Is All Known Metal Bands a work of plagiarism?


Cosmo Lee of Invisible Oranges thinks so:
On one hand, this would surely make great coffee table reading. On the other hand, it is just as surely a copy-and-paste job from Essentially, the book is a print version of that website as of sometime last year. The fact that this book has an "author" (a Dan Nelson) is somewhat ludicrous. Does have a potential intellectual property claim against Nelson/McSweeney's for theft of its idea, process, and/or content? Regarding the latter, probably not; doesn't own the names of the bands it lists. However, it arguably owns the method of organization of these names, even if it's simply alphabetical. No other site has as complete a list of metal bands, and something feels wrong about a major commercial entity profiting off the backs of an all-volunteer community. In any case, most certainly lacks the resources to pursue any action against McSweeney's.

Was the community maintained Encyclopaedia Metallum copy and pasted into an exquisite William Morris-inspired McSweeney's book? I dunno. Of course, the metal archives has standards of accuracy to uphold and there is no way that they could have seen this coming, but perhaps they should plant a fictitious entry in the metal archives to thwart would-be plagiarists.

Sounds easy enough but with 19 bands named Armageddon, what would sound plausible but not already taken? Misspellings? Nope, there is a band named Armagedom, another called Armaggedon and a total of 6 bands named Armagedon! Finding a unique metal band may be more difficult than finding a decent domain name!

I suggest Mountweazel!

All Known Metal Bands
Encyclopaedia Metallum

(Mister Jalopy is a guest blogger!)


  1. US copyright law does not allow copyrights on lists of public information.

    The phonebook is not copyrighted.

    Specialty medical presses create (or, at least, did 15 years ago), books that are compendia of available information with no editorial value added (but huge value added in the act of assembly) and these can not be copyrighted, but are individually licensed to purchasers.

  2. You do realize that this isn’t a novel legal question, right? The answer varies by jurisdiction, but generally copyright won’t subsist in mere lists or facts. Alphabetization isn’t enough exercise of skill or judgment to make it an original work. In fact, the opposite is true, in that it makes even more of a rote list of first facts, which are not copyrightable. See Feist v. Rural, in the US context.

  3. “What’s worse is that it’s not even all known metal bands.”

    Exactly. That is why this is a very good idea for a website, but a very stupid one for a book or any non periodical publication.

    I know that there are at least a few entries which are inaccurate / parodies / joke bands. For example, “Dimon of Fire”. If one of those entries is in this book, they copy/pasted from

    I wouldn’t buy this anyway. Why? If I’m going to spend some dollars in anything related to metal, I would expect more than just a list of names: some content, some analysis, etc.

  4. “and something feels wrong about a major commercial entity profiting off the backs of an all-volunteer community”

    kind of like CDDB…..

  5. I don’t even understand the market.

    You have to be a hardcore hessian to buy that book. You’d only buy it so it looks good on your shelf between the skull bookends.

    I rifled through it, and, uh, it was enthralling as a list of meaningless names with no context, and scads of dupes, would be. Uh, but it’s printed in silver ink on black paper, for extra metalness.

    But seriously, it seems to me the target market for that book got jobs repairing cash registers in 1994.

    “I’m storming the castle. I’ve got my sword. It’s METAAAAAL!”

  6. The Feist decision stated that data themselves ( ie, lists) do not enjoy copyright protection, but that creatively edited or authored lists do.

    So “The ENTIRE LISTING OF EVERY metal band EVER” , would not enjoy copyright… while “The Top 20 metal bands. ever” could.

    IIRC, about 10 years ago, McSweeneys used to flaunt copyright violations and published/printed out of iceland to skirt US laws. At least I think it was McSweeneys that did that…

  7. A couple of quibbles:

    a) Calling McSweeney’s a major commercial entity is ridiculous. If anything it’s a minor (some would say tiny) commercial entity that does it’s best to publish neat things and squeak out a profit. By no means is it the Enron of the publishing world.

    I’d be HUGELY surprised if this book sells enough to cover the publishing/distribution costs of it.

    b) I think there’s some inherent beauty in taking something that exists in the ether and making physical. A list + good design + physical craftmanship = more than a list.

    c) I’m sure, in hindsight, more should have been done by the author and the publisher to work with the communities involved. I’d chalk that up to “lessons learned.”

    I’m thinking that’s an expensive lesson.

