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Oops! He Did It Again

A couple of months ago Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails confounded the music industry by dropping the 36-track work Ghosts on the world. Nine tracks could be downloaded for free, all of the tracks could be downloaded for $5, and there was a menu of other offerings, including CDs and raw tracks for remixing, that could be had for a variety of prices.

While the major labels are busy suing college kids and watching their businesses go into the tank, Reznor, now completely independent of any label, provided a tutorial on how the new Web economy can work, how free and scarcity can work together. He even made money, reportedly netting $1.5 million in the first couple of days of Ghosts’ release.

There was a little grumbling that what he released wasn’t a real NIN record, it was atmospheric instrumental music; I think it’s great, but people do like to complain about stuff . . .

Well two months later he’s at it again, this time releasing a full album of “real” NIN music, entitled The Slip, and this time totally for free. You can download The Slip at in a variety of formats, including in better-than-CD quality 24-bit 96k format, and raw tracks are available for remixing under a Creative Commons license. For free. And every download is accompanied by a PDF file containing full graphics and lyric sheets.

How does Reznor make money on this one, you ask? Good question, the answer to which is yet to be seen. CD and vinyl versions of The Slip will reportedly be available this summer. These freebies will no doubt attract new NIN listeners (like me, for example, and maybe you, too) many of whom will now go buy some of the back catalog and whatever Reznor releases in the future.

And maybe we’ll go see NIN live, which brings me to Reznor’s other brilliant coup, which was also announced on Monday but got buried by the news of the free download. Registered users of the NIN Web site can order the best seats on this summer’s tour online, from Reznor directly. The tickets will arrive with the buyer’s name printed on them, and the buyer will have to show a photo ID to get into the show. Adios, scalpers! With an eminently simple Internet solution, Reznor eliminates the madness that surrounds big shows (can you say Miley Cyrus?) and rewards his fans with the best seats to his shows.

This is how you build a fan base. This is how you build loyalty. This is how you build a career in the music business today.

In other news, I read that the House Judiciary Committee is pushing for the creation of a cabinet-level intellectual-property “czar” to police “piracy” in the information industries. What this appears to represent is a massive subsidy to the entertainment industry in the form of providing federal cops to enforce what the industry currently does itself. In other words, now the Feds will be suing college kids for downloading Britney Spears songs and Chucky movies.

It’s all so ridiculous. Congress, propped up with millions in campaign contributions and phony statistics about the losses to U.S. companies due to IP theft (i.e. one “illegal” download does not equate to one lost sale; I mean, think about it for half a second—the MPAA even admitted a few months ago that its propaganda numbers were wrong) is all too happy to oblige Big Media . . . with it’s very own czar! Even the Federal Department of Justice is unhappy about it, although not for any reasons related to the public well-being. No, it’s more of a turf war, as the DoJ has been trying to build up its own IP-enforcement efforts under the guise of—get this—homeland security! That’s right. It only appears that little Julie is up in her room innocently downloading that new Gnarls Barkley track off of Limewire; but in reality she’s . . . she’s . . . she’s helping Al Qaeda! So, it’s the DoJ’s position that we don’t need no stinking czar.

Piracy can be a problem, and that’s what copyright laws are for. If it’s bad enough, it can become a criminal matter and law enforcement is needed to put the bad guys away. But piracy’s not terrorism, it’s stealing. And downloading a song off the Web isn’t piracy, it’s doing what technology suggests and allows. And we don’t need an intellectual-property czar. Not unless it’s Trent Reznor.

—Paul Rapp


Paul Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can be found at www.paul Comments about this article can be posted at rapponthis

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