The Digital Music Industry Is Inept.
I’ve been so busy. I have a new record coming out on the 23rd, I’m playing and co-producing a show at the Adler Planetarium with the most sophisticated visuals in history on the 26th, and my new non-profit music school and publishing house here in Chicago has a soft open on the 27th. This over-booking is my own fault, of course, and my dream of spending just one entire day covered in Cheeze-It crumbs while playing Borderland 2 gets foggier and foggier.
But something else is now budging it’s way into my carefully planned schedule, a giant impending lawsuit that shouldn’t need to exist.
So here’s the setup. Not-at-all-known dubstep artist, comically named “Inventor”, decided to take one of my most popular songs, “Undiscovered Colors”, put some bird sounds over it, release it as his own, and put it for sale on every digital network available. Inventor’s record label, “Foul Play”, has ignored any attempt of resolve, including a cease and desist letter. This isn’t really all that surprising, as someone was doing with with all my albums back in 2006 before I had put my music on iTunes. That only took 24 months to resolve.
But there’s a much bigger problem here. Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc all have extremely rigorous and advanced methods of protecting themselves from illegally hosting music or video content. Why is it so incredibly easy for an artist and record label with absolutely no regard for my material to sell it on said networks?
Google has previously sent me copyright infringement warnings for my own material on Youtube, pertaining to, hilariously, the exact same song mentioned above. I’ve responded with proof that I own every possible right to the music, only to get another DCMA notice a week later. This leads me to believe that their auto-copyright-watchdog software is trigger happy, which is annoying, especially since it has absolutely no effect on people illegally selling my music.
So since the guy who runs “Foul Play” apparently printed out my cease and desist notice, rolled it into a tube, and smoked crack out of it, I’m going to assume that he won’t show up to court either. In the meantime, there are still 10+ networks selling my music illegally. My girlfriend’s investigating pointed out something even more insane, when you play the original version of “Undiscovered Colors” into Shazam, it identifies the song as written by Inventor and gives you the option of purchasing it in iTunes. In fact, if you search “Undiscovered Colors” in iTunes….my version, the only legal and legit copy of the song, doesn’t even fucking show up.
Going deeper into the inept rabbit hole, I’m shocked to find that Undiscovered Colors is my #1 selling track on iTunes, and Arboreal (the album it is on) is my #1 selling album. Without giving out exact sales figures, the sales are well into the thousands, and the streams are well into the hundreds of thousands on iTunes. So how is it, that this successful album and track do not even show up in a specific search, yet the stolen version does? It is beyond my level of logical comprehension and nearly pushes me into a paranoid conspiracy theory state of mind. Is it possible Apple blacklists me from coming up in searches for some reason? Is “Inventor” the son of someone important?
Just….wtf…how does this make any sense?
To add to the chaos, the same thing happens when you search the title in Spotify.
So obviously now, the next step is to send a cease and desist to everyone hosting the song. Here’s the results:
Google Play is “working on it”.
Microsoft has not responded.
iTunes has not responded.
Rhapsody is “working on it”.
Emusic has not responded.
Junodownload has not responded.
Spotify has not responded.
Beatport, who won’t even sell my music, has responded with a letter saying that they’re not responsible for the music they host, then explaining that I have to fill out documents and fax them for them to consider removing the title. This, from a legal perspective, is incredibly entertaining to me, since responding to a cease and desist means you’re aware that you’re breaking the law. And I’m not sure how Beatport can claim they aren’t responsible for illegally profiting off of my recordings, but that argument certainly didn’t work out too well for Napster a decade earlier.
So, to resolve something that could be done by any of the companies above with one mouse click, I have to lawyer up and basically sue the entire digital music industry. It will take many months to see a result, and it will take years to see any compensation for illegal sales of my music.
At the end of the day, I look back 5 years to my last brush against iTunes, and realize that nothing has changed. None of these music stores have a department, or even an employee to deal with artists directly. When they sell my music, they make money, and lots of it. I have made these companies 6 figures over my career, yet there’s not one person I can contact to resolve a simple issue such as this. It is sad to say, as a precedent, I simply can’t justify my agreement with any of these companies at this time, and it makes me question if and how I will release albums in the future.
So the next time you get a letter from your ISP threatening you about illegally downloading music, or the next time your Youtube account gets banned for using a clip of Megadeth behind your video of a squirrel eating Chex Mix, remember that on the other side of the transaction, all of that bullying amounts to nothing unless you’re a RIAA partner. These companies are willing to shove 1,000 attorneys down your throat if you share music, but won’t even respond to a legal order about actual music theft and piracy.
Edit: To those of you emailing me telling me that my music should be free to use. That argument is completely void and invalid here. Undiscovered Colors cost over $3,000 to record. It features an entire orchestra. Find me some info on “Inventor”. Where he’s from, when his next show is, maybe even a website. You can’t. This copyright violation isn’t about art, it’s about copying a popular song, boldly releasing it with the exact same title, and making money off of it. The shocking part is not that someone invented a ballsy way to rip me off, it is that they got away with it and none of the retailers seem to give a shit.
Share my music all you like, I encourage it. But selling it under your own name and taking all of the money without my permission is piracy, and the very definition of theft.
Edit2: I am now aware of the misspell, which, in a way adds to the ineptness of it all (I double checked my submissions and they’re all spelled properly). Spotify at least was like “oh, did you mean Un-dick-covered Colors?”.