Thursday, April 05, 2007

The legality of viral marketing

The music is probably more up the alley of a college aged student but the efforts behind this story are still relevant to PR practitioners.

The story goes like this: Trent Reznor, the lead singer of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, took part in a viral marketing campaign in which he left USB drives containing digital copies of songs from his unreleased album in the bathrooms at Nine Inch Nails concerts during the European tour. Lucky fans who happened upon them distributed the songs on personal blogs and websites. The campaign also included fans deciphering messages on t-shirts and websites. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is now suing Reznor for leaking the music.

I personally find the campaign to be brilliant. It's cost effective and relies on a cheap medium to deliver the news and promote the upcoming album. The fans are the best way to get other fans excited and build momentum. Selectively releasing tracks gives listeners a preview into the overall sound of the album. It's mysterious and keeps fans talking about the album, the band, the campaign, Reznor himself and so on. The RIAA is making a stretch in its efforts to reign in Reznor in my opinion. The stories report that Reznor personally authorized the release of the tracks. The fact that the RIAA sent e-mails to bloggers insisting that they remove the songs from their sites has only worked to create more hype and more buzz about the album. Despite this marketing campaign and the intentional release of three tracks the rest of the album has not been leaked on the internet. The album is set to be released April 17.

I'm a fan of viral marketing. I like the concept of using inexpensive media techniques as a PR vehicle. After reading this story on several different news sites I'm confused about what the base of the RIAA's case is. Reznor has the right to release the music he holds the intellectual property rights to doesn't he? Are there ethical considerations to take into account? All my reading tells me that Reznor is behind the release so it doesn't infringe on any issues of right or wrong. Finally, even though Reznor (most likely) recorded the music in the United States the USB drives with the music were discovered in Europe. What, if any, are the legal issues surrounding the campaign?

What are people's thoughts on this campaign? Is it effective? Do the professionals think it would work? What is everyone's overall opinion?







Respectfully submitted:

TJ McMahon


robbie nd said...

Thanks for the food for thought TJ. I'm reposting my comment from the Facebook discussion:

I'm frankly a fan of viral marketing campaigns. I like the low-cost approach, and I believe they have a greater degree of staying power than traditional campaigns because they more personally involve the targeted public by giving it a greater degree of investment in the message. For example, seeking a funny video on YouTube, or in this case, hunting down thumb drives containing a sample of an upcoming album. Brilliant.

In this case, NIN has harnessed the ownership factor in a big way. Fans are not only finding this music, but then taking the time to distribute it to friends (and the rest of the world) via file-sharing. They have recognized that their songs are likely to hit P2P within moments of the album's sale anyhow, so why not drum up some publicity and a fuzzy vibe from your fans?

As to whether or not I agree with the RIAA, I think anybody who knows me well will recognize that I am not a huge proponent of the methods practiced by the RIAA. I believe in the right to protect intellectual property, I do not agree with lawsuits designed to terrorize college students, and I certainly think that should a band wish to release a sample of their own music, they are within their rights to do so. That being said, I am not a lawyer, so I may be missing some legal point here.

Erika Schmidt said...

This is a brilliant example of the conflict between ethics and "successfully" disseminating a message. I know that I like to know where my information is coming from and who is sharing it. How am I supposed to trust any source of information if I know that there might be the potential that the person telling me about a new toothpaste or a new CD could be paid to send the message? But, then again, I'm all about trust and responsibility. What if I was just interested in moving a message forward and didn't think about the impacts? Would I think differently? The one area that I know is off-limits is my kids. That is where I draw the line.

More info in the recent story on All Things Con