Friday, June 15, 2007

First, they came for the music executives...

For the well-rewarded executives in the music industry, it's not enough for them to have comfortable jobs, good salaries, and the moral high ground. Oh, no, they want to be loved, too. Or at least respected.

So it is that Paul Birch, from Revolver Records contacted Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies to complain, bully and cajole him to take down material that was critical of the RIAA-IFPI-BPI strategy:

Looking at your site I do think allowing indiscriminate criticism of the RIAA is inappropriate for a Government funded institution.

Dubber's blog is nothing to do with the University for which he works, but even if it was, since universities are meant to encourage knowledge and debate, surely questioning the behaviour of organisations is a perfect use of their resources? "Indiscriminate" is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and you could counter that the lawsuits raised by the RIAA - with their targeting of the dead and preteen and non-computer owners - demonstrate a certain amount of indiscrimination on their part. Does this also mean that we are not supposed to debate if redirecting police and trading standards officers to pursue the record company anti-piracy agenda is appropriate?

Andrew Dubber's response was polite, and - besides pointing out, gently, that the blog wasn't publiclly-funded, asked Paul what upset him. Birch gave one of those replies people usually do when they don't have any facts to back up their initial thundering:
Let’s talk about it when we next meet-up, as I don’t intend to write a thesis on the subject.

However, I stand by my assertion.

If you're watching this season of Big Brother, you'll have seen Charlie doing something similar to this - when challenged on something she's been mouthing off about, she'll insist that she's not bothered enough to go on about it, but still insist on her position firmly in the right.

It's curious that Birch is happy to send an email alleging misuse of public funds by allowing indiscriminate criticism, but not to actually identify what might have underpinned that claim. Some students of English might think that makes Birch's criticism itself slightly indiscriminate. Dubber replied, pressing again for specifics, and Birch decided that he would have a crack at that thesis, after all.

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now:
I am in regular contact with the RIAA and both they and the IFPI are subject to hate mail as a consequence of hubcap, our litigation against consumers for illegally downloading our copyrights.

Let's just park the delicious mention that the 'sue 'em all' strategy has a supersecretcodename, and try not to snicker that it sounds like the sort of thing the wannabe suitfillers on The Apprentice would have chosen to brand a pair of sneakers.

The poor people at the RIAA are getting nasty emails, can you imagine? Now, sending any sort of communication to a person designed to harass, threaten or simply insult them is unacceptable behaviour, but for an organisation sending out large numbers of letters, on slim (and sometimetimes non-existent) suspicion of filehsaring, demanding thousands and thousands of pounds under threat of legal action to complain that people are responding by sending angry emails is a bit rich.

But there's more:
This manifests itself into individual members of our RIAA management being singled-out for malicious statements and blogs on the internet.

No! Not being spoken about on the internet? How Mitch Bainwol's soul must be scorched by people suggesting he's not perhaps the most inspiring of people.

Every so often the RIAA like to tell us that, by taking on terrorists funding themselves through flogging dodgy CDRs of Enrique Ingelias albums, they are our first line of defence in a terrible world. Now, it turns out, every time these superheroes read a blog posting which questions the strategy of suing grandmothers and postmen for hundreds of thousands, they're so weak they die a little inside.

There are two possibilities here: Either the RIAA believe in their strategy, in which case you'd have thought they could take the critiques on their manly chins; or else they know they're in the wrong, in which case they have the option of changing their strategy and stopping the negative commentaries.

But, seriously: the RIAA said they had to act because filesharing was widepsread. So, they set out to force a large number of people to change their behaviour through the threat of punitive legal action. Why, exactly, are they surprised this isn't popular? Did it never occur to them this route could lead, at best, to grudging, unwilling compliance?

Still, at least he's getting to the point now:
As an example you probably saw the case earlier in the week of a Chinese Laundry in the United States being sued for $54M for loosing a pair of trousers, belonging to a lawyer. If you take a look at the criticism on your blog of the RIAA by one of the contributors, they are engaging in a similar malicious prosecution in the US courts but go further and make a number of assertions through your blog that gives credibility to illegal downloading.

I am not concerned that people decide to take out law-suits against our organisations; we have the resources to deal with that. What does concern me however is the repeating of malicious falsehoods that occur in a number of internet blog, and are re-reported as having validity contribute widely to the assertion that right is on the side of wrong-doing.

After a bit more probing from Andrew, the music industry man offers the link he's talking of: a posting on DownloadSquad commenting on a number of counterclaims a woman has filed in a case brought against her by Universal Music Group.

Now, it's fair comment that DownloadSquad doesn't mince its words, but surely Paul Birch isn't objecting to the very mention of the countersuing? The IFPI can't be wanting to have its cake and eat it, with their legal actions attracting the publicity and coverage they're designed to while counteractions should be hidden by some sort of D-notice?

Does Birch object to the language used by DownloadSquad? Such as this bit, perhaps?
The claims Ms. Cid is bringing against the RIAA are of Trespass, Computer Fraud and Abuse, Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices, Civil Extortion, and Civil conspiracy. Now we're talking. The RIAA has been terrorizing many people who they knew didn't have anything to do with alleged copyright violations, including dead people, young children, and the elderly. Ms Cid's counterclaim aims to prove exactly that the RIAA used questionable means to obtain what they refer to as evidence.

Robust, perhaps, but the blog is careful to acknowledge the case isn't a done deal, and - let's face it - and industry which sells heavy metal music to teenagers shouldn't go to pieces when the language gets turned up to 11, should it?

