Featured on the Front Page, Section A of today’s Los Angeles Times
By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times
June 9, 2011
The Internet security firm prefers persuasion over prosecution in dealing with online piracy and points to recent winners Lady Gaga and Adele.
The recording industry has a well-earned reputation for a brass-knuckles approach to Internet piracy. But in the run-up to the official release of Lady Gaga’s new album, “Born This Way,” the security firm hired to thwart would-be music thieves took to Twitter and various online fan forums with a surprisingly gentle plea.
“We would kindly ask you not to post pirated copies of ‘Born This Way’ on your site,” wrote the London-based firm called Web Sheriff. “The label, management and artist would greatly appreciate your cooperation…. Thank you for respecting the artist’s and label’s wishes.”
This gentle, gradual approach — used on three of the biggest-selling albums of the last year — represents a sharp turn in the recording industry’s life-and-death struggle with piracy, one driven largely by performers and their managers rather than the record companies.
The notable successes for the velvet glove approach include “Born This Way,” which crashed through the million-sales barrier in its first week, Adele’s “21,” the No. 1 record in the country for nine weeks, and Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now,” a mega-seller last fall.
But not everyone in the industry buys into what might be called the diplomatic strategy, with critics pronouncing it naive.
Web Sheriff, founded 11 years ago by John Giacobbi, a veteran intellectual property lawyer, has emerged as a leading advocate of the soft sell in representing artists including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Prodigy, Adele and others. Giacobbi says his preferred strategy is to persuade rather than prosecute, to educate rather than incarcerate. He strives to avoid cease-and-desist orders, fines and criminal prosecutions and seeks to differentiate between professional music thieves and those he regards as hyper-enthusiastic fans.
“The only thing most fans are guilty of is over-exuberance,” Giacobbi said in a recent interview. “When you’ve got some artist they love and have been waiting for a new album for two years, you’ve got to treat them with respect rather than hit them with the big stick — it’s a better way of doing it.
“Generally speaking it’s impossible to put the genie 100% back into the bottle, but you can contain it to a significant degree,” he said. “With Adele, we eliminated 99% of it (pre-release leaks).” The album has sold nearly 2 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Soundscan.
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