Dear American Express: Stop advertising on sites that illegally exploit my music.

Dear American Express:

I write you today to ask why your ads are appearing on top rogue sites such as Sites like these are for-profit enterprise level organizations often with ties to organized crime. Sites like these appear to profit by illegally exploiting artists copyrights and monetizing their web traffic through advertising. Yes, advertising bought and paid for by American Express.

This is not an obscure site. Its Alexa ranking shows that it is one of the most popular websites in the world. I realize that you probably did not intend to have your ads appear on this site. However, I still hold you accountable for not properly auditing your advertising agency  Olgilvy & Mather  and your ad network DoubleClick. It should be noted that this site also links to some pretty prurient, possibly illegal videos; it’s entirely possible that I won’t be the only one holding you accountable.

I’m told that advertising agencies often hire companies to verify that their clients’ ads are being served to the approved websites. I am here to tell you that from what I have seen, these services are incompetent or worse. We have plenty of screenshots and source code showing major brands that surely use these services, advertising on illegal sites. (We’d be glad to share some of these screenshots and source code with you.)

Here are screenshots that show an American Express advertisement on apparently served by DoubleClick. This isn’t abstract to me–this page is a link to an illegal download of one of my songs. You should also note some of the other “suggested” searches on this same site are for some pretty nasty stuff.  I don’t like having my brand seen in these places and I’m sure you don’t either.

I suggest you do something I can’t do–audit everyone involved in this process . What’s the worse thing that could happen? Your brand not appearing on sketchy sites next to links to pornography?

Now that’s priceless.

Artists, Know Thy Enemy – Who’s Ripping You Off and How…

Musicians have been getting the short end of the stick for a long time. There are no shortage of stories about the wrong doings of managers, booking agents, etc and of course record labels.

But today we find ourselves in a battle with an enemy few of us understand. If we were to believe the writings and ramblings of the tech blogosphere, than they would have us believe that our enemy is our fans. This is simply not true.

The enemy are the for profit businesses making money from our recordings and songwriting illegally. Let’s be clear about this, our battle is with businesses ripping us off by illegally exploiting our work for profit. This is not about our fans. It is about commercial companies in the businesses of profiting from our work, paying us nothing and then telling us to blame our fans. That is the ultimate in cowardice and dishonesty.

Who are these companies? You know some of them, the ones that have been prosecuted and are no longer operating, Napster, Limewire, Grokster and Kazaa to name a few. Some have been convicted of operating illegally and are running from the law, switching servers to jurisdictions outside the reach of justice, such as The Pirate Bay. And, there are other still others who have yet to go to trial like Megaupload who alone made a billion for it’s owner Kim Dotcom who paid artists nothing, nadda, zero, zilch, zippo…

Our friends over at Ethical Fan recently published a Wall of Shame showing not only the sites who are profiting, but also who is paying for the advertising. This is no different than your music being used in a TV Commercial by AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, State Farm Insurance, etc. Virtually all of these Artist Exploitation sites such as The Pirate Bay, Demonoid, Iso Hunt and others are operating for profit. Again, this is not about fans sharing, this is about illegally operating businesses making millions (and more likely Billions collectively) of dollars a year from the exploitation of artists work and not sharing any of the revenue with artists.

To the uninitiated, it might seem odd that what seems like a simple question of right or wrong is even being debated, but these sites that exploit artists are supported and promoted by faux civil liberty groups opposed to protecting creators rights — and internet giants are happy to throw their support behind them. Together, they have crafted a narrative of creator rights as quaint and outdated, offering artists a brave new online world where they can throw off the shackles of labels (or publishers, or studios, etc.) and give away their work to find fame and fortune. However, after a decade of half baked ideas, faulty business models, and outright lies, we know this is simply untrue. If the internet is working for musicians, why aren’t more musicians working professionally?

We may not always be fans of record labels, but at least the labels negotiate contracts, pay advances, market and promote artists, and are contractually accountable for wrong doing. However, the Artist Exploitation sites who are operating illegally and completely above the law are making 100% of the money from work created by musicians and artists. We would love to see the day when these sites license music legally, governed by fairly negotiated contracts.

Being able to collect 100% of the money from exploiting the work of artists is no doubt profitable when these companies don’t have to share any of that money with the artists themselves. This is expressly why copyright exists, specifically to protect artists and musicians from corporate interests who would illegally exploit the artist for profit. This is why record labels, publishing companies as well as the producers of films and television must negotiate with artists for the use of their work. And the artist has the free agency to decline. The artist has no such enforceable rights online today in the Exploitation Economy.

In other words, artists, creators and musicians have become road kill on the information super highway.

Opponents of the enforcement of Artists Rights online often cite what a powerful tool the internet is for distributing music cheaply. We are encouraged by many new and promising services to musicians that are being developed. But is absolutely false to assert that an artist’s work must be exploited illegally for the artists to enjoy the benefits of the internet.

Nothing is stopping any artist from sharing or giving away their work online through legitimate sites such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp.  Artists have the full right and capability to distribute their work freely, and by choice without having to be exploited illegally to the benefit and profit of an exploitative  company or corporation.

This is not about being for, or against technology or the internet, this is about being opposed to illegally operating businesses on the internet exploiting artists for commercial gain. It’s really just that simple. 

Those attacking Artists Rights also want you to believe that if you want to be paid you must be against technology and for censorship. Nothing could be more wrong. The internet is a amazing tool and most musicians we know are also early adopters of new technology (especially of the musical variety!). More so, it was artists and record labels who have historically fought against censorship and for freedom of expression. No where was this been more evident than in the 90’s battles against the PMRC in regards to record labeling with “Explicit Lyrics” stickers. Many artists have been on the front line of the battle for freedom of expression such as ICE-T, Jane’s Addiction and many others.

Let’s be clear, there is a difference between protecting the right to the freedom of expression, and profiting from the illegal exploitation of that expression itself.

In other words, artists and musicians are champions of freedom of expression and new technology. The only question that we ask is, is the use of the technology legal and does it respect artists rights as expressed in copyright. Copyright serves as the foundation that enables an artist the free agency to make the choices for themselves that are meaningful to them. Without the enforcement of copyright artists are bullied into forced collectivism by the new gate keepers who control the access to distribution revenues of music exploited illegally.

An economy built on the illegal exploitation of artists, is very simply an Exploitation Economy.

Any wrong doing of illegally operating businesses ripping off artists and illegally exploiting their work should be held accountable, even if they are on the internet.