What follows is how to get sued by the music industry. But the broadband of time has forced my hand.
You see, back in about 1998 B.N. (Before Napster), music journalists were the first to get advance copies of highly anticipated new albums. We were the ones friends called to ask, "Man, you get the new Eminem yet? I'll send you naked photos of my sister if you burn me a copy."
Then the O.G. pirate, Napster's Sean Fanning, went and messed with music critics' paltry sense of self-importance. These advance copies began to "leak" online via Napster and other related sites. Millions of pseudo-goths with cable modems could download the new AFI album before Rolling Stone got a copy.
Record labels were caught between a modem and an outdated business model. Their publicists were charged with creating "buzz" for their albums, but their label managers were responsible for keeping copies off the Internet. Especially crucial was keeping albums off the Internet before the actual release dates because fans would read about how Blogger Joe had found a copy of Winger's comeback record online. Not having the option to legally purchase the album, and propelled by their desperate need to maintain their "superfan" status, fans are driven to Limewire and a life of e-crime.
The record industry panicked. Recording studios became Fort Knoxes where you could bring a smoldering crack rock and some nitroglycerin inside, but you were strip-searched before you left. Lawyers for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) seemed to contract a bizarro case of Tourette's-instead of blurting cusswords at inappropriate times, they would twitch and involuntarily sue every dick they saw with an iPod.
This affected music journalism. Record labels drastically cut back on advance copies. If your publication has a subscriber base less than, say, 1 million, you usually don't see advances of major albums. If you do, it comes "watermarked." A copy will arrive at the CityBeat offices that reads "Troy Johnson" on the CD; if that album somehow makes it to the Internet, the RIAA can track it back to me and sue away.
Of course, this system is flawed. I've received CDs with the names of other journalists-I once got a copy watermarked with the name of a competing publication's music editor. I thought of walking into their offices and saying, "Fold, motherfuckers! Send all of your advertisers to CityBeat or I'll leak this album online! Don't think I won't do it!"
I stayed clean for years. I never downloaded an album that I wasn't supposed to. A few months ago, however, I caved. It was when I posted a bulletin to MySpace saying, "Man, I've heard the new single from The Shins' new album!" and at least four friends wrote back to say, "Yeah, I downloaded it a month ago!"
I had to choose. I could either let the rest of the world get a step on CityBeat, or I could become a pirate in order to maintain my journalistic edge. So strap on the eye patch and give me a bit role in Dodgeball II-I'm now a pirate.
I'll never upload an album online or even burn copies for pals. No matter my opinions of major labels, stealing from musicians sucks. But now maybe my friends-at least the ones who aren't very adept at Googling-will call me to ask about the new Andrew Bird record.