This Is How Amazon Makes Money Off of Bootlegs…

Free downloads don’t count towards Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.  So it must have come as some surprise to unsigned artist Chance the Rapper when his mixtape, Acid Rap, entered the chart at #63 with sales of 1,000 copies for the week ending July 7th.  The album had been offered for free on his website since April 30th. It turns out that a company had taken it upon itself to sell the mixtape on iTunes and Amazon, without the knowledge or permission of the artist or his representatives – and without passing along any of the revenue. Both retailers pulled down the digital versions of the mixtape when alerted by Chance’s representatives.  Yet an apparently bootlegged physical version continues to be on sale on Amazon, credited to a mysterious company called Mtc, for $14.83 in the US (in the UK, the price is a whopping £15.88/$24.66). Of course, it’s somewhat puzzling that people would pay for a mixtape they can legally download for free.  Perhaps they aren’t aware of the free download version – or perhaps they mistakenly believe that they are financially supporting an up-and-coming artist by paying. Chance’s manager, Pat Corcoran, told Billboard two weeks ago: “I’ve never heard of Mtc, so this has taken us by surprise, but when I first saw it I showed Chance, and his lawyers are trying to stop it.”

It appears this is easier said than done: the above screen shot was taken from Amazon today.

All of which brings us to another, similar situation:

The same situation seems to be happening to Azealia Banks, whose Fantasea mixtape is currently available as an official free download on her site, while an apparent bootleg CD is currently being offered on Amazon for £7.19 ($11.16).

It’s hard to get straight answers.  An employee at Mtc’s distributor, 1-Stop Distribution, confirmed to Billboard that it sells Acid Rap but wouldn’t say where it obtained the rights to do so.  When approached on the subject, Amazon’s press officer simply referred to the company’s standard disclaimer:

“Amazon respects intellectual property rights and we have an established process in place which enables rights owners and their agents to notify us of alleged infringements such as copyright and trademark concerns. We respond rapidly to any such notice. Please see here for details:”

Unfortunately, these are far from the only musicians who have found their music being sold without their knowledge.  A songwriter I know recently had one of his tracks rejected by a record label because, they said, the track had already been commercially released.  Unbeknownst to my friend, the demo had been intercepted while making the rounds among A&Rs.  These ‘dodgy Russians,’ as he referred to them, put the demo up for sale on iTunes, Amazon and a multitude of other retailers, under a made-up name, while pocketing all the revenue from it.

The songwriter had to take the culprits to court in Russia to prove that the track belonged to him.

Though the songwriter had registered the song with STIM, the Swedish collecting society, the recording itself wasn’t registered with an ISRC code (which is used to identify your track as yours in order to receive accurate payments), as it wasn’t for sale, but simply a demo. This explains why he had no idea that someone had stolen and distributed his track.  It could also explain why Amazon has been selling a bootleg of Acid Rap: most unsigned artists would see no point in registering a record with an ISRC code when it’s simply being given away for free, but that could then leave the door wide open for someone else to take the opportunity to register it under their own ISRC code. As the majority of unsigned artists don’t have the money to take someone to court, it’s now clear that they should register all their recordings with an ISRC code, whether it’s a demo or a free download.   And, just hope that retailers remove any record for sale that is subject to a dispute.

But Amazon has clearly been made aware of the controversy surrounding the Acid Rap bootleg – so why is it still for sale on its site?  We can only assume that the retailer continues to collect a commission on every copy sold.

16 Responses

  1. Jaded Industry Dude

    And so continues the TMZ of music news. Let me lay this out for you, as if you somehow were not aware of the most normal aspects of the music industry :

    1) It’s not Amazon’s job to check and see what is or isn’t legally acquired by a label or distribution company

    2) It is not the distribution company’s job to make sure or even ASK if content submitted to them is legal from any companies they work with. I could upload a Coldplay album RIGHT NOW to Tunecore and see how long it would take for Universal to take notice

    3) You’re shaming Amazon and not taking into account they are one of the biggest company’s in the world, they honestly can’t deal with a legal dispute of 1,000 copies of an album until they have LEGAL DOCUMENTS to prove who does or does not have rights to an album

    4) Lastly, although I think the focus here should be on the label that released it, and not Amazon or the distribution company, I want to make one last point that lots of managers suck, lots of artists suck, and it’s very possible they DID INFACT sign a contract with this company and are not happy with the deal and are trying to generate press for the entire thing. Seen it done too many times to count

    On second thought, this isn’t a TMZ-type article, it’s a Perez Hilton article. TMZ gets more facts straight.

