The Random, Troubling Antics of the IFPI and How They Impact Indie Artists.
Something sinister has been going on in the indie music blogosphere this February. And not just this February. Rumors and conjecture and suspicious activity have been noted on the periphery of web consciousness since the start of the new year.
Just when you thought the RIAA was getting a little soft.
The IFPI is the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Basically a bunch of guys using international law to threaten Google. In response, Google took down six music blogs hosted on its Blogspot service, including relative non-offenders like I Rock Cleveland and Masala.
The reason the mainstream media has taken notice, in this case, is because the disappeared blogs in question are fairly rigorous in posting only licensed, approved audio content. The IFPI says it is acting to protect its content, and concomitantly, the artists who created that content. But why, then, would they shut down blogs who, in many cases, are being punished for hosting mp3s they received in a promotional capacity from the labels and artists themselves?
The whole ‘unjustly accused’ element of this story is what’s received press attention over the last week. However, the fact is that Google has been shutting down music blogs hosting content from that fuzzier sphere of legality for a while now. Among those who truck in that sort of thing, shutdowns of favorite blogs by Google have been a problem for weeks.
Now, I’m not here to tell you that it’s right or wrong to download music, listen to music online, or even sample unlicensed mp3s on your favorite sites. What I am here to tell the IFPI is that they’re living in a dream world. One that’s temporally located in the past, and in which the IFPI‘s instinct for self-preservation possesses no more depth than that of a small, frightened rodent.
What the IFPI seems to be missing in its haphazard vilification of a handful of influential music blogs (and even, apparently, some label websites and content owners) is that they, and their brother organizations-in-arms, actually need music blogs to survive.
Over the last few years, music bloggers have slowly replaced traditional forms of print journalism, radio, and certainly music television, as the tastemakers of the music industry. Everything from the super underground blogger bringing you early releases of the freshest, most interesting new music in the world, to the mega-blog who receives promotional material directly from labels – these are the forces currently shaping musical trends, and making or breaking musical careers.
A well-reviewed track on a popular mp3 blog these days has a bigger impact on an artist’s future than a Rolling Stone cover. Why? Because the mainstream music industry is now forced to spend all its time supporting its biggest stars, leaving it the blogosphere’s duty to discover and promote new music. As such, an artist is far more likely to achieve success online, whereas the covers of magazines serve only to promote the status quo. Seen in this light, it’s almost painful to watch organizations like the IFPI struggle against the very people keeping them afloat.
However, some industry critics are pointing out that this might not be such a bad thing. As one Boing Boing reader puts it,
“What’s the problem?
Stated goal of the IFPI:
‘Our top priority is to prevent the continued availability of the IFPI Represented Companies’ content on the internet.’
Job well done!”
In other words, who cares if they won’t give music listeners online access to their gentrified roster of Queen, Susan Boyle, and the recording cast of High School Musical?
The IFPI is interested in one thing: a music industry that makes a ton of money for their clients, and hence, for themselves. They could care less about music, they represent the very worst of the business, and they don’t see a problem with frightening children into seeing things their way.
Unfortunately, as lovely as it would be to dismiss such efforts as irrelevant, these industry forces aren’t finished yet. They’re still able to hurt music blogs, indie artists, and indie labels in their quest for self-preservation, and currently, the only recourse for affected bloggers is to counter-sue. Not surprisingly, the last thing that folks involved in the alternative industry movement want to do is go to court with their suit-armored forefathers.
The saddest part of the situation may be the total randomness with which a few bloggers out there are being targeted. It doesn’t seem to make sense to choose a half-dozen out of hundreds, which begs the question: what comes next? If I thought that old-school legal-industrial complexes had a hope in hell of controlling the internet, I might actually be scared.