Chad Perrin: SOB

1 June 2008

Copyright, Metallica, Microsoft, Napster, NIN, Prince, and Radiohead

Filed under: Geek,Liberty — apotheon @ 12:00

Back in November of last year — on the first of the month, in fact — I bought Radiohead’s new album, then explained why I was happy with the purchase in an SOB entry titled In Rainbows — definitely worth the money. Later, I wrote an article for the IT Security Weblog at TechRepublic provocatively titled Radiohead knows more than Microsoft about security. In it, I opined at some length about the stupidity of pursuing a business model predicated upon artificial scarcity when technology has essentially automated away all the costs involved in generating plenty.

In summary, Microsoft has been increasingly in bed with DRM pushers like the RIA and MPAA, going so far as embedding media anti-copying measures in its operating systems. Aside from being an insulting assault on Microsoft’s own customer base, an attempt to circumvent rights protected by the doctrine of fair use, and directly interfering with the ability of many users to actually make any use at all of some digital media, this behavior is also an exercise in futility.

Nine Inch Nails had pretty quickly followed the Radiohead example. Check out the TechCrunch article, Nine Inch Nails Help Seal Record Industry’s Coffin, as well as the NIN website, for more details. That TechCrunch article, by the way, basically just highlights the way NIN gave the RIAA the finger. I enjoyed reading it.

Whereas I had never really been a huge fan of Radiohead, but liked some of their music well enough and decided to give In Rainbows a chance, my relationship with NIN over the years was somewhat the opposite. Back in the early ’90s, I loved Nine Inch Nails. I still think Broken is one of the most emotionally intense albums I’ve ever encountered (that’s a good thing, by the way), and the very rough-edged nature of the performances on Pretty Hate Machine really lent something to its cachet. Unfortunately, Broken was (in my opinion) the zenith of NIN’s quality arc. Everything since has been downhill. Judging simply by my own personal standards of quality, The Downward Spiral (almost as good as Pretty Hate Machine, at least in some respects) was the last thing I’ve heard from NIN that was worth the time.

Don’t get me started on the club-kid “oooee-oooee” so-called “music” of The Fragile. I didn’t sign on for borderline Deep House crap when I started listening to NIN back in the day.

As a result of this declining enjoyment of NIN’s music, I never bothered to give the new stuff (free of RIAA puppetry) a listen. As I sit here typing this, however, it occurs to me that I should. I really should give NIN another chance, if only because:

  1. I can get it for free, and decide later whether it’s worth it to me to give NIN any more of my money.
  2. It’s available in FLAC format (as well as WAV). I love FLAC.
  3. I really should be doing something to support bands that crawl out of the primordial ooze of the traditional record industry and into the new millennium with a business model adjusted somewhat toward, y’know, ethical dealings and reason.

So — I don’t really have the highest hopes for the music itself, but my mind is open. If it turns out to be good enough to make it worthwhile for me, I’ll probably even buy the physical media version of it (details for the CD release this July promised by NIN). Okay, so in the middle of typing that last sentence, I entered my email address in the form at the download Website for the album the slip, so I’m already on my way to finding out whether I’ll like it.

Amusingly, comments to articles about both events — the Radiohead and NIN Internet releases of new material, and the bands’ parting of the ways with standard RIAA label practices — often bring up the Metallica vs. Napster fiasco. Back in 2000, Lars Ulrich (mediocre Metallica drummer) “personally delivered a 60,000-page printout of the Napster users who were sharing Metallica songs” as the first volley in a war on file sharing networks. Many Metallica fans never forgave the band, and many potential future Metallica fans were imbued with hatred for those who set in motion the death of Napster such that they never would become fans.

It was, in fact, Metallica’s actions that made me more than only peripherally aware that Napster existed. Thanks to the publicity this generated, I quickly learned enough about the circumstances to understand that Metallica and the RIAA were attacking a technology as a response to their own failure to adjust their business model to changing times, blaming the advancement of information technologies for their own shortcomings as though such advancement was a crime and the record industry had some kind of unalienable right to an eternally static business model.

Some of you who have at least rudimentary arithmetic skills and have been paying particular attention to my vitriolic ramblings over the last couple years may have noticed, by the end of that last paragraph, that the Napster fiasco occurred about three years before the eye-opening discussion I had with a friend that caused me to reevaluate all my opinions about copyright law. Before 2003, I was a supporter of copyright law, and believed all that claptrap about artists “owning their work”, having never really thought past the the “ideas as property” propaganda to which I’ve been subjected for most of my life until I met Ratha (the above-linked friend). In other words, I still supported copyright, and supported Metallica’s “right” to defend its revenue stream when the Napster deal blew up, but found the way it was doing so reprehensible and short-sighted at best.

