Song, by Toad

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Email to Columbia (& Sony BMG)

Letter

This is an email to a gentleman introduced to myself as the ‘MD of Columbia’ by the person who suggested I write him an email about the whole 17 Seconds Glasvegas fiasco. Here is what I wrote. Comments, anyone?

Dear XXXX,

I was given your email by XXXX who, having read the following post on my site, thought it would be a good thing if I got in touch with you personally regarding Glasvegas and DMCA notices issued in their name.
http://songbytoad.com/2008/10/23/dont-be-evil/

I don’t know how much you know about this, but DMCA notices are being wielded against bloggers completely indiscriminately at the moment, and as you can tell from that post people are both angry and afraid. Now, to be absolutely clear, I do not intend this to be an antagonistic email, nor am I getting in touch simply in order to shake my fist and point fingers. I genuinely would rather find an amicable solution to this situation, and I genuinely believe that the vast majority of music blog writers feel the same way. At the time I was angry, and wrong on some basic facts, but there are nevertheless a lot of things which I think need addressing and I appreciate you taking the time to read this email.

Basically, many people are having pages of their music blogs indiscriminately removed by people wielding false DMCA notices in the direction of Google and WordPress, who host most of the blogs. In the case described in my post, a fellow Edinburgh blogger had his interview with Glasvegas from January this year erased because of old and expired links to recordings given to him freely by the band at the time. Writing a huge long interview with an unsigned band and posting their demo recordings with permission is absolutely not the behaviour of a copyright pirate, and the fact that Columbia has chosen to pursue Ed is frankly disgraceful, in my opinion.

Now, I assume that those demos reverted to your ownership on your signing of the band, although I didn’t know this at the time of the post. Nevertheless, given that they were submitted to Ed by the band at the time, I am still pretty amazed that this can constitute some sort of breaking of the law. Then again despite the DMCA being an utterly appaling piece of legislation, that is simply the way the law works, I suppose. Given that the links were no longer active, however, and hence no offence can actually have been taking place, it seems like a pretty indiscriminate way to go about wielding the letter of the law. No infringement was prevented, and all that was destroyed was the intellectual property and labour of love of someone engaging with music as an amateur, and hence incapable of fighting back, or intimidated into refusing to do so.

Apart from using a scattershot approach to the law, apparently irrespective of the legal merit of the application, which is bad enough, frankly, there is another side to this whole fiasco which I find pretty rotten: the manner of engagement. Now, I do acknowledge that the further up the musical food chain you go, the more the balance between free publicity and undermining of purchases starts to tip. For a band at Glasvegas’ initial level, it was a great article for someone to write, and given their current level it is presumably almost irrelevant. So I know blogs become more and more of a nuisance the more famous you get. I also know that bloggers are a pretty varied bunch, and there are plenty who are actively harmful and who genuinely do think that making everything free all the time is supposed to magically make everyone involved wealthy, by some hitherto unexplained property of the magical internet.

But most bloggers with whom I have ever conversed see themselves as actively trying to benefit the musicians involved, and take some pride in doing so. We take down mp3s after a short period rather than building up some kind of online library, we only post a couple of tracks per album so as to make sure people don’t see our download as a method of being able to avoid purchasing something they want, we always take things down when asked to whether it is by an individual artist or a large label. We may sometimes be wrong, but I think for the most part we are a pretty sincere bunch of people. We also provide an awful lot of free A&R and free market research to your own industry, and I am being actively courted by publicity agencies representing both Columbia and Sony BMG, so I assume you see us as providing at least some sort of benefit.

What this kind of indiscriminate wielding of DMCA notices is going to achieve is to drive out the sincere people, harden the cynical ones and create a nightmare of adversarial commentary, as far as I can tell. Check out the Toad Sessions on my site. If, say, Meursault or Broken Records go on to be famous and sign to a major label, which I think they are both quite capable of doing, then what? Will my Toad Sessions be served with a DMCA by an over-zealous intern in your legal department? It will be taken down immediately, I will lose all my work, and this despite the fact that the whole Session is entirely legitimate. Will this happen to Daytrotter as well? Universal are doing the same with Johnny Flynn at the moment, even issuing DMCAs for session tracks legitimately shared by the person who recorded them. Frankly, I am completely disgusted by the whole thing – it comes across as a bullying, aggressive effort to ring-fence the participation in culture for your own profit, and to the total exclusion of everyone else. I said I didn’t want to be antagonistic, but that really is how it comes across to people.

