It is with great disappointment that I recently discovered that Century Media Records has taken the step of pursuing litigation against individuals who have “distributed” releases by Iced Earth and Lacuna Coil via BitTorrent. By “distributed”, I largely mean “pointed and clicked on a hyperlink” so that they could listen to an advance, early digital copy of the music contained on the aforemention artists most recent albums.
I’m not a lawyer (maybe someday, heh), and I’m not an expert on intellectual property laws or patents, but I do know enough about where technology is to know that downloading is here to stay, whether anyone likes it or not. I for one have embraced it as a way to sample new works by artists that I may not otherwise ever get to hear. I don’t consider it a replacement over physical media; I would much prefer to hear the most recent Insomnium album (one of CM’s current artists) though the CD player of my car stereo over the washy-sounding 96bit mp3 download I have on my Zune of the same album. In fact, the most recent Insomnium album is but one of 139 Century Media albums that I (inexactly) counted on my shelves. Physical CDs, not mp3s on a hard drive. Artists ranging from Arch Enemy and Arcturus to Venemous Concept and Vallenfyre. That’s not to even consider albums that I bought under their affiliated imprints such as Nuclear Blast or Olympic Recordings. If we estimate that on average I paid $12 dollars for each of those Century Media imprinted recordings, I’ve handed the label approximately $1668 dollars out of my own pocket over the years just for physical CDs. Again, that doesn’t include CMR’s affiliated label releases (which may possibly even exceed my CM albums), or even merch and distro items that I bought via CMR’s website. That’s a lot of money from just one fan; now consider how many old fucks like me there are out there who have spent large sums of money over the years supporting the label.
Now if one of those old fans, who was buying the albums and going to the tours since “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, is suddenly sued for being curious about the most recent Iced Earth album, do you really believe this promotes good will for your label? Century Media is NOT Roadrunner, with signed artists like Nickelback and Slipknot and financial support of conglomerates such as Warner Music to keep them afloat if a small, vocal, and passionate sub-sect of fans swears off buying Roadrunner albums. In fact, Century Media, much like Relapse, Metalblade, Earache, Willowtip, Unique Leader, and other smaller metal oriented labels, DEPENDS on good will and fan support. As a fan, there’s an expectation that when an artist emerges from the obscure depths of the metal scene to be signed to Century Media (or Relapse, etc), that this reasonably suggests that the band is of a certain expected quality. That the recording is going to sound professional and not like a Darkthrone practice space recording.
I understand that there’s a business side of operating a music label, and paying for those professional sounding recordings isn’t cheap (though it is becoming increasingly more affordable…) and whoever owns the intellectual property rights to the albums Century Media releases should have a voice regarding how that intellectual property (albums in this case) are distributed. However, I see, and would hope that the record label comes to their senses and understand that suing fans over downloaded material will result in a pyrrhic victory; sure fans will settle for a few thousand dollars rather than go to trial, and Century Media, after legal fees, will temporarily refill their modest coffers. But the long term damage will be done; artists who disagree with your business practices will not resign or extend their contracts, especially if there’s fan pressure against it. Fans themselves in this small metal subculture will increasingly avoid buying albums or supporting artists on Century Media. Century Media may be looking at the case of Metallica, and assume that since it didn’t hurt Metallica’s career long term to sue Napster, that metal fans will just look the other way, or complain a lot while still buying their favorite band’s next album that happens to be released by CMR. That is not the case here. Lacuna Coil and Shadow’s Fall may have sold some albums, but even including that if you add up all of the album sales for every album ever released on a Century Media imprint, it still wouldn’t come close to what Metallica has done for one album (okay, maybe “Lulu”.) Metallica is a dinosaur from a bygone era; Century Media caters to a smaller, more dedicated, but also more demanding audience.
In short, operating a label in this era is tough, and I’m not sure what steps Century Media or other independent labels should take to remain viable, but suing fans isn’t it. Engaging the fans, satisfy them by releasing good albums by quality artists, offering extras when fans buy physical CDs (“making of” DVDs work well!) and fans like myself will keep spending $12 bucks at a time to support Century Media artists. Then again, I don’t give a fuck about Iced Earth or Lacuna Coil so if you wanna sue downloaders of those bands, it doesn’t mean shit to me. But you won’t have to worry about me downloading, paying for, other otherwise supporting the rest of the Century Media roster, either.