The Advertising Agency for the Grammy Awards Also Promotes Piracy In Times Square…

This story has been updated to reflect new information about the role of American Eagle Outfitters (see below). Check back for ongoing updates (last update, 3/27, 1 pm PCT). 

Advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day has created marketing campaigns for the Grammy Awards for years. So the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), who organises the awards, may have been more than surprised if they walked through Times Square recently and saw the agency’s latest campaign Artists vs Artists, with the slogan Piracy is Progress.

Though the campaign demands artists “pick a side“, giving them the limited options of “piracy is stealing” and “piracy is sharing”(how about the option “piracy is exploitation”?), it’s clear what Chiat Day wants you to choose, judging by its slogan Piracy is Progress with the hashtag #artistsforpiracy.

If NARAS had taken a look at Chiat Day’s website before recruiting its services it would have discovered that the ad agency is, indeed, a campaigner for piracy.  It features a few “rebellious” slogans that appear to have been written by a 13-year-old: “It’s better to be pirates than the navy,” as well as the message “Pirates don’t live by the rules and conventions, they break them.”

(yes, this is taken from the TBWA\Chiat\Day website

To bring the message home Chiat Day managed to get the Brooklyn band Ghost Beach on board. In return the band gets promoted via these big Times Square billboards.

I can’t blame the band – no doubt it couldn’t have afforded that kind of promotion on its own.  Just like the people behind The Pirate Bay used the desperation of unknown bands, promising “exposure” on its “Promo Bay” in order to claim it as proof they gave a crap about artists while simultaneously exploiting them, Chiat Day and whoever is sponsoring it has dangled the “exposure” carrot in order to further their own agenda.

What is disingenuous is that it’s promoted as a campaign that pins artists against artists when, in reality, it’s artists vs. the art of exploitation.  It’s no secret that ad-funded piracy is big business for the anonymous people behind sites such as and, ad networks such as Adsense – and, indeed, ad agencies such as Chiat Day.

Clearly the ad agency is trying to whip up controversy and animosity where there is none.  No artist would force Ghost Beach to distribute their music in a way they didn’t want to – and I’m sure the band wouldn’t dictate to other artists what they should do with theirs.

So who is paying for those Times Square billboards?

Believe me, they don’t come cheap. The Little Black Book advertising insider website credited American Eagle Outfitters and its marketing coordinator, Brad Spang, in connection with the campaign, but when Chris Castle of MusicTechnologyPolicy contacted Spang, he said that neither he nor the company are affiliated with Chiat Day’s pro-piracy campaign.

Updated, 3/27, 1 pm PCT: The American Eagle Outfitters name has now been removed from the Little Black Book page in connection with the piracy campaign.  American Eagle told the New York Times they had given the ad space above their store in Times Square to Ghost Beach, who subsequently triggered the campaign.  Earlier, they told music industry attorney Chris Castle they had no idea who reserved the billboard.

Spang said “someone” had simply purchased the ad space above the American Eagle store in Times Square, but that he didn’t know who it was.  So it appears whoever spent all that money prefers to keep a very low profile.

Perhaps they’re embarrassed. Perhaps they realise that the slogan Piracy is Progress makes no sense. That is unless they believe that promoting corporate feudalism, where artists have to go around hat in hand – or communism, where the state decides how much, or even if, artists should get paid when their music is used – is progress.

32 Responses

  1. Visitor

    “So it appears whoever spent all that money prefers to keep a very low profile.”
    Could be Google. Or Kim Dotcom.

    • FarePlay

      Piracy isn’t a philosophy, its a criminal enterprise. Which pretty much destroys any cultural argument in their defense.
      My question is, why isn’t this the lead? It gets marginalized. Our lead needs to be these guys are make money off someone else. They’re not just stealing your credit card, they’re taking cash advances.
      There’s nothing cool, revolutionary or generous about it. They’re giving away someone else’s stuff and getting paid for it.
      The agency should be censored and forced to do community work as roadies for the guys they’re ripping off.

      • Visitor

        “Piracy isn’t a philosophy, its a criminal enterprise.”
        I wonder when we’re going to see a RAPE IS PROGRESS poster.

        • Visitor

          You’re talking about “legitimate” rape, aren’t you?

    • Visitor

      Helping slaves escape the South is not a philosophy, it is a criminal enterprise.

      • D

        Slaves? Oh, you mean people who don’t get paid when other people profit off their work?