It's also interesting that Birch attempts to suggest Del Cid's attempt to defend herself against a legal action is on a par with the case of a judge suing a cleaners for $54million dollars over a lost pair of trousers. (By the way, Mr. Birch, the verdict hasn't been delivered in that case at time of writing - if you're suggesting that DownloadSquad are being malicious by implying that allegations made in open court are actually proven facts, perhaps you ought to look to your own assumptions first. Unless, of course, there's a totally different case involving trousers and Chinese laundries of which I'm unaware.)

The trouser case is a prosecution that has been launched by an individual and, to most people, looks to be totally out-of-kilter to the damage done. Ms Cid, however, hasn't embarked on a prosecution out of nowhere; she's responding to Universal's intusion into her life. To suggest the two cases are in any way similar shows either a poor grasp of law, or a flagrant disregard for facts.

Birch then goes a bit ballistic:
It might not be nice to be sued by the RIAA and potentially put in a position of being made bankrupt; neither is issuing redundancy notices to hard working staff. People don’t have to download; they do however have to work. Consumers that enjoy music have a lot of options and enjoying it free on the radio is at least one of them, with last FM and You Tube there is near on demand service free at the point of use. But stealing isn’t clever, but presumably most people don’t really wish to steal, and only share because it is so easy and seems harmless/victimless. If people need to affirmatively hide their activities, then there is an understanding of wrongdoing. I feel that your blog underpins the misuse of our copyright and attacks our trade associations.

It is, of course, terrible that people are losing their jobs in the music industry, but those jobs would disappear just as surely if people are listening to Last FM or YouTube. The sad fact of the digital future is that it's going to require fewer people. Fewer drivers and warehousepeople and salespeople. Without wanting to get into an argument as to if the numbers of jobs lost would have been higher or lower if the major labels had managed the transition more smoothly, the more pressing question is how this observation bears any relevance to the post on DownloadSquad for which Dubber is being berated (for linking to, remember - not actually writing). The post is about the way the RIAA conducts its lawsuits, not about the issue of copyright theft. It's as if someone had written a post on speed cameras being a dubious thing getting ticked off for promoting hit and run driving.
There are very serious allegations made in this anti-RIAA link on your blog, and I don’t think its appropriate that you link to them.

Because, of course, accusing people of theft, of forcing the loss of livelihoods for people, of funding terrorism and laundering drug money - the sort of allegation the RIAA makes frequently - isn't serious.

Dubber offers a defence of his reasons for linking to the original piece, and offers to publicise Birch's counterargument.

Birch responds:
I think that what is more desirable is to take down links from your site that promote this hatred of the recording Industry, because the assumption is that by linking to them that you support the extreme view heralded. That might be unfair to you by the way as you may or may not hold those views. I can only seek to reason with those views but my argument about biting the hand that feeds it is I feel valid. I respect everyone’s right to dissent but I am anxious that Individual managers within our trade association have the right not to be publicly hounded.

But the DownloadSquad piece, of course, doesn't hold particularly extreme views - unless any dissent is, in the RIAA worldview, in itself so outrageous as to be xtreme. The post certainly doesn't mention any manager, either by name or through implication, and, since it clearly is suggesting the correct forum for these differences to be settled is in a California coutrtoom, is hardly calling for anyone to be hounded.

Birch's final response, though, is the most interesting:
[The DownloadSquad] expresses opinion, it’s not factual. If you persist then I shall make a formal complaint to the University.

Paul is quick to make clear that he's speaking in a personal capacity, and not as a rep of the IFPI. Which is ironic, since he's threatening to complain to Andrew's employer about something that Andrew is producing in a personal capacity.

Our understanding of what he's just said is that Duffer should take down a link to something because it's what a person thinks, and if he doesn't he will make trouble at Duffer's place of work. Now, maybe it wasn't intended to come across as quite such a bullying threat - you can't tell with email, can you? - but the very idea that nobody should link to websites where people hold opinions different to those of the RIAA is quite an eye-opener, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

I hope that there's a perfectly innocent explanation for that link now leading to a "This page has been suspended" page. Wouldn't put any money on it though.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Birch, your entreaty has touched my heart. I hereby undertake never to illegally download anything released under the auspices of Heavy Metal or Revolver Records. Mainly because your entire roster is unmitigated shit. All of it. Every last act you've ever had anything to do with. Good grief, you've been involved in the music business how long? 30 years? And you've yet to release anything of any value. Magnum? Wrathchild? Mad Donna? Frankly, you're lucky not to have been staked out over an anthill, you miserable, whining fucker. That's just an opinion, by the way, please feel free to complain to my employer about it.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know why Mr. Dubber's blog is offline? Is it because of the increased web traffic or some kind of censorship?

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

I suspect it had fallen over because of heavy traffic rather than anything more sinister; it's working now.

But it is probably a good example of the contempt with which the RIAA and its client agencies are held in that the assumption that someone has carried through with a threat is the one that everyone makes under those circumstances.

Karl - good work mentioning Wrathchild. Didn't they have a falling-out with Heavy Metal Records which - when the legal disputes were finally settled - inspired their The Bizz Suxx album?

Anonymous said...

This from the Stone Roses Wikipedia entry:

Following the band's success, their former label, FM Revolver, re-released the single "Sally Cinnamon" with an accompanying video. The Stone Roses were incensed by this, particularly what they described as a "third rate" video. They went to Revolver's offices on 30 January, 1990 and after an argument with the label's boss, Paul Birch, threw paint over the offices, Birch himself and his girlfriend, and then vandalised two cars outside.

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