In any case, I liked Metallica back in the day — way back in the day. The black album was the last thing they’ve done that I really liked, though — and some of that is really kind of insipid, as I realized when I eventually started paying attention to some of the lyrics. I was in the Army — stationed in Italy, to be more specific — when Load came out, and I was surprised to discover that Metallica had a new album. Being overseas in the military can have some stunting effects on one’s cultural relevancy. This alone is probably worth a brief story, but to get to the point: I bought it, listened to it, and realized immediately it was commercialized, soulless crap. I can forgive “commercialized” and “soulless” sometimes, but “crap” is not so easy to overlook. I stopped paying attention to Metallica, reacted badly to a couple new songs from ReLoad on the radio when it came out (worse than Load, if that’s possible), and just generally decided something good had died.

I didn’t feel like I had lost much when Metallica’s diva BS and ridiculous grandstanding over the Napster matter sealed the band’s coffin in my opinion, because I stopped caring about Metallica when the last vestige of talent in the band’s music died off.

Here’s where things go a little sideways. . . .

In Metallica Repents, Sort Of, Wired reports on Metallica’s attempt to curry favor with its more Internet-savvy fans and maybe win back some ex-fans by offering some free material online as well. Of course, Metallica isn’t doing the kind of new business model experimentation that Radiohead and NIN did by any stretch of the imagination — this is basically just a stupid publicity stunt, giving away some “tantalizing” (if you like Metallica’s new material) tastes of what’s coming out on a new album before it’s officially released in traditional record industry style.

In Wired’s follow-up article, Fans Rip Metallica a New One, it is pointed out that to many this nigh-fraudulent marketing ploy was “too little, too late” to many former Metallica fans. Not only was this nothing near the kind of stand-out approach of Radiohead and NIN (to say nothing of the Charlatans’ similar move), but it’s just business as usual (freebie samplings aren’t exactly new marketing technique) with the word “Internet” thrown in.

My favorite comment in response to the article, by Stephan Miller:

God, Metallica, have a plane crash already.

I guess suing fans for exactly the behavior Metallica encouraged in the ’80s, the fan behavior that made the band a huge sensation in the first place, left a mark that won’t come out.

Metallica isn’t the only band being stupid these days, of course. Prince, who might actually still be capable of producing quality music these days, has also kinda stepped on his own penis, in a manner of speaking. At Coachella, Prince performed a live cover of Radiohead’s Creep to tremendous applause. Fans recorded it and uploaded the video to YouTube. Can you guess where this tale is going?

Prince’s label, NPG Records, sent takedown a takedown notice to YouTube claiming copyright violation. YouTube (a Google subsidiary these days, if you weren’t aware) complied. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke “laughed when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O’Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince’s version of their song.”

More from the article, Radiohead to Prince: Unblock ‘Creep’ cover videos:

“Really? He’s blocked it?” asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. “Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment.”

Yorke added: “Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our … song.”

I can only imagine those ellipsis points stand in for something like “fucking”. Here’s my edited “artist’s rendition” version of how that must have gone:

“Really? He’s blocked it?” asked Yorke, who figured it was their song to block or not. “Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment.”

Yorke added: “Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our fucking song.”

Here’s a little more from the article:

The dispute was an interesting twist in debates over digital ownership, held between two major acts with differing views on music and the Internet. Radiohead famously released their most recent album, “In Rainbows,” as a digital download with optional pricing. They also have a channel on YouTube.

When Prince performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 26, he prohibited the standard arrangement of allowing photographers to shoot near the stage during the first three songs of his set. Instead, he had a camera crew filming his performance.

Just go read the article. It’s interesting, and goes into more depth on this particular incident. When the article was originally written, the most popular YouTube video related to Prince’s performance of Creep was a scathing review of the live cover, Prince’s business model, and probably his mother — my eyes glazed over toward the end of the video, frankly, but it was entertaining for a while. That video was taken down, too, but is now available at instead.

We’re seeing a split forming right down the middle of industries that face major changes in the present and future with the popularization and advancement of digital media technologies. On one hand are those who are changing with the times, or at least not more than a couple steps behind the times, and on the other are those who want to freeze the world in amber so they can guarantee revenue streams without having to do anything, y’know, original or good.

I can wait to see the mass extinction of the dinosaurs when reality catches up with them.

1 Comment

  1. […] Copyright, Metallica, Microsoft, Napster, NIN, Prince, and Radiohead: […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » follow-up links: music and politics — 2 June 2008 @ 04:55

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License