail, “When we are notified of content that may violate our terms of service, including clear notices of alleged copyright infringement, we act quickly to review it, and our response may include removing allegedly infringing material. If material is removed, we make a good-faith effort to contact affected bloggers using the e-mail address they set up when they signed up for Blogger. This is in compliance with the DMCA, which requires that users receive notification after material has been removed.”
Indeed, nowhere in the fine print of the DMCA does it state that any agency is required to notify bloggers prior to the deletion of their posts. Meaning that in the five years since purchasing Blogger’s parent company, Pyra Labs, Google has been extending warnings as a common courtesy. Now, it just sends an obituary notice. Which raises the question: Did Google finally get fed up dealing with unruly bloggers? Was there some sort of back-office conversation with the RIAA? Does it just really hate MGMT?