    Sorry, I haven’t had enough coffee yet this morning.

    • Bandit

      So are you saying I can sell stolen goods on Amazon and

      1. Amazon will never ask me if I have the legal right to sell these goods even in a click thru TOU agreement?

      2. and even after Amazon is notified by the rightful owner that I don’t have the legal right to sell the goods because they were illegally acquired, Amazon has no duty to remove the webpage from their site?

      I didn’t know they could do that

      • Jaded Industry Dude

        Yes, you can. You can sell CDR burns if you want. The only way it will be ‘enforced’ is if enough people complain about how shoddy your CDs look.

        Think about it, you could easily manufacture legit looking replicas of CDs and no one would have a way of proving that you don’t have a wholesale account with Sony. Right? I have tons of non-promo 30 counts in my closet right now. I could sell them if I want to but I’m not. However I could easily duplicate them and sell them on Amazon and no one would be the wiser unless someone CAUGHT me and reported me and PROVED what I’m doing. Heresey isn’t proof. Complaining is not proof, either.

    • Vail, CO

      Totally, completely wrong.

      Walk into a Starbucks, get a brownie, it a pot brownie. Have fun telling the DEA you didn’t need to check.

      • GGG

        Do you often check your food to see if there’s pot in it before you eat?

        • Jaded Industry Dude

          Yea, what? I’m confused by this one, too.

          • Visitor

            If DEA finds drugs being served at a Starbucks, the whole store goes to jail, manager and all.

        • Vail, CO

          Sorry what I meant was:

          You buy a brownie at Starbucks. It is a pot brownie, you did not know.

          STARBUCKS (the store that sells it to you) is now in a very, very difficult position as they now have to prove they had NO idea what was going on. If some rogue employees were in the back mixing a batch without proper checks there could very serious problems with the D.E.A.

          Got it?

    • Helienne

      I think you’ll find the law says differently. A retailer that deals in counterfeit goods has a responsibility. Or do you think the law doesn’t apply to retailers online?

      • Jaded Industry Dude

        It’s not about laws, or this or that, it’s that the rapper isn’t showing solid documents to make their case. Instead they’re contacting the press for (DUN DUN DUN) media attention. Amazon will comply with anyone who has the documents to back up the story.

        I’ve sent thousands (yes thousands) of DMCA reports to every vendor you could ever imagine. They all comply with requests if you actually have proof to back up the claim.

    • Chris Castle

      It’s also not the artist’s job to sell anything through Amazon or anyone else we can’t trust. We could just sell through local retailers who historically have been as interested in stopping bootlegs as the artists. Local retailers who pay sales taxes to support the local economy and don’t turn local retailers into showrooms for some dot com thousands of miles away.

      It’s not the artist’s job to file police reports against Amazon employees who order bootlegs, either, but it could be.

      It’s not the artist’s job to audit Amazon, either, but it could be.

      There are many things that are not the artist’s job. There are many things that are not the distributor’s job. But I guarantee you that if Amazon was selling bootleg electric toothbrushes, they would make sure they responded to Phillips.

      Let’s get this straight: Amazon built their business on authors and artists and now we know–Amazon is as happy to steal from us as the bootleggers are. So why should we care about them?

      Buy local, sell local. You won’t regret it.

  2. Visitor

    Good luck trying to talk to Amazon Japan legal. They refuse to type in English just to piss you off.

  3. Knob Twiddler

    Someone call Jeff Price – you just said that an ISRC code is actually good for something. He’ll set you straight! 🙂

  4. Spoken X Digital Media Group

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