An Offer Fans Can’t Refuse

Who needs a record label?

That’s the question Radiohead seems to be asking as the band prepares to release its upcoming album, In Rainbows, October 10th via digital downloads.

The cost? That depends on what you’re willing to pay.

Radiohead, which did six albums with EMI before it severed its relationship with the label in 2003, recently announced through that the album would be made available as a download on October 10th, and that fans could now pre-order the download. But on the order form was an empty box with the notation, "The Price? Whatever you choose."

Customers who pre-order will be sent an activation code for downloading the album when its released on October 10th.

In addition to the album, Radiohead is also prepping a box set scheduled for a December release that includes the new CD plus two vinyl records, artwork and lyrics. Unlike the name-your-own-price downloads, the box set will cost about $80.

As fans flooded for Radiohead’s version of digital distribution, many observers couldn’t help but wonder if this was the latest nail in the major-label coffin.

"This could be seen as a turning point in the way artists and fans interface when it comes to the release of new material," said Alan Cross, the Toronto host of the syndicated radio show "The Ongoing History Of New Music," according to The Canadian Press.

"Here is a superstar band that is out to prove that record labels are not necessary. And if this works for Radiohead, could you imagine what will happen to other superstar bands who have the same means or greater to do a similar thing when their contracts are up?"

But while Radiohead strikes a blow for the people, published reports indicate the band hasn’t totally blown off any future major-label involvement. Published reports indicate the band is negotiating with many labels, including EMI, and might sign with a record company within the next few months.

But until that moment arrives, no record label stands between the band and its fans. Just the rush of incoming digital orders from people wanting their Radiohead at their price.

Or as Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood wrote in response to the cyber traffic jam caused by the new album,"So, if you please bear with us, it should get cleared out soon. I sound like a bouncer. Get behind the rope. No denim. Thanks for your patience with the site + interest in the record."


Radiohead Feedback

Interest in Radiohead’s unorthodox marketing was not limited to music-oriented publications and MP3 blogs. For several major media outlets, Radiohead was THE story.

"What Price A Download?" was the headline in The Wall Street Journal, which claimed that most fans were "overpaying" if they selected a $10 price for the band’s new In Rainbows album. It said the band, which prides itself on its "anticorporate and anti-materialistic ethos," could be "more productive to adopt a no-surprises policy and fix a simple, fair charge for its record."

Investment news site The Motley Fool also played up the name-your-price angle, predicting that this will not be the first time music consumers will pay what they may.

"But the band Radiohead is making a significant move into what sounds suspiciously like the future of music," wrote Alyce Lomax, saying the major labels "may find this development more than a little unnerving."

The Los Angeles Times, which featured the Radiohead story on its October 2nd front page, found not one, but two managers of major bands willing to give their takes on Radiohead fans picking the price.

"This is all anybody is talking about in the music industry today," R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs told the Times. "This is the sort of model that people have been talking about doing, but this is the first time an act of this stature has stepped up and done it. … They were a band that could go off the grid, and they did it."

"My head is spinning, honestly," said Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis. "It’s very cool and very inspiring, really."

But the great Radiohead adventure was not limited to the Los Angeles Times front page, for the newspaper also made it a featured editorial, which didn’t bode well for those working in the recording biz.

After detailing the Great Radiohead Experiment, the Times editorial ends with "Cheers to Radiohead for taking a leap from a dying business model and trusting their fans to catch them."


222,000 Reasons Not To Share Songs

A U.S. District Court jury in Duluth, Minn., returned a guilty verdict on October 4th, ordering Jammie Thomas to pay the recording industry $222,000 for pirating 24 recordings.

It was the first civil case over P2P file-sharing ever to make it to the courtroom. Thomas, a 30-year-old mother of two, faced charges that she made 1,702 major label tracks available on the Kazaa file sharing network in 2005.

Major labels suing individuals over peer-to-peer file-sharing is nothing new. The recording industry has unleashed the dogs of lawyerdom on alleged music pirates for more than four years.

But an actual trial is news. Despite all the lawsuits filed against alleged infringement perps, up until now all cases resulted in settlements, with the accused paying anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 along with a signed statement saying they would never pirate music again.

Because the price of settling these civil suits costs much less than attorneys’ fees or what they might have to pay if they lose in court, just about everyone facing such legal action has opted for a settlement.

The civil trial in federal court only lasted a few days and opened with the labels providing a literal wall of data consisting of printouts, logs and Internet addresses that lawyers for the plaintiffs claim is absolute proof that Thomas was up to no good.

As with all P2P investigations, it started with matching an Internet address with a name.

SafeNet’s Mark Weaver testified that his company, while working for the labels, discovered 1,702 songs offered for sharing by a Kazaa user going under the non de plume "tereastarr."

Weaver’s appearance in the witness box was followed by David Edgar of Charter Communications, Thomas’ Internet service provider. Edgar testified that he and another investigator independently matched tereastarr to both Thomas’ account and the cable modem she leased from the ISP.

But ISP matches are kind of like DMV records. Sure, you own the car, but it’s up to the prosecution to prove you were driving it when it was used as a getaway vehicle for that big bank heist.

And Brian Toder, Thomas’s lawyer, said there was no proof his client shared all those tunes.

Instead, Toder suggested that someone else, such as a neighbor, could have shared music through Thomas’ IP via a wireless router.

But that argument was quickly countered by Doug Jacobson, a computer security specialist and professor at Iowa State University, who testified that ISP records didn’t show any wireless activity.

Then there was the issue of Thomas’ computer.

Thomas and her attorney said she followed suggestions offered by Best Buy and replaced the computer after experiencing problems in 2005. But the labels claimed the computer replacement was an attempt to cover her tracks after receiving piracy notices from record companies.

Although the record labels claimed Thomas had shared 1,702 songs, the jury ordered her to pay $9,250 for each of the 24 songs the recording industry lawyers focused on.

Aside from the case being the first to actually make it to a courtroom, the ruling is also important because it could determine how much evidence is needed to prove P2P piracy. Although no one actually saw Thomas infringe upon the labels’ copyrights by distributing music via a P2P network, the recording industry evidently convinced the jury that tereastarr was the Kazaa handle for Thomas and that infringements did take place under that name.

"It is imperative for Sony BMG to combat this problem," Sony BMG head of litigation and antipiracy Jennifer Pariser said earlier in the trial. "If we don’t, we have no business anymore."