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Labels' top priority: leak prevention

October 13, 2002|Steve Hochman

Advance copies of Faith Hill's new "Cry" album sent by Warner Bros. Records to journalists, retailers and radio programmers included a "watermark" encoded into the disc that identifies each person a copy was sent to. The discs also came with a stern letter from a company lawyer warning recipients not to copy the music or make it available on the Internet.

When Epic Records sent out advances of forthcoming albums by Pearl Jam, Tori Amos and AudioSlave, they were sealed into CD Walkmans with superglue, with the headphones also cemented in so the player couldn't be hooked up to another device.

How did it work?

The Hill CD is all over the Internet. So are the Pearl Jam, Amos and AudioSlave albums.

So what now?

It's one of the hottest questions in the music business, both in terms of determining what other security measures can be taken, and what action ought to be taken against those responsible for the breaches.

On the latter, opinions vary greatly.

Warner Bros. sources confirm that they have identified the source of the Hill leak and that legal action for copyright violation is being considered against a journalist. Epic too knows the identities of those responsible for its leaks and is cutting them off from advance access to music.

"Our first step is to contact the individual or company that engaged in the unauthorized distribution of the music to ensure that they understand the gravity of the matter and that they will institute appropriate measures to prevent it from happening in the future," says Will Tanous, vice president of corporate communications for Warner Music Group, the parent company of Warner Bros. Records. "Beyond that, there are a variety of legal measures that can be taken.... We take these matters very seriously, and we expect our business partners to do the same."

Meanwhile, a variety of other methods to prevent leaks are being tested.

MCA has made the upcoming album by Sigur Ros available to press only via a password-protected Web site, where the music can be heard, but not downloaded. George Harrison's "Brainwashed" has thus far only been available for listening in sessions at Capitol Records' offices, with the CD brought in by Harrison's sister-in-law and then taken away by her at the session's end. Not even executives at Capitol or its parent, EMI Music, have been trusted with copies.

That makes it very difficult on those charged with promotion and publicity.

"How do we get the music to [journalists]?" said one major-label publicist, who asked not to be named in this story. "We want them to hear the music. But when we traced a leak, it went back to a journalist. Whoever can come up with the solution, whatever it is, is going to be a wealthy person."

-- Steve Hochman

Small faces

Atlantic Records is making the heaviest major-label commitment yet to reggae dancehall music, in a joint venture deal with New York-based VP Records. VP is the home of singer Sean Paul, whose song "Gimme the Light" is a fast-rising hit on both the pop and R&B/hip-hop charts. Paul's album, "Dutty Rock," will be released Nov. 12, with albums by Bounty Killer, Tanto Metro & Devonte and T.O.K. to follow. Atlantic co-president Craig Kallman cites the edgy style's influence in contemporary hip-hop and sees its role at Atlantic potentially comparable to what '70s reggae was at Island Records, the home of Bob Marley.

"It's the Holiday," a new song by Westside Connection featuring Rama Duke, will lead off the soundtrack to the Christmas-themed urban comedy "Friday After Next," written and directed by Ice Cube. Also on the album, due from Hollywood Records Nov. 19, are previously unreleased tracks by Swizz Beats featuring Nas, Flipmode Squad featuring Busta Rhymes and Krayzie Bone.

FischerSpooner, the New York electroclash act known for its elaborately theatrical concerts, has signed a U.S. contract with Capitol Records after a deal fell through that would have given MCA Records the rights to U.S. distribution of product from FischerSpooner's U.K. label, Ministry of Sound. On Feb. 11, Capitol is scheduled to release a new version of the group's album, "#1," with new material added.

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