LOS ANGELES (Billboard) – The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Monday that anyone who distributes peer-to-peer software with the objective of promoting copyright infringement is liable for its users’ actions was music to the ears of the major labels. But the indie labels are not exactly rejoicing.
Dean Hudson, new-media director of Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, confesses a personal affinity for P2P firm Grokster, which was on the losing end of the court’s decision.
“It’s different for us than it is for the majors. We don’t actively try to thwart people from file sharing. We don’t necessarily embrace it, but we don’t try to stop people from doing it. We generally have done really well with the things that have been shared the most, so it’s hard to say whether it’s a chicken-and-egg thing.”
On the other hand, SpinArt founder Jeff Price, formerly senior director of business development at eMusic, is opposed to the free sharing of label-controlled music. He points to hot indie act the Dears as evidence that sites like Grokster may have cut into his business.
“Something is whack with the Dears,” he says. “They’re getting major press, television exposure, radio play. They’re selling out shows and they’re selling merchandise. I would expect us to have sold at least 25,000 units. We’re at 17,000. But if you go into the file-sharing programs, the Dears are everywhere.
“On one hand, I’m very excited,” Price continues. “We’re proliferating, we’re growing and we’re building an organic fan base. On the other hand, I’m annoyed because each one of these people should be paying for their music.”
Yet neither Price nor Hudson believes the Supreme Court decision will change consumers’ habits.
“Being smaller, there’s not much we can do to stop it, so we’re more interested in establishing good will with our customers,” Hudson says. “Hopefully they’ll like the music and like us enough so that they’ll buy it. It’s too hard to stop file sharing, and to try would probably just make our fans angry.”
Bright Eyes manager Nate Krenkel, who also oversees the Saddle Creek-affiliated Team Love imprint, says, “I don’t think this (decision) is going to matter really. It’s still (a) Pandora’s box. All the lawyers in the world are not going to stop the music fans and communities out there from sharing their interests and music files. Let the industry continue to run full throttle down this dead-end street, suing 15-year-old kids, stripping their bank accounts of their college funds, shutting down sites, playing the role of victim and claiming to speak for artists when they don’t give a shit at the end of the day if the artist makes money as long as the shareholders are happy.
“For an indie like ourselves,” he adds, “we are nothing but delighted knowing that music fans are out there sharing songs by our bands and spreading the word.”
Bettina Richards, founder of Chicago’s Thrill Jockey, also believes that peer-to-peer networks benefit her business. “With fairly restrictive outlets for new music, peer-to-peer sharing is one of the best ways to get the word around to music fans,” she says. “We find that most file sharing happens between music fans, and they tend to buy a healthy percentage.”
Others are hoping the ruling against Grokster will open the door to more legit file sharing.
“It’s easily the most important Supreme Court decision to affect the record industry in the last decade,” says Larry Miller, CEO of Or Music and former president of digital rights management company Reciprocal Entertainment. “As the operator of an independent and independently funded record company, this decision doesn’t dramatically affect what we do, but I think the decision should reverberate for a long time to come, for record companies large and small.”
Miller adds, “I hope that what we do now as an industry is move forward and bring whatever leverage we possibly can to the operators of the peer-to-peer networks … to use the filtering technologies, while imperfect, that are available.”