This piece appeared on Dilettante on 5 August 2010

Recently at Dilettante, we received an urgent email from the company that provides most of the classical music information on the site. You know all of those artist biographies, descriptions of classical works, and album reviews that constitute the Dilettante music library? We get these on license from an American supplier, one of the biggest in the game.

Seems one of their clients – the US arm of a major record label – no longer wants to let us show their CD cover art on Dilettante. The email in question was a ‘takedown notice’, threatening unnamed but implicitly dire consequences should we fail to comply immediately.

Now it’s clear that a licensing issue has arisen between our supplier and the label in question, and we’re pretty confident that the nitty gritty would provide a fail-safe cure for insomnia. In that sense, we’re not taking this personally.

What’s more relevant from our point of view is the effect of this not just on the Dilettante site (it was a hassle to take down the art work, and the replacement avatars look pretty dull) but also on our ability and willingness to promote this record label’s music. This incident also tells us a lot about the fear and loathing that continues to prevail in some parts of the music industry about how to manage the digital environment.

Simply put, cover art helps sell discs, and in some cases (ECM, Hyperion) it’s also a means of branding a label. Record labels produce music, and we’re guessing they want to sell it. Dilettante is a place for them to do that, both because visitors to the site can click through to buy discs and downloads, and because our editorial is a useful place to profile their artists, which in turn helps sell their discs.

Given all of this, refusing to let Dilettante use their cover art – and indeed, sending us menacing letters demanding that we cease and desist from doing so – strikes us as pretty darn odd. It’s kind of like Volkswagen not letting car dealers include photos of Volkswagens in their catalogues. Besides the fact that it actively hinders Volkswagen dealers from selling Volkswagen products, it’s a serious disincentive for those dealers inclined to highlight or promote Volkswagen cars in their catalogues.

Similarly, you’ll probably understand why a small company like Dilettante isn’t about to deploy scarce editorial resources to help support a hostile label that’s actively preventing us from promoting and selling their product. Indeed, while there may well be some legal dispute here, it strikes us that no one at this label has had the good sense to look at the practical effects of simply treating it as such.

So why the antagonistic approach? In our view, this little episode reflects a depressingly-common record industry mindset, whereby both the forest and the trees are obscured by a mountain of paperwork generated by an army of lawyers who find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of devising business strategy. These are folks who don’t appear to know the difference between people stealing music and people selling it; in short, they don’t know who their friends are.

Call us naïve (and arguably, we’d have to be if we’re running a classical music website) but we’re convinced that this approach, whereby macho behaviour is animated primarily by fear of the new, the unknown and the uncontrollable, eventually bites you were it hurts. That’s why at Dilettante we’re putting our money on the industry players whose eyes are clearly wide open, who don’t just see the bogeyman around every corner, and instead recognise huge opportunities in the digital space.

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