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Punk Label To RIAA: Actually, We Do Want To Just Give It Away

A tiny Brooklyn, New York, record label is redefining the age-old battle of the punks vs. the suits.

Go-Kart Records founder Greg Ross has a problem with the RIAA’s use of lawsuits to fight online piracy, so he began giving away music for free on Friday. First he wrote an open letter to the recording industry trade group, lambasting its take on the problem of illegal downloading. Then he posted six full albums from his latest signings on the Go-Kart Web site.

The response has been overwhelming.

“Our tech guy just told me we had 80,000 hits in one second yesterday, which collapsed the server,” said the 33-year-old Ross, who founded the label 10 years ago with money from his bar mitzvah bonds. Since the albums were posted on Friday, Ross said visitors have downloaded close to 40,000 songs from the bands Amazombies, Daycare Swindlers, Pseudo Heroes, Plan A Project, Guff and Capture the Flag.

Ross – whose label has released albums by Anti-Flag, the Lunachicks, Buzzcocks and GBH – said he was surprised the response had been so large and immediate, since he’d only e-mailed a few punk sites and the 10,000 fans on his label’s mailing list.

“The RIAA puts out these press releases that say it represents the music industry, but they don’t represent everybody,” Ross said. “I do think downloading copyrighted material is illegal and wrong, but I felt suing all these people won’t help a situation that is already out of control…. We wanted to prove a point that downloads can sell music if they’re good and they’re done right…. We think the RIAA is off base. Suing 13-year-old girls won’t help, and, if anything, it will make kids say ‘f– you’ more.”

RIAA spokesperson Jonathan Lamy said it’s up to individual copyright owners to decide how their works are distributed. “Clearly, there are many artists and record companies who have not consented to having their works given away for free,” he said. “It’s having that choice that’s most important, and [that’s] what we’re fighting for.”

Ross admits that what he’s doing is a publicity stunt, but he thinks the point he’s trying to make is an important one for the moribund music industry, which is facing a third consecutive year of declining record sales. Ross argues in his letter that downloading is only part of the problem. He points to the success of Apple’s iTunes as an example of how, done right, downloading can help spur sales.

“Nobody’s heard of our six bands, but that’s why we put them up there,” Ross said. “For us, all of a sudden thousands of people are hearing these bands. I don’t know whether it will mean sales tomorrow, but when they go on tour more people will see them, and when we release future records, people will know who they are, will tell their friends and hopefully buy the records.”

“The bigger an artist is the more of a threat the Internet is,” said Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research, which analyzes technology trends. “If you’re Madonna, then file-sharing on the Internet is sales you won’t get. If you are one of these bands, I would think that just about everyone in America is not aware of your new album. For less-known artists, file-sharing makes people aware of your music and increases sales.”

Go-Kart won’t know until next week’s SoundScan numbers come out whether their experiment was successful, but Ross said mail order business has already picked up and the bands have reported increased traffic on their Web sites.

For those who find downloading too time-intensive, Go-Kart is releasing what Ross called the first commercially available all-MP3 CD, Go-Kart MP300 Raceway, on November 4. The two-CD set features 300 rare, unreleased and new songs from 150 bands, including Anatomy of a Ghost, Anti-Flag, Avail, Bouncing Souls, Lost City Angels, Planes Mistaken for Stars, Rise Against, Senses Fail, Shai Hulud, Sick of It All and the Vandals. The CD will retail for $9.99.

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