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Radiohead's Thom Yorke Doesn't Care About Leaked Music

Why do hackers hold songs hostage?

When Thom Yorke's MiniDisc archive was hacked by an unnamed assailant last week, the Radiohead lead-singer was asked to pay $150,000 to retrieve the 18 hours of stolen live recordings.

The sessions were all unnamed tracks made during the band's OK Computer days back in 1997, and Yorke reacted how anyone would react to the theft of demo art made in their late 20's: "It's not v interesting," he wrote. "There's a lot of it… as it's out there it may as well be out there until we all get bored and move on." The band let the 1.8-gigabyte collection fly free, charging £18 ($23) for the whole package. "It's only tangentially interesting," wrote guitarist Johnny Greenwood of the release, "and very, very long."

Similarly, last Monday, it was announced that more than 100 songs by Indiana-based rapper Ugly God were also being held for ransom. The rapper shrugged it off. "I accidentally emailed [the songs] to some fan and [he] wants me to pay him or he says he'll leak them," Ugly God wrote on Twitter. "I refuse to buy my own shit from some fan. So if 100+ songs leak, fuck it."

Leaks and piracy in the music industry aren't uncommon, as artists themselves occasionally threaten to leak their own music, yet a common misconception has always been that an artist is emotionally or monetarily affected by leaked music. The same narrative tried to be spun about music piracy a few years ago. "When you download or stream from a pirate site, pirates profit from online ads or subscriptions," wrote Forbes. "So while you are saving a few dollars, you are also effectively taking away an artist's well-deserved gains and re-directing them…[to] criminals." But in 2018, Spotify was sued for 1.6 billion dollars in a lawsuit that claimed the streaming giant "took a shortcut" to avoid paying royalties to artists and record labels. The suit came after Spotify was forced to pay an additional $20 million in outstanding royalties in 2016.

Even Tidal, the Beyonce and Jay-Z-owned streaming service that claims to be the first ever musician-owned service of its kind, has been accused of faking streams and ripping off independent artists. While it remains difficult to determine what's "fair" to the artist in the age of streaming, hackers and pirates should realize that artists will never succumb to their demands, because artists only make around $7,000 per million streams, anyway. "When cassettes became popular. [People were like,] 'Wait a minute, the listener is in control? No!' And to me, I was like, 'F— yeah, man!'" Foo Fighters David Grohl said about song leaks. He went on, "The first thing we should do is get all the fucking millionaires to shut their mouths, stop bitching about the 25 cents they're losing." It's been clear for years that artists don't benefit from music sales nearly as much as labels and streaming services, hence why they've been the only ones who aggressively fight to quell piracy. "I do not care," Liam Gallagher said in a now-archived interview with Shortlist magazine. "I hate seeing all these rock stars complaining. At least they are downloading your music [you] fucking idiot, and they are paying attention to you."

Additionally, trying to prevent a leak is so taxing that it's become a form of counter-espionage. For Jay-Z and Kanye West's highly anticipated Watch The Throne, the production team maintained "John le Carré-style CIA operative tactics" to keep from springing a leak. "All recording sessions took place in private hotel rooms and all outside producers had to submit beats in person–no e-mail, in other words," wrote Pitchfork of the process. "So, there's your solution to the leak problem, musicians: biometric fingerprint-readers on hard drives and flying producers to meet with you in person." These exhaustive prevention efforts simply aren't worth the trouble. "Despite the mp3 waning as a music commodity, it still retains incredible value as a tool for circulating music." wrote Pitchfork. "For the rest of the world, album leaks are simply an established part of the game." Yet as minimal as a pirate's damage may be to an artist's career, having art stolen can still be upsetting. "As things unfolded I went through a number of phases, but the immediate, overriding feeling was one of complete shock." wrote Jai Paul of the 2013 leak of his debut album Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones). "I felt numb...I felt pretty alone with everything, like no one else seemed to view the situation in the same way I did: as a catastrophe." Even so, the leaks catapulted Jai Paul into underground pop stardom. So the question still remains for those holding tunes hostage: Was this ever destined to work in your favor?

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