WARNING: This post is long, you may want to bookmark this and read it later, but I urge you to read it in full as it has some valuable insights in it, not from myself per se, but from the exact people that steal our music….PROCEED.
I’ve said all I need to say about SOPA on my Twitter. I’ve explained in such far ranging mediums as email exchanges to face to face exchanges with co-workers. Frankly, I’m tired of making the same points. The crux of the argument is that SOPA opponents are largely aligning themselves with corporate interests like Google (a company worth more then the entire music industry combined, actual fact). We can have a debate about what’s wrong with the SOPA bill, we can have a debate over Government power. We can’t have a debate over whether if someone is breaking our laws that their site should be shut down and whether illegal activity is free speech. We can’t have a debate that pirating material is good for an industry that has shrunk since it’s implementation by astronomical numbers. We can’t have a debate on whether you are ultimately just choosing between two corporate groups (Hollywood and Entertainment corps vs. Sillicon Alley fat cats). What is a fact is that even mainstream web companies have made millions of dollars, perhaps billions by being the window in which someone reaches through in order to find an illegal website counterfeiting everything from music to drugs.
Well, I guess I made my point again. DAMN IT! Ok, tangent aside, I wanted to post some excerpts from a conversation I had with an out and out bootlegger of music online. I won’t reveal which site this actually is, but it’s one of the largest in the area of pirating music, mostly rap music. I usually do not write “blogs” that bootleg our music directly. I’ve found it becomes a long distance yelping contest between heart broken artist and mean hearted ex fan. I usually just use DMCA Complaints on the sites that they upload the files to, and trust me, the people with the links are the same ones that uploaded it. I should take this time to remind you that DMCA is the ONLY power I have at Uncommon to police our material on the internet and it was fought against by almost all the same web interests fighting SOPA. Alas.
Many of you know, a few months ago we did a charity record called “Save the Horn” where every dime made from it was donated to Charity:Water to help with East African famine relief. Our roster contributed new and back catalog songs that were focused on this under-reported issue. Much to my surprise even THAT was being bootlegged, along with our free releases too, free releases that only cost an email address!!! So I confronted the person that actually uploaded the album, he was amiable in some ways, ignorant in others. I pressed on and he referred me to the head of the site that he actually “blogs” for. This person was criminally ignorant and rude to me, he shows EXACTLY why more power must be given to creatives like myself and what we are fighting for with elements of SOPA. Below you will see portions of this “conversation”. I may post more of it in the future as it was extensive if not circular in nature. I can provide anyone evidence that I did not edit any thing that was said by either of us or change the context of it. My questions are in bold, his replies are in Italics.
In particular you uploaded an album we released for charity to raise money for starving Egyptians going through a famine. All proceeds from Save the Horn were raised for Charity:Water, a non profit that builds water wells and purchases water rigs in the 3rd world. How is it possible that this is a release that we’d be cool with you uploading? Do you have any moral compass at all?
Besides the charity album you have also been uploading some of our recent releases on the label that are either for sale or free via our bandcamp. I want to make a few things clear, we do not need or want the support of you, (SITE NAME) or (OTHER SITE), whether it is a free release or not. It’s our right as a label to post things on our bandcamp for free in order to collect email addresses to help promote items from the same artists down the line. I don’t understand the theory behind re-uploading something that already doesn’t cost money and would like this explained. We have exclusive control over our copyrighted material and can do as we choose with it. As a label we want people to come to US directly for our music, whether we are giving it to them or charging them for it. We want them to develop a relationship with Uncommon as a label, not with a pirate blog or file sharing service.
We are an organized company trying to bring quality hip-hop to people and return this genre to what it once was in more ways then just the music. We do this for the love of what we do, but it’s a LABOR of love. Our goal is to actually sell music so that we can live our lives to the fullest instead of working 24/7 all the time every day. If you knew about us you would know that we are not a “money hungry” label or a “digital only” label. We have CDs for sale, we’ll have vinyl in 2011, we give away plenty of music (only asking for an email address) and we have interactive things for fans like the “orange army” (that costs the fan nothing to be a part of) to which more like that will be added.
We do this for the love of the music and you are constantly disrespecting us. Again, as a label we are stating now, we want nothing to do with (WEBSITE NAME) or (OTHER WEBSITE). Even if you were to post buy links ONLY, we are NOT interested.
I also request a phone call so that we can talk this out as men and adults. I would like to tell you more about what these practices that you are engaging in are doing to struggling artists and to Uncommon in particular. My phone number is below, you are welcome to call me at your nearest convenience or send me a number where I can reach you. I hope to hear from ASAP.
First and foremost, nobody is going to call you to talk about what we do and your thoughts on what sites like ours do to indie labels. Weve heard it, we live it, we understand it, and yet the cause is far greater which is why we continue.
We the consumer, have been walked over, nay trampled over for far too long. We believe that you should be able to give your money to the artists and labels that we like and enjoy. If that means i need to download the CD and listen before hand, so be it. We are sick and tired of buying disc after disc with high anticipation only to get home and find it sucks. Or only had a few good tracks on it. Yet we are expected to buy it and deal with it. We are expected to pay INSANE digital media prices when the labels are saving on marketing, printing, pressing, shipping, etc, etc, etc. Why is it all fingers at sites like us when we try and do something about the market that has us hogtied into raping us of our hard earned money. Sorry to inform you, but most of us DO work 24/7 all the time every damn day. So please excuse my lack of emotion in this clouded opinion. We are the working class paying you for entertainment. Please do not lecture us on the values of working hard and wanting to live life to the fullest. This is borderline insulting.