    Likely as not, I bet the EM community members are disinclined from purchasing the book. Seeing as that’s a nice market for the piece, they probably lost some good $ there.

    The author speaks a bit of this on the book’s web site:

    Here’s a snippet:

    “Many Thanks To:

    Encyclopedia Metallum and all the sites used in compiling this book; McSweeney’s; Lexa, Alex, & Obi; and all metal bands everywhere anytime. Special thanks to Encyclopedia Metallum, which is a great website, and evidence of the powerful culture that drew me to the AKMB project in the first place. I had been amassing my list for six months before coming upon the site, but it was a great resource, and I’m grateful for everybody’s help in allowing the book to be as complete as possible. I have always seen the AKMB book as a specific physical artifact, a project in itself, and in no way do I intend it to–or believe it can–replace or compete with the Encyclopedia Metallum in any way. The omission of thanks in the book, as an ackowledgement of the enormous efforts made by EM and its readers to amass data, was by no means mean-spirited or intended to cause offense. — DN”

  8. There are plenty of joke bands in metal-archives already. Also, I don’t know what kind of hardcore hesher would buy this book – it’s literally an alphabetical list of band names, with no other relevant information about the band.

    For a book that hardcore heshers would truly buy, try Daniel Ekeroth’s “Swedish Death metal”, a massive, 450 page history and encyclopedia of… well, the title says it all.

    More info on Ekeroth’s book here:

    (I’m not affiliated with the book or publisher, I just don’t want people to get the idea that “hardcore heshers” enjoy reading alphabetical lists of band names with no context)

  9. I wonder whether the “lists can’t be copyrighted” thing can lead to some kind of loophole… What if I’d like to publish a book listing all the words in (insert recent best-seller here), in the order they appear in the book? It’s public knowledge ;] But yeah, probably wouldn’t work, especially given the Harry Potter Lexicon’s troubles.

  10. I can’t wait until the sequel, List of All Unknown Metal Bands comes out, so my band can be listed.

    @9- First, not all Metal fans are dirty-haired potheads with Dungeons & Dragons fantasies. You’d do well to not learn everything about Metal fans by what you see at the mall. Secondly, most coffee table books are just compendiums of “meaningless” information. People who like fighter jets buy coffee table books full of pictures of fighter jets. People who like covered bridges buy coffee table books full of pictures of covered bridges. Now people who get a kick out of the names of Metal bands have a coffee table book for them.

  11. First, not all Metal fans are dirty-haired potheads with Dungeons & Dragons fantasies.

    Yes, but all dirty-haired potheads with Dungeons & Dragons fantasies are Metal fans.

  12. I would venture to guess that actual metal fans are not even the remotest target market for this book. This book is designed solely for the ironic market. I mean, really.

  13. @17:…all dirty-haired potheads with Dungeons & Dragons fantasies are Metal fans.

    Not quite, I know for a fact that a lot of them listen to Jethro Tull.

  14. @17
    Did not the mighty Tull beat Metallica for a Grammy in days of yore?

    Also, wtf, I looked on metal-archives and didn’t see Metallica. Wtf? Don’t care for those guys, but how can the list miss?

    At least Black Sabbath is on there.

  15. Also, wtf, I looked on metal-archives and didn’t see Metallica. Wtf? Don’t care for those guys, but how can the list miss?

    Lars threatened to sue.

    I kid.

    Or maybe I only think I’m kidding.

  16. @20: @17: Did not the mighty Tull beat Metallica for a Grammy in days of yore?.

    Indeed they did, Crest of a Knave beat …And Justice For All, which shows how much the Grammy committee knows about Metal. They also gave Taste of Honey the Best New Artist award over Elvis Costello in ’78. Which shows how much the Grammy committee knows about music.

    Also, wtf, I looked on metal-archives and didn’t see Metallica.

    The reason Metallica isn’t on the list is because they haven’t been a Metal band since 1988.

  17. Sorry, don’t have an account yet.

    Same thing happened “back in the day” with the Hacker’s Dictionary.

    A well circulated, loved, edited, and merged “open source” document (one of the first?) that was turned into a published book.

    As I recall, the outage of taking such a work, commercializing it, and so forth was intense.

    What other examples of taking a “free” work and copyrighting/profiteering has occurred? Many, I’m sure.

  18. re fictitious entries: map makers have been using them for a long time. My mother grew up near a fictitious town.