So I don’t know what to suggest next. If I were in your shoes I would certainly not be issuing DMCAs lightly, because the same results can almost certainly be achieved with a single email to the blogger in question requesting that they remove the song – see Web Sherriff, for example. This would also largely solve the climate of fear and anger that has been created by the indiscriminate and intrusive nature of the current method. Ed is a fan and did absolutely everything possible to promote Glasgvegas as well and as legally as he could, and yet that was still not enough to prevent him having a major piece of his own work removed from his site. It’s sad, because it will drive out the enthusiasts.

I don’t mean to try and tell you your own business, but between the encroachment of disposable karaoke pop from the likes of Pop Idol and X-Factor and the damage done by widespread torrent piracy, it seems crazy to attack the people most likely to plough their money and time and enthusiasm into music, and those most likely to attract an audience that will do the same. Now, I know there are presumably a million things that bloggers do that you will see as a major problem, and I know we are far from the squeaky clean guardians of the one true way to deal with the 21st Century. But most of us genuinely do just want to make the bands we love popular, and I’m sure there must be a better way to go about dealing with any infractions or perceived infractions than by wielding the axe without any examination of the veracity of the complaint, nor any attempt at amicable solution. We will comply if you ask us to, we already do that will smaller labels and individual unsigned bands when they ask. There may be some bad apples in the blogging world, and some of us are just plain stupid and careless, but I am pretty certain the vast majority can become a help to you rather than a hindrance.

I apologise for the length and stroppy nature of this email, but I think we are all feeling a little frazzled at the moment. I appreciate your even taking the time to read this far, and I really would appreciate an answer, even if you’re just setting me straight on any misconceptions I may have. I write Song, by Toad because I want to make a contribution to the world of music, not because I want to damage it. I’m sure there are some pretty slippery businessmen in your line of work who are just as exploitative as the worst filesharers, but I really hope that the people who are in this for the music can create more of a dialogue than we seem to have at the moment.

Yours absolutely sincerely.

Matthew

Some other links discussing the same thing, and there are many, many more:
http://www17seconds.blogspot.com/2008/10/grrrstand-up-to-bullies.html
http://festivefifty.blogspot.com/2008/10/beginning-of-end.html
http://todiebyyourside.blogspot.com/2008/10/just-because-youre-paranoid.html
http://thevinylvillain.blogspot.com/2008/10/dial-999-911-or-whatever-number-is.html

And now you know why I’ve been so quiet for the last day or so.

32 witty ripostes to Email to Columbia (& Sony BMG)

  1. avatar

    Just to clarify, I really wasn’t trying to be an antagonistic dick, and I would be genuinely delighted if we could all find a way to play nicely together. I’ll be really interested to see if the guy comes back with anything, even if it is just to set me straight on some stuff and explain their side of things. It’s interesting to have to opportunity to shoot someone high up an email and try and explain your side of it too, even if the thing is far, far too long.

  2. avatar

    To be absolutely & completely honest, Toad, I do think it meanders on occasion & isn’t the strongest bit of point making I’ve witnessed from your webbed scribblings. It’s very brave because you just stepped out in front of the oncoming traffic, but I’m not 100% on its composition as a point making/question asking piece of correspondence. There are areas that feel a little too familiar in tone, or presume absolute referential knowledge, & I think this is where it weakens a little under its weight of seriousness.

    Still, good man. Hopefully it will be considered with maturity & responded to without any motive or spin.

  3. avatar

    Wow

    *stunned silence, gathering back of breath*

    thank you, Matthew.

    Very grateful – I owe you a bottle of wine.

    Ed

  4. avatar

    It will be interesting to see what response you get – if any. I find myself truely ambivalent about the whole thing. Bloggers do act as unpaid PR for bands. But equally they do post for free something that would otherwise have to be paid for. That said, it doesn’t excuse the heavy-handed approach that Ed has received.

  5. avatar

    Oh, and it isn’t just in the US that action is afoot. Also in the UK. See page 51 of this:

    http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/CEPFeb2008.pdf

  6. avatar

    And this (from http://www.culture.gov.uk)

    We will consult on legislation that would require internet service providers and rights holders to co-operate in taking action on illegal file sharing – with a view to implementing legislation by April 2009.

