It can seem like a little bit of anarchy, the way I get most of my music, and I guess in a way it is. After all, just about anything is available somewhere, although I have little control over the specifics. It's free, and shared far and wide. I'm not dealing with stores or any hassles as far as acquiring music, as long as I keep my internet on and my computer working, I'm set. What's more, the fact that it's legal doesn't suck the fun out of it.
Keeping it legal, though, is what leads to the rules. They're pretty easy to deal with, although when a site gets to a certain size, like Dime - a- Dozen, it requires a lot of cooperation from the governed.
The main rule for keeping trouble at bay is to not step on the artist's copyright - that is, never torrent anything that is available commercially. Some sites don't watch for this at all, and they're generally the ones who get their plugs pulled by a team of lawyers. Others, like Dime, are ALL over that one, and with good reason. They've been closed before because someone did some dipshit, and learned how to avoid it. If something was ever released, anywhere, at any time for any duration, it is not allowed. That means that if a legitimate (not bootleg) label put out a limited release of 500 copies on prerecorded reel-to-reel in Budapest back in 1968, and the music has never seen the light of day since, it is still off limits. Period. If the official version is missing songs, you can post only the missing songs. If it is a studio recorded "alternate" version, it's still off limits (although demos are fair game, unless they are released later). They used to have a policy that you couldn't even have a 10 second sample of the record being played on the P.A. system before and after the show, but they eventually lightened up about that.
The other unbreakable rule is the Not Allowed Bands (NAB) list. This is the list of artists that have either contacted the sites or published a policy on their website or anywhere else to the effect that they do NOT approve of electronic trading. Of course, this means nothing as far as more traditional methods of trading go, but it stops the downloads right in their tracks. If you want to lose your uploading rights in a hurry, just go ahead and post someone who's on the NAB list.
Sometimes an artist understands the aims and the value of the trading community, but wants to protect their market as well, so they'll just put certain limits on. Little Feat is a great example, with links to bit torrent sites on their website, but they are on the NAB list in terms of soundboard recordings after January 1, 2004, audience video, and shows listed in their non-tradable shows list (which are shows they have made available for purchase). Anything else is fair game, and even though audience video isn't allowed, they have allowed some pro-shot video to spread.
Sometimes it only means one person in a band. Levon Helm's ban doesn't include The Band, but it goes the other way around, too - no Buffalo Springfield anymore because of Ritchie Furay. There are a lot of variations, and the list changes all the time - all it takes is an e-mail. I've seen things come off the list, as well, when fans work with the artist to make it happen, but that's not as frequent.
All in all, these are pretty easy rules to live with, since it's love for the music and respect for the artists that make it that drives us to do this, even more than disdain for the record industry does. Really, there is SO much incredible stuff available without stepping on someone's toes, that there's no reason to do it. I sure wish that Hot Tuna and the Allman Brothers weren't on that list, though.
I've had to reconsider the rules since making the recent change to Trolling the Underground. When I was just posting a song or two to listen to, I wasn't so concerned that anyone would care. Now that I am actually sending out the shows electronically, though, I feel a bigger urge to follow the same rules that keep my favorite sites safe. Unfortunately, that means that there's a few things that I can no longer share over bit torrent, but I think the things I can share will please a few of you.
This week, Trolling the Underground is back at its' original home. I'm featuring some of the fine old blues that Jeff was talking about last week, and of course it has a download. Go get you some!