Amoeba Records -- the amazing California music superstore -- has relaunched Amoeba.com, with a huge selection of downloadable music rarities, digitized from old vinyl. In some cases, the store has tracked down rightsholders for these out-of-print rarities, and cleared the music for sale for the first time; in others, it's escrowing the sales funds for payment to rightsholders when and if they present themselves.
"We've been digitizing a lot," says Jim Henderson, who owns Amoeba along with partners Marc Weinstein, Karen Pearson and Dave Prinz. "What you see now is the lost-between-the-cracks, underappreciated, undervalued (music) from dead labels, (obscure) artists, stuff that we really stand behind. It's mostly in the rock genre, with a lot of jazz, a lot of blues, some country, some spoken word. There are some oddities for sure."
Many of the LPs have been getting remastering upgrades from the original vinyl and shellac sources. Currently, there are only about 1,000 titles for sale, but Amoeba is adding 10 or 15 more every day.
Some Vinyl Vaults artists are readily familiar, and in some cases Amoeba's source material emanates from its owners' own collections. Some of Prinz's rare Louis Armstrong 78s were digitized and are being sold as downloads, while Weinstein's prized collection of 144 Sun Ra albums has also been ripped.
Some Vinyl Vaults artists have proven so elusive that even diligent detective work could not track them down. Henderson points to an unknown '70s country artist known only as C.J., whose album "My Lady's Eyes" is for sale on the site.
"We couldn't find C.J.; we couldn't find a label that put the record out," Henderson says. "But it's a compelling piece, (so) we said, 'This should be up.' "
Weinstein adds that if a sale is made, the money goes into an escrow account. "If (someone says), 'That's mine,' well, OK, we can either take it down or we'll sell it, and you've got this nice (digital) master. We'll sell it, we'll promote it; let's sign a contract."
Music retail giant puts tunes online [Variety/Christopher Morris]
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Instead, the Guild makes much of imminent plans to make a small set of orphan works (i.e., in-copyright works where the rightsholder cannot be found) available to the university community – but here’s where the Guild’s standing problem arises. None of the owners of those works are part of the lawsuit. The Guild cannot sue on behalf of people who aren’t members, and who aren’t even known. Since it filed the lawsuit, the Guild has managed to identify a few potential rightsholders that the libraries had categorized as orphans, but they are still not parties to the lawsuit (and the libraries are pulling them from the list, as was always promised if a potential rightsholder came forward). To top it off, most of the defendants are state institutions, and therefore cannot be held liable for money damages for copyright infringement. See here and here for more detailed analyses.No Authors Have Been Harmed in the Making of This Library
The lawsuit gamely claims the libraries are causing “great and irreparable injury” to the authors the Guild claims to represent, as well as several additional individual authors, but it is hard to imagine what that harm might be. Presumably, most authors would like to have their works preserved, which is what the original scans are for, and can hardly object to the public having access to bibliographic information about them. The Guild claims there is an “intolerable” risk that the repository will be hacked – but offers no reason to imagine this will happen, or that the digital repository is less secure than the places where physical books (and digital works on microfiche, etc.) are stored. The Guild also complains that the problem of orphan works should be solved by Congress. That would be great, but it doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon and denying academic communities (and indeed all communities) access to these works while Congress fiddles seems deeply wrong.