  2. AnAmusedGeek

    Seems like there might be a middle ground in the ‘art’ vs ‘exploitation’ arguement. Here’s an excerpt from an artist that appears to make his living while still being a firm believer in the CC license.
    (Personally, I’d love to know more about this…Does it really work for him, why does/doesn’t it work. Be interesting to see if he makes more like this then small bands make on streaming?)
    (taken from: )
    Why do you allow people to use your music and don’t charge for it?
    There are many reasons. The cost for me to share music is low, and the benefits are high. There are a lot of schools with no money, and plenty of film makers who want to have music – but can’t afford to clear copyrights from the existing systems that are set up. I believe that copyright is badly broken , so I chose a license that allows me to to give away the rights I wish to surrender. We really have no hope of overturning the existing copyright situation, but we can and are creating an alternate body of works that are able to compete with them. In time, I hope that Creative Commons (and similar alternatives to standard copyright) will be common and successful enough to be the dominant choice for artists’ new creative works. If you hold tightly to your creative works, they become impossible to share. If your art isn’t experienced by people, it serves no purpose in society.

    • Visitor

      “Here’s an excerpt from an artist that appears to make his living while still being a firm believer in the CC license.”
      And here’s how to bake a cake in a microwave oven:
      “First things first-Use Microwave proof utensils for baking.Metal utensils,non-stick cookware and plastic bowls are not suitable.Make sure the size of the pan is appropriate[you don’t want the batter to overflow and make a mess on your turn table].”
      Could we please get back on topic?

  3. Big Swifty

    I can see why bands might want to portray themselves as rebellious pro-piracy advocates as an image choice.
    However, naras has never been to concerned about creating or cultivating a cool image. They have been hopelessly un-cool for decades. So I can imagine that they might be finding a new ad agency right about now.

    • Visitor

      “I can see why bands might want to portray themselves as rebellious pro-piracy advocates as an image choice.”
      It’s a suicidal choice.
      What they’re saying is that their music is worthless. And people will believe them…

      • GGG

        Not neccesarily. People give music away all the time, whether it’s a nobody band on Bandcamp or Reddit, or Prince via newspapers or Trent Reznor online. Every artist’s work is, or should be, priceless to them. Doesn’t mean they have to, or can or should, sell it at a price dictated by their desire or Steve Jobs.
        Take, for example, the pay what you want idea at live shows. I’ve heard so many stories I’ve lost track, AND saw this firsthand, of bands who would avg 5-10 $10 cd sales per show. When they switched to pay what you want they started moving more product at an avg that came out to basically what they’d want anyway. Exposure is a dirty word in music and I wish it would go away, but that doesn’t mean it never actually works. If you’re willing to live in a van for months at a time, you have a better chance of pulling crowds when people have actually heard your music.

        • Visitor

          “People give music away all the time”
          But of course. It’s perfectly natural to give your music away if it’s worthless.
          My music, on the other hand, is valuable. So I sell it. Whatever floats your boat.
          “Prince via newspapers”
          Um, you think Prince gave his music away? 🙂
          “Trent Reznor”
          Yeah, that was such a success…

          • GGG

            Giving away your music for free doesn’t automatically define it as worthless. Building a following, a career, a catalogue, etc are not worthless endeavors. Sometimes it’s a necessary and/or chosen evil. Look at bands that let people trade tapes. It’s a similar notion. You think DMB or Phish thought their live shows or live recordings were worthless? DMB’s open policy on spreading music has kept the one of the biggest touring acts year in year out for 20 years.
            And just because you think your music is worth something doesn’t mean any body else does, has to, or should. Again, I’m not pro-piracy, I just see the pointlessness of fighting it. And the anti-piracy crusade tends to get silly. This notion that simply because you write music you’re entitled to getting paid is absurd. People have to actually enjoy your stuff first. My favorite thing is seeing people post comments about how they can’t make a living because of piracy and I look them up and they have like 300 Facebook fans. Just like I’m sure you’re not exactly drowning in fans. And feel free to prove me wrong my posting your sites.

        • Big Swifty

          Their is a big difference between giving material away as a business choice and having your material copied illegally.
          Ignoring or blurring this distinction is at the core of pirate thought.

          • GGG

            Sure, though I didn’t do that, seeing as how we’re relating to an article about a band purposefully embracing piracy.
            But now I will blur the lines, because there are aspects anti-piracy folks always tend to overlook. And just to repeat myself, in theory I am against piracy. But in reality, it’s not going away. And I look at the entire indie rock scene and there’s no way you cannot see how much piracy helped their extreme growth in this past decade. Guaranteed at any given show in NYC at places more than 500 people, anywhere between a third and a half of the crowd pirated their music and are fans because of that. Again, not an ideal way to make fans compared to purchasing, but there’s potential for high trade off.