    In July, the Department for Business launched a consultation paper on tackling the unlawful downloading of copyrighted material. The paper focuses on the Government’s preferred, industry-led approach based on giving a statutory footing to a memorandum of understanding signed by the six major Internet Service Providers, four major record labels and six major film studios.The agreement involves the signatories working together to create a self-regulated environment where users are educated about illegal file sharing, legal downloads are made more easily available, alleged infringers are notified and repeat offences are investigated. The consultation closes at the end of October.

  7. avatar

    Big Brother is watching you…

  8. avatar

    Well, Matthew, although personally I think this mail is a masterpiece, I’m afraid the response – if there will be any at all – will be: a) we just do what the law tells us to do b) we don’t have the time to go into detail when doing our shitty little job.

    Cheers, mate and thanks for all the work you put into this mail!

    Dirk from Sexyloser

  9. avatar

    Well not to side with the labels, but I think it would be hard to argue if they came back and said that they simply have no time to police every single music blog in a polite and friendly manner. Mind you, there’s always (and I genuinely can’t believe I’m saying this) Web Sherriff, who just show up and tell you, instead of wielding the shotgun. I really can’t believe I just said that.

  10. avatar

    I’ve had the same thought, too… come back, mate, all is (nearly) forgiven…

  11. avatar
    Campfires & Battlefields

    The letter is very well done Matthew. Very. It’s somewhat long, but I think that’s because it’s not just a knee-jerk response, but instead does the recipient the courtesy of actually trying to understand what Columbia could be thinking of. I guess it’s hard to tell, but it would be interesting to know just how often this DMCA hammer is wielded against real offenders, as opposed to people like Ed. I also wonder how effective a polite Web Sherriff notice is to a true serial copyright infringer (pre-release leakers and the like). In such hard cases it may be that it takes a blunt instrument to penetrate a thick hide, and what happened to Ed just sort of “collateral damage,” to use a horrible expression.

  12. avatar
    Maxwell Panther

    Yes, Frazzled i like that word.

  13. avatar

    Good first attempt Matthew. A bit like DC and C&B I think it’s a bit long and could do with some editing to make the points clearer, but I know you can do that. There are many good points in there, well made.

    Of the ‘big 4′ We know that Universal are the main culprits in this, and Sony BMG are also involved. I have an inkling that Warners might too – go here http://hypem.com/search/jeremy%20warmsley/1/ and click on the link to the post on the MFM blog. It’s not there! JW is on Transgressive which is part of Warners. Though I have no inkling from the writers of MFM that this post was deleted.

    That leaves EMI. Has anyone had trouble from their direction? I ask interestedly because I get quite a bit of stuff from them, both on CD and mp3. I got sent a new song from Llly Allen last week, which I would have posted if it had been any good, but it seems that EMI want to start some sort of blog/internet buzz about even an artist as big as Allen. Surely then to go issuing DMCAs is having your cake and eating it. But then again, maybe EMI haven’t been guilty. I’d like to know.

    Anyway, good luck with the letter Toad. In a way, you speak for all of us…

  14. avatar

    C&B – actually that’s an excellent question that it has occurred to me to ask Web Sherriff in the past: just how many genuinely malicious people are you tackling, or is it just the enthusiasts?

    Daily Growl – I’ve had no trouble from anyone yet, but if Warmsley is on a major label why has his WtOTS stuff been targetted? People just not reading the label, I guess, and firing off DMCAs against anything with Johnny Flynn on it.

    I really hope this guy responds actually, because I would really be interested to know exactly what these people think we have to do before they would be happy to stop randomly vandalising our websites. There must be plenty of total dickheads out there, but that Glasvegas post and The Daily Growl’s WtOTS posts are about as benign and above board as it gets.

  15. avatar

    Top effort Matthew – that kind of thing takes guts to write I reckon, or at least the motivation to stand up and say something! Well done. Also interested to hear of any response.

  16. avatar
    bogienator

    Well maybe it is a bit long, but on the positive side, you’ve managed to squeeze just about all the salient points that have been brought up over the last few days, so well done m’lad. It will make a good starting point for any campaign that starts to roll.
    Personally, I think some kind of co-ordinated campaign is what’s needed. US legislation being used as a big stick (well, more of an ICBM actually) with which to batter the innocents.
    There really must be a way to get this moved up the agenda of the mainstream media. Nobody go drinking with journos anymore?

