Home > The Internet > Give a Little Love, Part 3

Give a Little Love, Part 3

So, where does this all leave us?

Well, the reactions from the “Make them pay!” end of the spectrum have been widely documented elsewhere, and I wish that their effect were better documented, because I would estimate them to be statistically insignificant. A recent poll in the student paper of students on the topic of illegal downloading quoted various students as saying that all the RIAA’s suits will do is cause them to illegally download from non-university computers. Set a speed trap on the same stretch of highway for years and people will keep speeding elsewhere. And one thing that I wish were getting more attention is the fact that the RIAA is allegedly keeping all the proceeds from the lawsuits for themselves. You know, the lawsuits whose damages were justified as recompense to the artists whose work was stolen. Yeah.

So how about the “Let them not pay!” crowd? Well, in descending order of publicity, let’s start with Radiohead and their recent In Rainbows album. As near as I can tell, the Radiohead folks decided to make a bold move to get a lot of attention, and once they got it, they’ve tried to ignore it. See, they decided to release their album as an MP3 download where the downloader was prompted to enter the amount he wished to pay for the album (Sight unseen, I might add).

This allowed a dynamic range all the way from normal album price — or higher if you wished — down to literally no money at all. But they didn’t use any unusual licensing, and they only allowed the downloads for a few months before the discs hit stores, including issuing the album on vinyl — how progressive. But they’ve refused to publicize any information about the offering, as far as numbers of albums bought and the average price, meaning that the best data comes from the internet equivalent of exit polling. It’s hard to say whether a sample size of 3000 people is statistically significant given that Radiohead won’t even talk about how many times the album was “sold”, but my gut is telling me that it isn’t.

Wikipedia also indicates that they’ve waffled by a factor of 30% on the sales figures for the album itself, as well as downplaying favorable reporting of widespread “purchase” of the album.

But for someone who’s a little more capable of handling the publicity of this kind of stunt, and doing so with greater aptitude, we need look no further than Trent Reznor, the “front man” of Nine Inch Nails. (NIN is, meaningfully, Reznor’s band. He will often record as NIN and then assemble a band to tour with, and that band has had great turnover aside from him over the years.)

With the latest NIN studio album, Ghosts I-IV, is actually a 4-pack of 9-song mini-albums, released without a record label in various digital and physical media. But the most attention-grabbing feature is the fact that the first quarter of the album, referred to as Ghosts I has been released for free (as in beer) under Creative Commons license. The easiest official way to get it? From NIN’s Pirate Bay tracker.

The entire album can be had for a $5 digital download, in high-quality forms with no DRM. Wikipedia also tells me that the hard copy of the album on CD will be quite reasonable $10, with a code for a free digital download of the whole album as well. And the $75 deluxe edition will come with the closest thing to open-source you can get in music: multi-track recording files of the songs for remixing.

By all accounts, the record is doing smashingly, which I figure to be a result of the heady brew of the radical distribution medium, the ridiculously low price, and the ability to “try before you buy” with the shareware album. Now, Reznor has always been a bit of a radical in trying new things — remember that Quake thing? — but this seems to be a real step up, and I think it was masterfully executed.

And finally, perhaps as a bit of an anti-climax, we have Jonathan Coulton. He hasn’t really released any albums per se, he just has a huge library of songs he’s written, where you can listen to them all and even get some for free. Technically, as they’re all licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial, it would also be legal to obtain these without paying (and only without paying, hence “noncommercial”) from anyone who has bought them, or who likewise received them legally from someone else. That’s why Coulton makes it easy but not necessary to give him money: if you’ve heard his stuff for free and want to say thanks, you can toss a few bucks his way in a direct donation, or actually outright buy the songs you had obtained through other means.

He’s gone on record as saying that his Thing a Week project, to produce some form of musical piece every week for a year, was in part a test of whether he could make a living off of doing just that and releasing the works under a CC license. Since he’s still at it, I can only assume that the experiment was a success.

I feel like I should have more to say for the man, covering in detail the genius of his plot to get rich hooking us all on his tunes and then bleeding us dry. The problem is that there is no such plot. He’s just a musician putting out music for whoever wants to pay for it, and even those who may not, and who’s having a good time doing it. But since I feel bad for not giving him more coverage, I’ll let good sir Coulton take us out:

I am not for piracy, you really should not steal music, but this is not the solution. Like most “anti-piracy” measures, this one will not stop any pirates. But it will make it difficult for you to listen to these songs on your iPod. At best, you have to jump through a few hoops and spend another buck on a blank CD. You might even need to break the law. TO LISTEN TO A CD YOU BOUGHT WITH ACTUAL MONEY.

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Categories: The Internet
  1. innerveit
    March 25, 2008 at 3:15 am

    nice reading, thanx

    just a little remark – all 4 volumes of NIN’s Ghosts are under CC by-nc-sa license, not only the first. For details see FAQ section at nin.com or credits in artwork PDF

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