Erik Davis on watermarked promotional CDs

Before my pal Erik Davis, who sometimes writes about music, left for Burning Man, he dropped off a pile of stuff to a thrift store. One of the items he purged was an advance promotional CD of Beirut's The Flying Club Cup, due out next month. Apparently, some anonymous person then acquired the CD and made it available on a P2P file-sharing network. Thing is, the CD was digitally "watermarked," meaning that the uploaded tunes were identifiable as having come from Davis's review copy. When Erik returned from Burning Man, his answering machine was steaming with angry messages from Ben Goldberg, proprietor of Beirut's record label. Erik has written up his experience in a thoughtful essay titled "My Data Crime: The Ticking Time Bomb of the Watermarked Advance CD." From the piece:

After giving me less than 24 hours to respond to his initial accusation–during which time I was rambling around the Black Rock desert in a fire truck with a flame thrower on the roof–the label owner went on the warpath. He sent out emails to all his publicist contacts and indy label buddies about my evil ways, and was in addition stirring up as much journalistic interest as possible, giving The Flying Club Cup a nice dose of early publicity while also being able to tar and feather a suddenly non-anonymous practitioner of the file-sharing arts.

I felt pretty shitty about all this. Last year I wrote extensively about Joanna Newsom’s Ys, which was famously leaked from a Pitchfork server, and I know the pain such leaks causes to artists and smaller labels alike. That said, I also know its not necessarily the worse thing in the life of a record, and I was pissed that Goldberg took to the wires before talking to me and trying to figure out why a 40-year-old guy who writes for righteous publications like Arthur would do something to fuck over a righteous independent label.

I called up a handful of my publicist friends, some of whom actually seemed to believe me, and eventually talked to Goldberg. I apologized, he explained his feelings, we bonded over our shared love of the Dead C. Hatchets were buried, and though I suspect my flow of advances might slow over the coming months, the prospect of being reviewed in Blender or Arthur will, in the end, keep most publicists supplying me with product–although the "product" in question will increasingly be a url. And people wonder why I mostly buy vinyl!

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