Grateful Dead Fights Music Pirates

Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — The Grateful Dead's communal spirit is part of rock 'n' roll lore, but the band is just as merciless as the next capitalist when a digital pirate tries to make money off its music.

``They have always been vehement about this: If someone is going to make money, it should be them,'' said Eric Doney, the Dead's attorney. ``The music belongs to the creators, not someone else.''

The Dead's no-nonsense stance underscores the depths of the music industry's anti-piracy sentiment as computer technology makes more recordings available for free over the Internet.

The laws protecting unlicensed use of copyrighted material face another litmus test Oct. 2 when a federal appeals court is scheduled to review a ruling that banned a music-swapping site run by San Mateo-based Napster Inc.

While the Dead officially remains neutral in the Napster controversy, the service violates a policy the band established a few months before the immensely popular Web site started last year.

As digital audio files such as MP3 emerged as a viable format, the Dead reiterated its long-standing commitment to allowing fans to trade recordings of the band's 2,300 concerts.

Under the April 1999 policy, though, the Dead declared that ``no commercial gain may be sought by Web sites offering digital files of our music, whether through advertising, exploiting databases compiled from their traffic, or any other means.''

Doney said the Dead's digital policy is a natural extension of the band's longtime commitment to sharing its music with its fans without compromising its intellectual property rights.

``We have never ever allowed anyone to sell a tape of a concert — not even for the price of just the tape itself,'' Doney said.

During a 30-year touring career that ended with the 1995 death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, the band encouraged its fans — known as ``Deadheads'' — to record concerts and swap the tapes among themselves. The band has never authorized bootlegged copies of its studio recordings.

Despite the thousands of Dead tapes circulating around the world since the 1960s, piracy never was much of a problem for the band until technology made it easy to swap digital recordings.

Doney, a pioneer in software piracy law, employs three or four people who scour the Internet for copyright and trademark violations of his firm's clients, which include major corporations. Keeping tabs on the Grateful Dead's copyrighted music and trademarks — including its famous ``Steal Your Face'' skull logo — requires about three or four hours each day, Doney said.

When violations are flagged, a warning from the Dead's attorneys usually is enough to stop the illegal activity.

If necessary, the group uses the powers of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to force the Internet service provider or, in the case of online auctions, the Web site operator, to remove the offending material. The Dead so far hasn't had to resort to lawsuits.

Doney believes there are relatively few violations because most Deadheads ``don't want to steal from the band. They love this band and just want to be able to enjoy the music, not profit from it.''

Geoff Gould, a San Francisco Deadhead who runs a Web site dedicated to the band, said he often fields e-mails from fellow fans who spot copyright violations. He passes them on to the Dead's business headquarters.

``There are still a few, mostly younger fans who don't like this policy,'' Gould said. ``They say stuff like, 'Man, music should always be free and Jerry wouldn't have liked this.'

``But ... most fans have a general understanding of this honor system, even if they don't completely understand intellectual property issues.''

Ultimately, the Dead realizes that continuing advances in technology probably will enable determined pirates to find a way to illegally obtain and profit from the band's music.

Doney believes these kinds of threats will force more artists to cultivate goodwill by making some music available to fans for free, as the Dead has for years. ``If the majority of people can enjoy the music without incurring costs, then there will be no reason to pirate it,'' he said.


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