BY: ELLIOT WEISS
17 U.S.C. §506 provides, in pertinent part, that a person willfully infringes a copyright by distributing copyright protected material when the purpose is that of financial gain, commercial distribution or public availability.[1. 17 U.S.C. §506.] §506 focuses on an actor’s intent to steal or defraud, whereby violating the federal statute will result in criminal sanctions.[2. 18 U.S.C. §2.]
The level of monetary harm that rampant Internet piracy has had on the music industry is well documented. Criminal copyright infringement in the modern era has focused on internet piracy websites such as Megaupload and Pirate Bay, both of whom are incurring a legal firestorm for allegedly violating §506.[3. Nick Bilton, Internet Pirates Will Always Win, N.Y.Times, Aug. 4, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/sunday-review/internet-pirates-will-always-win.html] The government has issued public statements that MegaUpload has “facilitated copyright infringement causing an estimated financial harm to copyright holders well in excess of $500 million. “[4. David Kravets, Feds Shutter Megaupload, Arrest Executives, Wired Magazine, Jan. 19, 2012, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/megaupload-indicted-shuttered/] It follows that with so many other illegal download websites out there, “piracy will just not go away, companies (asserting their intellectual property rights) “should stop trying to fight piracy and start experimenting with new ways to distribute content that is inevitably going to be pirated anyway.”[5. Nick Bilton, Internet Pirates Will Always Win, N.Y.Times, Aug. 4, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/sunday-review/internet-pirates-will-always-win.html] Online distribution channels have led businesses or brands in entertainment, who see the opportunity in distributing their products directly to their individual fan base, adopt do it yourself (“DIY”) distribution techniques.
When thinking about brands that implement DIY distribution concepts, musicians are a strong example. Musicians are entertainment industry merchants who know that one aspect of their commercial product (recorded music) will most certainly be pirated and copied illegally as soon as the music becomes available to the public. Therefore, it has become relatively common for musicians releasing a new album to sell the product on their websites directly to the consuming public. This affords the musician to have the ability for a short period to control the exclusive access to the product. When rock band Radiohead released their album “King of Limbs” they offered it directly through their website, where for a given time it was the only web domain offering the music until it shortly thereafter surfaced on illegal downloading sites.[6. Matthew Perpetua, Radiohead Release New Album The King of Limbs One Day Early, Rolling Stone Magazine, Feb. 18, 2011, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/radiohead-release-new-album-the-king-of-limbs-one-day-early-20110218] Recently, 1990 shoe-gazer rock band My Bloody Valentine released their new album “MBV” through their website. For a short period of time it was the exclusive place where the album could be obtained. However, unfortunately those vital hours of exclusivity were cut short when the website crashed due to excessive web traffic.[7. My Bloody Valentine’s Website Crash After Midnight Launch of New Album ‘mbv’, NME, Feb. 2, 2013, http://www.nme.com/news/my-bloody-valentine/68505] The My Bloody Valentine case illustrates a lesson. If you are attempting to financially maximize revenue in a short period of time by exclusively distributing your album through a private website, make sure that you have proper bandwidth to support the demand of the products first commercial release.