Universal Music Goes To War Against Popular Hip Hop Sites & Blogs

from the bizarrely-misguided dept

A few weeks ago, leading ad firm GroupM, a part of marketing giant WPP, proudly announced that it had “adopted an aggressive new anti-piracy policy” for its digital media buys. What that meant was that it prohibited vendors that it worked with from putting ads on any of a giant list of sites that it had declared were “pirate sites” — defined as “sites that support piracy or contain any illegally distributed content.” That’s pretty broad. In fact, TorrentFreak got their hands on the list and noted many rather bizarre entries, including the Internet Archive (archive.org) and BitTorrent’s corporate page — neither of which have anything to do with “piracy” at all. There are some other shockers on the list, including the popular web video site/YouTube alternative, Vimeo, which is about as far from a “pirate” site as you can find. Stunningly, there’s also SoundCloud, which has become one of the most popular tools for musicians to promote their own music these days. That’s the site where the Beastie Boys streamed their latest album. A pirate site? Are they crazy? You can see the full list embedded below.

While there are many oddities on the list, we wanted to explore one aspect of the list, which is that it appears to show that Universal Music has decided to declare war on the online hip hop ecosystem that promotes its music in a big way — and some of those sites are hitting back. First of all, it’s worth noting that these blogs and sites are considered instrumental to promotion in the hip hop world, and Universal Music knows that. In talking to some of the folks at sites involved, you learn pretty quickly that they get sent tracks and other promotional info from insiders at Universal Music — including high level execs — all of the time. On top of that, hip hop artists themselves regularly rely on these same sites, and link people to them via their own blogs and twitter feeds. And yet, a whole bunch of these sites are on GroupM’s list… and they got there because Universal Music told GroupM to put those sites on the list:

GroupM’s own content producing clients — such as Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal Music and Summit Entertainment, which produced the popular Twilight series of vampire movies — have shared their own lists of pirate websites to help create a master copy.

While I don’t know which of those companies may be responsible for some of the other headscratchers on the list, the attack on hip hop sites is being pinned squarely on Universal Music by many of the sites involved, and they’re not happy. Among those on the list, for example, is Vibe.com, the online site for Vibe Magazine, founded by Quincy Jones of all people, and still considered one of the key sources for news and information about the hip hop and R&B worlds. And yet it’s on the list as a pirate site? Really?

Back in 2009, Vibe produced a big list of the “50 hottest rap blogs.” This is basically a who’s who list of the top sites in hip hop, and the places that most music producers want to see their music appearing, because it’s how they get attention these days. Yet, if you run down that list, you start to notice a pattern. An awful lot of those sites are on GroupM’s “banned” list. I went through the top 12 sites on that list, and seven of them are “banned” as piracy sites, despite being some of the most popular promotional vehicles for artists and labels alike. Also, a bunch of the top hip hop blogs teamed up a while back to form what was called the New Music Cartel — and every one of those sites is on the “banned” list.

And, of course, that Vibe list is a couple years old. There are plenty of other top music/hip hop sites that for unclear reasons were also put on the list, and they’re not happy about it. For example, there’s Complex, an up-and-coming and incredibly popular lifestyle magazine for the 18-34 male demographic. Somehow, they’re on the list, and the magazine/site’s editor-in-chief recently took his frustration to Twitter, calling out Universal Music and saying this means Universal Music will get less coverage:


Other sites on the list are similarly pissed, though not everyone’s willing to talk about it publicly. The ones who should be angry are the musicians who rely on these sites to get their works heard, to build up a fan base, and to become popular, because Universal Music is making that more difficult for them. There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem. There’s the “left hand/right hand” ignorance theory, in which the lawyers at Universal Music who helped put together this list are so disconnected from reality that they don’t realize they’re trying to shut down the very sites that the promotions side of the business (and the artists themselves) rely on. There’s also the more nefarious theory that Universal Music is sick of having to rely on such sites for promotions, and is seeking to shut down a bunch of them to limit where it can focus its promotions efforts — perhaps even trying to prop up a few “friendly” sites that it wants to rule the market, over the competition.

Either way, this seems like more evidence of how ridiculous it is to claim it’s easy to define “rogue sites.” Given the chance, it looks like Universal Music has defined it as sites it doesn’t like. The fact that this list includes all sorts of sites that clearly are not piracy sites should give anyone who supports bills like PROTECT IP pause. Defenders of these laws like to say that it’s obvious what is and what is not a rogue site — yet here you have Universal Music and GroupM showing how that definition can be quite broad, and extremely questionable.

No matter what, it seems likely that this move is going to backfire on Universal Music in a big bad way. It’s like what would have happened if a record label suddenly declared radio as “piracy” and said that its artists couldn’t appear on radio any more. It suggests a company so out of touch with how people find out about new music these days that it has no business being in the business of promoting artists. It also should serve as a warning sign to any artist thinking of signing with Universal Music. Why would you sign to a label that is actively working to kill some of the best sites for promoting your music? I reached out to Universal Music, asking for some comments and answers to a few questions raised in this article, and (not surprisingly) have heard absolutely nothing in response.

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Companies: groupm, universal music, wpp

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Comments on “Universal Music Goes To War Against Popular Hip Hop Sites & Blogs”

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63 Comments
Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

ICE was busy

There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem.

Obviously ICE was just busy actually working on our borders at the time. Or was on a Disney protection run or something like that ..

As soon as ICE has a bit more time on its hands and the current news about them blows over, this entire list will be taken offline for supporting child pron and terrorism and all the other bad things they can make up to scare people with at the time.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

I Can Do Them One Better

1. Stop selling new music in any portable form (CDs, mp3s, etc.)
2. Create “music centers” where people can go to put on a pair of headphones and listen to the recordings in person.
3. Put six layers of security screening in front of the centers to grope would-be customers (no secret recording devices!)
4. Charge $29.99 a song.
5. ???
6. Cultural relevance and profit!