          • Big Swifty

            I don’t think Ghost Beach are “purposefully embracing piracy” as a philosophy or as a business model. It is a publicity stunt pure and simple.
            If they truly embraced piracy as a philosophy they would invite counterfitters to print up and sell fake tickets to their shows and/or ask individuals to print up ghost beach t-shirts and sell them at their shows all with out compensating the band or the venue.
            I agree many of the fans and paying customers at shows have pirated some or all of their music. However, I fail to see the potential for high trade off.

  4. ya

    Good luck to “Ghost Beach” seems like they’re gonna need it.

  5. Grimes

    this site promoted the ad copy further, thus a success is born.
    played you like a fiddle.

    • John P

      There was also a lot of reporting done on PIPA and SOPA, and an overwhelming online dialogue about how F#$%ed up it was… and look where that legislation ended up (and how quickly it got there).
      If piracy is progress then I’m sure Chiat / Day wouldn’t mind people walking into their office, ripping the art of the walls and taking the furniture out of all their offices.. or maybe even stealing their copy, or their art direction for clients that’s so easily available to copy on the internet.

      • Big Swifty

        I agree.
        However, a better comparison would be to walk into their offices and copy their confidential information which could be considered trade secret/intellectual property; such as client lists, contract agreements, their accounting data etc.

    • Helienne

      That info is in my piece. What’s confusing is that American Eagle told MusicTechPolicy “someone” bought the ad space and they didn’t know who – then they told New York Times that they themselves paid for it. And, interestingly, their name has now been removed from the Little Black Book page that yesterday credited the company in connection with the campaign.

      • AnAmusedGeek

        According to the new york times, American Eagle approached Ghost Beach and fronted the space…Seems like a publicity stunt that flopped. Though Ghost Beach claims in the article that they always give their music away, so who knows.
        “Ghost Beach was approached by American Eagle, which wanted to license the band’s song “Miracle” for an online ad. As it has done with a few other bands the retailer offered a fee as well as access to the billboard.”
        and later
        ““When we were offered the space on the billboard, we were perplexed about what to do with it,” said Josh Ocean, 27, the band’s lead singer. “Since we started we’ve given away all our music for free, so just telling people to purchase our music somewhere didn’t seem natural for us. So we said, ‘What if we take advantage of this and open up a discussion about the new music industry?’ ”


        • Big Swifty

          Ghost Beach – are they intentionally being stupid or just plain stupid.
          Again, choosing to give away your music for free is completely different than having your music copied and distributed without your knowledge, permission or compensation.

  6. Visitor

    I don’t expect ghost beach is making a lot of musicain friends right now

  7. larry

    There is a difference between being a rebel, and being a pirate.
    I think Chiat Day missed the point.

  8. dhenn

    Yes, you CAN blame Ghost Beach. It’s stupid moves by artists like this that keep devaluing music.

  9. FarePlay

    An open letter / e-mail to the band behind “Pirate Square”
    Dear XXXX, Probably the kindest word is irresponsible and naive. The next shoe that is going to fall on this “prank” is your survey. “Artist vs Artist” no link provided,
    Legitimate musicians will not vote, they don’t want to be on your mailing list, nor do I. I didn’t “vote”, because of that. So we’ll end with a skewed survey that appears to support piracy. Nice work guys.
    You don’t look like teenagers, so you may actually encounter some professional musicians on your journey. It might get ugly.
    You have chosen a good name ( name witheld for promotional purposes ), because this may haunt your career.

  10. R.P.

    I don’t neccessarily think it was a bad move on their part at all. Look, nowadays you have to do what you can to stand out within the ocean of artists out there, and good music of great sonic quality is just not going to do that for you alone. Or, it might, but then it may take you 5 years to get noticed, and, a HELL of a lot of music in between. So, if they got offered a FREE sign outside of Times Square, what artist wouldn’t go for it?
    Now, they were probably told to do whatever they wanted and this is when their manager came up with the campaign. What is one of the biggest issues going around, currently, within the music industry? Piracy! Genius in a way because they can make people engage, which they have. Just check their twitter and the hashtags. They then declared publicly on twitter that they are Against Piracy. Either way, it got us talking about it, and them. It did it’s job—the campaign that is.
    Ghost Beach puts their music out for free anyway… How does someone “pirate” a free mp3? It was different if you ripped a song from a CD and then passed it along, but giving it away for free, in essence, is the same thing—”compound sharing”, no?
    Just my opinion guys. I am not disagreeing with any of you that are anti-piracy. I sure am as well.

    • D

      Actually, that’s the point – that Ghost Beach are being either disengenuous or really dumb, because what they do is not piracy.