“OUTFOXED” And What It Can Teach The Music Industy
The opportunities and empowerments that new technologies can provide musicians and the music industry is a large part of what Hypebot is all about. Commentator/Writer/Radio Host Bob Lefsetz really captures that spirit with many of his writings, and when he wrote recently about the documentary “Outfoxed” and how it turned the entire film production, promotion, and distribution model on it’s ear I had to share it. I (and I believe Bob) felt that there are many lessons the music industry can learn from this kind of creative thought and action. Graciously, Bob agreed to allow Hypebot to republish his article:
So I’m bullshitting backstage Saturday night, and Scott Perry asks me what I think of “Outfoxed”.
This has happened to me twice in the past week. I’m OUT OF THE LOOP!
Tuesday, Mitch Wolk, CFO of RED, e-mailed me about “The Corporation”. It rang a distant bell, but I had to admit, I just couldn’t place it.
Then Mitch told me it was a new film about how corporations have changed society. Investigating thereafter, I found out my hero, Naomi Klein, was featured in it, and the film was opening at the Nuart on Friday. I’m planning to see it.
Scott told me “Outfoxed” was this documentary about the Fox News Network. Which ALSO rang a DISTANT bell. He started TESTIFYING! And yesterday, he e-mailed me, saying he was having a DVD sent to me immediately.
But last night, it all came together.
I was sitting on the pot, after interviewing Nic Harcourt on my radio show. DEEP into the night. Like five in the morning. And I stumbled on this article in the “New York Times Magazine”, “How To Make A Guerilla Documentary”, the STORY of OUTFOXED!
And the article is utterly FASCINATING! It reads kind of like Coppola’s “The Conversation” feels. All eerie, like something important is being done outside the mainstream, in the shadows.
The maker of “Outfoxed”, Robert Greenwald, has got the Napster spirit. The most offensive thing about Napster was that they just TOOK the music. They didn’t ask, didn’t try to make a deal. They did this with IMPUNITY! And to my legal mind, this was just plain WRONG!
Then, I came to realize over the ensuing months that you can’t ask. Because the answer is always NO!
I was under the illusion that the RIAA was trying to hold Napster accountable in court for copyright infringement and then the major labels would start up THEIR OWN service. Nothing of the sort was true. This STUNNED ME! For Napster was the greatest thing to happen to music since FM radio. It made music EXCITING! The whole WORLD was talking about music. Didn’t they want to CAPITALIZE on this? THAT’S when I realized that however onerous the pricks who funded Napster were, they were right. That even though they wore suits, and were looking for a huge payday, they were freedom fighters. Hell, it smacked of the French Revolution.
And thereafter, WHENEVER someone has come to me with an equitable solution to the online music problem, I’ve told them the major labels won’t listen. That they’re gonna say NO! That your ONLY alternative is to steal the music and fight it out in court.
And that’s what Robert Greenwald has done. He’s made a whole film about Fox News and didn’t even bother to ask their permission. Because he knew they’d say NO! Hell, they’d already said no once previously, to the usage of footage in his Iraq documentary, “Uncovered”. So Mr. Greenwald went into stealth mode. Didn’t do it the Hollywood way. Didn’t hire a publicist to get photos in “Time” and “Newsweek”. A mention on “E.T.” and “Extra”. He went to his PEEPS! Organizations like moveon.org. Who provided not only money, but INFRASTRUCTURE! Hands willing to bring Fox News down. It was not much different from the Fannings getting Hummer Winblad to invest in Napster (although, truth be told, the elder Fanning, the uncle, was not interested in revolution, but cash).
But we’ve been told FOREVER that working as an indie is DEATH! Don’t even START! For, first and foremost, YOU CAN’T GET DISTRIBUTION!
You think it’s tough in the MUSIC world? It’s MUCH tougher in the movie business. Where there are fewer theatres, and every one is paying rent or the mortgage twenty four seven.
And then came the stunning part of the article. Talking about distribution of Mr. Greenwald’s previous film, “Uncovered”, the one about Iraq:
“Once the film wrapped, Greenwald turned the traditional distribution model on its head. Rather than taking the time-consuming route of entering film festivals or courting theater distributors, he sold the DVD of ‘Uncovered’ through the Web sites of various left-liberal organizations: MoveOn, The Nation magazine, the Center for American Progress and the alternative-news Web sites AlterNet and BuzzFlash. After about 23,000 orders in the first two days, the courtyard of the R.G.P. [Robert Greenwald Productions] building was filled with stacks of DVD’s waiting to be mailed out. When the number of orders hit 100,000, Greenwald enlisted a commercial distributor, which sold an additional 20,000 copies.”
