Embroidery Industry Makes the RIAA look nice!

It’s not just music: embroidery fans were being intimidated for discussing the Embroidery Software Protection Coalition’s intellectual property protection tactics:

The Embroidery Software Protection Coalition (ESPC) has dropped its attempt to unmask anonymous embroidery fans after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) intervened in the case.

The embroiderers used an online discussion group to share information about a long-running campaign to threaten purchasers of embroidery designs and software with copyright infringement lawsuits. ESPC filed defamation claims against some members of the group and then issued a subpoena for detailed personal information about every single person who joined the discussion group — whether or not they had ever posted a single message.

“ESPC should have never filed this frivolous case in the first place. But we’re pleased that ESPC now understands that it can’t use the courts to intimidate those who want to talk about ESPC’s ham-fisted tactics,” said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. “The First Amendment forbids such abusive use of the discovery process.”

This case is the latest in EFF’s long fight to protect anonymity online. EFF lawyers have represented or provided amicus support in anonymity cases in California, Colorado, and Delaware. Most recently, in Oklahoma, a school superintendent withdrew his attempt to unmask anonymous online critics after EFF filed a motion to quash his subpoena.

Whether or not defamation occurred, subpeonaing info on all discussion members is beyond the pale. Imagine subpeoning everyone known to have ever eaten at a particular restaurant because some of the diners said nasty things about a company. Frivolous indeed. Go EFF!

Social Sports Explosion!

Mashable runs through the many new social networking sites suddenly flooding the sports fans scene. Now there’s one for cricket joining several others, most of which have debuted in the last 3-4 months. How much is too much? How do fans decide which to join when there are so many to choose from? Interface? What’s on the front page? My guess: which one their friends use — or which ones the people in the online sports networks they’re already hanging in talk about — will be the biggest influence on which ones people adapt.

I suspect each will develop its own subcultural niches, some will fail, a few will thrive. Last time I wrote about this I said I was sure there was room for two. But surely there isn’t room for 7. It will be interesting to see which ones succeed and what they did that the others didn’t.

Retailers: The new rock stars.

The objects around which fandom happens are broadening as the internet enables more and more taste-based social organizing. No longer restricted to pop bands, movie stars, television shows, sports teams, and science fiction novels, fans can now unite around retailers! One great example of this is the online fan phenomena regarding Trader Joes, a socially-conscious grocery store. I have a friend who moved recently — one of the things she was most excited about was the presence of a Trader Joes in her new town (though IKEA moving in soon ranked a close second). Another friend has described herself as “in love” with Trader Joes, and a third insisted on taking me there when I visited her town. Trader Joe fans spread their gospel online too: Among the Trader Joe fan sites are Are You A Trader Joe’s Fan? which specializes in recipes that can be made with Trader Joe purchases, Tracking Trader Joes, where fans gather to track store openings and events, and the all-purpose Calling All Trader Joe’s Fans. There are also sites like Nancy Dowling’s Trader Joes: A Love Fest, with links to dozens of articles about the stores but no fan interaction. Media have caught on to the phenomenon, with articles about Trader Joe’s online fans showing up in The York Dispatch, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press (“Trader Joe’s Fans Prove Retailers Are The New Rock Stars”), and elsewhere.

Fandom has jumped the shark from media products to companies. Trader Joes is one example, but there is much more of this going on. Media companies are used to thinking of customers as fans, and even they are facing more challenges than they can count figuring out how to make the most of what fans do online while protecting their intellectual property and creative control. Companies that have never thought of customers as “fans” before will have even greater challenges ahead. But if retail customers can become engaged enthusiastic proponents in the same way media fans have, there’s a gold mine waiting for the companies that figure out how best to work it. Trader Joes couldn’t buy better online advertising.

The dangers of buying fan activity

As more and more marketers get savvy to the potential of online fan buzz to at least raise interest in a product, fans online seem to be getting increasingly wary. It can be seen in the controversy swirling around whether YouTube star, lonelygirl15, is real or a viral marketing blitz leading up to something not yet announced. Even the New York Times’s Screens blogger is obsessing on this one. Trying to figure it out seems to have become part of the fun. (Update 2 days later: indeed, she’s fiction, as danah boyd covers nicely here. But some are insisting it’s the revelation that’s fake and that lonelygirl15 is real…)

Less fun is this editorial arguing that Paramount Pictures has taken over fansites for the upcoming Transformers movie, banning critics and replacing them with people singing the film’s praises:

A few weeks ago, no a few days ago, the buzz on Michael Bay’s upcoming Transformers movie was pretty bad. Fans were in an uproar over recently released pics of what it is that Bay is doing to their beloved robots. [...]

But over the past few weekends there’s been a shift. Paramount’s goons have taken control of the situation by pouring a wad of cash into it, and suddenly everything’s coming up roses. For instance, go to the once fan populated message board of Transformers producer Don Murphy… and you’ll find nothing but popcorn and bubblegum for the film where outrage, disappointment, and calls for boycott once stood.

There’s a reason for that. The dissenting voices have been banned and beaten down with threats.

Surf around the internet to those movie sites that were once critical of the film, and in place of their hard hitting reports about how Paramount might be screwing up, you’ll find set reports praising the film for being “faithful” and lauding the very things about the film they’d trashed only a few weeks before. It’s easy to be positive when you get an all expenses paid vacation to a movie set I guess. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been lured in by it myself. But let’s not blame this all on set visits. For some of these offenders the ass-kissing began when they got their first call from Paramount weeks ago. It’s only culimated in this.

