Universal Music Working Hard To Alienate Its Biggest Stars

from the no-mashups-allowed dept

The recording industry loves to trot out musicians in its fight for ever-more-draconian copyright laws. We're repeatedly told that fans who create mash-ups with their favorite songs and post them back to YouTube are not only infringing copyright, but are hurting the very artists who created that music in the first place. The funny thing is, a lot of musicians don't seem to have gotten the memo. A couple of years ago, OK Go front man Damian Kulash took to the pages of the New York Times to tell of his battle to keep DRM off of his band's latest CD, which he knew would turn off a lot of fans. Now Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor, who just a few weeks ago parted ways with Universal, has a statement on the group's website about his own struggles with his former label. Reznor has actually encouraged fans to share and re-mix his music, and has even released a new CD featuring user-created mash-ups of Nine Inch Nails music.

He was planning to create a YouTube-style website to host and promote the best mash-ups, but he found out at the last moment that Universal wasn't willing to participate in the site, for fear it would undermine their legal arguments against YouTube and its competitors. It's a little bit unclear about what the exact controversy is about. To its credit, Universal apparently hasn't tried to stop Reznor from setting up his own mash-up site. Since Reznor has been released from his Universal contract, it's not surprising that Universal would be reluctant to help him promote his music -- even though it still owns the rights to his earlier songs. So in some sense, it seems a little unfair to blame Universal for not wanting to be involved in setting up a website to promote the music of one of its former acts. But this kind of friction also makes it pretty clear that the labels' claims to represent the interests of artists are rather hollow. Reznor wants to experiment with new ways of promoting his music, while Universal seems to be myopically focused on the next quarter's CD revenues. Instead of looking for ways to turn YouTube into a new promotional vehicle or revenue stream, they've been busy threatening to sue YouTube and its competitors. That's probably not a good strategy for Universal; it certainly isn't a good strategy for Reznor or musicians who are still on Universal's labels. Reznor, it seems, was smart to get out when he did, and I'm sure he's encouraging his musician friends to follow his lead.


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  1.  
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    paul, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 3:32pm

    it works

    I saw a homemade video on youtube, and got hooked on the music they put on it. what did I do. found it on I-tunes and paid my 99 cents for it. now I listen to it almost everday, if it was not for youtube I doubt I would have ever heard it.

     

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  2.  
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    Anarchy_Creator, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 3:50pm

    it works

    I saw a homemade video on youtube, and got hooked on the music they put on it. what did I do. found it on Emule and downloaded it for free. now I listen to it almost everday, if it was not for youtube I doubt I would have ever heard it. maybe one day if I go to their concert I'll buy a cd from them directly so I know they're getting the money, and not the RIAA.

    *Fixed*

     

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  3.  
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    Lucretious, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 3:52pm

    when you allow lawyers to make the most important decisions in any business that is basically creativity driven you get this kind of crap. Over-the-air radio for example, CBS radio in particular, has allowed its attorneys to not only make decisions but have instituted a "do not say, do not offend" list that makes the FCC's banned words list look like a string a profanities. Other companies will simply fire on-air talent instead of backing them when it comes to anything thats considered a grey area (particularly things that can be perceived as racially insensitive).

    Anyhow, as I've said time and again, why attorneys are considered part of the "noble" professions (ie doctors, architects, scholars, etc) I'll never know. 90% produce absolutely NOTHING of benefit to society. The rest who interpret the law and defend against true abuses are the only ones that are worth noting.

    I may be over-generalizing but prove me wrong.

     

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  4.  
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    Realist, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 7:32pm

    Perhaps a bit of an overstatement...?

    Providing merely two examples of artists who are in favor of permitting mash-ups of their work hardly seems to indicate that Universal Music is "working hard to alienate its biggest stars", or that its claims (to the extent it has actually made such claims) that it is serving the interests of its artists "ring hollow". If, out of all the Universal Music artists, you can only find two that support your theory, I suggest you reconsider the validity of your theory.

    Besides, mash-ups never struck me as particularly creative. "Clever", maybe. Or "creative" in the same sort of limited way that a performing horse that can count by stamping his hoof is "intelligent".

    We have a society today that places too much value on re-using the work of others, and not enough on creating new works. Almost none of the mash-ups or re-tellings (or whatever) of truly original works are any good. Except for Battlestar Galactica. The current re-telling of that story is way better than the original. Everything else that I can think of along those lines either sucks or is merely "clever" - not really "creative".

     

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  5.  
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    Tim Lee, Nov 26th, 2007 @ 9:48pm

    Re: Perhaps a bit of an overstatement...?

    Maybe part of the problem is that there are so many legal barriers to doing mash-ups that the most successful and talented artists focus their efforts elsewhere?

     

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  6.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 27th, 2007 @ 4:42am

    Re: Perhaps a bit of an overstatement...?

    Erm, re-read the article again. There's one artist (Trent Rezor) who's worried about the mashups. The other artist, OK Go!, was telling of the battle to stop DRM from being added to their latest CD.

    It's alienating artists because the message is clear. Univeral don't care about the artists' opinions of knowledge of their fanbase. They care more about their attempts to sue YouTube than any attempt to use the technology to add value to their music.

    The message is simple: Universal don't care about anything other than protecting a business model proven to be unworkable in the modern age. Why would any intelligent artist not be alienated by behaviour like that?

    By the way, your last paragraphy is a strawman. You seem to be talking about remakes (or, in music parlance, cover versions), not mashups. They're completely different concepts.

     

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  7.  
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    Celes, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 5:10am

    Re: Perhaps a bit of an overstatement...?

    Wow. Almost everything you said is either the result of a misunderstanding or just plain wrong. Even the part about Battlestar Galactica. ESPECIALLY the part about Battlestar Galactica.

     

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  8.  
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    Alison, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 3:09pm

    Whose rights?

    not surprising that Universal would be reluctant to help him promote his music -- even though it still owns the rights to his earlier songs.

    So Universal wants to protect artists' rights through stronger protection and more DRM
    even though it still owns the rights to his earlier songs. IT STILL OWNS THE RIGHTS!

    That alone tells us this isn't about artists' rights. We have a system where the right of first sale (artists selling their rights) is in conflict with the purchaser of those rights. They will never release them. If it's about artists rights, copyright should NOT be for sale nor ownable by anyone other than the artist/author.

    How about we start naming it what it is (from the perspective of the production company). It's PRODUCTION rights. It's the right to produce an artefact (eg book, cd etc) based on the creative output of another entity. Perhaps we should rename this latter aspect
    creative rights ... lines up nicely with creative commons. This would nicely split production and creativity which seem to be lumped together into one broad but overly restrictive category.

    It's common sense, people!

     

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