  19. Two things are apparent here:

    1. According to McSweeney’s, everything is funny when put into a list, because metal band names are goofy, but lists are really dry, so when you put them together that automatically makes a joke, get it? good!, now you’re ready to get this same joke every single day:
    This book is just a really cheap rehash of John Hodgeman’s 700 hobo names (which is basically the funniest list-joke i’ve ever heard)

    Oh, and while I’m on the subject:

    2. People care too much about typography and graphic design in some cases; sure it’s pretty, but why? and is the design relevant to the subject? How much time was spent picking fonts out vs. time spent copying and pasting the content over?

  20. As an aside, apparently there’s an actual Trap Street in Ontonagon (MI) and St. Tammany (LA). Crazy town!

  21. 1. Wasn’t is just last year BoingBoing (and others) were begging us to buy something, anything, from our pals at McSweeney’s to save them from bankruptcy? And now McSweeney’s is a “major commercial entity” oppressing the working classes.

    2. Also, wasn’t it universally proclaimed to be an Evil Act Of Spite when J.K. Rowling sued someone who tried to publish a book consisting of a listing of facts from her novels? But now in this case it’s the publication of the derivative book that’s bad. How come?

  22. @SNEJ:

    In this case the book is not explicitly a derivative of someone else’s creative work. It’s a list of names of bands. Someone else can say they compiled the list first, but they can’t say they created those names, or did anything other than compile a list of info that already existed.

    Totally different than if someone else wrote a book listing terms and characters that you yourself invented–this was the case with Rowling. (as an aside, my guess as to why Rowling played hardball was that she was planning to publish a book like that herself.)

    The point is moot anyhow, since I can guarantee they published only a handful of those silly books,and if they even make enough money on them to pay back the designer, I would be amazed.

    Referring to McSweeney’s as a “major commercial entity” is HILARIOUS, and just simply incorrect. It’s, like, a messy one room office with three dudes in it. They continually are barely making ends meet. Anyone who thinks otherwise has an extremely rosy view of how independent publishing operates. I WISH the world was like that. If you think McSweeney’s is in any way “major”, you need to leave your dorm room for a few hours.

    I think it’s a waste of a pretty cover. I would have bought one if it was blank inside.

  23. oh and: this argument is why the authors of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” lost their case against Dan Brown. Their book contained (allegedly) factual information, and as such they couldn’t claim copyright when another author used the same historical facts to write his own book.

  24. Full disclosure; I love McSweeney’s. So, there is no surprise when I think the allegations are ridiculous. However, bias aside, it seems that creating a list from available sources would be the only way to create this book.

    What other ways would someone get the same information? Stopping by every record-store in the world? Asking every “dirty-haired pothead” one came across?

    The author used some thorough sources and made a pretty book. Good for him.

  25. Misterjalopy: I suggest Mountweazel!

    Jahknow: I call “I suggest Mountweazel!” as the name of my new yet-unknown metal band.

    Captnkurt: I named my band I call “I suggest Mountweazel!” as the name of my new yet-unknown metal band. Sadly, four people waiting in line were killed when the marquee collapsed from the extra weight.

  26. Mr. Jalopy is not suggesting that this book constitutes plagiarism. He is reporting on a story regarding the question of whether the book constitutes plagiarism. In his post, he says nothing about his own opinion on the subject; the closest he comes is to suggest that should implement fictitious entries, which turns out to be a joke when he humorously points out how hard it is to find a misspelling that nobody has taken. So it seems that he has no opinion on the matter, and finds the story to be interesting on its own merits.

    Please don’t turn this thread into another debate on BB’s stance on intellectual property. You should really save that for the next time Cory says something unusual.

  27. What I really want is the complement of this work, “All Names Not Yet Used for Metal Bands.” Unfortunately this set is countably infinite, and will therefore not fit within one pair of covers. But I would be satisfied with Volume 1: 0 to 7 Characters.

    One fine point would be how to handle the distinction between bands that have no name, and those (presumably started by diehard compiler writers) that have a name of length zero.

  28. The Great Metal Discography by M.C. Strong is far from complete but is quite detailed and is still full of bands that you have never heard of.
    Worth buying for the lists of song titles alone.

  29. COPYRIGHT ACT 1968 – SECT 35

    Ownership of copyright in original works
    (1) This section has effect subject to Parts VII and X.

    (2) Subject to this section, the author of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is the owner of any copyright subsisting in the work by virtue of this Part.

    ref – Copyright act of 1968
    accessed – 17/12/2008

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