Shit, not only did he sell a PLETHORA of copies, he sold more than the COMMERCIAL DISTRIBUTOR!
And reading this article fired me up. Made me want to host a party wherein we showed “Outfoxed” and asked for donations to Kerry/the DNC. You see, suddenly, it feels like the individual has POWER!
Then, today, the story hit the L.A. “Times”.
Now the L.A. “Times” reporter asked Greenwald why he didn’t ask Fox for permission and Greenwald said:
“‘They have a pretty effective ability to respond, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.'”
Wow, doesn’t this sound like both the Napster execs and users? FUCK THE RECORD LABELS, THEY’VE BEEN ABUSING US FOR DECADES!
And in the L.A. “Times” Greenwald’s defense of his use of Fox footage without permission is dealt with again. And once again, Greenwald quotes the fair use doctrine of the Copyright Act.
I won’t bother you with the details of my legal analysis, but let me just say that’s a VERY thin argument. YES, you can use excerpts for critical purposes, but if they make up your whole FILM one could argue QUITE PERSUASIVELY you need permission.
Only one problem. Now it’s too late. If Fox comes down hard, they look like assholes, like they’ve got something to hide. And as in the Franken case, they could LOSE! And even though they might ultimately prevail, can they get an INJUNCTION? Prohibiting exhibition of the film?
Hell, you could win in court and lose the WAR! Like the RIAA. Having beaten Napster, thumping their chests in exultation regarding their power in this conquest, software engineers went on to create programs that EVADED the legal ruling in the Napster case. KaZaA was distributed. Which DIDN’T KEEP A CENTRALIZED DATABASE OF FILES! And therefore, under the Napster ruling, wasn’t inherently illegal!
If you listen to the RIAA, they’re WINNING!
NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING could be further from the truth. It’s all smoke and mirrors. P2P trading is higher THAN EVER!
But the real question, the one on the horizon, that’s been debated now and again is…DO ARTISTS NEED THE MAJOR LABELS?
Donnie Ienner quite famously said no hit record had ever broken on the Internet.
And what’s the definition of a hit ANYWAY? One wherein the company spends a fortune to sell a few million albums, making a good chunk of change and the act getting next to nothing, or one that sells a FRACTION of the number of the major label hit but makes a fucking FORTUNE FOR THE ARTIST!!
Believe me, a MAJOR act could sell their new CD just like Robert Greenwald. AND, there’s going to be an entrepreneur, who, based on his credibility, is going to convince a TON of people to buy his next opus without hearing it first. It’ll be like that early Lollapalooza. Which sold out without ANY acts being announced.
Lollapalooza can’t do that anymore. Lollapalooza is over. It hasn’t kept up with the times.
But Warped has. Warped has learned from MTV that you don’t grow old with your audience.
The game changes every day. Microsoft is suddenly in hot water because of adware and spyware. It’s the best thing to have happened to Apple Computer since the iMac. There’s no such thing as a virus for Mac OS X. And, as of now, there’s no spyware either. It’s a full time job keeping your Windows PC free of malicious code. Wouldn’t you want to go somewhere ELSE???
The RIAA is trying to keep the game stagnant. Trying to hog the ball and let nobody else even touch it.
But the public has thrown the rule book OUT! In between downs they’re just STEALING THE BALL! It’s not FAIR the major labels say. But the peeps say they’re sick and fucking tired of being abused by two-faced lying scumbags.
It started with music. Music PAVED THE WAY on the Internet. For both getting the word out, and distribution.
Now other media have taken up the charge.
It’s all led by the people. The PEOPLE will make this Greenwald documentary successful.
For all their bluster, Fox News wants NOTHING to do with the people, their investment is in the Republican Party.
For all their moaning, the major labels have no interest in their customers, they just want to maintain their monopoly so that they and their shareholders can profit.
But those days are over. The people have taken over. They’re in revolt.
And you thought the tech revolution was a bust…it’s only just BEGINNING!
Copyright 2004 Robert Scott Lefsetz