RIAA, Label Crack Down On Nine Inch Nails MP3s, Webmasters Say

By Gil Kaufman for Sonicnet on July 17, 1999

Just days after two new songs hit radio, industry organization, Nothing Records hunt for copies on the Net.

Less than three days after two new Nine Inch Nails songs began airing on U.S. radio, the band's label and the Recording Industry Association of America have begun hunting for unauthorized MP3s of those songs and have ordered at least a dozen websites to remove them, according to webmasters and the RIAA.

"I had the songs online for about 18 hours or so," wrote 18-year-old webmaster Jay DeBard, who runs the five-year-old Burning Souls (www.burningsouls.com) website.

DeBard, who said he's tried to get Nothing's permission to officially post NIN music for five years, barely had the songs up for a full day before he received an e-mail from the legal department of Nothing Records requesting that he take them down, he said. DeBard claimed that more than 1,000 people had downloaded each song in that 18-hour period.

Radio programmers across the country began playing two new tracks ? "The Day the World Went Away" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Starfuckers, Inc." (RealAudio excerpt) ? from Trent Reznor's popular industrial-rock band earlier this week. But industry experts said the illegal copies of the songs scheduled to appear on NIN's upcoming album, The Fragile, have been popping up on Internet for nearly two weeks.

"Your site offers downloadable files containing recordings by Nine Inch Nails," reads a letter e-mailed to at least two Nine Inch Nails fansite webmasters. "These recordings have not been authorized for reproduction and distribution by your site." Nothing Records spokesperson Susan Swan said she could not confirm the letters received by the webmasters came from the label.

The letter goes on to request that webmasters remove the unauthorized sound files from their sites. It adds that a copy of the letter will be sent to the RIAA, which also issued cease-and-desist letters to NIN websites.

The RIAA action was undertaken in conjunction with the record-industry organization's effort to combat piracy on the Internet, according to Frank Creighton, the RIAA's senior vice president and director of anti-piracy efforts. "Like we do for all of our other members, we aggressively attack Internet sites that are putting [copyrighted] material out," Creighton said. "We've been particularly aggressive in this case because this is prerelease material."

Over the past two weeks, the RIAA has contacted nearly a dozen websites with cease-and-desist letters requesting that illegal NIN music be removed, Creighton said. Noncompliance could result in severe civil and criminal penalties, he added. Webmasters ignoring the letters face potential criminal fines of up to five years in jail and a ,000 fine, as well as civil penalties equal to 0,000 per infringement.

Reznor was not available to comment on the letters, according to a spokesperson. "Trent plans to speak on the MP3 issue soon," Swan said. "But he's currently finishing a record and is not available."

The posting of the NIN tracks is the latest in what Creighton said has become a disturbing trend for many major rock artists.

It's a scenario that has become almost as commonplace as mosh pits at rock shows: A song is recorded, it's leaked to radio, and hours ? or even minutes ? later, it's available to the world on the Internet thanks to enterprising fans.

In the past year, the RIAA has taken similar actions with sites posting prerelease material by other artists, including singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited" (RealAudio excerpt); Pearl Jam's entire fifth album, Yield; and U2's "Discotheque" (RealAudio excerpt). The organization has also fought to remove "Ray of Light" (RealAudio excerpt), a recent hit single from dance diva Madonna.

Webmasters were quick to tape the NIN songs off radio, digitally encode them as MP3 files and post them on their websites, but Nothing moved just as swiftly to request that the songs be taken down, several webmasters said.

"I knew this would happen," DeBard said, "but I didn't know how soon it would happen. I was planning to take the songs down when the single was released, since it would be accessible to everyone by then." DeBard posted the songs Tuesday evening after taping them from WFNX-FM in Boston, he said.

This is not the first time DeBard had been asked to take illegal NIN tracks off of his site, he said. Another fan, who asked not to be named and who also has an unofficial NIN site, said he had the files available, but, fearing trouble from his Internet service provider, took them down voluntarily before being contacted by the RIAA.

In an effort to create standards for the increasing number of MP3s appearing on the Internet, the Secure Digital Music Initiative ? a coalition of more than 100 music and technology companies ? formed in December. The organization has been working for eight months developing standards to deter the circulation of unauthorized files.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to me before," wrote 16-year-old Californian Dan Means, webmaster of the "Nine Inch Nails MP3 Music Archive" (www.ozonedesign.com/nin), which currently features a copy of the cease-and-desist letter.

"I received the e-mail from Nothing on Wednesday morning. Although disappointed, I wasn't surprised when I received the e-mail," he added. In addition to the new songs, he said he posted 46 other NIN songs in the near-CD-quality MP3 format. "So I get a lot of requests for MP3s and condolences for losing such a good site," Means said.

The new double-sided single from NIN includes sounds and ideas familiar to the music of the tortured industrial rocker Reznor: whispered, wounded vocals; dark, ambient keyboards; distorted guitars; pounding drums; and profanity.

"The Day the World Went Away," due in stores Tuesday, opens with ominous keyboards that are quickly overcome by slowly strummed, distorted guitars. Reznor's whispered voice breaks through exactly one-and-a-half minutes in with the lyrics "I'd listen to the words he'd say/ In his voice I heard decay/ The plastic face forced to portray/ The insides left cold and gray."

The lyrically and musically pointed "Starfuckers, Inc.," a propulsive track in which a robotic-sounding Reznor sneers lyrics over a skittering electronic beat, has the techno rock sound of such early NIN songs as "Head Like a Hole" and 1997's "Perfect Drug."

"My god is in the back of the limousine/ My god comes in a wrapper of cellophane/ My god is a shallow little bitch trying to make a scene," Reznor deadpans over a driving beat. The chorus of the song explodes over a buzz saw of guitars, with Reznor shouting the words "Starfuckers/ Starfuckers/ Starfuckers, Inc."

Nine Inch Nails' genre-defining industrial-rock debut, 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, was followed by a pair of remix EPs, 1992's Broken and Fixed. The first album and 1994's The Downward Spiral, which inspired a sequel remix album, Further Down the Spiral (1995), were composed and performed entirely by Reznor, who is believed to have taken the same route on The Fragile.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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