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Offspring Won't Post CD on Net, Citing Pressure

September 26, 2000|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Citing paralyzing legal pressure, multi-platinum rock band the Offspring has bowed to the demands of its record label and has scrapped plans to post an album on the Internet more than a month before the CD goes on sale.

The band's plans had raised the hackles of Sony, the record label that distributes the Offspring's music. Sony and other major record labels are currently embroiled in legal battles against several online services that allow fans to freely swap music over the Net.

Band officials declined to comment Monday, citing legal restrictions tied to the Offspring's settlement agreement with Sony.

Analysts described the change in the band's plans as an expected move, and warned that the record companies still retain control over the most important weapon in the war over music on the Net--the artists.

"It just goes to show that the record companies still hold most of the cards," said Malcolm Maclachlan, a media e-commerce analyst who tracks online entertainment trends for the research firm IDC. "Everyone's talking about these new means of distribution, and how bands won't have to be beholden to the labels. This proves that you can be a pretty successful band, and it's still a better economic bet to go with the record companies."

An executive at Sony's Columbia Records said the label was "extremely happy that Sony Music has worked out a solution with the Offspring and its management that supports the integrity of the band's creative idea and enables them to proceed with their promotion."

The online launch, however, will be limited to the posting of only one single, not the entire record. The single download will be available through the band's official site, http://www.offspring.com, as well as several other online music sites.

The Offspring, whose members have long supported the controversial online music firm Napster Inc., announced two weeks ago that it would post its new record, "Conspiracy of One," on the Net on Friday.

The Offspring's plan was built around a contest that would offer fans a chance to win $1 million simply by downloading the first single and registering their e-mail address with the band. The contest winner was to be announced live on MTV on Nov. 14, the same day the album goes on sale in stores around the world. (The contest will continue with the one online single.)

The original plan was to happen only four days before the recording industry's battle with Napster, possibly deciding the fate of the San Mateo, Calif.-based firm.

On Monday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether to overturn a preliminary injunction that U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel granted in July. Patel's ruling, which bars Napster from helping Internet users duplicate copyrighted music, has been stayed pending the appeal.

Napster has become one of the hottest technology companies in the country in the last year. That is partly because of how quickly its user base mushroomed to more than 25 million, but also because of the dire threat it posed to the traditional record industry, which still derives the bulk of its revenue from the sales of compact discs.

Given the timing of the Offspring's release, coming so close to the legal appeal, sources said that Sony could not afford to allow the Orange County band to proceed with its plans. Analysts had wondered how Sony could argue that Napster is killing profits when one of its top-selling acts was tapping the technology to promote its next album.

Describing the giveaway as a contractual violation, Sony was prepared to file suit against its own band on Friday, and seek both a temporary restraining order and an injunction to prevent the group from proceeding with its download plans, label officials said.

It also would have blocked the million-dollar promotion.

Yet the band was prepared to file legal action of its own. The Offspring had maintained that Sony and other conglomerates had violated artist contracts because they failed in their fiduciary duty to stop piracy and protect copyrights in the digital world. The band also contended that the CD itself is an unsecured format and as soon as Sony releases the album, fans would be able to copy and post millions of MP3 versions of it on the Internet.

A legal standoff was averted late Friday, when the band agreed to appease its label and worked out an agreement that allowed the Offspring to post its single, "Original Prankster."

Fans were shocked by the news, and posted notes to the band's site that ranged from angry to cynical.

"To top things off, the big splash that was made on the band's official Web site concerning the free download was removed, with nothing put in its place," wrote one fan who uses the online moniker Novosibirsk. "No explanation, no apology. . . . Why has the Web site cleansed itself of any mention of it?"

Previous Napster coverage can be found at http://www.latimes.com/musicweb.

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