In an entertaining CBC article on the kinds of tech gadgets that the musical geeks of the Barenaked Ladies bring with them on tour (Google search “Barenaked Ladies technology MSN” and you’ll find it), frontmen Ed Robertson and Steven Page pretty much solved the entire digital music copyright issue in casual conversation. Hopefully the music industry paid attention.
Nobody has ever doubted the intelligence and cultural relevance of BNL — their newest video even features YouTube dancing and travelling sensation Matt Harding. There’s also no question that they put a lot of thought into their ideas how to resolve the issues that have tormented the music industry, musicians and the public since Napster exploded onto the web in 1999.
How do you protect copyright in the digital age? How can bands and music labels profit when people can get any music they want for free? And how can you profit through legal digital distribution that protects copyright, without alienating consumers who have in a short time become accustomed to getting their music for free?
In the early days of Napster, when record labels and bands like Metallica were looking to stop peer-to-peer downloading services and sue thieves, the Barenaked Ladies were addressing the copyright issue by sabotaging downloads. Rather than go the legal route, members of the band spread songs throughout the web with messages implanted, like “Although you thought you were downloading our new single, what you actually were downloading is an advertisement for our new album.” Some downloads would break down in the middle to members of the band bantering back and fourth, and making Napster jokes. One clipped song ended with drummer Tyler Stewart saying “We fooled you! We’re sneaky like that. You can never trust a Canadian. Next thing you know we’ll be supplying your natural resources.”
At the time, way back in 2000, Barenaked Ladies knew there was next to nothing they could do to stop their music from being downloaded, so they decided to have a little fun with it, give people a sample of their music, and hopefully convince a few people to actually go out and buy their albums.
It’s clear that as musicians — and quite popular musicians with more than 10 million albums sold worldwide — the Barenaked Ladies have given the copyright issue a lot of thought. And unlike Metallica, they also seem to understand the issue from a variety of different points of view, probably owing to the fact that they’ve remained down to earth and seem to understand the technology we’re using and culture we live in. Proof of this is the fact that they sell USB drives after each concert with a recording of the show that people can use and share without any restrictions.