He Did It Again
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 NIN.com 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.
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 rapp.com. Comments about this article
can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.