Yes, Paramount is turning the buzz around for their Transformers project, and they’re doing it with a big silencer. Those not already bought and paid for are probably afraid to open their mouths. After all, this is the movie studio that had a website shut down for daring to run an unapproved photo.

Whether this is true or not is almost beside the point. As soon as fan activity on the internet is seen as filled with people who’ve been bought off by producers or marketing campaigns disguised as authentic self-made materials, all buzz becomes suspect, to say nothing of the consequences for honest relationships amongst fans and one another and between fans and artists/producers.

An interview with an MP3 blogger

Unbeknownst to most of the world, Sweden has the world’s third largest record market, sliding in just behind the US and the UK. Sweden also has one of the world’s most fertile music scenes, giving rise to thousands of bands playing every genre there is: death metal, hardcore punk, mainstream arena rock and dance music, indie pop, prog, folk, electronica, jazz, twee. They have hip hop and Americana. I kid you not. Sweden even has its own (overrated) YouTube phenomenon: I’m From Barcelona got an absurd number of hits for the so-dry-it-makes-my-lips-chap video (at least I hope it’s dry — see the YouTube comments for other interpretations) for “We’re from Barcelona.” Videos of festival goers spontaneously breaking into the song’s chorus and covers of the song done by robots have surfaced on the web recently as well.

I’ve fallen for dozens of Swedish bands in the last few years (almost all of whom sing in English), and seeing as how I live in the middle of the contintental US, it’s all been through the internet. In pursuing Swedish music fandom, I find myself spread across a lot of inter-related sites. One I visit at least once a week is an mp3 blog started in early 2005 called Swedesplease. It’s written by Craig Bonell, who lives about as close to Sweden as I do.

MP3 blogs are increasingly important to the circulation of music. Like many fans of music below the radar, I rely on them, and I’m grateful to those who keep them going. I also see them as a move toward more individualized, less cohesive online fandom. They inherently privilege the voices of those who write the blogs over those of readers who, although they could build their own interactive communities through the comments sections (as happens in many political blogs), rarely do.

Swedesplease offers a great vantage point for exploring these issues. Craig Bonell recently took time out from scouring the internet looking for new music with which to delight his readers (fans?) to speak with me about Swedesplease. Here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to start Swedesplease? What motivates you to keep doing it?

My regular blog is Songs:Illinois. In the course of writing that blog I would continually stumble upon Swedish acts that were not being covered in the press. So after a discussion with the rock journalist Greg Kot in which I said that so many genres are underserved by mp3 blogs I decided to start Swedesplease. It was easy to start but is hard to keep going.

Do you have any sense of who’s reading your blog? What kind of feedback do you get from them?

I get all kinds of feedback. It’s a little skewed because the people with an incentive to write me are the bands, labels and pr people. So I do get a lot of emails both personal and bulk from that group. I also just get the random Swedish music fan, some in Sweden and some expats living in the States. The other big block of readership are other bloggers. That number could be rather high since there seems to be 10,000 other mp3 blogs.

How do you find all those bands and mp3s to post? What are the sources feeding your own Swedish music fandom?

How I find all the music to feature is top secret although it revolves around checking MySpace, label websites, band websites and recommendations from fans. More so than any other country, Swedish bands are often in other side projects, so a post about say Thomas Denver Johnson could result in three or four related posts as well as related follow-up posts. Bands who claim to be fans of the blog often submit their music. As do fans of particular blogs. In fact some of my most popular posts resulted from fans submitting music (Jose Gonzales live for instance).

How has your blog generally been received by artists in the Swedish scene? Any stories you could tell of interactions with artists?

It has been well received. Bands and labels seem generally thrilled to get the attention. One of my most championed artists has been Hello Saferide. At the very beginning of her “career” she cited me as the start of her music being an internet sensation. She has since received all kinds of praise, critical success and courtship from major labels here in the States. In a bizarre kind of twist she actually interviewed me for her radio show that she does on P3 (Swedish national radio?). So in that case the fandom was reversed.

The most common reaction I get from artists about the blog is when they ask how I find all this great Swedish music and yet they live in the country and are part of the scene and haven’t heard of it before.

What role do you think a blog like yours plays in making the Swedish music scene more accessible outside of Sweden?

I hate to sound conceited but what other way can the Swedish scene be learned about if not on mp3 blogs. I suppose you could somehow subscribe to Swedish music magazines but that’d be hard, you could try to listen to Swedish radio online but I’m not sure if that’s possible or you could try to follow the scene through the mainstream press (but it’d be such a small sliver of coverage). So while I’m biased I think that mp3 blogs focusing on Swedish music are the best way to learn about the Swedish scene.

Like most mp3 blogs, yours seems to have a lot of people using it, yet very few comments and very little discussion amongst the readers. What do you think about that?

Comments on blogs is a big issue. Everyone would like some but in general no one gets any. Aside from Stereogum, Fluxblog and a couple of the other big ones, comments are few and far between and typically they get comments only when they write about Tom Cruise not Thom Yorke! I guess what I’m saying on Swedesplease and Songs:Illinois is not that controversial and thus doesn’t stir up the need to comment. Generally people read about the band and then download the music to listen to later so even if they wanted to comment on the music they haven’t had time to digest it yet. Inevitably I get comments only when I make a factual or grammatical mistake (of which there are many).