Regarding the charity disc. This is one I can mostly agree with you on. If it was for charity, maybe it was an immoral step by the uploader. However, was the disc purchase only? Or did it have a minimum $0 purchase amount? I cant see it posted on our site or yours, so im unsure. Im not justifying how this specific case was handled but some people do have issues with Bandcamp and we do want to offer an alternative. We in no way would have directed people away from your site or to not donate. If this disc was reuploaded i would have expected the original link for proper donations should have also been included. This would not have been something done intentionally to stop the support.
Now this is the part where i must step outside my professionalism and address a few other remarks. In no way shape and form have we continued to disrespect you. While you may feel what we do as a site is disrespectful, we feel what the music industry has done to the consumer is a far greater injustice than anything we could ever do. If your music is on our site, its a compliment. As ive stated, it means someone enjoyed the disc enough to share with the rest of the community. Agree or not, there is a large community that agrees with our views. As ive noted there are artists (signed and unsigned; indie and mainstream) and labels on board with us. While none of them would publicly admit this, it is fact. As ive noted earlier, WE PAY to keep the site going, WE PAY for the music posted, WE REFUSE to ever take a dime and redirect all monies back to the artists.
I dont believe anybody asked if you wanted to be affiliated with us. We dont really care if you “want” our support or not. Again, we post what WE LIKE, not what you want us to like. This isnt some MTV or radio shit that gets paid to tell people what to like. I know its a frightening thought to let the people decide for themselves what to like and where to give their money. We get more thank yous and requests to post other material than we get takedown requests like this. To start throwing statements around like “pirates” and accusing us of “constantly disrespecting” is a bit of a stretch, id hope you agree.
This is an incredibly lame way to discuss such matters, in long drawn out email exchanges, when a simple phone call could be made. That would be the professional thing to do, my number is right there, my name is right there. I am not afraid of you and you have no reason to be afraid of me. Even this email is signed “(NAME OF WEBSITE)”, as if 100 of you sat down and typed this. One person wrote this, who is it? Just be an adult and state your name, even if it’s an alias. It’s odd to have an exchange of thoughts, even in this format with a ghost. But if that’s what it is. So be it.
Let’s start with who we are as a label and where the “business” is as a whole. You are very vigorous in your anger against some monolithic corporate structure. You claim that you are tired of being “hog tied” into buying shitty CDs that you then can’t return. If it were 1999, this would be an interesting debate, but it’s not for several reasons. First of all, all of our releases are available on Bandcamp, where you can stream the entire album before you buy it or even volunteer your precious email address. Even if you go more conventional, say with Itunes or Amazon MP3, you are able to hear 1:30 of every song on an album, and for most hip-hop songs that’s 1/2 or a 1/3 of the track. So there is no real buyer beware. We stand by what we do, if a person thinks it sucks, they can more then tell before they buy it. In terms of CDs. Where do you find these exactly? Last I checked there were no more record stores. Even Fat Beats, which was the heart of the NYC hip-hop scene is closed. Even the corporate overlords at Sam Goody or Tower Records have closed up shop. So all these arguments about what the “industry” did to you are irrelevant. The game has changed, if you want to claim that you helped change it, knock yourself out, but it IS changed.
But let’s take your premise at it’s word, and not acknowledge reality. You say that you hate and your users hate buying albums and being dissapointed by them. That’s fine, so as a response you post albums that you love in full for free? That doesn’t jive.
Another thing you point out is that you spend money to run your website and what not. As if it’s free for me or anyone else to run our websites. As if it’s free to book venues. As if it’s free to travel and do shows on a tour. As if merch is free to make. I spend money every day on my label, and I’m typing this to you from a full time job right now. You may never understand what I’m about to say, and you may think it’s me trying to be a dick, but think it through. We have talent. Talent is still worth something. You can’t compare running a website “network” with people that upload files to creating art. Even if the art sucks, you can’t compare it.
In terms of the charity album, obviously there was not a free option as the point was to raise money, not to get our music out there. It was 14 songs for the staggering starting price of $5 and up. There is no defense for posting this. An apology for this one in particular I guess is asking too much as you are on some sort of illogical crusade.
During the charity album, I wrote you and got no response. I had the file removed from the sharing service and it was actually replaced with a new link.
I could go on and on point for point, I disagree with basically everything you said and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. All I ask is that you honor what you claim you do and our wishes and that’s to not post our music at our request. Tell the “network” to avoid Uncommon’s music. We don’t want to be involved, not now, not ever.
END EMAIL PORTION OF THIS POST
So at this point this person, whoever it was, since they never revealed a name or even an alias sent me back a more childish response, ducking all my challenges to the retort he must have spent about 12 hours compiling. It was filled with more immature responses and personal insults, basically, I eviscerated his site’s entire existence in one email and he had nothing left. He did say that they would continue to post our music unless it was shitty. There’s a goal to shoot for for us, huh? So I told him that “copyright laws would only get stronger”, and this was before SOPA by the way, and he should enjoy being “obsolete soon”. I stand by that. End of story.
No real comment here, this post is already lengthy, but this is a good idea of what we face all the time, the attitudes that are out there. The anti-artist agenda that some have buried in their brain somewhere due to the fact that they aren’t doing what they want to do in their lives. This piece should cause you to do one of two things, be revolted or look in the mirror.