Uneasy Ties Bind Music Companies, Music Blogs Record labels usually frown on fans sharing music for free online, but tolerate MP3, or music, blogs. These fan-run sites have proven effective in breaking unknown indie bands. But it's a relationship that is still rocky at times.
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Uneasy Ties Bind Music Companies, Music Blogs

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Uneasy Ties Bind Music Companies, Music Blogs

Uneasy Ties Bind Music Companies, Music Blogs

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For years now, record labels have been trying to stop music fans from sharing digital music files with one another. A major exception is the MP3 blog or music blog. But labels have cautiously embraced these sites, which can help turn obscure artists into stars. But its relationship that's still sometimes rocky.

Here's Joel Rose from member station WHYY reports.

JOEL ROSE: JJ Frederick is a science fiction writer from Denver. He also writes about music under the name Diplognat.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: A few weeks ago, Diplognat posted a song in its music blog by one of his favorite bands, The New Pornographers.

(Soundbite of The New Pornographers' song)

ROSE: The song is an unreleased track from the sessions for the Canadian band's forthcoming album. Frederick bought it along with the rest of the album as part of a special offer from the band's label. He'd never gotten in trouble for putting streaming audio on his blog before. But less than 24 hours after he posted The New Pornographers, Frederick found a message in his Comments box.

Mr. JJ FREDERICK a.k.a. DIPLOGNAT (Music Blogger; Science Fiction Writer): That stated that what I was doing was illegal. They're threatening legal action. At the same time it did say while we appreciate you're a fan of The New Pornographers, you know, please take it down.

ROSE: The e-mail came from a company called Web Sheriff. It contended that Frederick was leaking a, quote, "pirate copy" of the song. And the e-mail hinted that Frederick might be held personally liable for unspecified damages.

Mr. FREDERICK: I was really actually thinking I was doing them a favor, and I got a threat for legal action right off the bat. It was in the very first paragraph. And the rest of it seemed a little condescending. I just felt that I was being punished for doing something that I thought was beneficial for a band that I liked.

ROSE: Frederick's run-in with the Web Sheriff prompted postings of support from other fans and bloggers, including Fred von Lohmann, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends the rights of Internet users.

Mr. FRED VON LOHMANN (Senior Intellectual Property Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation): You just can't be treating fans, legitimate music buyers like pirates. You can't be doing that. I think it shows disrespect for the fan. And you know, there would be no music industry but for the people who go to the shows and buy the records.

ROSE: Most of the time, record labels do show respect for music bloggers. They're typically not professional critics or D.J.s like the gatekeepers of the past, but they're not mere fans either. The most influential music blogs can turn a virtually unknown band into a hit almost overnight. And the record labels know it. So it's unusual for them to ask a blogger to take something down.

Mr. DAVID HYMAN (CEO, MOG): In fact, this is the first time we had ever received a takedown notice.

ROSE: David Hyman is the CEO of MOG, the one-year-old Web site that hosts JJ Frederick's music blog.

Mr. HYMAN: The labels are very actively engaged in getting free MP3s in streaming audio out to the blogs as a promotional vehicle. It is a big part of their business. But clearly, they want to control it.

ROSE: Matador Records wanted to control the release of The New Pornographers' CD through a new program it's calling Buy Early, Get Now. Fans pay for the disc in advance then they can stream the songs from the label's Web site until the CD comes out in August. They can also download bonus tracks that are supposed to be exclusive, and they were until JJ Frederick posted one of them on his blog.

Adam Farrell is director of online marketing for Matador.

Mr. ADAM FARRELL (Director, Online Marketing, Matador Records): He was the primary source. He was the first person to leak the track so we really need to kind of go to the source of the leak, and try and shut that down.

ROSE: Farrell concedes Web Sheriff may have been too harsh and says the label is working with its enforcer on new language. But New Pornographers front man Carl Newman is less apologetic. Newman says the band wants bloggers to post other songs from the album, just not this one.

Mr. CARL NEWMAN (Principal Songwriter, The New Pornographers): We're sorry that he got something from Web Sheriff and takes it to be this threat. You know, if you're a guy in a bar and you want to pick a fight with somebody, you can -it's pretty easy to pick a fight with somebody, you know. I mean, what are(ph) Web Sheriff supposed to say?

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Matador Records is not the only label that's hired Web Sheriff to do its dirty work, so to speak. But there are some artists who prefer to do it themselves.

(Soundbite of song, "16 by 32")

Mr. COLIN MALOY (Lead Singer, The Decemberists): (Singing) Sixteen military wives. Thirty-two softly focused, brightly colored eyes.

ROSE: Colin Maloy, singer and songwriter for The Decemberists, has personally written to dozens of bloggers asking them to take songs down, though, Maloy says, he's never mentioned the possibility of legal action.

Mr. MALOY: I feel like a lot of our success is due to people, like MP3 bloggers and file sharers, initially when we didn't really have that much reach or distribution and we hadn't really toured that much. It was all really word of mouth.

ROSE: The Decemberists have move from an indie to a major label for their most recent CD. And Maloy says, this time around, he gave up on writing to all of the bloggers himself.

Mr. MALOY: Even within two years, there's so many more MP3 blogs and so many more channels for that to disseminate. It was impossible to stick the finger in the dike, the proverbial dike.

ROSE: Record labels still tolerate and even encourage some leaks. But when it comes to a band like The Decemberists that could actually make them some money, they've become increasingly less tolerant. As for the errant New Pornographer song, a quick Google search suggests their label has managed to keep that off any music blogs - for now.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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