  17. avatar

    I’ve sent a link to this to the PR guy who has sent me music to review. When I told him why I was grateful for his explicit permission to post a mp3 he said he had heard a thing or two about what was going on but wanted more information to make sure he could continue to provide legal mp3s to bloggers. So, Matthew, you’re on the right track. If PR people want to use us bloggers to help them and labels are dependent on PR people, we might have some good allies. Great job on the letter and thanks for working on all of this for all of us. You’re ace, darling! xoxox

  18. avatar

    The fact that you took such direct action means you wont hear a word of criticisim about any part of the content…..

    Proud of you mate. Really fucking proud.

  19. avatar

    I think getting some print journos from papers involved would be wise. Anyone know anyone we should contact?

  20. avatar
    The Leader of the Pack

    As someone worked as a ‘Digital Marketing Assistant’ for one of the majors – not those in question by the way – I would like to point out the sheer hypocrisy of these organisations with regard to bloggers. Part of my job was working WITH bloggers.

    One more than one occassion, I was asked by the powers-that-be to email certain blogs mp3s off forthcoming albums, particularly one boy in a rubbish band trying to relive his good old days, and allow them to be ‘leaked’.

    These companies are quite happy to circumnavigate legislature when it suits them, and yet will wield their axe at will whenever they fancy, often, as is the case here, against people who have done absolutely nothing wrong.

    The majors have deserved everything that has gone t!ts up with them recently. They are a bunch of malevolent, incompetent scoundrels, who make up their own rules when they feel like it. Should they collapse, good riddance.

    Yours,
    Me

  21. avatar

    That is exactly what galls me the most. Don’t send me promo shit on one hand and DMCA complaints on the other. If you have the time to act nicey nicey when you want something then you have the time to be a bit civil when you want to remove something as well.

  22. avatar

    Well said. I have emailed NME but heard nothing back so far. Think The Guardian and Independent, with scotsman and The Herald in Scotland are more likely to be sympathetic.

    As for the EMI guilty or not gulty, Steve at Teenage Kicks had a post featuring The Beatles removed, so unless the Beatles’ back catalogue is not handled by EMI in California, where these notices seem to be coming from, then they are guilty.

    the majors seem to want to use the blogs as and when it suits them, which is pretty hypocritical, IMHO.

  23. avatar

    Well we should wait to hear what the guy says before kicking off too much. But the NME hate blogs – read their site, blogs are never mentioned. Best finding a music writer who deals with a lot of this stuff, like Alex Petritidis (sp?) at the Guardian. But like I said, I’d rather wait until we see if the Sony guy is going to come back with anything.

  24. avatar

    Ed, if nothing try the Guardian Weekend Guide Internet section (you know, blogroll/what we learnt this week on the net, etc.) – that at least has an immediate relevance & someone on that staff may forward it to the right copy/feature editor & get the ball rolling that way. Try Spin & Paste magazines in the States – as much as I can’t stand them they are very blog friendly. Uncut in the UK may be a good call, too; if not in print then on-line on their exyensive site.

    Also, simply for the sake of publicity, touch up Pop Bitch, Smoking Gun, Drudge Retort, The Onion, etc. You angle it right & you could have a lot of people aware of the ’cause’ very quickly.

  25. avatar

    Could be worth a try, 17 Seconds got flagged up twice as being a good blog, as did one or two others…

    Ed

  26. avatar

    Interesting about EMI. I’ve tended to look on them more favourably than all the other majors, and I think they’re the only one of the four who actually send me stuff.

    On the subject of journos, a guy called Chris Salmon writes a column called ‘click to download’ for the Guardian, which covers music on the internet. This sort of thing would probably be ideal for his column.

    Ironically, the NME introduced a ‘best blog’ award at their Tesco NME Awards (or something like that) last year. The fact that The Hype Machine was nominated shows how much they know/care about blogs…

  27. avatar

    Mike from Green Lights was the only actual blogger nominated, I think. It looks like they plugged the word music blog into a search engine and wrote down the first five things that came up.

  28. avatar

    So have you sent the letter? Keen to hear the response (if any)

  29. avatar

    Sent, and nothing so far. I am not holding my breath, but in terms of showing even a shred of willing to engage with music fans, I really hope there’s at least some sort of response.

  30. avatar

    Noticed this on Drowned In Sound, Ed’s troubles made the comments.

  31. avatar

    Great job Matt, I hope these guys give you a response. They need to realize our intentions are to help the artists. Good for you for doing this!

  32. avatar

    [...] By Toad – Email to Columbia (& Sony BMG) – Music bloggers who have worked hard to promote a band have had their posts taken down by the [...]

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