DogBreath says:

Re: I Can Do Them One Better

3. Put six layers of security screening in front of the centers to grope would-be customers (no secret recording devices!)

That means a memory wipe of the audio before leaving said centers, so you would not remember what you just heard and disseminate it to the public at large (whistling, humming, singing the words on a YouTube video, etc…) without proper copyright clearance and appropriate jail time if you did it without owner authorization. Just look at all the unauthorized performances of the “Happy Birthday Song”, and all the lost royalties, so sad.

Wiping of said memories would also have the added benefit of the RIAA not having to actually find and pay talented singers and musicians, because not having anyone remember the songs, the RIAA could just stick to focusing on the packaging and advertising of said artists, with no worry of bad publicity.

Instead of some reviewer saying: “I heard the new album/song and it sucked”, it would be replaced with the same reviewer saying: “I heard the new album/song, and after my memory wipe the RIAA told me I really liked it.”

Hell, with that kind of technology they could even release old albums from the same artist and say they were new, based on the fact that you would never remember you had listened to them already because of the memory wipe. It’s like selling you the same thing in a different package over and over (an already patented business model???)

RadioactiveSmrf (profile) says:

Nelly had it right

Isn’t this what Nelly was complaining about on Twitter when his latest album was released? He made what he felt was quality music but the label did nothing to promote him or his new record. http://www.eurweb.com/?p=68002

I checked and his label is Motown Records, part of Universal Records. Looks like his ranting was on the mark.

DogBreath says:

Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

If company (X) doesn’t own site (Y), then it’s on their “Pirate List”, even if site (Y) is totally legit and legal.

Once company (X) buys out and owns site (Y), it will fall off the (X) list, even though the content won’t change. Of course that won’t stop them from showing up on the company (Z) “Pirate List”.

And on and on the battle will be waged, until the day when only one company will be in charge of all.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: Get ready for the "Great 'Alleged' Pirate Site Wars"

Hey, as long as everyone finally understands that the only songs that are wholesome enough to even be played on the radio are 1960’s commercial jingles, and the most popular music ever, it’s a small price to pay. Those that don’t agree will be eating ratburgers, and not know how to use the three seashells.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The fact that this list includes all sorts of sites that clearly are not piracy sites should give anyone who supports bills like PROTECT IP pause. Defenders of these laws like to say that it’s obvious what is and what is not a rogue site — yet here you have Universal Music and GroupM showing how that definition can be quite broad, and extremely questionable.”

Good example why the judicial review policy of Protect IP Act makes sense.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Good example why the judicial review policy of Protect IP Act makes sense.

Yes, because judicial rubber stamps stop law enforcement from doing dumb things, like putting a CP notice up on 84,000 sub-domains of a dynamic DNS hosting service.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110215/01092813096/did-homeland-security-seize-then-unseize-dynamic-dns-domain.shtml

Oh, wait.

Yup says:

Thank you for reporting on this mike.

It’s unbelievable groupm doesn’t even check the validity of the lists the label sends them.

Same with our corrupt donation taking politicians (and especially vp Biden), whatever the labels say goes. It doesn’t matter what the truth is, what the facts say, or what case studies or reports say. If a label doesn’t like you, you’re fucked.

sehlat (profile) says:

The Bottom of the Press Release Tells the Story

ABOUT GROUPM
GroupM is the leading global media investment management operation.

In other words, they’re a bunch of accountants and lawyers, not people who want to provide anything useful or do anything except demand money at gunpoint (The root word for “enforcement” is “force.”) who won’t be satisfied until they own your wallet.

Meh.

A non-mouse says:

Why ask why

“There are mixed opinions as to why Universal Music is attacking the hip hop blog ecosystem.”

Me thinks it has an awful lot to do with…

“…a bunch of the top hip hop blogs teamed up a while back to form what was called the New Music Cartel…”

It’s a good ole turf war, they’re “going to the mattresses” as they say in those circles.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think that the honest sites are going to suffer because there are so many illegal, questionable, copyright infringing sites out there hiding content on free hosts and playing games. At this point, the labels have little interest in filtering out who is who, they would rather just pull the plug and try some other methods for promotion.

All the abusing of the system doesn’t help anyone.

Drew (profile) says:

The key part of this entire article is in the very first sentence.

A few weeks ago, leading ad firm GroupM, a part of marketing giant WPP, proudly announced that it had “adopted an aggressive new anti-piracy policy” for its digital media buys.

Unless I’m missing something here, this only has to do with digital ad buys, and has nothing to do with editorial coverage.

Tony / SpareFoot.com (user link) says:

No nahright?

CTRL+F “nahright” – no results found? SMH…

I can’t believe NahRight isn’t explicitly mentioned in this article. It topped Vibe’s 2009 list and is a necessary promotional venue for success in the world of hiphop. It’s listed TWICE on GroupM’s list, and is one of the few leading hip hop blogs that makes a concerted effort to prevent illegal sharing.

John Doe says:

Where's the rabid lawyers?

How come none of the crazy lawyers of the world have jumped in to help these legitimate companies sue for slander? Vibe is a pretty clearly NOT dedicated to piracy and would have the legal guns to sue Universal or GroupM for alleging in writing that they are. Remember, you don’t need to make a public allegation for it to be slander, it just has to be in writing and given to someone else. 🙂

read it properly says:

if u actually read their press release you will realise this is just to do with where they place their clients advertising. It has nothing to do with Universal’s promotion strategy and Universal will continue to work with blogs and music sites. They just wont be paying those sites with advertising. In other words, from now on if a blog writes about a Universal release, it’s because the blog thinks it’s worth writing about, not because they want to give pay back.

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