The ever-enigmatic Radiohead had their own big release recently, distributing their latest album Rainbows to over a million and a half people since the album was released on 10/10.

While I can’t gauge teens’ interest in Radiohead, I can say that this release is pretty important to libraries for at least one reason: they released it themselves, they released it online, and they let fans set their own price.

Yes, no record label was involved in the process of creating this album and, unless you’re willing to shell out $80 for the discbox (CD, LP, bonus CD, and artwork), digital downloading is the only way to get it in the forseeable future.

Lots of bands and artists are moving this route, selling digital tracks through the Snocap service in order to retain control over the rights to their music. In my other blog post, Chris commented, “Maybe it is difficult to discuss music collections because the industry and the format are in flux, and we’re not sure what role the public library will play.” This is certainly one of those cases, as current interpretations of copyright law leave libraries incapable of distributing these works. Radiohead does not provide any license with the download (I downloaded it myself to check), which means they retain all the rights authorized under copyright law. This leaves libraries without authorization under section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Code, which effectively wags its finger at our attempts to burn or otherwise distribute these files. We could each work out an individual license with the band, but I can’t imagine it would be easy. Nor could I imagine how this would play out in a future where thousands of artists are distributing their music solely through a decentralized digital network.

What can we as a library community do about this? Can we lobby Snocap to include rights for libraries in its agreement with musicians? Can we engage the open source community to develop a secure distribution system for MP3s (which would garner us leverage in providing digital downloads of purchased song files)?

About Joseph Wilk

I'm a teen library assistant with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Main location. Here, I'm the graphic novel and music librarian in addition to running anime, music, LGBTQ, incarcerated youth, and video programming. I'm happy to serve YALSA as a blogger, member of the Teen Tech Week committee, and as chair of the Music Interest Group. Otherwise, you can find me in da club.

9 Thoughts on “Things I Should Have Blogged about Part 2: Radiohead Self-Releases Album Online

  1. Linda W. Braun [Visitor] on October 19, 2007 at 8:58 pm said:

    Mashable just did a post on this with commentary on the impact on the music industry http://mashable.com/2007/10/19/radiohead-album-sales/

  2. Jami Schwarzwalder [Member] on October 20, 2007 at 1:44 am said:

    I don’t get why this is a big deal. I’d prefer to have the library tell me about it, and possibly list the link in the catalog, but trying to buy a copy so I can listen to it doesn’t make as much sense to me. Couldn’t libraries also set aside funds that patrons could “spend” on songs through Snocap? Much like some libraries did for e-books?

  3. joseph wilk [Member] on October 20, 2007 at 7:52 am said:

    Jami, thanks for your post! I feel like it’s a big deal because when a whole swath of media starts becomes unlendable–because the technology outpaces our infrastructure, or because we’re legally disenfranchised–it impacts a basic function of my library’s role as a library. With regard to Rainbows, I would feel uncomfortable having our catalog link to an online store, where people are forced to register with their personal information (although I guess the catalog page could instruct people to use the library’s name and password, so maybe I’ll talk to our catalogers and processing folks about that). Setting aside a budget that users could spend on downloadable music that isn’t available for free would bankrupt our budget really quickly. I don’t feel like e-books are a fair comparison, since downloading e-books isn’t the preferred way teens read (like mp3s are the preferred way teens listen to music). CDs are a dying format, unlike physical books. Why not work as an organization toward positioning libraries for that future, now that the writing’s on the wall?

  4. Jeff [Visitor] on October 20, 2007 at 1:33 pm said:

    I feel that your opinion on this is backward. Libraries are to provide access. Radiohead cut out all the middleman, even price, which cuts out libraries. They don’t need us to get access to the digital media, it’s already free. This will be an interesting experiment to determine what users would pay even though it is free. This type of thinking will kill libraries. We shouldn’t be worrying about access, it is already there.

  5. joseph wilk [Member] on October 20, 2007 at 2:22 pm said:

    Jeff, I don’t believe access is there for teens who don’t have a broadband connection in order to download a 46 MB file. Or teens who have a library that provides broadband but doesn’t let them connect their MP3 players (which they need because despite having an MP3 player, they don’t have a home computer). We can’t assume that people have de facto access just because something is on the Internet. And Radiohead’s paradigm of “pay what you want, even nothing” is not necessarily going to be the case as bands become more inspired to record and release their own albums online. The economic framework under which the media is produced may be there, but the pricing structure will likely not be. I still believe libraries will need to mediate contracts and figure out workable delivery mechanisms in order to provide access in the next wave of digital, creator-owned media.

  6. Jessi [Visitor] on October 20, 2007 at 4:12 pm said:

    I agree with Joseph. Radiohead is cutting out a percentage of its listeners when it only releases its cd online. There are still plenty of folks out there that are quasi connected or not connected at all. Granted, those are getting fewer, but do we neglect them just because they are “behind the times”? We are supposed to be providing access for everyone, not just the ones that can afford or want to be online with their own computer.

  7. joseph wilk [Member] on October 20, 2007 at 4:48 pm said:

    Oh, it seems I missed the news that this album will eventually be coming out on CD, released by a major label: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071011-radiohead-still-needs-major-label-to-let-world-to-see-its-rainbows.html

  8. Jeff [Visitor] on October 21, 2007 at 11:47 am said:

    Yes they are still publishing this in its traditional format. Even if they didn’t, libraries still provide access. In this instance, they would provide access by providing computers with internet. I just think that librarians getting upset because they can’t buy one for their patrons is backwards. They can get it if you provide access to computers and internet. This is the future of public libraries.

  9. Corey Wittig [Visitor] on October 24, 2007 at 11:36 am said:

    I don’t think there is anything backward about trying to suss out the best way to make this sort of release available to the public. After all, that’s the role of a public library. Joseph’s points are all valid – the album is technically free (if you choose to pay 0 and have access to the internet, etc.) but there are still licensing issues that we, as librarians, cannot simply ignore. It’s better to discuss these things before this kind of release is too common. There doesn’t have to be a clear cut answer just yet, but the dialogue being open is important.

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