Fiona Apple and leaked records

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Brad DeLong points to this NYT article about Fiona Apple's never-released third album:

The New York Times > Arts > Music > Music | Bootleg Review: The Lost Apple: In 2002 and 2003, Fiona Apple recorded what would have been her third album, 'Extraordinary Machine.' Its producer, Jon Brion, has said that Ms. Apple's label, Sony Music's Epic Records, shelved the album because it didn't hear potential hit singles. An Epic spokeswoman said, 'Fiona has not yet delivered her next album.' Lately, what purports to be the full album, 11 songs, has been leaked onto the Internet, where - despite the efforts of Sony's legal department - a simple search will find multiple sources of downloads. The album is an oddball gem.

Its producer, Mr. Brion, is fond of instruments that huff and plink and wheeze, as he showed in his soundtrack for 'I {sheart} Huckabees.' Epic may have been discomfited that Ms. Apple's collaboration with him doesn't sound anything like what's on the radio now. As a songwriter, she's the same Fiona Apple who sold millions of copies of her first two albums; she's still sultry and sullen, obsessing in detail over why her romances went wrong and teetering between regret and revenge. Her vocals smolder like torch songs, then boil over with rage and accusations. But this time, the music doesn't always mope with her.


Had it been released, 'Extraordinary Machine' would have been a fine counterbalance to a pop moment full of monolithic, self-righteous sincerity. As it stands, mysteriously leaked and proliferating, the album is an object lesson in how an Internet that's not controlled by copyright holders can set artistic expression free.

This particular framing—where the big bad label won't release the album even though the artist wants them to, but the Internet sets it free—slots right into the dominant "Information wants to be free" narrative (cf. Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"). But there's something interesting to note: what makes you think that Apple actually wanted this album released? The Times implies that Brion did, but we don't get any kind of quote from Apple, which is a little surprising. Maybe she thought it sucked and was happy to have it round-filed. I've certainly written stuff like that.

Although it seems to me that the Weak Copyright side isn't having that much success on the legislative front, it seems to me that in this particular respect, they've managed (with some cooperation from the content industry) to frame the issue to their advantage. Copyright enforcement doesn't just serve to let content providers charge for their content, it also helps control access to content they actually don't want seen at all. The same networks that are good for distributing bootleg copies of The Black Album is just as good for transporting Microsoft's stolen source code.

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SF Gate 16 March


As for Apple herself, well, rumor has it she really didn't care all that much about Sony's lameness two years back, really didn't feel a driving need to be slammed back into the soul-mauling pop music spotlight and therefore didn't really push all that hard to have "EM" released.

And while she is also reportedly very happy to hear about the current mad fan support regarding the album, according to a brief interview with producer Jon Brion, he says she also knows it ain't all that radio friendly and might not ever make a gazillion dollars and she doesn't really care. Which is, of course, what makes her so goddamn wonderful. [...]

There's the detail that it's a good album. In fact, it's great. I'd be surprised if Fiona wanted it shelved.

It's sad that the control aspect you mention in the last paragraph gets so little attention these days. Those who exchange bootlegs of classical concert performances argue that this is okay because they do not harm anyone commercially. However, I believe that a bootleg of a live concert (and its subsequent distribution) is far more intrusive on the artist's rights than illegally sharing a published recording.

A produced-but-not-released album is somewhere inbetween, of course. But it's important to remember (especially as someone who criticizes the content industry) that copyright is not solely about the economic aspects of art.

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