March 16, 2005 | By Fred von Lohmann

Noninfringing Use for P2P: Free Fiona!

The San Francisco Chronicle runs this fascinating article about Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Fiona Apple's mythical next record, completed two years ago but shelved by her label. Here's a substantial noninfringing use of P2P networks if I've ever seen one:

"Extraordinary Machine" is an album that Apple finished over two years ago, but which was quickly shelved by the sad corporate drones over at Sony because they didn't "hear a single" and because it doesn't sound exactly like Norah Jones and because they're, well, corporate drones. They dictate cultural tastes based on relatively narrow and often deeply ignorant criteria related to marketing and money and fear of the new and the different. This is what they do.

In other words, it was shelved because it's different, unique, a little eccentric, all bells and oompah horns and strings and oddly lovely circuslike arrangements, and you as the co-opted overmarketed oversold listening audience can't really handle anything like that, anything challenging or interesting or distinctive or deeply cool or lacking in prepackaged backbeats that sound just like Kelly Clarkson or maybe "American Idiot," even if it comes from an stupendously talented world-class Grammy-winning artist. Right? Isn't that you? Doesn't matter. This is what they believe.

But now, a hot new twist. The rest of "Extraordinary Machine" has, somehow, been leaked onto this fair Internet. All of it. Every song, some at first sounding not all that complete and some reportedly with only tentative titles, but, then again, a DJ at a radio station up in Seattle (the End 107.7) somehow managed to get his hands on the whole album and has apparently been playing almost every track and it's all much more finished and incredible than anyone thought.

And fans have been whipping the tracks into high-quality MP3s and splaying them all over the Net, and Rolling Stone and MTV and other media have picked up on the odd story, noting how fans are calling into the station like mad and most everyone loves the songs and protest Web sites like freefiona.com (alongside dedicated fan sites like fionaapple.org) have popped up to try and get some action and yet Sony refuses to actually release the album and the corporate drones remain mum and everyone's wondering just what the hell's going on.

So, in case you missed it: Fiona Apple's fans are downloading her music for free, then demanding that Sony release the album so they can pay for it. At least in the case of Fiona Apple, P2P isn't hurting her CD sales. In fact, P2P appears to be Fiona's only chance of actually getting her CD on store shelves at all.


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